Trip Start Sep 15, 2012
138Trip End May 01, 2013
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We jumped into the back of our minivan, knackered, and managed a friendly good morning with a lone guy sitting there called William, Dutch and a really nice guy. Further additions collected along the way; a couple of Americans, an old English guy with his foreign 'wife/daughter' wearing some skin tight denim jeans and cork heels, a good choice we thought given the itinerary of feeding, washing and generally being with elephants for the day!
All passengers on board, our guide said a quick hello and explained to us that we were amongst a minority of tourists who'd chosen their nature park for an experience with elephant conservation at its heart; all other tours sold in town allowed you to ride on the elephants and almost have a "my pet elephant" day centred on tourist satisfaction. Ours was education based, and the woman Lek, who ran the facility, was quite an international heroine in elephant conservation we found out. We were given a video to watch in the minivan and witnessed various cruel accounts of how the elephants in the nature park came to be there, and the cruelty they had suffered for most of their working lives. The first elephant to occupy the park had been a baby bull later named 'Hope', he was found in a narrow cage in remote village when Lek and her team were rushing to treat a female elephant who had just miscarried, the farmer who owned Hope couldn't afford the milk to feed him so he was wasting away.
On arrival we felt instantly reassured that all the information we had been given about the facility was in fact correct, international vetinary student volunteers and other paying volunteers were involved in the project. We chugged down a quick coffee and headed off to grab a wicker basket filled with a mixture of pumpkins, whole bunches of bananas and chunks of watermelon....we helped with the morning feed and tried not to cry as we held out fruit for elephants that were blind in one or both eyes because their owners had stabbed them in it when they hadn't done as it was told
We were able to see, briefly, the new 'birthed' addition to the clan, a three month old baby nelly with a trunk so small it made us laugh. The little snaffler was trying out his trunk as a newborn antelope might first try to stand, he pushed and prodded a piece of fruit but couldn't quite manage to pick it up. Time with the baby was limited, and with a quick stroke of a cute faced pussy cat nearby we headed down to the river to get messy.
With some elephants already being bathed by another group we headed towards one elephant that was still bone dry, Vikki waded in first with her bucket in hand, dunked for water and whoosh she was in full swing of washing down the rough bristly skin of one adult. She was soon joined by William on the other side and it didn't take long to figure out that one person on either side of an elephant, both hurling buckets of river water, meant that more than just nelly was going to get a soaked. Paula then decided to have a go and like a delicate flower she threw a little water over the elephants herself, and her neighbouring team mate on the other side, a mini war ensued
A short while later, and back at the communal indoor area, we were greeted by a vast buffet of local dishes for lunch, and so we ate and read about Lek's work from the various newspaper and magazine articles displayed on the walls. She even had a photo of herself with Hilary Clinton......!
We spent the afternoon kicking back in observation towers just watching how the elephants interact with their environment and with each other, some rolled around in a mud bath, others tried to hump Grandma - weird, but all scratched their backsides on a post which was endlessly amusing to see. It was a lazy sunny day with a river on one side of the scene and roaming elephants on the other - what more can be said?
The final thought for the day was an upsetting and poignant one, we were sat down in a conference room to watch a frank and honest video about the treatment of domestic elephants in Thailand, specifically how their character is initially 'broken' in order for them to be subservient in their domestic role. Extremely upsetting, so much so that Vikki was watching through parted fingers and crying intermittently....disturbing, an understatement
Feeling exhausted but a little hungry we stayed close by and frequented the neighbouring 'Brown Rice Vegetarian Cafe' where Paula ordered a Tum Yum soup (running theme - although it arrived in a whole coconut which was a new one on us), and Vikki had a papaya salad (also running theme). We ordered health food fruit juices and thought about all those antioxidants...just call us Jemima and Jacasta darling!Hit the sack, absolutely knackered from the night before, Paula still feeling like a jelly baby (snail stomach legacy) and hoped that the soup would stay down.