Feeding, more feeding, bathing, only to roll around in the mud pit, protecting their skin from the sun, more feeding and elephant hugs.
It never occurred to me that riding elephants is a thing to do in Thailand. Damian explained this while we were making plans, but because they’re mistreated we should go to a refuge. Instead we’d be feeding, bathing and learning about elephants. Fine. I didn’t give it much thought. When people asked us about our plans, we’d laugh about going to Chaing Mai to give some elephants a bath.
I was trepidatious at first. With good reason, they’re big and wild. But we warmed to each other. Our guide Noi kept prompting us, “don’t worry they’re vegetarian”. Like Damian, they eat a lot and we spent much of the day feeding them. Elephants spend 18 hours a day eating up to 10% of their body weight. The Elephant Nature Park (ENP) has an elephant kitchen where trucks piled high with bananas, watermelon and pumpkins are continually delivered to keep up with the appetites of their 34 elephants.
We met many of the elephants, including Hope and Jokia amongst others, but mostly hung out with two particular elephants: Medo and her protector Mae Lanna. They’re inseparable friends; it’s an elephant thing. They form these tight, supportive bonds, often where one or both have an injury or disability. Both of our new elephant friends have had rough lives, as most do at ENP. Medo has a very unusual gait as she has broken hips from forced breeding and Mae Lanna is mostly blind. Now they live without mistreatment in a caring, loving environment.
Our day was punctuated by a lot of picture taking. After having washed and cooled down with the elephants, really the highlight, there were more photos. I was standing between the elephants and they started to lean in. One’s trunk was encircling my waist and I had a cartoon image of being picked up and thrown. But Noi was insisting, “no, no, no, don’t move! It’s an elephant hug! This is very special, it rarely happens”. For Damian: we got lots of photos of and with the elephants all day long but this, the most memorable experience, went unrecorded, Louise was the recipient of an elephant hug!