The career change has finally happened! After many years of teaching we decided that a change of jobs was long overdue. Yesterday we both became qualified elephant mahouts!
After shopping around town for the best elephant offerings, we decided to choose Jewel Travel, at 02/29 Sisavangvong Rd.
The elephant camp is in beautiful surroundings about 40 minutes out of town. You go to an isolated local village of around 200 people and then cross a river by small boat. The English speaking guide is generous with his time and very informative about elephants and Laos life in general. There were also 3 mahouts on hand to assist with the elephants.
They have two beautiful female elephants that you work with, one aged in its 20′s, the other in its 30′s. We had the option of taking an elephant each but for a lot of the day we were happy to share one elephant. This was a wise choice because riding on the elephant’s neck is pretty intense and demanding on the thigh muscles. While one of us rode, the other could relax on the seat behind.
They ease you into it and you are accompanied by a local mahout at all times. First we both sat in the seat while the mahout followed a narrow path through the jungle. It was an hot day but the shade of the jungle offered some relief. The elephant stopped often to feed on the foliage. Apparently they consume around 250 kg in a day.
After learning the various commands, prods and prompts, it was our turn to take the lead. Perched on the elephant’s neck, you tuck your knees in behind its ears. ‘Steering’ with the knees or sometimes the ears, is highly effective.
We took more and more control as the day wore on. The local mahout simply wandered along nearby to keep an eye on things, or in case the elephant became particularly stubborn.
In the final stretch back to camp, there was a particularly steep section where the elephant stayed still, feeding, for quite a while. I had to tense my thigh muscles for ages to avoid toppling over its head, before she agreed to move on. Showing who was boss I suspect. When I dismounted back at camp, my legs were like jelly.
Then came the fun part, which would have to be right up there with anything we have ever experienced. We got to bathe the elephants and swim with them in the water. They love the water and were particularly playful.
After a good dunking came the highlight. We rode the elephants like bucking broncos! Perched on its neck and holding on by the ears, the elephant would rock violently from side to side in an effort to throw us off. They were always successful. Its an eerie feeling when you are thrown off into the water and two and a half tonnes of elephant rolls over in your direction! Being blasted by a trunk-full of water can also be distracting.
At one stage I had held on for a long time so the elephant tried a new tactic. It crouched down in the water and totally submerged me. When I ran out of breath, I had to concede defeat.
It was such an exhilirating experience. You must do it.
And of course, if you need a mahout for your next trip or function, get in touch with us and we will see what we can do.
Of course once we are back in Australia we will be registering at the Unemployment Office, as mahouts!