Wednesday, 7 July 2010
Picture me with a plastic glove on, with my arm -- nearly up to the shoulder -- thrust all the way up an elephant's butt with a tiny thermometer taking its temperature. For the record, Boon Na's temperature was normal, thanks for asking, and the elephant registered barely a thing other than thinking 'gee, those flies are a nuisance today'.
The things I do to get stories for you, my dear readers.
By the end of the course I was actually emotionally attached to my elephant. Since the first morning, I'd fetched him out of the deep misty jungle overlooking the Golden Triangle each morning, giving him a massive feed of bananas to supplement the limitless supply of leaves he wrenched from trees en route.
Under the watchful eye of Khun Kwan Wit, I would then take him -- plus a whole host of other elephants -- for a morning bathe in the river. It was like these elephants were young playful puppies. Like kids in a bath with a new rubber duck. The trumpets of jubilation! At the mahouts' command they'd duck their heads under the water. Or their whole bodies. Or re-surface again. All the while I sat there on its back, scrubbing its bristly skin and lapping it up. I felt one with nature. Then, on command, all of a sudden bath time was over.
We'd saunter back to camp, itself a pleasant sunny square of thatched houses and stables, where kids kicked soccer balls, and the womenfolk busied themselves with weaving silk.
Over the three days I practiced my driving skills. Slalom courses. Mounting and dismounting in countless different ways, with the elephant absolutely faultless in its understanding of my mangled Thai commands. You could climb on and off via its head, its trunk, it's cocked leg, by having it lie down and grab its ear and swinging a leg over. But my funnest dismount was sliding down its trunk.
The rest of the time was spent practicing my driving. An elephant has four gears: forward, backward, left and right. Reverse gear is the most fun: you toggle back and forward in your seat while yelling 'Back up ya brutish bugger!' in Thai. Sure enough, the thing reverses. Given their size you expect to hear the beeps of a reversing truck.
The satisfaction of guiding one of these behemoths through natural primary jungle in somewhere as exotic as the Golden Triangle is inestimable.
Especially when I look into their eyes and they seem so damn omniscient.
To qualify for my mahout’s certificate, I had to take its pulse (behind its ear), count its toenails (at the end of its feet, duh!), and measure its height. To do this you measure the circumference of its foot pad then double it. Jing jing!
Then it was on with the rubber glove …talk about tough love.