Very close to nature - Thai Elephant Home, Thailand
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With nothing but a rope to hold onto around the elephants mid section, we all made our way onto our gentle giants, some better than others. There were many laughs, some of embarrassment and some of nervousness. Our family was split in half. Ella and I got quite comfortable rather quickly. While Jason and Ariana seemed to be holding on for dear life. Ariana settled in eventually. Jason continued to look like an ant clinging onto a sloth with all his mite, attempting to control and steer it as if it were a running the speed of a cheetah. It was hilarious!! Since he was given the biggest and one of the most favored elephants, he was chosen to lead the pack for the day.
Jason and his elephant were quite the pair, aged the same and both generally loved the limelight. Except in this case, Jason would’ve been quite happy to disappear, for the first few hours he couldn’t even speak because he was concentrating so hard to hold on. The most amazing thing was how his elephant sensed his nervousness and walked with her ears tucked firmly back holding onto his legs. With both holding onto the other–they were the perfect for one another.
As we rode our elephants further and further into the jungle we were able to get to know them closely. We began to realize just what a bond we all had. It seemed that we all shared the same age and similar temperaments with each of our elephants. It was uncanny. They all loved to stop and eat a lot!! Some more than others. My elephant seemed to really push this limit, often times uprooting entire trees to snack on as she walked.
We learned that elephants do not have stomachs, they only have intestines, so they are eating continuously. This meant that everything came out one end at the same rate it was going in the other end. This made for a very slow, relaxed pace for the day.
As we swayed back and forth with every step, we were able to soak in the beautiful scenery embracing us. We marched slowly one-by-one in a perfect line, in and out of wide open green sunlit pastures into dense dark lush jungle areas. We climbed slowly higher and higher, gazing over the canopy. You could hear the crisp crunching and crackling echo as the elephants grazed upon the fresh bamboo. The sound and the motion were enough to put a baby to sleep, if it weren’t for the 10 foot drop to keep me alert, this might have been the case.
As we came to the river, I couldn’t believe what we were about to do… crossing a large, fast moving river on the back of an elephant!?! We had spent some time with our guides/mahouts and elephants and had acquired a good sense of trust by now, but this was really going to be a test. After a lot of hesitation from both the elephants and us, we all managed to cross safely. Trying to forget that we would need to do this a second time on the way back.
Shortly after we calmed from the excitement, we arrived to our lunch area. A bountiful lush beautiful green open pasture dotted with a few straw huts nestled in the midst of this oasis. It was perfect!!
Our lunch was stir-fried rice with chicken and vegetables wrapped in a banana leaf, secured with a wooden toothpick. Once the toothpick was removed the leaves cascaded open to present the perfect eating surface… absolutely brilliant!! And for desert? A choice between a savory exotic fruit or sweet juicy oranges. The grand finale was feeding our elephants our lunch remains–a lovely snack of fruit peels wrapped in banana leaves. The girls even received an elephant “kiss” after Ella’s elephant enjoyed her “snack”. We left our magical garden untouched. The respect to nature was inspiring. The entire lunch was a delicious experience on all levels.
The post lunch entertainment was a mud bath with an elephant. Jason’s elephant was the star of the show. As everyone gathered around her scrubbing, she lathered up in a genuine jungle mud pit. Many took the opportunity to slather the therapeutic natural mud all over for the perfect sun-dried exfoliation treatment. We were all quite the sight to see. Riding our elephants in the glowing mid afternoon jungle sun, covered in grey mud from head to toe, becoming one with our new best friends.
It was just passed mid day and we were already exhausted from complete sensory overload. Ariana, Ella and I found ourselves on the beach after the second river crossing, watching as all the people and elephants laughed, splashed and frolicked in the water… it was almost too unreal to believe.
The second half of the day was cool and refreshing. Our wet clothes dried in the warm afternoon breeze as we swayed back and forth sauntering down the hill. What was just morning now seemed days ago. When we returned to camp, we were completely and utterly spent.
We had all experienced something amazing together and felt a special connection because of it. As everyone transformed back to their former selves preparing to depart, our feelings were mixed. Half of me wanted to be on the bus, while the other half was craving more adventure. It was strange. As beautiful and amazing as the day was, it seemed like we should be scurrying back to civilization, ending the day sitting on a comfy plush couch, watching some mind numbing television.
The bus pulled away into an orange filled sky. As the sun was began to set it was evident that we would be spending the next few days getting very close to nature.