The point in my spine that has been taking the bulk of the strain now feels like a crab claw tapped and indented with a knife- just a little sideways pressure and it will snap. I long for my legs to bend at my hips to alleviate the pressure on this spot but there is nothing I can grab hold of to help pull me from this disastrous pose. We have traversed 3 downhill paths and at the next flat I make it clear to the oblivious mahout that I want off…OFF. He yells at the elephant to lie down. It ignores his grunt and instead places one of its massive appendages off the edge of the cliff and grabs a tree ripping a substantial branch from it. My mind flashes to a trumpeting wild elephant in must that we saw in Africa running down a hill flattening full grown trees as it made it way. I know this concrete beast can animate at any moment should it choose to and dazzle me with its athleticism. The mahout taps its shoulder with the hook and the elephant has its appendage rejoin the parade. It adheres to the mahout command bending down on one side with enormous effort careening us into low tide then the other side lowers quickly forcing us into tsunami speeding towards the edge of the great abyss. I motion and scream for the mahout to grab my kid. He does and I slide off willing my deadened limbs to move. The beast quickly lumbers back up on all fours on the small path and I scramble to make sure we aren't caught under the action. The mahout is now on and that undernourished vertically challenged SOB is sitting back in no-mans-land with his legs bent forward in jockey position. He asks me if my daughter still wants to ride and she and I quickly assess that she is more safe up there with him than on foot sharing the dusty path with the gargantuan mice haters. I walk the rest of the way slowly un-seizing my hips. The majority of the jungle trail was pretty flat with the exception of the final descent. It was the crème de la crème- probably a 75-degree drop. Under my cautious eye the mahouts held my kids tight. It was lunacy. I was barely able to do it by foot and had to cling to branches and rocks to balance myself through the descent. Fixated on my beast with my youngest perched on its back, it dabbled on and off the path staying secure in it's descent seemingly only by luck like some sort of Mr. Pachyderm Magoo. The Magoo vision combined with the tree branch still firmly in its trunk made it look kinder now- like a goofy Labrador retriever proudly clutching a stick.
The line of elephants crosses the road and traverses a 45-degree descent down a series of concrete steps. They tiptoe down the stairs summoning the vision that they are entering their own version of a wat then cross a path of sacred stones to their river ganges. It is a long awaited oasis for them in this 100F heat and miraculously no one gets pinned as they seamlessly transition from dismount to full roll. They are now golden retrievers playing in the water, rolling and trumpeting it from their trunks soaking us all. My Labrador drops its stick. Everyone remounts and climbs the hill home. All dismount and there is a baby elephant waiting for her supper. She energetically plays near her mother and contorts in ways I never knew elephants could. We hose off, change and enter the cab for the hour ride home feeling like we just crossed a finish line. For those of you Chiang Mai bound, Baanchang Elephant Park is the place to go to safely experience education and interaction with elephants. It was booked and requires an entire 1 to 2 day commitment so we settled for our visit to Thai elephant camp. As my tale tells, this camp is set up on a hill so there is a lot of vertical up and down involved in your ride which makes it quite a challenge. Wherever you go please make sure you sit SLIGHTLY back from the necks so you can ride it like a horse versus awkwardly being trapped in the nape of its neck like an inverted peace sign.
We make a visit to a night market and the kids embrace full-on the puffy printed cotton pants. Other than mosquito dodging, monkmeritmaking, a visit to a human zoo and a near death elephant experience we relax in Chiang Mai and spend most of our time in the pool- which pipes music underwater.
PS. I got the most fantastic massage after the elephant ride. With great attention to detail the masseur reached under me and slid my shoulder blades properly and fully into their sockets like they were pieces of a freshly laundered shirt. I sunk into the mat and melded with it. My vertebrae rejoiced.