I stood at the top of a ten-foot wooden platform and stared at the leathery, gray hide at my feet. How am I supposed to step on that? I wondered.
“Go ahead, Carol,” urged my husband, Kjell. “Go ahead and get on.”
I hesitated. Was it safe? Was it sturdy? What if it moved? And besides all that, it just seemed wrong to step on someone’s shoulders, even if it was an elephant.
“It’ll be fine, Carol,” my husband reassured.
I took a deep breath and an accompanying step onto whiskery elephant shoulders. The elephant didn’t flinch. I tentatively sat on the wooden bench perched on the elephant’s back, the handler settled in front of us, and we were off riding an elephant.
With the elephant’s first steps, I felt like I was sitting in a washing machine, my body jerking one way while my stomach lurched another direction. Maybe I should have taken some dramamine, I thought.
The elephant walked down the highway, past little shops selling ice cream and Coke, and then lumbered onto a mountain path. Soon the jerking settled into a rhythmic swinging and swaying, and I started to relax (emphasis on started).
Unlike the elephants in conservation areas or camps in the south of Thailand, many of those in Chiang Rai have been used for logging. When machinery was introduced in the area, elephant logging declined. So the villagers formed an elephant co-op of sorts and pooled their elephants. Now they help support themselves by offering rides to visitors.
Our ride led us past sugar cane fields and patches of pineapple. One elephant next to us stopped to nose around for a bamboo shoot snack by the side of the road and let out an elephant-sized emission. The earth seemed to rumble, and my husband started to laugh.
“Carol, you just heard an elephant pass gas, smile a little,” Kjell said. That did warrant a grin.
The elephant behind us wrapped its trunk around a banana tree and pull up the whole tree. He continued lumbering down the path, munching both bananas and banana tree. Our elephant sucked up a muddy puddle with its trunk, turned it, and sprayed its side along with a little bit of my husband.
This is really kind of fun, I thought, taking in the rice paddies, hills, and lush forests around us.
The highlight, though, came toward the end of our hour-long ride. The handler motioned to Kjell to sit in the “driver’s seat” and slid off onto the ground. Kjell then stepped off our wooden perch and slipped behind a pair of big floppy ears. I wish you could have seen his grin. I wish you could have heard me laugh.
Sometimes we hesitate to step off the platform of our routine—what we know and are comfortable with—onto the elephant in front of us. When we hold back, though, we miss the so-much-more that God has created to enjoy. It might be something as simple as a new flavor or a different texture of food. It might be a friend from a culture unique from our own or a fresh adventure, like hiking a mountain or riding elephants in Chiang Rai. At Niteo Tours our hope is to introduce you to new cultures and experiences that you can explore, encounter, and embrace. With that stepping out, or in my case stepping on, you might experience things from a different point of view. And be glad you did.
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