“This seemed like a better idea from the ground.”
After wandering for a bit in the morning with hopes of finding somewhere that sold coffee and finding only another hostel which seemed to pride itself on the slowest service ever, we headed back to our own hotel for 9 where the van for Eddie’s Elephant Trek picked us up for the day. The hour long journey from there involved stopping at a market to pick up some elephant food (we would learn today that they are obsessed with bananas), where we discovered two other ETAs, Emily and Ben, were on the same bus as us. Once we finally arrived we also came across another bus full of TET people, so clearly we were taking this tour over for the day.
Eddie, as in THE Eddie of Eddie’s Elephants, came out to greet us, so he wasn’t just some sort of clever marketing creation like I had first thought. He spent half an hour talking to the whole group, which included a French family amongst all the temporary english teachers/wannabe elephant riders, about the history of elephants and how they should be treated. Following this we headed down to a field for our day’s first encounters, where we sat around for 10 minutes trying to work out when something would actually happen before the staff appeared with several elephants in tow, who were probably more fussed with the bananas we brought along rather than us.
Following half an hour of elephant feeding including a few attempts where I had to swerve to avoid being smacked by a trunk, we started on our ‘practice’ rides. Kerry was first, shouting ‘som sum!’ which, as Eddie had told us, instructed the elephant to let us climb on, and after she’d scrambled up it it took her on a walk round the field, mostly following its own desires until the staff started shouting at it.
Shortly afterwards it was my turn. I made my own dodgy attempts to climb up the elephant’s front leg and eventually found myself shifting up towards its neck as the staff kept telling me to ‘move forward’, at which point it started walking and I clung on to its bobbing head and ears for dear life. The quote from the beginning of this post comes from what I told the others on the ground, which would turn out to be a common thought this weekend.
A complimentary lunch happened before we headed down the road for our afternoon elephant trek through the forest. Eddie had instructed us to cram our pockets with bananas, which Kerry and I quickly realised were effective bargaining tools after we climbed onto our afternoon elephant. It would take three or four steps before hurtling its trunk back to us to demand food like a spoilt child, so we tried to only reward it when it had successfully crossed over the more difficult jungle sections. I will use a similar reward method if I ever become a parent.
I didn’t take my camera for this part, which considering the terrain we were crossing was a very good choice (I have the photos the staff took on a CD, but since my chromebook is apparently too hipster to have a CD drive it may be a while before I can actually upload them.) Sitting at the back of the elephant, i didn’t realise the required positioning of my legs on its body would make them ache as much as they did, and everytime it walked down a hill I found myself bumping forwards and inches away from springing off my lovely elephant seat and onto the rock-hard ground. Obviously I’m pretty metal so that didn’t happen, but we finished at a river where the elephants sat down and bathed, throwing us off in the process, so i guess it was all only a matter of time.
We were given brushes to clean the elephants, and it was fun watching them roll and splash around like dogs, albeit dogs that emitted small tidal waves every time they hit the water. Afterwards we stood in the lake as the elephants scooped up water in their trunks and spent a good while blasting us all in the face with it. It was actually quite refreshing after trekking in the hot afternoon sun, so the joke’s on you, elephants.
Overall it was a great day, but throughout it I had a bit of a lingering feeling of considering how ethical the whole set-up was. Eddie’s Elephants makes a point of saying that all the elephants it uses have been rescued, but many who weren’t currently riding were kept with a chain around one of their legs. Maybe that’s not necessarily that cruel, but I guess this is something you have to accept during tourist attractions such as these.
In the evening we all met up again, went to another great market, and had dinner at a streetside restaurant that made awesome banana milkshakes (Annie mocked me for acting like I was a greaser in a 50s diner by ordering one at night, which is definitely my new life goal.) A few of the others went out to a some more bars after that but I only stayed for one drink, thinking that a hangover would be a terrible idea considering the bungee jump I had booked for tomorrow morning.