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Thursday, 16 June 2011

The Tigers, Elephants and Backpackers of Chiang Mai - Page 4

Written by Adam O'Hern
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The sky begins to cloud over as Woody calls for the lunch break before we ride up to the top of the hill.  For the afternoon trek, each elephant has two riders, one controlling the elephant and one sitting in the back.  Siena and I pair up and pick one of the smaller elephants in the hopes that since he’s smaller, he might be easier to control.

As soon as I get onto our elephant, I regret volunteering for the driver’s position on the first part of the ride because our elephant doesn’t seem to want to listen to me.  I vainly try to make him stop, as he ignores me and wanders around the yard until he reaches the leaf pile in the middle where he is content to munch away and continue ignoring me.  I laugh to Siena and lie when she asks me if I’m doing alright with the steering.

The workers convince our elephant to leave the leaf pile and walk along side him and the others and make sure that they stay on the path and behave themselves with the verbal commands that I’ve already forgotten from this morning.  The presence of the workers makes my driving responsibilities considerably less difficult, and as I sit on my elephant’s head pretending to steer, I’m struck with the image of ancient humans riding mastodons through the Arctic in search of food. 

“This is really cool,” I remark to Siena, who agrees with me.

As I’m pretending to steer up a steep corner, Siena pokes me in the arm and says “Look at the rain!”  I follow the direction of her arm and see that it’s pouring down rain a mere hundred yards off, and as we watch, the rain moves like a surreal wall of unavoidable nature towards us.  Soon, we’re both soaked atop our elephant, but the afternoon rain is a welcome respite from the afternoon heat of northern Thailand.

By the time we reach the gazebo at the top of the hill, however, the feeling of refreshment that the rain originally brought has been replaced by a feeling of severe cold.  I almost loose my straw elephant-riding hat that I borrowed form Woody as Siena and I make a run for the shelter of the gazebo. 

Inside, Woody chops up sugar cane with a rusty machete and the other trainers pull bananas out of burlap bags for us to give to the elephants who have taken refuge from the rain under the gazebo.  The elephants stick their trunks up through gaps in the floor of the gazebo in order to grab the food, and Siena makes lewd comments about what their disembodied trunks remind her of.
 
When the worst of the rain is over, I don my straw hat and manage to get back onto our elephant with a little more grace than this morning.  I’m secretly glad that Siena’s steering for the downhill part of our journey because she at least remembers most of the commands and is somewhat helpful in stopping our elephant when he tries to impress us by passing the other, slower elephants on worryingly slippery downhill parts of our trek.

When we started the day, both Siena and I were nervous around these mammoth creatures; they’re just so big and powerful.  But by the time we arrive at the river, any of that nervousness still remaining evaporates as the elephants allow us to climb all over them as they use their trunks to snorkel under the water.  They’re no longer mammoth creatures left over from the last ice age.  They’re more like big, playful dogs.

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(Page 4 of 7)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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