Our very first guest blogger. I’ll let you figure out who it is through the post! Enjoy.
OK I can’t preface all of what led up to the elephants but if you’re reading this you know all about Sarah and Dave and their amazing travels around the globe. We all thought they had been having too much fun on their own so we decided to crash their world trip.
After a very early morning pick up from our respective guest houses, an impromptu stop at 7-11 for some supplies, and a scenic hour long van ride, we arrive at Baan Chang Elephant Park.
The first thing we did when we got there was change into our elephant uniforms. Wait, what? Uniforms? Why can’t we just wear our regular clothes? Oh, what’s that, because elephant skin is like 200 grit sandpaper over concrete? OK yes thank you, large please.
So we all get changed and excitedly bound over to become best friends with 25 rescued elephants… Hold on, pause, Aof has some important info and safety details first. That seems logical. Our kick ass guide, Aof, gives us a brief run down on the ins and outs of interacting with elephants. Most of them are super friendly and love attention, but a few of them are uncomfortable with strangers, or nervous.. around… I can see them from here! What did Aof say?
Finally we get to go see them. They are huge and gentle and majestic. This is what I was most looking forward to doing for the entire trip. It’s all we’ve been able to think about for days and here I am, and I. Am. Terrified. WTF!? These things are enormous! OMG we are supposed to go up to them and feed them? For real?…Like, for real? If one of them accidentally swings that 9 foot trunk at me, I’m done, lights out. Aaahh! That one almost touched me! Why didn’t I listen more closely to Aof?
Apparently the rest of my group didn’t seem to be plagued with the same unexpected anxieties. 5 minutes in and everyone else was feeding them banana bunches and bundles of sugar cane, posing for pictures, and getting kisses from a baby elephant. I was still strategically wandering around (just out of reach of any wayward swinging trunks) pretending to be satisfied just taking pictures. This went on for about 40 minutes until Jonathan realized I had yet to even touch one. He helped and a few minutes later I was giving one some bananas and sugar cane. I don’t know why I was so nervous!
Fast forward to Phase 2
After everyone had a chance to get acquainted and comfortable (sort of) we got our first try at practicing getting on and off of them and learning and giving the commands that we’d need for our trek through the jungle. Luckily my anxiety sort of evaporated at this point, because getting on them and sitting on them wasn’t quite as easy as I thought it would be. Even though they lay down on the ground, an elephant is still a huge huge animal. You climbed up via her leg sticking out conveniently and hoist yourself up and over her back in a rather wide straddle. Some members of our group had a bit more difficulty with this than others.
We all took turns first just getting up and down, and then riding in a small loop with a guide. It was thrilling! Their skin really is super rough and some of the spiky hairs on the top of their heads could stab you through the hand. Seriously, this was maybe 2 hours into what would be a 6 or 8 hour experience and I had already drained my camera battery (but no worries, everyone else had one too).
Elephant commands 101:
“Nonlong” (must be pronounced with authority) – means lay down please if you don’t mind so I can climb up or down off of you.
“Kway” with a gesture with your (opposite!) foot behind their giant ear means turn this way please.
“Poi” means forward
“Hou” means stop. This is an important one because they will plow right through the jungle if you don’t encourage them to stop.
“Didi” with a solid pat on the trunk means ‘Good elephant’ or ‘thank you for giving me a ride’ or whatever other positive message you’d like to communicate to your pachyderm.
Phase 3 The Trek
Unbeknownst to all of us, while we were interacting with and learning about the elephants, the Mahouts (elephant trainers) were determining which elephant we’d each fit best with for the trek based on our interactions. Considering I spent the first 45 minutes trying not to get near one I figured Jonathan and I would be paired with a gentle small one. Nope.
Despite my mouse like bravery, my husband took to the elephants to a duck like water. He’d either squashed down any minor initial anxieties he had right away or more likely; didn’t have them in the first place. He was literally an elephant expert after 5 minutes, and was helping other people feel more comfortable. As a result of this, we were paired with the bull leader of the herd. This wasn’t actually scary like it sounds. Our elephant; Golden Diamond, was steady and reliable, unlike the one Sarah and Dave got. They seemed to have been paired with the wild card, (perhaps the Mahouts could sense their adventurous spirits). At no point during our trek, was their elephant following the others. It was sideways on the path, or halfway up a tree grabbing some vines, or (literally) trumpeting loudly in protest of Dave’s attempts to correct him.
Our trek took us through into the dry jungle up a path so steep that I would have had trouble navigating it on foot. The elephants trudged up like it was a breeze; they didn’t even miss a beat, holding onto them, however, was a different story.
As the driver, you sit on the back of the elephant’s neck, and have to work to keep from pitching forward, as the passenger you sit on their shoulder blades and have to get into the rhythm on their gentle but massive weight shifts with every step.
Here are some fun videos:
The trek ended at a little pond where we got off the elephants and the mahouts guided them into to water so they could get a drink. After they drank their fill, we all got into the water and went over to our elephant to give him or her bath! It was awesome! They love the water so much, they just lay down and you splash and scrub them with these rough bristle brushes. The water is so relaxing they just poop and pee freely and you’re standing waist deep in the same water and you’re so happy that you don’t even care! In my opinion this was the best part of the day. (Also they had showers there so that was good too.)
All in all, everyone had a great time!