A Day With The Elephants in Chang Mai

A day with an elephant
6 am alarm clock and I’m excited like a little girl going to the candy store except that my candy will be humongous …
I did a lot of research to find the best place to experience “the real deal”. Above all I was heartbroken to hear that the majority of elephant camp were not caring for the health of the elephants as rhey should and made them do stupid activities like painting or playing soccer for the most amused, naive and ignorant tourist crowds…
day I stumbled upon patara elephant farm. Yes farm. As pat, the manager explain there is no need to use marketing and tear jerker word such as sanctuary and rescue center…
I wish I recorded the intro speech that pat gave us.. It was honest and resonated trufuly in my heart.
The concept is simple. One person gets to take care of one elephant a day. Feed, brush, bathe, walk through the jungle, eventually ride bare back. The goal is to create a bond with your elephant and patara goals is to take care of elephants well and breed them. 5 healthy babies elephant were born in the farm for the past few years. No death.
Pat tells us the story about an elephant in Phuket during the tsunami in 2006. He says the elephant are smart, mystical and have strong instincts… When all the locals and tourist were walking on the extreme low Tide that preceded the tsunami and were all excited, this elephant took a young blond Swedish girl in his trunk and started running up the hill… The young girl father was never to be found again. Since the tsunami, the sweedish family comes every year to pay tribute to the elephant that saved the little girl from drowning.
I really had to hold my tears hearing this story.
Meeting tilasu, my elephant for the day for the first time, I was nervous and excited like on a first date.  Tilasu is a 7 years teenager male with white tusks. He is not very big YET but still impressive. I start to feed him, my trainer gives me the big basket full if bananas and  sugar cane and order me to say ” Bonn!” so that tilasu open his mouth to swallow the food. Like a teenager, he is hungry and to be honest I am having a hard time keeping up the pace and satisfy his anxiety of eating the whole basket at once… I think tilasu is as nervous as me!
Once the food  basket is finished I can sense that he becomes more at ease with me and his eyes start to relax… “dee dee” I say while gently taping under his eye… Good boy!
we then do the daily health check, dirt on both side to check if he slept well, normal transpiration on his toe nail and the fun part: checking his his pooh is moist; a sign that the elephant is well hydrated.
” maaa” I say while holding his hear to bring him closer to the river.
The brushing part begins, I must say it is pretty impressive to stand next to the elephant and see him lying down next to you so I can start brushing his back. He seems to enjoy the brushing part.
The trainer kept taking picture of me, I feel more like in a photo shoot, he tells me “get close” to the elephant, “again!” and then says “pretty!”.  Apparently, the purple traditional mahout outfit goes well on me. ” are we done?” I ask, he says ” not done!” so I keep brushing.
tilasu is “slow” but kind at heart and does not really want to go in the cold river water. I can’t blame him, it’s a little frisky at first. I enjoy the brushing part in the river, brushing is an important part of the health of the elephant. Pat told us that no brushing is an important part of the health of the elephant declines rapidly. With 50percent species decline in the past 40years, I certainly apply myself to brush tilasu well.
The bare ride walk to the waterfall starts as I sit in tilasu’s head. There is something very spiritual about riding bare on my elephant that creates an inexplicable bond with him. I suddenly feel flooded by a warm feeling for him, compassion…love…I am not sure; that he allows me to ride him. Sometime words can’t just describe it.
Pat mentioned the strong 6th sense elephant have. Our 6th sense often forgotten and buried by our daily grind…that must be it.
While I enjoy the ups and down of the elephant riding, I suddenly hear an elephant scream followed by a woman yelling :”HELP HELP!” ahead of us. The mahout shouts Noi Noi! and I hear branches cracking and breaking. My mahout tells me to go down immediately and I follow his order promptly. It appears that one elephant got scared of the noise made from a truck’s brakes on the road above us. And needless to say that when the elephant leader screams the alarm… The herds follows. Two elephants with their mahout for the day ended up in the deep jungle and stopped just before the cliff. Thankfully only a few scratches and no harm done!
We resumed our trek to the waterfall and one portion had to be one the road. I sensed tilasu anxiousness to be off the road as quickly as possible. He soon fastens his pace and became the first elephant of the herd to show the way. As I walk by him in between him and the road as a protector,  I whisper in his hear “you are soon to be the leader. Dee dee”
Arriving at the waterfall, a feast awaits us with delicious Thai food…. Those rice coconut cake are to die for! After our massive lunch, an impromptu visitor comes to sweep the rest of our lunches including the banana leaves where the food was laid on. The baby elephant happily and forcibly enjoy eating the rest of our food like a big funny vacuum!
After the meal comes they come to swim in the river, the two mother ma elephants are invited for a dip in the water. The babies follow quickly and we are having the time of our life watching them both playing in the water; trying to gently drown each other.

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