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We were slowly making our way in the direction of Vietnam. We wanted to spend a few days in eastern Cambodia. We chose San Monoran in the Mondulkiri province. The hotel we chose had cozy little bungalows spread on a grassy hillside. Horses and cows roamed freely and the main building and restaurant had a very chilled out atmosphere. It was very nice, but what we really came here for were elephants.

We went for an elephant trek through the mountains. At first, a minivan brought us to a local village. It was pleasant here. The landscape was hilly but dry. It looked a little like the western US. Pigs and piglets roamed freely, and kids ran around, often not wearing much at all. We waited full of anticipation for our ride to arrive. Then it came. An elephant emerged from behind a house, with its handler sitting on its neck. It walked up to the loading platform. Soon, another one appeared at the end of the village and made its way towards us. We were giddy.

We got on top of the loading platform and the handler motioned for me to get on. It was a weird experience. The elephant was standing there and the first thing I was to do was to step on its head. I was not sure what to expect — was it going to be soft? Springy? It ended up being hard as wood and I quickly stepped over it and into the basket on the elephant’s back. Weronika followed and our elephant started slowly roaming here and there while Paddy and Ola made their way into their basket.

We headed down a hill on top of our elephants. Ola and Paddy’s elephant was constantly hungry and kept grabbing patches of grass and small shrubs with his trunk. Eventually our elephant decided it wanted to lead and passed theirs. We made it down a hill, which seemed terribly steep on top of elephant back, but upon further thought was not that steep at all. Finally, we arrived at a river where the handlers let the elephants loose in the jungle. It is strange how quickly you can loose sight of such an immense beast. Outs practically disappeared as soon as it crossed the river and make it two meters up a path, without even venturing into the woods.

We hung out here, ate lunch, and read books. The elephants supposedly did the same, minus the reading. We wanted to find them but it was fruitless. How do you lose three elephants in the jungle? Seems impossible, but is not that difficult at all. They eventually did make it back and it was bath time.

The elephant walked into the swift cold river right next to the area we were picnicking. The man from the other couple which was there with us jumped into the frigid water and together with the handler were scrubbing the elephant down. The animal seemed to enjoy it and was rolling over to the side when needed so that other areas could be washed. Eventually, with the tourist on his back, the elephant got up and left the river.

Paddy, Weronika and I immediately jumped into the water, forgetting how cold it was. Another elephant was making his way towards us and we were not about to pass the opportunity of washing it. Its towering shape slowly got smaller and smaller as it carefully stepped down rocks and submerged in the river. Eventually, just the top of his back and the top half of his head were sticking out, with the eyes right at water level. The trunk would emerge occasionally for a breath of air. We scrubbed the red earth diligently. However, this elephant did not seem to enjoy his bath as much as the previous one. As soon as Paddy got on his back, the elephant got up and left the river, half dirty.

Weronika and I waited for the third elephant, as we were determined to ride it bareback out of the water as well. Unfortunately, it never came. Its handler washed it earlier in another spot. The consolation is that on the way back, Weronika got to ride on the elephant’s neck while I sat in the basket.

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