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
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
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