From the moment we mentioned South East Asia, Ezra has been focused on two things:
SCUBA lessons and elephants.
Yesterday, he got his wish.
I have been conflicted about the elephant riding experience. Reading in our local paper (in Phuket) about two camps having baby elephants removed from their care for questions over parentage and legality of procurement didn’t help. Reading about the elephant rescue camps who seek to heal and rehabilitate the abused didn’t add any confidence.
We warned Ezra that unless we could find a place that was ethical in it’s treatment of the animals we couldn’t, in good conscience, spend our money on a ride, no matter how much “fun” it might be.
Thom’s Elephant Camp in Pai came with a good local recommendation and there were several factors that leant confidence, ahead of time. Thom, the woman who owns it, has grown up with these elephants and they’ve been in her family for generations. Her grandfather was a logger with them. Her father traveled with them for celebrations around the country. Now she shares them with tourists to keep the family business going and the elephants fed.
I have to say, that we were impressed by the quality of the facility and the care of the creatures. Not one had a mark on her, not even the tiniest bit of chafing around their ankle chains (they have a bad habit of wandering into neighboring fields and decimating crops if let to free range) They were perky, interactive and “happy” seeming. The mahouts (drivers) were not the ones laying in hammocks smoking (like we see driving around) and ignoring their elephants. These guys were busy all day feeding, chopping banana stalks, working on training and interacting with their beasts.
I talked to a Canadian woman who has returned year after year to live at the camp and help out and she assured us that Thom’s elephants were her family, and it truly did seem that way.
I won’t beleaguer you with the ethics, I’ll just get to the good stuff.
The Short Version:
- This was the best day of our entire 4+ years of travel. No kidding
- Ezra had the BEST birthday celebration of his short life (his b-day is actually next Monday)
- Our bums hurt.
- There is nothing like closing your eyes, feeling the sway of your elephant and listening to the mahout sing in his deep, Thai voice to his beast behind you.
- Jungle rivers are the color of green tree boas in the right light.
- Watching an elephant perk up and “dance” to your daughter’s mandolin music and singing is pretty amazing… she sang the song she wrote about Thailand… the elephant swayed, moved her feet and swished her grass in her trunk all around as long as Hannah kept playing.
- There was one elephant who really liked Ez and would reach out with his trunk, grab Ez around the waist and give him a swing through the air.
- Bathing with elephants is not something I can describe, but it must be done.
- We will come back and stay longer at this camp for the kids to study, if possible, in the future.
And now… the pictures: