The Disney elephant certainly had big ears, and, compared to the size of his body, they were humongous. But he probably grew into them. Our elephants today at Ran Tong Elephant Training had huge ears. True, they were all full-grown, but, true, they weren’t blue animations.
After a long drive up a road that makes our gravel road at home seem like a newly-paved freeway, we arrived at the camp. Since we were the first group to arrive, the elephants and the cook and all the mahouts were there to meet us. We walked for about five minutes, giving us time to think about what we were about to do and who we were with.
First there were the two college-aged British girls. One especially (Lizzie, I think) was outgoing and laughing. The other girl was quiet around the other eight of us until the ride home. Maybe it was because the oldest two in the group- my parents- were in the cab of the pick-up, but maybe not. Then there was the Canadian couple. They spoke both French and English fluently, which is good because they’re going to university in Ottawa and I overheard them say that the university classes are taught mainly in French. She is a med school student who will graduate in 2014 (there was a sign on her backpack). The French couple was probably relieved to find more French-speakers on the trek, but they could speak English just fine.
We finally arrived at the Ran Tong camp. The Canadian couple, Ethan, our guide, and I were the first to arrive (everyone else was behind the mom and baby elephants). We were given our mahout clothes and told to change. Because Ethan and I are so small, we had red shirts and everyone else had pink striped shirts. The rope on the shorts went around me twice and dragged a couple inches on the ground.
We sat at the picnic table under the first shelter and listened to our guide explain the instructions for an elephant. “Sie” is left, “qua” is right, “how” is stop, “toi” is back, and “bie” is forward. We then practiced on the one male elephant they had and then boarded our own. Everyone had to ride with someone else except the two Canadians. Luckies.
Ethan and I were the drivers on our elephants, and Dad was Ethan’s passenger and Mom was mine. Our elephant was always begging for bananas (which we had). We were at the end and Dad and Ethan were one of the two elephants at the front. The four elephants in the back were so slow because we all got stuck behind the biggest elephant.
After a short ride, we went to the second shelter for lunch: pineapple, noodles, and make-your-own spring rolls. The second group had arrived by then and went on the elephants for the short ½ hour introductory ride. By the time we finished lunch, a third group (that was thankfully only hiking, not riding) had arrived and the second group had started their lunch. We got on the elephants for a second time, this time going to a waterfall. Mom and I rode a 22-year-old elephant named Mesvah (or something close to that). Once at the waterfall, two elephants were left behind as the others went to go bring the second group. We were supposed to wash them, but Mom, Dad, and I weren’t too keen on the getting wet part. We did go in the water for the pictures, though. There were certainly a lot of those. We also got sprayed by the elephant, which is why one side of me was soaked and the other side was hardly wet. (I was facing away from the elephant so I wouldn’t get water in my eyes.)
After the elephants finally returned with their human loads, we got on- this time I was with Dad- and rode back to camp on the path that went up and down the side of the hill instead of along the stream. My passenger was groaning the whole time, and it was uncomfortable too.
As he put it, “It’s like riding a piece of plywood with a three-inch bump in the middle.” That’s because he rode on the actual back, not at the neck like I did. It started raining once we were about half way through, and, combined with the waterfall water, we were soaked by the time we returned to the camp. We changed into our own clothes and walked to the truck. There we saw the cook. She had slipped in the mud from the rain and her whole back was covered in mud. And her shirt was white.
The rain had also done wonders to the road. Well, not really. It seemed the same as before just with slightly deeper puddles. I was on the end of the bench that was at the edge of the bed, so I could “almost” fall out (but only if I tried). My parents were smart enough to grab a ride in the air-conditioned cab. As we drove down the road that consisted of two one-foot-wide lines of concrete (washed away in places by the torrential rains), we peered behind us at the slick road that was really only red mud. Oh, yes, and the concrete!
We stopped at a little roadside store for drinks, but only Lizzie bought a drink (a can of Coca-Cola). However, all of us bought either a Magnum chocolate cone or ice cream bar- “made with real Belgian chocolate!” They were so good. There a can of seaweed Pringles was bought, and those of us in the bed of the truck shared the chips on the way to Chiang Mai. They just tasted like regular Pringles instead of some “special” flavor.
We dropped of the two Brits first, and then came the M.D. House. We were the only ones who got out, but it was good to be home, sweet home, at last. Ciao!