Mike and I went on an elephant mahout training course yesterday.
Here’s how it happened.
Last week we came back two days early from our time in Cambodia so that Mike could attend some important meetings in Vientiane – so he took those two days of leave this weekend instead. Given that we’d be in Luang Prabang, Mike decided it would be a good idea to pre-schedule some interesting things to do out of the house on these two days so that he would not be tempted out of habit to, as he put it, “fall into bed with my second wife, Madame Toshiba, when it is not her turn.”
(Madame Toshiba is Mike’s work computer and, for the record, she already gets more than her fair share of his attention.)
So that is how we ended up out at Elephant Village for the day, and when the owners asked us if we wanted to do the special package where you learn how to be a mahout and you get to swim with your elephant we said, “that sounds cool, why not?”
Perhaps if I had stopped to think about it for more than a nano-second I might have come up with a couple of potentially valid reasons why not.
Here’s one, for example: Mahouts ride elephants bareback.
Here’s another: Before they ride the elephants bareback they somehow climb up on them unassisted.
Here’s a third: There is no such thing as an elephant bridle.
And here’s the kicker: Elephants are very big.
But no – as in so many other situations in life I didn’t stop to think. Or perhaps more accurately, I knew that thinking might be wise, but I took one look at Mike’s hopeful, excited, face at the prospect of mahout training (he looked exactly like a Labrador Retriever who’s just spied someone with a tennis ball in hand) and knew I wouldn’t have the heart to say no, so I chose not to think. I can never figure out in those moments whether I’m being a great wife or an idiot.
They say you learn something every day, and here’s one of the things I learned yesterday: I’d be the world’s worst mahout.
It took two people to shovel me up onto our training elephant and things only went downhill from there.
I mastered exactly none of the commands designed to tell the elephant where to go and almost fell off the elephant’s head while it was merely walking in a gentle circle. Then I nearly lost my shirt over my head sliding down its neck.
Here’s another thing I learned yesterday: Sometimes I need to repeat an experience before I really learn my lesson, because later in the day I got back up bareback on an elephant – this time I wearing nothing but a bathing suit – and almost fell off again.
But here’s the third thing I learned: I might not particularly like riding the elephants without the aid of a howdah, but I sure do like swimming with them.