I am sitting on the neck of a beautiful elephant.
Our eyes are locked together in a picture perfect moment. The mahout then teaches me the commands in Thai so she will move left, move right, move straight. My head is spinning, and I begin to panic.
I stroke the top of her head, covered in thick hairs. I sense that she welcomes the soft feel of my hand, perhaps the first human touch she has received that wasn’t followed by trekking orders.
I know then that I cannot ride her.
I can not force her to walk along a dusty path on a hot day, while I leisurely sit on top of her.
The mahout is repeating the commands, and I shake my head.
“I can’t do it,” I tell him. He looks confused and tells me again how to direct, and again I shake my head no.
Beside me, a girl from England is sitting on a elephant much taller than mine, and she says she can’t as well.
The lesson stops, and the agitated mahout looks to the group for help.
“I’m sorry,” I say. My tears have fallen onto her dry skin. “I just can’t do it.”
The mahout finally understands that I want to come down—he believes I am afraid of heights.
The girl beside me also comes down, and tells me she understands. She was afraid of how high we were on the elephants.
I try to explain what the real reason is, but the mahout hurries us into the next activity. I sit down in the shade, and watch the rest of the group continue their riding lesson. I feel their looks of concern on me.
One of my main reasons for coming to Thailand, like so many others, was the elephants. When my husband and I were looking at places to spend the day with them, we found a place that had “ethical riding,” which means no chair. Excited at the chance to fulfill a dream, in harmless way, we booked the day.
After lunch, while our group enjoyed the afternoon break—some resting in the hammocks provided, while others sipped beers and conversed—I walked over to the elephants.
Each one was chained, swaying back and forth in the afternoon sun. My thoughts were still on the riding lesson. I walked over to each of them, stroking their ears and heads. I wondered what they would say to me, and what hardships they had endured.
No matter how foolish I probably looked to those who, like me, had come to ride the elephants—I knew I’d made the right decision.
I looked into each one’s dark eyes and told them I was sorry.
Author: Tiffany Parker
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Photo: Author’s own.