My first day at the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand just couldn’t have gotten any better. I am so in my happy place here… but with 34 elephants 400+ dogs and at least 200 cats, I am unlikely to get a decent nights sleep for 2 weeks. Ah well, I’ll just have to suffer through it. :}
I got picked up at my hotel at 8am and taken, eventually, to the ENP office to get processed, given a tee-shirt and a water bottle in a sling… must be hydrated at all times. The office was full of people all excited about going to the park for a day, a night, 1 week or 2 and full of animals excited about having all those excited people around! Happy chaos!
A quick 1 hour jaunt lands us at Disney land for animal lovers. The place teems with animals and the people who love them. And can you believe it? It is vegetarian only! Yah! So we are shown around, allowed to feed the ellies fruit and see the new baby (2.5 mths old!). The food is killer, I am not going to lose weight here. … and . There are 30 + volunteers, hard to say because there are always people milling around. Finally we all gather down at the river… the big moment had arrived! We were going to bathe the ellies! Now I have seen enough docs about elephants to know they are really good at bathing themselves. Not here apparently, nary a trunk was raised to help. Picture a bunch of tourists giddy with excitment with bucket of water in the middle of the river. We got every bit as wet as they did. It was wonderful!
The realization of how strong these animals are is a gradual one for me, like when they leaned into me for starters. A big one was when I am feeding them. They curl their trunks inward at the tip, creating a cup. I place the fruit in it and they wrap their trunks around my hand for a moment. The strength is staggering and that’s when they are being gentle! The staff and the mahots are ever vigilent of our safety and are always quick to whisk us away from any danger before it can happen. After all a dead tourist is not a happy one, not to mention the bad press.
The local village elders and shamen performed a ritual for us newbies where we were blessed and given good luck as a welcome. They asked for 4 volunteers and when no one was jumping up for the last spot, I grabbed it!. We sat facing each other with the Shaman at the head, chanting and sprinking water using a flower. Then one by one he wrapped our wrists (left for women, right for men) and knotted them with white twine. We are to leave them on for 7 days to get the maximum luck, but no longer. As he was chanting after the twine tying, the elders were doing the same for all the people here. Later when I was going to my room after dinner I could hear him nearby still chanting.
That walk to my room was pretty special. So dark. There is one street light on a post in the middle of the parking lot but nothing to our rooms, which are located right behind where some of the elephants sleep at night. There are bushes between us but I can see them swaying their trunks and hear them rumbling, like a purr. The mahouts have fires going at each of the elephant groups trying to keep the warm, the nights here are very cold. The stars are brilliant, even with the ambiant light. Just as I was writing this one of them let go a loud trumpet, I think she was pissed at the dogs barking. And with the shaman still chanting. Seriously, am I dreaming this?
A lot of the volunteers are young and are currently in the ”getting to know each other” stage and that is never quiet. Yup, no sleep. But how can I complain when I get to fall asleep (eventually) to elephants purring?