Love in the Jungle

Trip Start Sep 30, 2006
Trip End Jan 16, 2010

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Now I was off to elephant camp to work hard and fall in love. With the 2 ton animals, of course. One of the coolest things I did on my entire trip, and the hardest work in ages, was at the Elephant Nature Park, founded by a tiny Thai lady named Lek Chailert.
My coming to work with the elephants was pure serendipity. No plan, no idea what to do when I left Bangkok, except that a woman I met in Beijing told me to be sure to get north to Chiang Mai when I went to Thailand. So, I had that amazing plan of action in my head, and next came the magic. On the 12 hr flight from Oz, I didn't feel like watching a movie and instead checked out the TV listings. There was a Discovery Channel program all about wild elephants in Thailand. They profiled Lek and her elephants, and mentioned they needed volunteers. Bingo! I was all about that. The decision was made, now the universe worked its magic, and conspired to get me there. Like every single decision I've made about this journey so far. When I got to Bangkok, I sent an email to the park telling them I wanted to volunteer. That was not the way I got there. I went to CM, was walking in the marketplace and spotted a gal working a table for the park. I signed up then and there. Paid my donation, and showed up the next day down at the office. Next thing I know, I'm piled into a van with other animal lovers and we leave the city's broad avenues along canals with bubbling fountains for the curvy roads heading into the jungle close to the border of Myanamar. This is where the elephants live, up in the lush, secluded hills of northern Thailand. This is where they reside in peace and comfort, after years of misery as either laborers for the logging industry, street performers in Thai cities, (both of which are now outlawed in Thailand) or as rides for unknowing tourists. I asked a lot about the elephants in Nepal and here in Thailand, and all I got was oh yes, they are treated very well! I learned that most of the time, if you think the animal is suffering, it most likely is. Go with your gut. The worst part of their years of labor was the breaking in period, which Lek filmed at great personal risk. The video now serves as indoctrination for all volunteers, so we know what we are getting into. These magnificent animals were horribly abused, and only through Lek's love and care have they allowed her to provide for them. Some of the elephants are not at the park permanently, and this was one of the most heartbreaking elements of my stay. They were there to recuperate from an injury, or if they were infants, to grow up a bit in better conditions than their current homes at elephant farms. I learned so much about these gentle giants it is hard to write here. The most amazing part of volunteering was the fantastic intimacy with the beautiful souls of these beings. I got to know the elephant I fed everyday, named Malai Tong. A 25 year old female, Malai Tong was injured when she stepped on a landmine while working in the logging industry. When she became maimed, her mahout took her to Bangkok to earn money from tourists begging on the streets. Thankfully this practice is illegal, but I still saw it happening, because like all environmental laws enforcement is key. Luckily for MT, Lek found her and brought her to her new home where she is at peace and has formed a new family group and is an auntie. The injury to her hind leg is very evident in my photographs, but she kept her toes, which is how elephants walk. This means the injury doesn't stop her from walking and being the wonderful, hungry girl she is. A kindred sister spirit. Check her out!! In Bangkok, all the Western men befriended Thai ladies. Malai Tong became my Thai beauty.

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