Becoming One with the Elephant


I was in Luang Prabang, Laos. The loudest noise I heard was birds chirping and stress seemed far away as I sat on a bean bag and sipped my mango smoothie. It was a mild, lovely place, and it made me want to do something to get my adreneline pumping.

The obvious answer was elephants. Southeast Asia must have stock in them because they put these beasts on their beers, clothing, and jewelry and a place isn't a backpacker destination if it doesn't offer at least one experience with an elephant. My choice was to bathe with the infamous elephant, as that seemed the most intimate and native-like.

My friends Sharon, Piro, and I bought our tickets for elephant bathing. Sharon and Piro were immediately pushed upon a noble looking beast by a small Laotian man. My elephant was short and had an attitude. He refused to kneel down so I could get on him and so his trainer applied (what I hoped was) slight pressure to the elephant's ear with a metal hook. I hopped on the broad back and was fascinated by the sharp bristles of hair. The massive muscles rolled back and forth underneath me as the trainers led us to a pool of water under the waterfall. Some people think they can communicate with animals. I've never been able to, but in those first few minutes with the elephant, I heard him loud and clear.

He did not like me.

He did not like having to carry me around.

He was going to try and kill me.

The water was slightly chilly as my elephant and I ambled in. In my dreams of this moment, I had thought I would have a loofah that I scrubbed my new best friend, Elephant with, as he showered me with water and we laughed about the good times. Instead, my elephant decided to dive in and submerge his whole body underwater.

This surprised me. I hadn't known elephants were hairy so how was I supposed to know they swam like fish? To the spectators watching, it looked like I was slowly drowning by myself, but in reality I was trying to keep my feet on the elephants back so I didn't lose him.

"Hey everybody", I waved to the crowd above where my friend Margo took photos, "I swear there is an elephant under me!"

What was my elephant doing down there? Was he trying to drown me? I laughed nervously, swallowing some water, and yelled to the trainer, "I can't control this elephant!" in hopes that someone could get my elephant to act like an elephant. The trainer, who was crouched like a tribesman behind a bush with his hook, just stared at me.

My elephant realized he wasn't a fish and came up for air. He noticed a banana feeding and began encroaching on Sharon and Piro's elephant's territory. This is when my elephant decided he wanted to make some babies.

Their elephant could tell romance was in the air, wanted no part of it and swam away. Yet, my elephant wasn't going to take no for an answer and quickly followed. Sharon fell off in the bustle and I grabbed her arm and pulled her onto my elephant so she wouldn't be crushed by the mounting that was about to take place.

"Hannah, your elephant is insane! Holy crap, is he having sex? Is that what he's doing right now? WHAT IS HE DOING?", Sharon screamed as my elephant put his front legs up on the backside of the other elephant and began moving back and forth. We all screamed together and Piro jumped off his poor elephant, that was practically pinned down.

"Piro, don't you leave us! PIRO!"

The trainers yelled and hit their hooks on trees. I felt like I was in some screwed-up version of the Coliseum.

Sharon yelped and fell off, leaving me alone with a rapist elephant. Finally, the trainers called my elephant away with some food (apparently hunger was the more important natural urge). I clung to its back, soaked and shaken, hoping that this elephant "bathing" was over. I heard clapping and looked up to see tourists, taking pictures and laughing. I needed a beer. Preferably one without an elephant on it.



H Smith

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