She’s surprisingly bristly, like a sparse, straggly, scrubbing brush, and her skin is thick, so thick that you have to give her a good hard slap before she can feel you.
To clamber up, you stand on her bent knee, grab a large, leathery, ear and swing your leg over. Except she’s about three times as wide as a horse, so you end up being unceremoniously shoved in the bottom by a friendly mahout, who’s probably secretly laughing at your incompetence. He then demonstrates how to do it properly by nimbly scampering up the trunk and perching on her head, as if she’s a stool and he’s having a drink at the bar.
Then she stands up. Blimey she’s tall. As someone who’s not particularly fond of heights, I’m starting to wonder whether this was such a good idea. Dickon is hoisted up by a couple of people and plonked infront of me, I plant my hands on her head as I’ve been instructed, infront of Dickon’s thighs, I hope it’ll be enough to stop him falling off. He whimpers nervously as she trundles off down the tree lined path.
It’s very bumpy, a slow rolling motion, rather like the boat that made us all sick off the Otago peninsula in New Zealand. Keep looking ahead, instructs the mahout, and I try to do just that, because looking down is a bit scary, particularly as we’re walking alongside a ravine.
But gradually, as we slowly move along the sun scorched track, and she never gets faster than gentle lumbering, I start to relax and enjoy myself. Dickon keeps up a steady mantra of it’s really fine, she’s very slow, she doesn’t want to hurt me, and he, I think, starts to enjoy himself too. Every so often she waves her trunk in our direction, blowing sweet, bananary breath on us, and he says “Banana, Mummy!”, so I pass him one from my bag and he gives it to her.
Once you get over the terror, it’s a lovely way to travel. We’re walking through farmland, with mountains in the distance, and we spot lychee, mango and rose apple trees. When she goes downhill, it feels like being on a very slow moving roller coaster and you can’t imagine how you’ll ever manage to stay on, but it turns out that it’s quite hard to fall off such a broad back.
We spend all day with these beautiful, gentle creatures, with their toenails the size of desert spoons and their friendly wandering trunks, always on the look out for bananas. We talk to them, feed them treats, wash them in the river.
We’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of amazing, once-in-a-lifetime days on this trip. But we’re all agreed, this was one of the very best.