So I may keep referencing Jurassic Park, but this time for real, especially the drive to the park through all the jungle and valley - scenery was beautiful, the kind which cant be captured by a camera (this also applies to sunsets). Elephants are dinosaurs - their skin, the way they move, their smell and especially the noise they make. It was a strange feeling to not have anything between me and them, no fence, no wall, no glass, no trench... Takes a day or so to get used to, learning their body language and behavior, I mean they are so powerful but also amazingly gentle. They had 37 elephants at the park when I arrived and 39 when we left (will discuss that later) but they're basically BIG dogs with python noses, with the a definite old lady feeling.
Everyday we were up at 7:00 for breakfast and morning chores would start at 8:00. The mornings were pretty cold, not so much the air but there was a lot of wind so ended up being kinda refreshing. Jobs in the mornings ranged from cleaning up elephant poo, cleaning out the buffalo pen, cutting corn and banana picking, through to fire breaking (digging a 5 metre border around the park to stop forest fires) and bamboo recycling (for new huts). Afternoon work was based solely around the elephants - feeding them, bathing them in the river (A-mazing), scrubbing them, treating them at the medical centre, more feeding... And everything was hands on. Every elephant at the park has a Mahoot (a keeper) who stays with them for life, so they basically trust and listen to them. The only rules were never approach an elephant without his/her Mahoot - so only at night when they were chained up), and of course some of the elephants had had very traumatic lives so some just kept themselves to themselves. A few had even turned on their original owners and killed them so you learnt who you could approach and who you couldn't. Bath time was the best, everyone's given buckets and scrubbing brushes and it basically turns into a big water fight everyday with the elephants getting involved too. They were all very gentle, which seems bizarre considering their size but obviously on a couple of occasions you had to get out of the way sharpish because elephants being elephants, sometimes didn't listen.
On the 4th day we got word that an elephant trekking camp a couple of km along the road had 2 in need of rescue. Lek who's a pretty amazing woman (she's the founder) literally thinks and talks about nothing else but the wellfare, treatment and safety of elephants, got us all into a truck and we went to the camp on mass. Obviously this is the shorthand description of what happened, there was alot more talking between Lek and the owners of the elephants over many days or weeks about what needed to be done but we ended up saving 2 over 2 days, a bit of a privilege considering they last rescued one 5 months prior. They were so thin and beaten up with cuts & scars across their heads and bad skin conditions - it really was depressing, and yet us Western tourists continue to fund this sort of thing. I mean im only scratching the surface here, you'll have to see the dvd when I send it home, it's very shocking.
So after the rescues there was a daily routine of tending to them - creams, lotions, antiseptics etc and it was kinda amazing how well the elephant responded considering it's life, I mean it was 65 years old and had probably never had a day off, yet somehow they sense you're there to help so allow for all the attention. A highlight of the week for me was when I came back from my hut (a treehouse by the way!) for feeding, Pom - the second in command after Lek - gave me a basket of fruit and asked me to go feed the rescued elephant on my own, away from all the day visitors and other volunteers. So there I was on my own, about 100m from everyone else with this elephant (not even chained up) just feeding her this basket of fruit in the sunshine for about 30 minutes. It was a real wow moment you know? She was so gentle and I was rubbing her nose and behind her ears, this is the sort of trust they have. I think the park is works on trust, even between the staff and the volunteers, I built up good relationships with the staff and had good banter so sometimes I think they trusted me more.
Ok so this is the longest post ever? I'll end it there but im just working my way through my journal transcribing things so i'll post some more another time. Im in Chiang Mai till Wednesday and then im heading off North-er to Pai, wasn't originally on my itenary but i've heard good things. Im off up a mountain tomorrow (it's only about an hour by taxi-van) to a temple called Doi Suthep, it has incredible views across Chiang Mai so here's hoping there's no cloud.
Speak soon X