Travel writing – Elephant Encounter, Laos

I blogged regularly thoughout my backpacking trip earlier this year. Since I’ve been home I’ve entered the occasional travel writing competition with edited versions of those posts. Wanderlust and Lipstick have a competition at the moment I’m going to have a crack at.

Here’s a short piece (500 words).

Elephant Encounter, Laos

The mahout’s hand reaches down from high above me. This is the moment at which I realise riding an elephant’s not going to be quite as easy as I’d assumed. An acre of grey hide stretches between me and those slender fingers.

The elephant watches me with almost human, mournful brown eyes. I grasp the top of her ear and place a bare foot on her upraised knee. Her thick, loose skin is rough, like sandpaper, but warm. I launch myself up, reaching for the mahout’s hand. A scramble and someone shoving me inelegantly from behind and I scrape my leg over her neck and haul myself upright. I have grazes on my arms and knees. Shuffling forwards I tuck my knees up behind her ears, feet jammed against her rough hide. My hands rest for balance on the hard, bristly dome of her head.

The mahout, professional elephant driver, sits on the bony ridge of her spine behind me and guides her with his feet and voice. She is surprisingly agile and light footed, everything done at a slow, measured pace. I feel the shoulder blades shift beneath me with each step, ears flap, head swing from side to side. It’s a long way down. Every step threatens my precarious balance.

We ride sedately through the teak forest, serenaded by the voices of the mahouts singing traditional Lao songs and the soft clink of chains around the elephants’ necks.

Down at the river, my elephant sinks into the cool water, the mahout shouting with unrestrained glee, “diving elephant, diving elephant!” I’m submersed to my waist; the elephant beneath me vanished beneath the dark surface. When she rises up again we scrub her dusty hide with brushes.

Later, once the elephants are tethered for the night in the forest and the mahouts have played hotly-contested games of petanque, we make our way back through the pitch-black forest to our lodge, lighting our way with the narrow beams from electric torches.

The forest teems with life; the night air is dense with the sounds of insects. A scorpion the size of my thumb scuttles across my path. Armies of industrious termites seethe around their towering mounds.

As we negotiate the narrow, rutted trail I notice pin-pricks of light glittering among the leaf litter. They look like tiny diamonds or spots of dew but it’s bone dry. I swing my torch round for a closer look and realise it’s the light reflected from spiders’ eyes, thousands of tiny spiders scattered throughout the forest.

Back at the lodge I glance up, mesmerised by the most incredible night sky suffused with stars. I’m brought back to earth as I trip over an enormous mound of elephant dung. It reminds me of the old proverb, be humble for you are made of dung. Be noble for you are made of stars.

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