Our journey has taken us to one of my favorite places…Thailand! As you may know, travelling with a teenager can be a bit challenging. There are only so many museums they can enjoy. Sooo, we decided Chaing Mai, was the place to start our new adventure. Chaing Mai is famous for, among other things, it’s elephants. For us, it was the “Thai Elephant Home”, in the jungle/mountains about an hour and a half from town.
After hearing all the horror stories from the news reports and documentaries about the treatment of these magnificent animals, I was thrilled to see the exact opposite. Thai Elephant Home is a sanctuary and rescue center for elephants. They are free to roam. No chains, no whips, no harpoons, only voice commands and lots of love.
The adventure began. Since we were going to spend the day riding up and down the mountains and through the jungle, the home provided us with a uniform that saved our clothes and comforted the elephants.
After a quick orientation on how to treat your elephant and learning five basic commands to guide it, we were handed a basket filled with sticks of sugar cane and off to the elephants we went.
As soon as our group (there were six of us) reached the elephant quarters, they all came out to greet us. Of course, “greet us” is just another way to say “let us feed and pet them”. Quite an animal I must say!!! You do not realize how big they are until you are next to them. After the greeting, we were all paired up with our elephant. My new friends name was Betsy.
Now, getting on an elephant is not an easy task. They are big! So, down they come and up we go. To say the least, riding an elephant bareback is a challenge. Wow! They’re REALLY BIG! You are up there and sitting on a four to five thousand pound animal and you feel every step they take.
So, off we went. As soon as I started getting my balance, we hit the river. Thanks to the rain from the day before, the flow of the river was intense. No great shakes for the brave of heart (the elephant, I mean) so into the river we went. She didn’t ask for my opinion.
As I sat frozen, with white knuckles holding onto a tiny rope and my life flashing in front of me, my little Betsy gingerly swims upstream, having a wonderful time. Finally, after what seemed to me an eternity, we reached the other side where our jungle adventure began.
Somehow I ended up in the front of the pack and I loved it. Not seeing how the animal and the person in front of me were going to react made it easy for me to let my fears go.
Betsy was sensing my fear and she was doing everything she could to make me feel relaxed. My test came when we reached a pin sharp curve. Rocks in front of me on my left, one-foot-wide mud road under foot and a steep ravine to the right. I stopped breathing and just held on tight. One very calculated slow step at the time, she made that curve look effortless. At this very point I let go of all the fears and trusted her. Something magical just happened to me. I felt free to breath, free to enjoy the most beautiful surroundings. But most of all I trusted someone else with my life and that was scary, and yet releasing.
From that point forward, not having me stressed out anymore, Betsy relaxed as well, so when she saw a bamboo shoot or a banana leaf she wanted to enjoy, she steered off, stopped, grabbed it and enjoyed it.
Lunchtime came in the jungle for all of us and not a moment too soon. My cheeks were screaming and my knuckles needed color. Terra Firma never felt so good. After lunch it was elephant mud bath time. What a site! What a treat! Here’s this huge animal, laying on its side, while twelve loving hands were scrubbing her all over with dark, gooey mud. Ahhh, what a treat. I don’t know who was having more fun, us or the elephants. We were all laughing hysterically as this mud caked body below us was falling asleep.
On our way back it was river bath time. As soon as we got into the river, Betsy placed her trunk under water and started splashing all over. She was having the time of her life, I was trying to keep dry and that was not a good combination, if you see what I mean.
Would I do it again? Yes…in a heartbeat!