Monday, April 27, 2015

Thailand 2015 Day 5!

As soon as we knew we were going to Thailand, one thing we had to do (for sure) is spend some time with elephants. Ever since forever, Molly has loved elephants. In actual fact, she loves all things that are large, gentle, grey and vegetarian (like manatees). But no animal has her heart like the mighty elephant.

I did a bunch of research to make sure we chose a place that treated the elephants with love and care and didn't make them do stupid tricks (like dancing, painting [seriously], soccer...whatever). 

I found one place that is very small and run by a family of mahouts (elephant trainers). They only have five elephants and they don't use hooks (which are a nasty business). 

With high hopes that we would find happy, healthy elephants, we set out.

The drive was long and winding...we passed a few places that were pretty touristy and not quite my taste. But, to my relief, we finally wound up at a very simple spot.

And we found happy elephants.


It was just our family and three German women. We spent the first twenty minutes learning some simple commands and getting changed into our oh-so-attractive mahout clothing. Apparently the elephants like consistency in clothing. That's pretty much the only argument that would have gotten us into those duds.

Job one after our short education was getting paired up with the elephants (a mysterious process whereby the mahouts sized us up) and then plying the lovely creatures with love and food to earn their trust and affection.

Finny and I were partners on the BIGGEST elephant
We feed them a bunch of sugar cane and stroked their ears and trunks. We told them they were good girls (all lady elephants for us) and stuffed all kinds of cane into their mouths. It was a great way to get some confidence around them.

Because, full disclosure, I don't think I realized until we got there (go ahead and laugh now...) how HUGE the elephants are.

I think I realized then just how much trust we were placing in the hands of the mahouts and these elephants. I was giving praise like nobody's business. Whatever I had to do to ingratiate us with these powerful giants.

Totally self-serving.

It really, truly was incredible to look these animals in the eye. We are used to seeing them in zoos and behind huge walls and fences. Reaching out and touching them took a few minutes of getting used to, but I was amazed by how quickly we trusted them.

Molly was, understandably, in heaven. I don't think she expected it to be quite as up close and personal as it was...

I couldn't believe how dexterous their trunks were...whatever we dropped, they were able to pick up. Without even being able to see it...I don't understand that.

How happy is this girl?

Being hugged by a trunk is a lovely feeling.

Everyone got in the action, even my Dad...who was a little unsure about the whole thing to begin with, but I think even he got sucked in to loving these big grey guys.

And then there's the 8 year old, who made it look like a regular ol' day getting to cuddle with elephants.

And this...

Okay, I hate this picture because I have no idea what face I am making but I sincerely hope I had never made it before this day and I never make it ever, ever again. But how can I not include this picture when you look at Finny's face??? Her awesome face trumps my disgusting (fingers crossed once-in-a-lifetime face).

Okay, twice in a lifetime. Or maybe this still counts as the same time. Just look at Finny.

Getting up on the elephants is actually kind of scary. You know they are big, but once you are up there, you realize they are bigger than big.

And then stepping down the riverbank was even scarier. The angle was pretty steep and there's almost nothing to hold onto. I had visions of wiping out and taking Finny out with me. Just like going over the top of a bike's handlebars.

I think all of us adults behind smaller children had the same sensation.

Eric and Molly's elephant was the only one with a rope. The rest walked freely and seemed happy and content.

We carried on up a trail alongside the river.

After a little while, we were told to get off again. Getting down is almost as big an adventure as getting up. I love the look on Molly's face here.

Since the elephants had done such a good job of being gentle with us, we had to return the favour by giving them a lovely scrub and wash down.

We were told that the harder we scrubbed, the more they would love it.

Finny was a very dedicated scrubber.

My brother thought it looked like Finny was trying to drown the elephants in some of these pictures...

And since the reciprocity seemed to keep coming, we all got to ride the elephants' trunks when the bathing was over.

I think Lukey looks like Mogli from The Jungle Book.

Before we left the river, the mahouts got us to all line up in front of the elephants for a picture.

A picture of us being sprayed by the elephants...the water felt a lot cooler when it was coming out of a trunk.

We got back into our mahout clothes and had another photo opportunity.

Then it was back on the elephants for a walk up river and home.

There was a huge snack waiting for them back at their home. We feed them bamboo as a thanks.

And they gave us a quick smooch in return.

And Molly looks like she's in the middle of a conversation...

And this is my favourite. Dad's face was almost sucked off!

It was a magical morning. I wasn't sure if it would feel exploitative or cruel. It didn't. It really felt wonderful.

The elephants seemed happy and well cared for. Loved even. And we felt happy and comfortable with them. It was far more than I expected. It wasn't just for Molly (she loves elephants so much). It was fantastic for all of us.

BUT, as much as I loved the was a filthy activity. I was pretty darn excited to get back to the Rainforest Boutique Hotel and jump in the pool, shower off and have some lunch.

What a day.