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Thursday, 16 June 2011

The Tigers, Elephants and Backpackers of Chiang Mai - Page 3

Written by Adam O'Hern
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After Woody’s worryingly specific safety lecture (which consisted mainly of him detailing the various ways elephants can injure you), we walk up to the elephants’ yard.  The elephants are all lined up, and the majority are contentedly munching on the pile of leaves in front of them.

Even though the elephants appear docile, the sheer size of them comes as a shock to me.  It’s quite easy to see how Hannibal used elephants to terrify the normally stoic Roman armies.  The largest elephant’s trunk is bigger than my whole body. 

As we all stand contemplating the safety briefing, Woody hands us a piece of sugar cane from a blue bucket on the ground and tells us it’s time to feed Christine, the largest and oldest elephant at the camp.

We all line up, and I try my best to calm my nerves.  Woody indicates that it’s my turn, and, my nerves fully under control, I nervously cry out “Bon-soon!” one of the commands Woody taught us earlier.  I’m fairly convinced that Christine will hear the anxiety in my voice and respond by trampling me into the red mud, but luckily Christine is much more interested in the sugar cane I’m holding than trampling me into the ground, and so instead of a violent charge, Christine opens her mouth and takes the sugar cane from my hand.  Once she’s done eating, Woody laughs as he holds me in place while Christine kisses me with her trunk. 

While the rest of the group is feeding Christine, I walk over to get more leaves from the giant leaf pile that sits in the center of the yard to give to some of the other elephants. As I’m bending over to grab an armful of the elephant’s main source of food, a branch just like the one’s I’m picking up sails through the air and lands a short distance from me.  I look up and see that the offending branch was thrown by the elephant that is in time out for getting loose and ruining a neighbor’s crop fields.  The time out elephant picks up another branch and waves it in my direction.  I’m immediately reminded of a two year old throwing a fit because no one will pay attention to him.  As I walk back to the other elephants, I hear another branch being tossed in my direction accompanied by an angry snort.

P5031539After I distribute my leaves in front of the other elephants, it’s time for the group to get our first experience riding an elephant.  The yard fills with cries of “Yo-Kaaaah,” which is the command that tells the elephants to lift their legs so we can use them as a ladder. 

When Woody demonstrated how to use an elephant’s leg as a ladder, he was able to gracefully glide atop Christine.  When I try the same thing, it takes me twice as long as it did with Woody, and instead of gliding atop Christine like a professional, my assent is more of a fumbling scramble that almost includes me gracefully falling off the other side.

New Profile PictureOnce I’m sitting atop Christine with significantly less dignity, we’re both put through our paces as I learn how to make her turn, go forwards and backwards, and, most importantly, how to make her stop.  Every time Christine turns, I feel like I’m inches from falling off and fulfilling my earlier fears of being trampled into the ground below. 

(Page 3 of 7)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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