Posted by: Richard | November 17, 2009

Introducing Mr and Mrs Mahout!!!

Yes, we are true mahout.  After a 10-minute explanation on what to yell (I still don’t remember) we were sitting on elephant necks, piloting several tons of a giant beast around a field.  It was actually very scary.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We arrived at the cafe at 8am, eager to get out to the elephant’s.  We waited, and waited as other people boarded mini-vans.  Finally, a 1960’s Land Rover appeared with what was likely the original driver.  I loved this ride, though she was a temperamental auto.  I could watch the road below my feet, and she wouldn’t stay in third gear unless somebody held the gear shift.  None of the dials worked, and the radio had been removed.  Still, the ride was instant credibility.

We drove for about an hour out of town, finally arriving at the elephant camp – home to 9 rescued logging elephants and in desperate need of two canadian mahouts.  We immediately got to work, learning the basics and practicing riding.  this was bareback, no saddle, no reigns, no platform.  What do I mean about the platform.  Well, you yell a little bit and the elephant slightly raises their right front leg.  At this point, you grab onto the top of the ear (do not do this on humans), and then lever yourself up to grab onto the elephants neck. Once you’ve got the neck, you merely get your leg over and then you’re on the neck.  Finally, you shimmy forward until you are basically at the back of the elephants neck.  Now, it’s time to walk about.

We did a tour with the real mahout holding onto the ear.  Then we were put onto Raj style chairs and went for an hour ride.  This was almost enough for me, as these giant beasts made me uncomfortable. Lynn wanted a bit more, so we decided to then our elephants back into the jungle for their nightly rest.  We were back on their necks, and I was terrified.  We spent 45 minutes, and it was incredible.  Magical.  I cannot really describe what it is like, but to be on top of several tons which really doesn’t pay any attention to what I want it to do is incredible.  I spent my time singing songs to keep the elephant calm and stroking her ears.  She repaid me by keeping her head fairly level and making my ride much easier.  She also flapped her giant ears almost constantly, cooling herself and her mahout, yours truly.

After this lovely journey, we got in a boat and took a trip to some magical falls.  A great day, one of the best days of travel I have ever had.  Nothing I have ever done before, but hope to do again.

We awoke the following morning at 7am.  We were responsible for bringing the elephants back into camp and bathing them in the Nahm Khan river.  This was exciting.  The elephants were taking this seriously, as they had managed to get covered in dirt during the night, and were grubby little ladies.

So, long story short, bathing elephants at dawn in Asia is something incredible.  The elephants get into the middle of the stream, then squat down.  Meanwhile, I’m giving it 100% scrubbing the head, flank, ears etc.  While mine was fairly well behaved, Lynn’s elephant was having a laugh, doing dunks, shakes and jumps. Lynn just managed to stay on.

It was at this moment that I realized how useless Mahouts really are.  While the true mahout for my elephant had been with the elephant for several years, he was incapable of getting the elephant to do anything other than letting me off.  In the river, mine decided she wanted breakfast, and crossed the river while the others regrouped for the actual mahouts to take them across the river. Once on the other side, she stopped for a second to let me jump off (and give a swift roundhouse to the mahout – right in the pills – in my speedy dismount) before charging up the hills to breakfast.

We regrouped with the other pretend mahouts for breakfast overlooking the river, all of us aglow at what we had just experienced.

But for me the best part was still to come.  I went over and saw that one of the Mahouts was selling bananas.  I bought a bunch and started feeding the ladies (the elephants that is).  Incredible having trunks snaking across to grab a banana.  I was in heaven, and rushed back to get Lynn.  We proceeded to empty ourselves of Kip in the pursuit of bananas.  We became the elephants best friends as we loaded them full of bananas.  No, we didn’t need to peel the bananas if that is what you are thinking.

Following this, we got in some kayaks and went down the Nahm Khan into Luang Prabang.  Fantastic paddle on a river that would compare to the Bow in July.  A few rapids, enough splash to keep us cool and incredible scenery.  Another great day.  Perhaps the highlight of the paddle was a family eating lunch having a singalong.  Incredible acoustic guitar and a symphony of voices doing a bit of Lao Neil Young….Magical….


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