And what a birthday we made it!
I am not normally one to fuss over another birthday, or being another year older- although you could call this whole trip something like a mid life crisis, I just call it our chance to experience the hard-to-reach places while we’re out and about. However, I do like to make the day something to remember- and boy, did we this year.
I was quite hesitant about the whole ‘elephant experience’, particularly after taking part in one in Nepal in 2011, but at the time it was just the thing to do, and the there was no rumblings of ethical vs not. I did not know that the platforms they attach to their backs to cart people around on actually damage their spine, so that they walk bowlegged later in life. And when they brought us to see the elephants in a central corral, they were chaining their feet. They told us it was normal, but I could hear them crying, and began the feel less positive about this experience.
Now, in Thailand, it is loud and clear that things are changing toward ethical experiences with no riding, chains or hooks-not every place, so you still have to do research. Lonely Planet recommended Elephant Nature Park- but they were full for the next week. Thankfully they are not the only place-Happy Home Elephant is smaller and less known, but excellent. If you are in the area, can’t say enough how good it was.
They have assembled 2 families of elephants- when I say assembled, they have adopted each other in mother, grandmother and child roles, but only 1 mother and 9-month old(Milo) are biological family. They acquire the elephants from former logging farms, or families who owned them to make money doing tricks in towns. It is clear they have a much better life now. Not to make this too preachy, but this is an excellent place to spend one’s money.
After a 9am pickup (actually on time! Rare for these outfits) an hour’s ride outside of Chiang Mai, we reached the camp and got an initial pet with some of the elephants right away. I charged off the bus with a huge grin on my face, I’ve never been this close to an elephant, especially one so young.
We’re also excited as this is our first chance to test our new SLR we picked up in Chiang Mai- our Sony’s lens had been bumped off-centre somehow, so that there was black corners, and it was always blurry. Spending the money was a bit of a bitter pill, especially when we considered doing this while still and Canada and working and decided not to, but it feels amazing to have an SLR in my hands again. And we both agree the pictures look great.
The staff had us change into ‘mahout’ clothing, so that everyone smells the same, to make the elephants more comfortable with us.
Had a fantastic lunch of a delicious chicken and potato curry, and then strolled with the elephants toward the river. This lead us off Happy Home Elephant’s property and onto common land around the river. The government has turned what used logging land into a common area for all sanctuaries to use. It is pretty spectacular view to walk through.
As soon as the river was in view, the elephants picked up the pace- it is incredibly hot, and there was no stopping them from enjoying it. The highlight of the far was obviously swimming alongside the elephants, bathing them and being so close to them as they played.
The staff tell us Milo is fast becoming more aggressive than Mena, the other young elephant, 20 months old. She is also not that much bigger than him, considering she is more than twice his age.
Late afternoon, we walked back toward the camp with the elephants. We chatted with one of the volunteers, a Quebecois woman who had been traveling, a lot like us, and wanted a break, so she settled in for the past month. A great way to immerse into Thailand’s culture and support a very amazing concept!
-Emily; Currently floating somewhere along the Mekong River, Laos; 10:48pm