Do You Realize?

Elephants!! The first day we arrived to the elephant camp around 10am and were shown to our rooms. We each had a private little bamboo bungalow with our own hot shower and toilet and the beds were pretty comfortable. We went to see the elephant show after that which was adorable though also sort of circus-y. The elephants do handstands. Play harmonica, hula hoop, paint pictures, play soccer, make funny noises and some other things along those lines. After the elephant show we got to meet our elephant and mahout (elephant trainer) that we would be paired with all week. My elephants name was Gamlai, she was 11 years old and my Mahout (Don) had been working with her for 8 years. It was so amazing to see the way they interacted and to see how much control he had over this giant animal just with his voice. I could also tell that he cared about her deeply and vise versa. Before lunch we went to the vet and helped pack vitamins to feed to the elephants then went to have tasty buffet lunch. After lunch we had a little break then went to our elephant stall to pick up their poop, sweep the area, then ride our elephants down to the river for their afternoon bath. The ride was so scary, I was sitting on the neck of Gamlai and was convinced I was going to topple over the front of her head but miraculously I didn’t. When we got into the river we started to scrub down our elephants then Claudia’s mahout started a water fight and we all emerged from the river soaking wet. I rode Gamlai back to her stall through the little village outside of the camp then went back to my hut to have a shower. I then went to get a Thai massage and based on everything I had heard was prepared for it to be painful but it wasn’t too bad! After massage came dinner and unlike lunch it wasn’t buffet style we got to order off the menu, and by 830 I was in bed asleep. The next morning we got up at 6 for the morning bath and putting on the wet bathing clothes from the day before was so cold! Luckily the water wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be and no one started a water fight so I didn’t even get too wet. I felt way more comfortable riding Gamlai the second day, I think initially I was just in shock a little bit. At 830 we were put with a partner and assigned a job for the day. I was with Ina and we were working at the show selling bananas and sugarcane to tourists to feed to the elephants. It was pretty boring, and I have to assume the mahouts must be bored as well because they perform the exact same show, 3+ times a day, every day. Ina and I were discussing whether we thought the elephants were happy or not because they spent a lot of time chained up. We decided its not totally ideal but it is better than a lot of other situations, they got lots of food and exercise and as I said before their mahouts really care about them. I asked the program coordinator about elephants in Thailand and he said there are about 5,000 spread out in camps and sanctuaries and about 3,000 still in the wild which I thought was pretty cool. After the show we went to pack vitamins then to lunch. After lunch we learned how to make paper out of elephant poo. The paper that they paint on in the show is made out of their own shit! So it basically gets mixed with water in a big tub then you put a screen in and sift the poop through it. When it comes up there is a small layer of poop on the screen and you let it sit and dry in the sun. I was elbows deep in elephant poop! After a shower I went to have dinner then off to bed early. Third day was early wake up, bath, and for our job Ina and I were in the kitchen chopping vegetables. We peeled three giant bags of potatoes for so long that not only did I get a peeling blister on my thumb but I was convinced I would dream of potatoes that night. Ina was great though we chatted through most of it, making the time go by pretty quickly. After vitamins and lunch we went into the jungle and cut down banana trees for our elephants. Just to reiterate we didn’t cut down bananas, we each cut down a whole tree! They are small though and it was pretty easy. I also felt really cool in the jungle with my machete. Gamlai was very happy with her banana tree snack. Afterwards dinner then sleep. Day 4 same same (in Asia the main saying here is same same but different, I may have already written that but I can’t remember ). Early wake up, bath, sunrise, worked at the vet but there were no customers to pretty much just sat around then had lunch. After lunch we got to do jungle trekking with our elephants. We crossed the river then went into the jungle. It was basically just a giant food fed for the elephants and it was fun but also really scary cuz once again I was convinced I would fall (and I saw some scorpions on the jungle floor). Gamlai was literally eating everything in sight. She was pulling down entire trees and at one point was even eating mud. After the trek we went straight to the river for a bath. We went to a different part of the river though and the current was really strong. I was holding Gamlai’s tail while she pulled me up through the current. We had a big waterfight again and I was jumping on top of Gamlai to bathe her so the river didn’t sweep me away. Also Hannah’s elephant gives kisses (jup is kiss in thai) and he was kissing all of us during the bath- cutest thing ever. After the bath was shower, dinner, sleep. The next day was the last before heading back to Chiang Mai for the weekend. I was supposed to stay at the elephant camp for two weeks but decided one was enough for me. I felt I got to know the elephants and the routine very well and was also getting sorted tired of being on someone else’s schedule. So early wake up, bath, french toast breakfast with everyone, spent the day at the show with all the volunteers, then lunch, shower, pack, goodbye to my elephant (which was so sad!) and jumped in the truck to head back to Chiang Mai. Overall it was an amazing week!

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