My sister and I had initially discussed whether we should do something with the elephants in Chiang Mai. Obviously we were keen to see them, but we were also wary about their well-being and didn't want to go somewhere where we would see them being mistreated. When we came across Chiang Mai Elephant Training Camp, which is managed by Earth Eco Tour, it felt like we had found a place which combined the elephants' welfare with their owners need to earn money to care for and feed their animals which can eat up to 600kg of food a day. The centre limits the number of visitors to 15 a day and when we arrived we discovered that we were actually the only people there. I'm still not sure whether that was a good thing, as at least no one witnessed what happened that day but, on the other hand, it would have been good to see if other people shared the same fear as us.
After changing into out attractive blue outfits - again, what's with the outfits? - I volunteered/was volunteered by Sarz to go first. Command number one was "Sung" which made the elephant lift its leg to form a kind of step. The pros can obviously then just swing their own leg over the elephant's head. Unfortunately I am nowhere near that flexible and had to be quite unflatteringly pushed from behind by two people. My first three thoughts when I finally managed to sit on the elephant's head were:
1. I was very, very high.
2. I was very, very small.
3. I was very, very scared.
I wanted to get off immediately. There was nothing to hold onto except the elephant's head and even though I knew that Pitoon (which was her name) was trained to listen to people all I could think about was that if she wanted to a) throw me off or b) run away, there was absolutely nothing anyone could do to stop her.
|Not the most glamorous start to the day.|
|But I'm on!|
stop I had to wiggle my bum and shout "Jalong" so that she would put her head down and let me slide off the front of it. I had never been more glad to feel my feet on solid ground.
|Surely the most unflattering shot I've ever had??|
|Have you stopped shaking yet?|
|Cheeky 'little' Chumpoo.|
In the afternoon we set off on an elephant trek, much to the amusement of the locals who came out of their houses and stopped talking to their neighbours in order to watch us pass by. It must have looked so funny to see two tiny white girls trying to control two huge elephants who seemed to decide on a whim whether or not to listen to us. One moment we'd be walking along merrily and then next they'd see a tree they wanted to eat and they'd be off and no shouting of "Bai" could get them back on track.
My elephant Jokia was the worst, as she was mum to Champoo so, like any mother, all she cared about was making sure she could look after her baby, which meant eating as much food as possible so she could produce enough milk. Sarz was back on Pitoon who was (slightly) better behaved. When we were walking on the flat ground it wasn't too bad and we could actually take a moment to enjoy the ride and appreciate how amazing the elephants were but going uphill or, even worse, down hill was pretty scary. At least on a horse you have reins to hold on to but on an elephant you just have to lock your legs and straighten your arms and hope for the best. I could hear Sarz screaming behind me at one point as we came down the hill. The trainers all thought we were hilarious. The elephants are their pets and they don't understand why anyone would be scared of them. I guess it's like the equivalent of someone being scared of your pet dog in England. So their mantra was always "No problem lady. No problem." Easy for them to say.
|Note to self: Elephants don't come with brakes.|
|Just what you need when you're having a breakdown. Now I know how Britney Spears felt.|
Actually washing the elephants in the river was the highlight of our day. They absolutely loved cooling down and we scrubbed their backs and threw buckets of water on them, while Champoo, besides herself with excitement, threw herself around, almost squashing us all in her enthusiasm. It was also a chance to see how gentle and gorgeous the elephants were close up, without the fear of being thrown off them.
|#18 Done, with a little help from our friend.|