Today I rode an elephant. Another item checked off the bucket list. After spending ten hours exploring temples on our first day in Bangkok, today we took a half-day tour 80 miles west of the city to visit a floating market and ride an elephant. I was very excited, despite having to take anti-malaria medication.
The CDC website advises travelers planning on exploring rural parts of Thailand and Cambodia to take preventative anti-malaria medication. Both areas we were going to aren’t a hotbed of malaria-carrying mosquitos, but there’s enough of the infested suckers buzzing around that there is a risk, given my luck, that the one malaria-infested mosquito in a hundred-mile radius would choose me as his dinner. Correction, her dinner. Michael notified me that male mosquitos feed on flower nectar and only female mosquitos bite people because they require blood to produce eggs. Those bitches.
Through online research and conversation with my doctor, I discovered that the side effects of actually contracting malaria just barely inch out the side effects of taking the preventative medications. Delightful. I settled on a medication called Malarone. It seemed to be the most recommended and the one that a few of my friends and acquaintances took in their past travels. I filled the prescription and read the contradictory advisory label. One side effect is that you might be unable to sleep. On the other hand, you might have vivid dreams. You may have diarrhea, or maybe constipation. You could have loss of vision, or luck out with x-ray vision. Just reading the warnings made my eyes blur (#23 of the possible side effects).
But I’m riding an elephant so it’s all good! I shot straight out of bed at 5:00am this morning, brimming with excitement, showered, doused myself in Prickly Heat (people who sweat or have babies, look this magic powder up, it’s a must in hot and humid weather or for diaper rashes, respectively), and strapped on my trusty harem pants (I replenished my harem pants stock in Bangkok).
We met our tour guide at our hotel at 6:30am. Michael attempted to teach me a couple of Thai phrases so that I could greet the tour guide and thank him for his services.
Sawat di ka – hello, how are you
Khop khun ka – thank you
I could not get the hang of either of them. My tongue tangled them into what has become my standard response to any conversation directed at me. “Khap khup ka” followed by vigorous bowing with my hands in the gesture of prayer and manic smiling. It seems to work. Haven’t figured out if it’s because I seem very grateful and polite or batshit crazy.
Even though my tongue garbles Thai phrases into a phonetic mush of mumbles and grunts, I’ve had stellar success in understanding Thai English spoken to us by the kind people of this country. On our cab ride from the airport, as our cab driver repeatedly asked us “Fa Fa Sa?”, I translated to a confused Michael that he was asking us if we were staying at the “Park Plaza” hotel. And when we booked a tour through our hotel’s concierge service and the gentleman said he would bring the “washer” to our room, I laughed gaily and nodded my head.
Michael: Did he say he’s going to bring a washer to our room? Why did you laugh and nod at him?
Me: I think he meant the voucher for the tour. He’s going to bring it up to our room. Worst case scenario, maybe we’ll get some laundry done.
Back to the elephant. The elephant ride was everything I hoped it would be. I was terrified to be 13 feet off the ground and swaying from side to side, but I am terrified of everything in life so this anxiety was nothing out of the ordinary for me. There was a two-seat bench set up on top of the elephant for Michael and me to squeeze into behind the elephant driver (Do these folks have a proper name? Handler? Rider?) who was perched precariously but completely comfortably behind the head of the elephant. He used his feet to steer the elephant by tapping and squeezing behind the top of the elephant’s ears to go straight, turn, or stop. He had a prodding stick but never used the sharp end. He would tap the middle of the elephant’s head with the blunt end to signal to the elephant that a banana was coming and the elephant would raise his trunk up to receive the snack.
The side-to-side swaying as the elephant lumbered along was not too bad, but when the elephant went down an incline into the river, I thought I was going to shoot straight over its head and have myself a bath. Likewise, rising out of the river felt like falling backwards. Other than that, the ride itself was placid. I touched the elephant’s hide. I noticed sparse but coarse black hairs all over its back. I wondered if my depilator would work on elephant hair and if he would feel his hairs getting plucked out. And how maybe whether or not a device could successfully pluck out elephant hair should be the mark of a truly great depilator. At the very least, advertising that a device is strong enough to pluck elephant hair would garner attention.
Michael purchased a wicker basket full of midgety bananas for me to feed the elephant during our 20-minute ride through the forest. As I thought about how monotonous this elephant’s life must be, walking the same serpentine loop on repeat every day, I was convinced that today, during my ride, this elephant would decide that he had had enough of captivity and servitude and stampede off the beaten path to freedom. I was also convinced that the way to make sure this did not happen was to, every half a minute, shove midgety bananas into the driver’s hand to feed to the elephant. I figure I’m easily placated with food, so why not an elephant? Fed elephant equals happy elephant.