Chiang Mae, Thailand
Flash back – I’m feeding bananas to two baby elephants at the same time. This picture highlights the most memorable event of my time with these special creations. We are in the forest in northern Thailand and I am with several volunteers and staff to help with the feeding. Usually the elephants would forage on bamboo and other vegetation; however it is treat day which is much appreciated by elephants and humans alike.
While feeding, the babies rub their trucks in my hands and I would stroke the trunks as my gesture of love and amazement.
Before my journey to Thailand I had no expectations except that I wanted to be with elephants. However being immersed in a new culture brought a new appreciation of the lives of these hill tribe villagers whom I lived with during my two week stay.
My adventure starts off with an orientation in Chiang Mai and meeting the other volunteers. The next morning we are off to the northern hills where we will be residing. The journey takes several hours and along the way we have a lunch at an open air restaurant where we are introduced to rice which will be a staple at all meals with rare exceptions.
We arrive at the hill tribe village and are introduced to our host families and our living arrangements. I have my own hut with ample room. For our first supper all the villagers contribute to our pot luck meal. We are then blessed by seven villagers who tie a thread bracelet around our wrist.
We then head off to the Buddhist temple where we sit on the floor and listen to lovely chanting. Still later we participate in the festival of lights, an annual event, which I had been involved in about twenty years earlier when Gerry (my hubby) and I placed our lighted floating flower arrangement on the lake. This time floating paper lanterns were added. A river filled with floating flower arrangements and a sky filled with fiery lanterns make for a breathtaking site and a beautiful end to our first day…
I will share a day in my life at the sanctuary to give you a taste of my two week stay there.
We have a presentation at six a.m. to introduce us to the elephants – their names, their characters. The elephant sanctuary is a refuge for domesticated, rescued, injured, retired (from working or begging in the streets), or abused elephants. Due to habitat destruction, development of industries, agricultural projects, and human encroachment; elephants have lost much their natural wild habitat.
My group has been assigned the baby elephants. We eat our breakfast then it’s off to watch the elephants, follow them and take notes about their behavior.
Back at camp we receive our lunch boxes. On our long treks we will eat in the forest and our mahoots (elephant handlers) will prepare the meals on an open fire. After lunch I help prepare material for the English class at school. As a former teacher I enjoy the experience of helping to teach the students.
After teaching it is back to base camp where everyone gathers. I then head off to the elephant enrichment session where a barrel with cut out holes and stuffed with bamboo will allow the babies to play and be distracted from their learned behaviors of head bobbing and body swaying from previous work camps.
Then it is off to my host family to eat an omelet, rice, and veggies. I then return to base camp to learn more about elephants. Elephants are the national symbol of Thailand. They have been around for about 4, 000 years. Elephants are exceptionally smart and have great memories. For more information go on-line.
After the presentation it is off to bed after a very full day. I am here for two weeks so I have a number of these days ahead, each different.
I go on other elephant hikes with the adults and older adult ele’s. I worked in the rice paddies, I make a reed basket and I eat a cooked spider, I go on a night hike, I go on a trip to the large cave, I also participate in a bird watching expedition and other adventures too. I am engaged with all the elephants the babies, adults, and older adults.
I tell people that this was an experience of a lifetime. I can now cross this adventure off my bucket list.