|Jon atop Mae Boon Thong|
|Heather atop Boon Jin|
|Giving Mae Boon Thong 'skin care' before our ride|
|Mike, Opal, Heather, Jon, Ken, Chris, Michelle losing water fight with elephants|
|Leading Boon Jin into river for 'skin care'|
|Bathing Boon Jin|
|swimming at waterfall|
After being paired up and intorduced to their handlers we fed them some bananas, sugar cane, and squash. The purpose of this was to see if the elephants would accept you as handler, at least for this day. We then lead them over to a creek had them lay down, by saying 'nolong' and began their skin care treatment. No we did not get out giant vats of lotion. Instead we were given 'bouquets' of branches and leaves and basically beat the mud, rocks, and poop off of them. It was surprising exactly how hard we had to hit them to accomplish this. However it worked. To have them stand back up we gave them the command 'Look'. Then lead them into the creek by pulling them by the ear and saying, 'Ma' again and again.
Once in the creek we doused them with water and scrubbed them with bristle brushes. When it was all over we engaged in a 'water fight'. We first lined them up shoulder to shoulder and threw water all over them. Then under the pretense of having a group photo taken we turned our backs on them and posed. Knowing full well what was coming it was still a bit of a surprise when they retailiated by spraying us in return.
It was now time to ride. After a short break we were given a demonstration of three different mounting techniques. Heather and I each chose what appeared to be the easiest. This consisted of having the elephant bending their front leg. Using their 'foot' as a step stool, their ear as leverage and hoisting yourself up to straddle them just behind their head. And we were off. The riding position is similar to that of a thoroughbred horse. Your knees are over the top of their knees with your bare feet behind to direct them. We were given commands that they would theoretically listen to as well. 'Pie' - go, 'Toy' - back, 'How' - stop, 'Yanna' - don't (I used this a lot with Mae Boon Thong), and 'Dee Dee' - good girl/boy. I said theoretically because Mae Boon Thong was either very strong willed, or easily distracted from the task at hand. which was to follow in a the others in a timely manner along the trail. At any moment we might veer right or left to snag some vine off a bush, a root out of the ground, or investigate any leaves as potential sources of food. I feel sorry for the others. They didn't appear to get nearly the excitement out of their rides as I did with mine. In retrospect I'd liken it to riding a slow moving mechanical bull. No matter what command I gave from my cheat sheet(written on our arms for quick reference) it didn't seem to sway her from whatever had caught her attention.
We rode up into the hills surrounding the farm through thick bamboo forests to a wonderful waterfall. It had a large pool into which two - three elephants were lead to swim. The handlers gave us a quick demo. of how to 'swim' with them and then invited us to join them. Swimming with them really meant we climbed all over them as they lay on their sides. They would periodically roll either upright or side to side and you had to move with them, or jump off. They seemed not to mind, or maybe even enjoy, having us on them. It was a magical experience. Next came lunch.
Served on a giant banana leaf was an assortment of local foods. Mostly sweet like sticky rice w/mango in a leaf wrapper, banana with some type of fried 'breading' around it, and chicken drumsticks. All very delicious. There was far more food than the group of us were going to eat. When it appeared we had our fill the clean-up crew was called in. Much to our amazement three of the elephants had been slowly moving towards us ( the food was so good we hadn't noticed ) and began to reach in and pluck anything within reach. They made quick work of polishing the rest off. In fact we were all scrambling to get out of the way.
We mounted up again and made our way back to the farm. It was not easy to say goodbye. When we first were introduced I was very intimidated to get too close. Now, just a short time later, trusted them so much moe to approach, and touch. Truly amazing. I wasn't sure we would be able to top the zip lining from the day before, however this experience had so much more emotion with it. Again absolutely incredible.