Hope you're ready for this post. Caution: graphic images of crazy women riding bareback!
I promised to share with you the rudiments of bareback elephant riding. No sissy, comfy howdah chairs for Paula and me in Chiang Mai, Thailand. No climbing aboard mile high pachyderms via platforms. We opted for the real thing - a day at Patara, a working elephant farm where we 'owned' our elephant for the entire day and miraculously lived to tell about it! You will laugh........elephant riding is definitely less elegant than horseback riding, no butt-snug jodhpurs and polished to a shine riding boots, and whispering "giddy up" into one of those huge ears doesn't move one of these beauties.
First, I was thrilled to meet my elephant's 4 month old grandson................the most adorable little guy who loved being around people. There were several babies, and many females were pregnant. Patara's breeding program has been very successful and they have not lost an elephant in 10 years. It was easy to see this farm is dedicated to saving and raising healthy elephants - there are NO circus acts or performing of any kind.
It was an amazing feeling to be able to cuddle up on a baby elephant.
My elephant was named Mokasuop and her mahout was Theo who had worked with elephants at the farm for 4 years.
Preparing Mokasuop's snack of bananas and sugarcane treats.
Before sharing all that elephant love, we were shown how to feed our elephant.......they are eating machines and keep going all day long until they've consumed about 300 lbs of vegetarian deliciousness. This made me feel exceptionally close to Mokasuop, my lovely gal being vegetarian like me, and even helped when it came time to do her daily 'health check' which included squeezing her fresh poop to make sure she wasn't dehydrated. I could not have done that part if she was a carnivore!
Brushing vigorously to remove grit, accumulated during the night sleeping on the ground, from an elephant's hairy skin, is necessary before bathing - however balancing on rocks to reach her back was not easy.
Mokasuop's daily bath I left to my mahout......I did not have a swimsuit or change of clothes.....and to be honest I was more afraid of leeches, and other nasties possibly lurking in the muddy waters, than getting wet.
Getting ready to ride a squeaky clean elephant.
Traditional 'mahout' garb
To prevent chafed legs - elephants are wiry creatures - we added the loose 'fisherman's pant' to our traditional woven cotton tops, over our regular clothes, kicked off our footwear, and whoopee, it was time to get on our elephant.
Now these are not pretty pictures coming up. Remember no steps, no stirrups, no cranes! There are three ways to mount an elephant -
- Have it pick you up with its trunk and deposit you gently on its back.......only thing is you end up facing backward and then have to turn around which is quite difficult.
- Give the command for your elephant to lift its front leg, climb onto its raised foot and clamber up the leg. I may have chosen that way, but for some reason I never could determine, mine wouldn't do this one.
- What sounded best to us was have our elephant lay down and climb aboard. Sounds simple but isn't. An elephant on the ground is still huge - tall and wide - and as soon as you're halfway on they start to get up before you can even get your leg over!
The rope was not much help, in fact I found it a hindrance because..............
.............the rather large knot got caught between my legs making it really difficult to pull myself up to sweet Mokasuop's bristly, knobby head! Altogether I was a sight to behold and can only caption this photo with the words, "Hail Mary, full of grace"........and, because I refuse to be the only foolish looking first time elephant rider, here's Paula, my cohort in crime, looking just as silly. How we laugh at ourselves now watching the video version on the DVD we were given at the end of the day!!!
So here I am at last, up on squeaky clean Mokasoup's very wide neck, knees bent to grip, bare feet behind her ears to steer, ready to ride.
What was it like, how did I do?
TO BE CONTINUED: Come back for the rest of the story.......a rocky ride to the waterfall, and a delicious picnic.
Meanwhile, here's to the New Year......may 2012 be one of good health, great happiness, and many blessings for each one of you, my dear readers.