A last round up of all things elephant from my time at the park (I know, change the record already) :
- The park has recently acquired new land about and hours drive from where they are now - a winding road through the jungle and up some quite steep slopes and bends (im not going to say it was the most comfortable journey in the back of a van but the scenery made up for it). The land is 3 times the size of where they are now, going from 5o sq km to 150, so over the next few years they'll be preparing the site (building huts etc). We were the first group of people to see it outside the park staff, and even most of them hadn't seen it. Lek's ultimate goal is to not chain the elephants up at all at night, allowing them to roam so this is a big step in achieving this. The site where they are now is surrounded by farmland so to leaving the elephants to roam would cost alot of farmers their banana trees. The first job at the new site was fire breaking, clearing a 10m gap so fires wouldn't destroy the vegetation. We were literally in the middle of the jungle on quite a steep slobe cutting back plants for a few hours - cuts and blisters applenty. There wasn't much wildlife which was a bit of a surprise, lots of insects but no birds or monkeys, we just all got on with it, ignoring the fact snakes could be lurking under foot.
- A quick point about the food at the park, it was second best only to the elephants for how much you looked forward to it everyday. A massive buffet at lunch and a smaller more traditional one at dinner but it was like a Pizza Hut buffet on steroids - i.e. VERY good, the best food i've had here by far, and the food here is really good so...
- My 3 favourite elephants at the park were Aura, Hope and Makio. Everyday after a bath Aura loved to eat bread and would actively give out kisses to receive slices... Lets just say on one afternoon I was obviously very appealing because I got 7 kisses in a row. I also bought a carving of her on my last day which was done by her mahoot, all proceeds going straight back into the park. Hope was the first elephant to be raised by Lek through non-traditional methods - control through love, not fear - so he's pretty special, he is like the proof of practice... He's also going through his naughty teenage years so can be very unpredictable, he's the only elephant in the park who wears a bell so you can hear him coming.
- Mid-week all the volunteers went to visit a local school and spend the aftrenoon there talking English with the kids and generally having fun. We were just literally pushed infront of a class and expected to know what the hell to do, but all the kids were really friendly so for most of the time we just played football and volleyball in the playground, I became quite popular because of my height and my eye-brow ring so was dragged from place to place. (*sigh* popular at last...)
- On the Saturday we went on a 2 hour trek with 7 of the elephants to a place known as Elephant Haven, a cabin in the jungle where the elephants are allowed to roam free all night. Because we took Hope we did have to go on a bit of a night hike throught he jungle because he has tendencies to wander too far, but no, we found him pretty quick - Mahoots are awesome trackers. This really showed the trust between keeper and elephant, I mean if I left even Benson out all night im pretty sure he wouldn't have been as good as them. During the night we sat around the fire, Pom told us lots of stories and the Mahoots played us some music - a few Christmas songs which was quite unexpected, overall another great experience.
- Lastly, im going to try and return to the park for another week in July just before I return home (yeah, im a little hooked, can you tell?) so might put aside some money for that. It'll be the wet season so will be a bit different...
This will be my last post from Chaing Mai, booked my ticket to Pai this morning so leave tomorrow morning. Also picked up some motion sickness pills (even though I dont get car sick) because the road to Pai is renowned for it's twisty-ness (370 curves or something), i've heard a lot of vomit stories... So I might give you a quick update tomorrow evening or Friday with the gorey details.