It was a bit of muggy looking day today but nothing could wipe the smiles from our faces because today we were going to learn how to drive an elephant! Today we would be taking a course on how to be an elephant mahout and, of course lots of thoughts were going through my head. Would our licence to drive an elephant be valid internationally or just for Laos, would it only work with Laotian elephants, if I created an army of elephants with lasers could we rule the World, you know that sort of stuff!
We were picked up early from our hotel and found ourselves in the back of a van with four Japanese people. As most people seem to, they knew a smattering of English which made being understood far easier for us ‘Lazy Brits’ and off we all went. The sanctuary was a bit of a way out from the town but it was a nice enough ride if a little dreary weather wise. As we neared our destination one of the young ladies spotted a working elephant and almost wet herself, obviously a big elephant fan I thought!
Anyhow we soon enough arrived at our destination and the place seemed like it was in the middle of being constructed but it was all homely enough. First of all we all paired up, there were three pairs of us anyhow so this was an easy job then we all sat in the ‘classroom’ and learnt some of the easier elephant controlling commands. You know the stuff, Go (Pai), Stop (How), Right (Khouy) and you know, Handbrake Turn (Kapowy) – okay maybe one of those is wrong but I cannot divulge which … snigger! Then it was our turn to ‘mount up and ship out’ through the surrounding jungle area. The track we traversed was a bit up and down and this gave the elephant driving a bit of added zing, sometimes you really did feel like you were going to fall off. Our elephant was called Pong – easy enough even for me to remember and our mahout a Mr Anou but maybe these names were the other way round, anyhow I digress. Whilst on our ‘test drive’ there was a bit of rain but we soon enough learnt that this does not stop neither elephant nor mahout! We sat on a double seat on our ‘grey charger’ and both had turns at driving, this was my first go whilst Liz was an old hand having taken charge at Krabi it was great, I really enjoyed it especially the four ‘foot’ drive they can do anything!
So after our first ride of the day we had a pit stop and fed our elephants with some long grasses. When you look into an elephant’s eye there seems to be an awful lot of intelligence and memory there, they look at you as if they can read you and they possibly do as I am sure I kept feeding my elephant way more than I should have – was it hypnotising me I wondered? Then it was back into the classroom for us and more instructions to take us onto ‘Elephant Driving – Level 2’! There were some new commands to learn – Right forward (Pai Sai), stop whatever it is that you are doing (Ya Ya), Spray water overhead (Boon Boon) and jump the next tree you see command – Boomshalacklackboom. Once again, one of these commands is a fib and I think should you ever get the chance to ride a Laos elephant you will be pleasantly surprised to find out which one it is.
After our second spell at being taught it was then back inside for a spot of lunch. This was all very nice and civilised and whilst eating we found out through their faltering English, a bit more about our fellow learner riders. It is quite nice the kind of camaraderie that soon enough builds up during these kinds of trips even when the communication is not all that good. No sooner had we eaten though and it was back out and climbing the stage that you access the elephants from and off we went out again. For the afternoon session it was now our turn to ‘operate’ the elephants on our own, we each had our own mount and we could now try out the new manoeuvres we had learnt. Our mahouts stayed on with us for a short while and then jumped off to walk alongside, this was it folks!
Liz was already on her own and out and about but soon as I had control of mine I slipped it up a gear or two and put my foot down … lol. First another foray into the jungle and then we came out onto the more open area by the river. Then it was down the steep bank and then into the river!!! The command Boon Boon now really came into it’s own. This must have been the initiation for new mahouts and it was great, I could not stop laughing however Liz seemed to be aboard a broken elephant as hers simply submerged when she gave the command which looked quite frightening, one minute she was there, the next underwater! The fun in the river was absolutely great though, the Japanese were squealing with delighted and I don’t suppose I sounded too different myself even Liz managed the odd ‘glub glub’!
After the soaking it was then back up the bank of the river which was quite hairy and then we took the elephants on into the jungle so they could do whatever it is they do of an evening. Whatever it was it was going to have to take place within the length of each of their chains. Now I must admit it did not make me too happy to see this but the guide did explain that unless the animals were chained up then they would go wondering into the neighbouring farmer’s fields and the like and, unfortunately the farmers would exact a retribution far costlier than them being chained.
Lastly, it was back to the main building and off with our wet clothes and to a great fanfare we were each given certificates of our achievement, or as I saw, our driving licences! This was it, we could drive our own elephant! This was great, I could just imagine myself back home lording it up and down the streets of Grimsby on my very own elephant, this would turn heads back in the old town!
When we got back to Luang Prabang we had had such a good time today that we booked ourselves a village trek for tomorrow to go and see a KHMU village and then walk on to Khoung Si waterfall. After we had a bite to eat we saw the Japanese girls from earlier today so we had a bit of a catch up with them, they, like ourselves were still buzzing over the whole mahouting experience. We left them then to go and watch the river’s gentle progress whilst we had a beer and just relived the day, it had been that good. Then it was off back to the hotel it had been a great day and a great experience.