Bill and Sue-On Hillman: A 50-Year Musical Odyssey


Until the mid-1980s the local elephants were still used for logging, now however logging is an illegal process. This means that the elephants have been made redundant. In order to pay for the elephants' massive food consumption and care, many Mahouts have offered a chance for visitors to mingle with and to experience the thrill of riding their animals. 

We took an early morning truck/bus ride along the river through a rough wooded area -- on our way to the Maevang Elephant Camp. Much activity in the low water river: swimmers, food & goods stalls, and motor bikes galore. We stopped at a primitive lunch stop for pad thai - not nearly as good as Sue-On makes. After reaching the elephant encampment we crossed a meadow to the corrals. Had to pick our way through piles of corn fodder and scattered "elephant apples." We climbed to the mounting platform and watched expectedly as a red-haired Mahout strapped a gondola onto our elephant and rode our mount over to us -- a big female pachyderm named Maku. We called her Tantor :) 

We leapt from the mounting tower over onto the gondola bench which we struggled to stay on as our Mahout commanded the beast from his "pilot" position up front just behind the huge floppy ears. We rock and rolled, and jerked back and forth (no seatbelts) along a narrow, steep jungle trail. A little way up the trail Mahout halted the elephant, slid to the ground and motioned Bill to take the driver's seat, up front on Maku's neck. This was the start of a bareback ride of a lifetime as he hung on with knee pressure and pretended to control Tantor who had a mind of her own. In places, where the trail was at its narrowest and ruttiest, she liked to stop and turn sideways to rub her trunk and butt on the rough jungle undergrowth. Our Mahout walked and ran ahead with our camera to take a zillion pics of the event. 

Bill couldn't resist the opportunity to beat his chest while giving Tarzan yells . . . this only encouraged the elephant to speed up even faster along the jungle trail -- presumably to come to the rescue of someone in distress. Eventually we climbed a steep hill and could see the encampment clearing in the distance. Tantor could see the water tanks in the distance and lost no time in charging downslope for refreshments. The temperature was around 40 degrees so we knew that she must have been as thirsty as her riders. After quenching her thirst though, she did the unexpected. Time to cool off! We watched in startled surprise as she swung her trunk back to the right and sent out jets of water. We were relieved to see that she had aimed low and we escaped with only wet feet. Our good luck was soon to change, however, as we were soon totally soaked from both sides as Maku dumped a series of trunkfulls on us. Satisfied that we all were comfortably wet and cool she made a beeline to the shade of her corral pen and the mounting tower. 

I think Tantor took a fancy to us -- it must have been the picture of the elephant on the Tarzan T-shirt that Bill was wearing. Later she followed us to the reception area where we left her with goodbye hugs, pats and scratches. 

3D Stereoview Cards from our Vintage Card Collection



Bill and Sue-On Hillman