...I was mistaken – not in my trust so much as in my evaluation of what was about to happen. When our elephant did not skirt around the left side of the one ahead but, rather, turned perpendicular to the path and aimed himself over the side of the path where the incline was no less than a 45 degree angle, this became significantly apparent.
Understand, I can only accurately share my own reflections here, but as they were somewhat influenced by Tammy’s words and actions, I’ll include some of that context as well. You’ll have to ask her yourself (those of you who know her) exactly what was going through her mind at this time. I do know that she suggested to me later than she had visions of us rolling down the mountainside together...Tammy, me, the driver and our elephant...and that this was not the way she wanted to die.
Tammy grabbed the front bar with both hands and shut her eyes -- the grabbing and the shutting could both be modified with "tightly." I suggested she keep them shut until I told her it was "safe" to look again. What I was seeing in front of us was a decline markedly steeper than it felt like an elephant should navigate with a wooden sofa and two American women on its back. Now, please don’t ask if I have any photos of this – asking only shows that you don’t yet understand how precarious a spot we were in. I was trying to not loose Tammy, an umbrella, or my bag while talking calmly so as to help convince Tammy’s subconscious brain that we were just fine. (The photo below was taken of the area off the path when we were not up high and the slop down was gentle.)
Our elephant decided to eat. No, not the grasses and leaves near the side of the trail – a big, green, juicy clump of tall grasses about 10 feet off the path. Off and down. And not just a trunk grab full – the whole salad. Not able to get a good hold the first time, it stepped further down the slope. I’m not sure if I might have felt more fear myself had Tammy not been expressing her own fear at our rather unpredictable situation. Mostly I was laughing -- but trying not to make Tammy think I was laughing at her, for I was not. I laugh on roller coasters and white water rafting trips. Somehow the rush of adrenaline mixed with a sense of security emerges as laugheter for me.
Our driver was holding on to our seat on the underneath side and kept giving commands to the elephant. We’ll never know how in or out of control he was – it felt like the elephant was a bit bullheaded at this point. It eventually turned sideways a bit and we could turn to see the path behind and above us – Tammy opened her eyes to that. I was afraid, however, that she was planning her escape – a jump to safety, perhaps.
Then, after finishing off the last bit of grass, the elephant began the turn all the way back around and then the climb up to the path so we could be on our way. Tammy’s eyes were shut again.
By this time I admit that I was laughing all the more at our adventure – and confessing to Tammy who may never do anything with me again after this that I seem often to get the rogue animal in these situations. I also admit that I felt a sense of relief myself. It was good to be back on the beaten path.
After we returned and dismounted our elephant and rejoiced at being on solid ground again,we did purchase our dung-framed photos as a mark of a journey that was more than we signed-up for. Our SAM host assured us that we were in no danger at any time – but she wasn’t actually there, was she? And when, especially in Asian culture, would anyone tell a guest that they had, indeed, been near death while under their care?
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.
Will Tammy? I’m quite sure not.
Does this make be “brave” or simply “stupid”? I’ll let you decide.
Personally, I don’t think it’s either. I think I just like elephants…