I went into our day of elephant riding expecting to have tons of fun. I didn’t expect to come out feeling inspired, but I did! I went with Terry and my dad and step-mom (who were in Asia on a business trip) to the Patara elephant camp in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I cannot recommend this place enough. The level of service was astonishing. The experience they had for us was phenomenal. The care and love and respect they show their elephants is admirable. I would return again in a heartbeat.
And it wasn’t just about riding elephants. They taught us how to feed and wash our elephants, how to check the elephant’s poop to see if the elephant is healthy, other signs of a healthy elephant, and commands to give our elephants while we rode them to direct them along.
My elephant’s name was Poo. He was awesome. They told us they tried to match your elephant to your personality, and let me tell you, they did a great job with mine. Poo was playful and excited all day long. My favorite part was when we were ‘bathing’ them in the river. I have to put that in quotes cuz he wouldn’t really allow me to wash him. He was too busy dunking himself under the water and turning over and over. My mahout (the elephant trainer) kept telling me “always stay on!” which, considering Poo’s constant turning, made for some hilarious moments. I felt like a gerbil, crawling over and over Poo, staying mostly in place while he spun under the water. He’s only six years old so he was smaller than a lot of the others, but he was just right for me. 🙂
After they were washed and fed, we climbed on up and snuggled on top of them, right behind their ears. Then we hiked through the jungle! I was surprised by how hairy he was – really coarse hair too. It was awesome, though. We stopped for lunch and then rode for a while longer. I loved every minute of it. I especially loved how Poo was determined to get to the front of the line of elephants. This is one six year old who’s ready to be a grown-up! It cracked me up – he’d get really close to the elephant in front of us until the elephant would kind of scoot over to one side of the path, and then he’d dart ahead, heedless to the giant elephants we were passing. The only one we didn’t manage to pass was my dad, on his gigantic elephant. Poo kept trying but he’d get distracted by all the delicious leaves we were passing. Let me tell you, that boy can eat! The whole thing was a blast and I was grinning from ear to ear all day long.
And then they had something extra special for us – they took us to see the little 13 day elephant that had just been born to one of their mama elephants. It was incredible. They’d talked at the beginning of the day about how their whole purpose is to rescue elephants who are being abused, and nurse them back to health. The proof of success, they said, is in the healthy births of new baby elephants.
This tiny baby girl elephant just melted my heart. She was so sweet. She was so small they had to bring her sandbags to stand on to reach her mother to nurse.
And now all my life dreams are pretty much accomplished. I’m . . . sort of at a loss. What do I do now? Get some new dreams, I guess, right? At any right, I can die happy now, knowing that I’ve become best buds with an elephant. 🙂 (Oh! I’ve got one! I wanna be an elephant mahout! Yes! Perfect new dream!)
Something that’s stuck with me though is what the guy at the orientation said – he said he didn’t start doing this because he loved elephants more than the next guy. He did it because he saw these elephants being hurt, right there in his country, and that wasn’t okay with him. He said we may not have elephants back in our home countries, but we sure have something that we can pitch in and help on. And he’s totally right. It’s left me thinking – what can I do to help?
(BTW, for those of you wondering, yes, Thailand is the middle of a military coup right now. I had a friend in Bangkok who assured us it was safe to travel there now and everything was just business as usual. There wasn’t a single time that I felt unsafe or like I shouldn’t be visiting the country right then. Of course, it’s always good to exercise caution when traveling.)