Saturday, June 25, 2011

Elephant mahout class

Elephant mahout class

On my third day in Luang Prabang I decided to finally do some serious elephant riding. During my Thailand trekking adventure we had a short elephant ride, sitting on a 2 seater chair on top of an elephant before beginning our journey into the hills. This was not enough elephant riding for me. All over Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang are signs for various elephant related activities, it was only a matter of finding the right ethical and Eco-tourist company. I did not want to give my money to help support a company that mistreats these gentle giants.
Elephants are very important in Thailand and Laos. Back in the day they were used as war animals to frighten off warriors with their massive size. They are also used in the logging business to help move the trees, which is still an on going industry in this part of the world. In Luang Prabang logging is illegal and the elephants once used for tree pushing get to cart tourists around the jungle and be fed bananas. It is important to make sure that you are using a good company, that actually takes good care of elephants. I peppered my guide for the day with questions. How old must the elephants be to do this? How often are they used? How much are they fed everyday? Who cares for them if they are sick or injured? The company states in their brochure that 15% of every ticket goes back to the villages and elephants, so I singed up for the day.
Another rainy day in Luang Prabang dawned. I decided to make the best of another wet day by telling myself it didn't matter, we were going to be swimming with the elephants at some point, who cares if I got wet now or later? Took a ride around the jungle on the seater, like the previous journey with a nice guy from Ohio, who is working in the Philippines. While the elephant lumbered around the jungle we chatted about places visited and must see attractions, the typical traveler conversation. After lunch, my fellow Mahout-trainees and I donned our official outfit. This is suppose to help keep your clothes clean and dry, but I was already wet and mud splattered anyways so it didn't really matter. Had a 20 minute command lesson so that I could try to control my many ton beast, ha who are they kidding? We all know that I was not in control!
 Then it was time to hop on bareback and journey back into the forest. You sit on the elephant right on their neck, behind their ears, and place your hands on top of the peaks on their skull. It is a little weird to literally step onto the elephant. I looked at my guides questioningly, are you SURE I'm not going to hurt her? Yes, they said. Okkk. As I sit on my elephant I can't help but wonder, does she mind that I'm sitting here, on her neck? Is she bored walking the same path? When I put my hands on top of her head does her forehead skin wrinkle down over her eyes? Does it give her a headache with all my weight on her head? Their skin is really strange. It's covered in very coarse, bristly hair and the skin itself is thick like leather but super wrinkly. Anyways, Pancake (my elephant for the day) did not seem to mind me in the least.
 We trekked through the jungle for 2 hours as I tried to use the balance skills and core muscles I worked so hard for in yoga class to stay on board. As we went the rain went from a sprinkle, to a steady drumming, to a flat out down pour. At one point, I tilt my head back, rain pelting my face, arms reached to the sky,and think, rain all you want mother nature. I'm riding an elephant bareback in the Laos jungle, life is perfect even though I'm soaked through and starting to turn pruny, you can't phase me right now. We were suppose to bath the elephants, but in all the rain, who needs a bath? Instead, we swam. The elephants would bend their back or front legs and submerge us and use their trucks to spray us with water. So fun! Sadly, after our swim we returned back to the farm. Our ride was over and I had to say good bye to Pancake.
Since it had been raining for the last 2 days things were a bit soaked and the water was running over everything. The Mekong river was visibly swollen and the road was completely washed out in places. Mudslides, trees, and various debris covered the road as we journeyed back to town. Kids were running amuck, laughing, and playing in the flooded streets. Gladly getting sprayed by cars as they passed and having a grand time. I joined my fellow tourists by huddling in one of many cafe's, nursing a warm Vienna coffee, while attempting yet again to figure out what my next move will be.  

No comments:

Post a Comment