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"The lasting revolution comes from deep change in ourselves."
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In the river at the Elephant Nature Park, Thailand
Amanda with Jokia
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Elephant Hug in Thailand
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Elephants | Elephant Journals | Jan. 13-17 | Jan. 18 | Jan. 19-20 | Jan. 21-22

The Elephant Journals

Thailand, January 2006

In January, 2006, I flew from the San Francisco International Airport to Tokyo, Japan, and then on to Bangkok, Thailand to meet up with my new friend, Amanda de Normanville. Amanda and her husband, Gary Soden, are the founders of All For Elephants. Amanda was to be my trusted guide into the world of elephants.

January 18, 2006: Chaing Mai

We had to be up and ready for our ride to The Elephant Nature Park by 8:30 this morning, which meant getting up at 7:00 a.m. to consolidated into one suitcase the stuff we felt it was necessary to take. We caught a very quick breakfast and met the driver provided by Gem Travel and Lek. The trip was planned for two nights and three days. Our drive up was an unfolding from bustling streets to rural back roads to flood ravage, rocky, dirt tracks. The flat land gave way to hills. Although not very high, the hills were sheer in the way they rose straight up from lush canyons where banana and rice grew.

 Elephants grazing in the meadow at the ENP

We had not been on the rough road long when a valley opened up below us with a meandering river winding through the center. There was evidence of past flooding in the piles of gravel along the river banks. Amanda told me we were near Lek’s land. I saw water buffalo with their babies grazing in the abundant greenery. Then, I saw my first elephant free and clear of chains or mahouts. What a beautiful sight to behold! We bumped along and I tried to steady my camera to take pictures. Amanda assured me I would get closer. Indeed, before long we turned left off the main track and onto Lek’s driveway. Elephants stood in small groups throughout the meadow that spread before us. Straight ahead was the river and beyond that more meadow and more elephants. Truly beautiful!

 Bamboo feeding platform with dining area in center

The van in which we traveled, along with one other couple, stopped by a small shelter built in a rough square with an open center for a garden. The roof was thatched and held up by bamboo poles. We were ushered up three rough-hewn steps to a walkway. The floor of the walkway, which was about four feet wide and six feet off the ground, was more bamboo poles with bamboo slats laid across those. Once on the walkway, we turned left to follow it to another platform stepped up a bit from the walkway. The flooring here was solid lumber, and the thatched roof for this portion of the shelter shaded several tables and chairs in the center. Built-in bamboo benches lined the outer edge of this raised platform. The benches were backed with bamboo, also. The affect was a safe, unreachable haven for the 20-30 people who were arriving just as we were. A well-tanned, athletic Australian woman greeted us, introducing herself as Michelle. She was a wonderful speaker, full of elephant facts, much of which was behavioral. I became aware that we would soon be feeding the elephants and then after that we would have lunch ourselves.


Looking around, I saw elephants coming in from all directions, as if a lunch bell had been rung. There were mothers and babies, and then other groups of just adults. The babies were captivating. Compared to their mothers, they were small and delicate with long, dark hair sticking up all over their bodies. Their trunks were tiny and waved around ineffectually. They wound in and about their mother’s legs and the legs of the other elephants in their particular group. They’d often reach up and run their trunks along the back of their mother’s ear or stick the tip of their trunk inside the opening of her ear as if to say, “Helloooooo?”

As all the elephants crowded in, I felt reluctant to be a part of the feeding, thinking I would just hold back and watch. I clicked many pictures of milling, expectant elephants and many more of eyes, trunks, ears and feet. I was in heaven with a slightly shaky floor. We waited for a long time, which I didn’t understand, although it really wasn’t a problem as far as I was concerned. I was aware, however, that the “natives” were growing restless. An older gentleman tried to stroke the head of one of the female adult elephants and she bashed her head against a post next to him as a warning. Michelle informed us all that this elephant in particular did not enjoy being touched. Just the same, it was not long before the same man attempted to stroke this elephant again and this time he was swept completely off his feet by her trunk, quite deliberately. Finally, a second truck arrived and the elephant food on board was promptly cut up and placed in baskets that were designated for each elephant. The individual mahouts assigned to their elephant were in charge of the basket for their specific elephant. That was when we were able to feed.

 Max (in back) towers over the others

I found myself drawn to Max, an unusually tall male elephant who had been hit by a Semi (large truck), so walked very slowly due to his past injuries and resultant disabilities. Max reminded me of my old horse friend, Clancy. I inquired as to his age, but was told it was not really known. I think he is very old. Because I was drawn to Max I found myself stepping onto the walkway to grab pineapple and watermelon, tucking it neatly into his outreached trunk. He was very polite and took his time chewing. He was not greedy, but not complacent, either. He was just steady and focused. I loved the experience! Just as with the horses, I could hear all the elephants crunching their food and see their contented looks. They used their trunks with grace and precision. The strength of that appendage was absolutely apparent to me when I carefully lodged the fruit in the purposeful crook offered, being extremely careful not to loose my hand in the process. It was my ability to hand them something they obviously enjoyed that was so satisfying.

It took quite a while for the blue baskets to all be emptied. After the eles were fed, we turned around to find an incredible spread of food laid out for us on the large table at the center of the raised platform. I loaded way too much wonderful Thai food on my plate and commenced to stuffing myself. About three quarters of the way through the feast, there was a tremendous rush of sound and energy preceding a physical crashing of elephant bodies. A young male elephant had attacked a female elephant and was forcing her partway to the ground. In desperation she tried to climb the stairs to get away and lost her back legs out from under herself. The entire herd crushed in against the platform, bellowing and screaming. The babies were caught in the midst of the melee, too. I felt intense nausea and had to put my plate down. The mahouts and volunteers shouted at and gave orders to the elephants, but they went mostly unheeded in all the commotion. Then, as quickly as it had started it was over. I do not think I have ever experienced anything so vibrationally powerful in my life. I was left in awestruck, humble awareness of our infinitesimal connection with that power.

 Michelle by the river

After lunch, we eventually followed the mahouts and elephants down to the river with buckets and scrub brushes. Michelle was with the group every step of the way, guiding, informing and joking. She was great! I noticed her skill of keeping the energy balanced. It was very evident during the elephant fight, which was a most obvious display of imbalance after which she did acknowledge how it had not been a good thing. However, she did not dwell on it and expertly redirected the focus of the group. As we reached the water’s edge and the elephants splashed in, Michelle handed out buckets and held cameras for the tourists.

 Tourist bathe elephants in river

Michelle offered to video tape Amanda and me bathing Jokia, Amanda’s elephant. Jokia’s good friend, Mae Perm, lay down in the current and immediately pooped. Great yellow balls the size of grapefruits rose to the surface along with an ample supply of bubbles. They floated on by us and Jokia, who did not want to lie down. Her mahout kept urging and urging her to lie down, but she did not want to for some reason. I scrubbed Mae Perm’s backside and heaved buckets of muddy river water onto her back. Then, I went around to Jokia’s side, downstream from Mae Perm. I tossed buckets of water on her and reached up high to scrub her ribs. I did not feel particularly safe, however, since I was uncertain if I would recognize her desire for me to get out of her space. Plus, being in a current that swirled knee-high, I could not move quickly if the need arose. I scrubbed Jokia only a short while, and Michelle filmed.

When the eles were done bathing, a choice I believe was left up to them to make, they headed for the warm sand to roll, toss, scratch and delight in the pleasures of logs, sticks and rocks. They climbed around the big logs lodged in the sand, situating the bodies in strategic positions for scratching precise areas that itched. I was amazed at their agility, especially in the rear. They moved their giant frames with the grace of a yoga master. This whole bathing process was repeated again shortly before sunset. Instead of actually participating, I bathed, too, in the golden evening light while watching the elephants enjoy themselves.

The babies were fun to watch as they immersed their entire bodies, then rose out only to immerse themselves again. They chased each other and stood on each other, their glistening body hairs throwing sparks of crystalline light in all directions. Once out of the water, I watched one of the babies roll like a big sugar cookie in the sand so every inch was caked and his beautiful long-lashed eyes peeked out at a heavenly life. Pausing to look around, I gazed at jungle-covered hillsides surrounding lush river valley, the sparkling water reflecting this impossible beauty back up into clear skies. I could not believe I stood on the soils of Thailand with the wisest beasts on the planet rumbling and squeaking their pleasure all around me!

January 18, 2006: Elephant Nature Park

The hut we had been assigned was in a group of three 12X12 rooms up on stilts. Each room had windows that opened outwards, no screens, on every wall except the adjoining ones. Our room had a river view. In the center of the room on the floor lay two twin mattresses pulled together to form a King size mattress. A mosquito net hung over the both. Inside our protected sleeping area were several blankets and a quilt, all folded neatly. The floors were plywood covered with bamboo mats. The entire structure was a lumber frame with bamboo siding and thatched roof. There were two detached bathrooms with flush toilets and between these a wash area with two basins. The huts and bathrooms were joined by a thatched breezeway, also on stilts. The floors of both bathrooms and the wash area were a nice tile.

By now I had been introduced to the Thai way of using a toilet, which is to say one uses a hose with a spray nozzle to wash off after using the toilet. Then, any tissue you use is thrown in a waste basket, not in the toilet. I actually liked this method, so there were no qualms on my part when I saw it was so in these two bathrooms, too. I have yet to use the squat toilets Amanda has told me about, which she says are essentially a hole in the ground over which you squat. Michelle was recounting the time she went to KFC in Chaing Mai to use the toilet only to find that the very nice flush toilet provided by KFC had its seat completely blackened by dirty feet, as people used to squat toilets had no idea they were supposed to sit, not squat.

Elephant Journals: January 19-20, 2006...




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