Lost my journal for the two days we spent in Pai, a wonderful jungle/mountain/hippie town. Very small. Every bar and restaurant in this two-street town had signs asking “Are you Ting Tong?” which is the Thai/Pai word for hippie. Our hostel, Darling View House, had the most picture-perfect shot of the whole town below it. Being low season, we had the entire top of this treehouse hostel to ourselves, which included a large, 360 degree patio. Complete with hammocks, reclined chairs and didgeridoos. The owner? Total Ting Tong. Her smile was so natural and permanent that it stretched past her mouth and eyes into the least stress-induced crows feet I’ve ever seen. Her natural brown hair was wash with streak of grey and white and she owned it. Jenn caught her in a foot pool, full-body swaying to an acoustic cover of that one everlast song. She was unceasing in her graciousness, one time being woken up by a group of us rather drunk tourists, including a young, British doctor, John and Yvonne, a boisterous Dutch girl, all of us yelling, sharing stories and ordering more beers while our host, forget her name, insisted that it was all ok as she shuffled about in her nightgown and her eyes sealed shut in sleep.

The town is packed with bars, restaurants and bamboo tattoo shops. I tried so hard to get a bamboo tattoo of a narwhal but no one would do it for thirty bucks… It was a brief stay but it included one of the definite highlights of this whole trip: a two hour elephant ride in and out of the jungle and into a rushing river. The elephant, which we named Werner, and his driver had a much better relationship than the ones of my last elephant experience. They had their disagreements, sure, but there appeared to be a general understanding and respect. They played well off of each other.

Let me tell you now that riding an elephant bareback sounds romantic but they are big, wide and big creatures. I have short, squatty and, most importantly, inflexible legs. The four of us (our driver, who we decided was worthy of the name, ‘Mogley,’ Aria, Jenn and myself) were positioned along Werner’s spine starting at the neck and filed behind where I brought up the rear which on the elephant seating chart means, give or take a vertebrae, right at the apex of Werner’s height and width. An hour never seemed so long and Werner couldn’t have moved any slower.  A combination of doing my best to enjoy the wonderful scenery all around me while finding any way to save my taint and groping Aria to avoid falling off the back of Werner became Thailand’s most uncomfortable workout. Toward the end I was finding all sorts of creative ways to stay on the elephant and find any semblance of comfort. This included a backbend/bridge move, a squat, a heavy 45 degree lean in either direction and even just saying, ‘fuck it all’ and standing up. You could say Werner and I built up a little rapport of our own by the end.

Amidst all the pain and sweat, we reached a brown, river with a strong current. The elephant moseyed his way into the middle and that is when the duo of Mogley and Werner really shined. Suddenly, a slew of commands came from a stoic Mogley, standing on the rump of his companion, who, slowly and steadily, laid in the water. This new movement caught us unawares and we moved to grip the rope, the elephant and each other tighter. Then the elephant rolled to his side and we slid and clawed our way to his dry half. There was one moment of clarity in the middle of the panic of an impending death by elephant squish, where Aria and I locked eyes as I was slipping to my doom. Aria asked if I was all right and I reply with a simple ‘nope’  and through this millisecond of eye contact I communicated all my last wishes, regrets and joys of my short life and as I lost the last of my grip of elephant skin, Aria grabs my arm last second. Just like in the movies. My hero hoists me to safety.

Apparently, this whole time Jenn, who is comfortably seated on Werner’s neck, didn’t realize the severity and certainty of death caused by the elephant’s movements. She finally looks back at her struggling companions and helps us up. Finally, we are safe and resituated on the back of the elephant. Not two seconds later, Mogley barks out again. Werner shakes. Shakes and shakes. And for as long and as valiantly we struggled to stay on the elephant, he flings us off just  as quick. We hit the water and the begins to carry us away. Then we realize that we can stand and we see Mogley and the elephant are staring at us.

The next half hour is filled with us laughing, screaming and climbing the elephant’s head and trying to stay on while he throws us back off. It took very little to make this happen. He also sprayed us with river water from his trunk and did a few other tricks. It was hard to leave the river, all the wear and tear from the ride is forgotten. We got back to the camp and fed Werner some bananas. Mogley opened a Chang beer, sat and watched TV like the most miraculous life event did not just happen five minutes ago.

I will say my ass and legs were sore for three days after. So if I can make a recommendation, keep the walk to an hour or better yet, skip the walk completely and spring for washing and feeding and playing with the elephants in water instead.

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