Elephant Toes

by Lindsay Shapka in


Elephant Toes             Siem Reap, Cambodia

The air was heavy and wet.

I barely registered the green mosaic that was passing on either side of me as I flew down the dirt road – it was taking all of my concentration just to avoid the potholes.

I had driven about fifteen minutes into the jungle when I saw something large move to my left and, startled, I slammed on the breaks almost flying over the front of my bike. Ripping off my helmet and kicking the kickstand down, I turned towards the side of the road and to a trunk reaching out to me. 

Only a few feet away, staring with warm, trusting eyes was a real, live speckled elephant. There was no fence between us and he had no rope tethering him to a nearby tree or post. I had never seen an elephant outside of a zoo and it took a few minutes for me to register that there was a huge, potentially wild, animal standing in front of me. 

I got off my bike, trying so hard to not make any sudden movements that I tripped over my sandal. As I took a small, tentative step towards the elephant, there was a sudden rustle behind him and I jumped back, afraid the elephant would get spooked and come charging at me. A small Thai boy, dressed in a sun-faded pink tunic, emerged from the bush and smiled at me. He motioned to the elephant and then to me and said; “Touch, ok, ok” with a nod.

I smiled back at him nervously and took a few more steps forward. The elephant hadn’t moved during this interaction and continued to watch me, unconcerned, while he munched on wild grass. The boy smiled again and then turned, disappearing back into the bush.

I knew that I was taking a huge risk, but I slowly continued forward until I was standing right beside the elephant’s head.

There was no traffic on the road and no sign of the boy. It was just the two of us. It was now or never.  

Taking a deep breath, I reached out and touched him.