Rediscovering Joy



Joy. It’s not an emotion most people feel very often. Happiness, contentment, a sense of achievement, they’re all far more everyday. And the negative emotions come quite easily too, unhappiness, dissatisfaction, ennui, frustration. But joy – such a small word for such a profound, enriching and powerful emotion.

My first elephant ride


In this year of mine that has been dominated by sorrow, with brief interludes of happiness and achievement, I have rediscovered joy. Childlike, laughter-filled, uninhibited joy – on the back of an elephant.


Not so graceful dismount

I’ve always loved elephants. I love watching them at the zoo.( Despite the concerns of animal conservationists, I think that elephants rescued from lives of misery and near-starvation are certainly far better off at the zoo.) It’s not just their impressive size, the rolling, exploring movement of their trunks or even the gorgeous hair that sits up like a bristle brush across their heads. It’s their gentleness,  intelligence and inquisitive natures that are so appealing.

Mae Uak, enjoying some sugar cane

So, of course I grabbed the opportunity to have an elephant ride on my recent trip to Laos. It was everything and more than I’d anticipated.

Elephant riding on the Nam Khan


Yes, they’re big. Yes, you’re a long way off the ground and they walk with an undulating lope that belies their heavy-connectedness to the earth. They can be mischievous and playful and just plain stubborn. But I felt secure and confident riding bareback on my elephant (knowing full well that the mahout was actually in complete control). Even if my elephant didn’t seem to understand Laos spoken with an Australian accent. (She had particular trouble with ‘how’, which is Laos for stop!)

How to control your elephant - in Laos

Feet on Elephant

As we lumbered through the Nam Khan river, I laughed joyfully, my inner child fully released and out to play. I couldn’t stop smiling, laughing, stroking the beautiful elephant who had been rescued from logging work.

Mr Phun, the mahout, texting while driving

Laos is traditionally a Buddhist country, and during my day with elephants, I lived in the now. Completely and joyously.

The beautiful spotted ear

Yep, that's me on that elephant

I channeled my inner circus performer and stood on my elephant’s back in the river as it sprayed water all over me with her trunk. Joy.

Bonding over bananas