Monday (10/24/16) – Wakeup in Chiang Mai. Check in at Elephant Nature Park (ENP) in the city and then take one hour bus trip to the sanctuary. We are fed and then immediately put to work. We unloaded bananas and a never ending supply of squash. In the evening, ENP had a welcoming celebration for all of us and then diner. One of the local shaman conducted the welcoming ceremony and everybody received a bracelet that was blessed and that would help protect us. Preparing for bed was a real treat. We had the opportunity to meet all the lovely creatures (a multitude of spider species) that would be joining us in the bathrooms/bedrooms for the rest of the week at ENP.
Tuesday – Wake up to rain outside. Grab breakfast and prepare for our morning job which consisted of slogging to each elephant stall and shovel their poop from the night. We wrapped up this work in about an hour thirty minutes and enjoy some quiet time on the platform deck which overlooks the entire park. Our afternoon “job” is the formal walk around the park. Here we were able to meet most of elephants, including the babies. After the walk we got to bath the elephants in the nearby river.
Wednesday – Our original schedule had us slated for banana tree plating, however late change put us on the corn cutting operation. We loaded up in the back of a pickup (about 12 of us) and we made the hour drive through the country side. We chopped, collected and transported enough corn to feed 71 elephants for one day. Completed the hour drive back with a stop at 7/11 for a beer and ice cream and had two hours to relax before our dinner. After dinner we had a Thai culture and language class given to us by our guides. In this class we had a crash course on the traditional Thai culture and how it is changing with the new generation, how monks are to live their life (“oh my Buddha”) and very rudimentary Thai phrases to help us get along in our travels.
Thursday – Round two of poop duty. Completed our morning job even earlier than the first time and then went to the dog shelter. Walked a few dogs and then spent time with about 6 dogs in their pen, after two dogs escaped and riled up all the other dogs (close to 50 dogs loosing their brains). We got all the dogs calmed down and then spent some quality time with them. Our afternoon job was cleaning up the park (shoveling more poop and picking up the reminant corn husks). During this job we got to watch some more elephant babies and the herd of water buffalo crossing the nearby river just as tall as them. We had another opportunity to bath some of the elephants in the river and then watched some of the adult elephants sleeping in the river while the babies played away.
Friday – Today we had kitchen duty which consisted of washing cucumbers and watermelons. Unloaded trucks of watermelons and bananas and then walked over to feed some of the elephants. In the afternoon, ENP was celebrating the 4th birthday of one of the elephants with a massive rice and fruit mixture cake. After the birthday party, we took time to walk throughout the park at what seemed to be the hottest time of the entire week. Finally had a decent shower and then talked about travel plans with the other guests (Vietnam, Cambodia, Australia, etc.). We finished the night with a Mahout music show. There were about 12 Mahout guides that formed a band consisting of drums, recorders and a very outgoing front-man.
Saturday – Woke up to a viscous storm that knocked out the power. Struggled to get out of bed due to lack of sleep from all the commotion outside. Our morning job was a choice of kitchen duty or poop duty. We chose poop duty (since it gets us into the park with the elephants and out of the stinky kitchen). Everybody relaxed for the remainder of the morning after work. In the afternoon, everybody gathered for a group photo and then we both departed to walk around the last part of the park which we have not explored. We walked over to the last remaining shelter to say hi to one of the monkeys (Macaque), exotic birds and bunnies.
Sunday – Last night of sleeping in the jungle completed and we were told the founder of Elephant Nature Park (Lek Chailert) arrived to the park after traveling to the United States and gave us an hour long presentation. She talked about the travesty that the elephants are enduring. She presented unsettling videos and pictures of how these elephants are trained (tortured) so that they can be used for heavy industry or for our own entertainment. After this presentation, we packed our bag, said one last goodbye to the elephants and monkeys and departed back to Chiang Mai. We checked into the same hotel that we stayed at earlier in the week and took some much needed time to clean up. Since we did not get a good chance to say goodbye to everybody at the park, we met up with a lot of them for dinner and drinks. Everybody said goodbye properly and then we met up with Megan, a friend of Giovanna’s that is here teach English to the local children. Finished the night with more drinks and a brief walk through the Sunday Bazaar.
Monday – Today marked the only full day we have in Chiang Mai. The early portion of the day consisted of “recovering” from our week in the jungle by getting pampered. Giovanna had a spa treatment and shortly thereafter we got our first Thai massages. We only spent $6 each for an hour long massage where they twisted, bent and contorted us in ways unimaginable. After this we walked over to Wat Cheri Luang Worawihan to see the oldest tallest pagoda in the Thailand Lanna Kingdom. To wrap up the night, we attended a 4 hour Thai cooking class which gave us a tour of the local market, gardens and an opportunity to cook some stir-fry dishes, curry, soups and spring rolls. We had an amazing teacher and met so great people. Afterwords, we had a drink with a German couple (also from Cologne) from the class. We stayed out a little late, but got back to the hotel and packed up our bags for the next leg of our trip. Cambodia here we come 🙂
I love it here! The airport, the people, the weather, the food, even the McDonald’s is better! *Plum sauce & spicy sweet chili sauce for my chicken nuggs? Yes, please!*. The people are so friendly and laid back *this is so refreshing after leaving Hanoi where the lifestyle is too fast for me to keep up & the locals were not nearly as friendly. I really hate when people hussle you for money. It REALLY puts bad vibes on a location*. Every single local I walked by smiled & greeted me “sa-waa-dee-ka” I loved it! I felt like everyone was so genuine and my best friend. The weather: Thailand is hot & humid! Just like I like it #heavenonearth The food: Thai food is no joke! I thought I liked spicy food until I came to Thailand and experienced real spice. Like, there isn’t a plain or spicy option on the menu it is just there culture to spice it up. So when you order a dish as simple as fried rice be prepared to sweat your ass off (even more than you already are from the 100 degree heat, humidity & no A.C.). It’s intense! Alright, now this is the part of my story where I go on and on about my 7 day volunteer experience at Elephant Nature Park (ENP) because elephants, duh. I would like to start off by saying, I am not one to voice my opinions or push my views on others BUT being an animal activists my feelings are very strong about this topic & this is my journal so I am not sorry if you get offend for my words below and hope that maybe you learn something new *be the change you want to see* Monday: Today is the day. TODAY IS THE DAY!!!! *Stew from “The Hangover” voice* I cant even! I literally cant even! I am so full of emotion I cant even eat! *hmm that could have been from the extremely spicy Thai food that I had for dinner but either way I was all jacked up & full of emotions*. I honestly don’t know if I am actually ready for this experience. I have been dreaming about the day when animals can be free from slavery and actually enjoy theirs lives for years. I have been crying myself to sleep for months thinking about the day I will get to see abused animals finally in a safe place. I have been actively involved in this community via cyberspace for so long that I don’t know if I am emotionally prepared to see the outcome in person. But today is the day so ready or not here we go… We arrived at the ENP office at 9am where we took care of some last minute details, met some of the other volunteers *shout out to S & M for being our bay area besties and providing all the laughs* and got our volunteer t-shirts *I love a good t-shirt* Then loaded up in the van to head to the jungle. On the way we watched a safety video and Lek’s documentary that she has put together from her experience with abused elephants *as if I wasn’t already crying enough this video just really did me in* And then it happened, we arrived at the sanctuary. It was beautiful. So green and peaceful. There were animals running freely everywhere! It was wonderful. But then… I saw my first elephant. It was beautiful, majestic, magical, wonderful, love. It was love. I felt love. It was like the elephant had imprinted on me. I will never forget the look in her eyes, the energy she gave off, the moment we shared, it is something I will cherish forever *I know I will keep repeating myself but the whole experience was just something I will never be able to put into words so bare with me* The more time I spent with this elephant the more I concluded that she is my spirit animal. Our souls are so similar that I felt like I was looking into myself when looking in her eyes. We both have a past that has left scars on us to tell a story and make us beautiful. We are both a little clumsy and hesitant to let our wall down. We are both gentle, emotional, loving souls that would do anything to protect our family and we both know that blood isnt what makes you family. I look forward to day when our souls reunite again. Tuesday was our first morning to wake up at ENP and be assigned our first job. I eagerly woke up *as if I really slept in my shelter with all the creatures crawling around me* joined the others for 7am breakfast then ran to check the boards to see we have been assigned to group B. *Yay! Group B!* Now, what is group B doing on this rainy Tuesday? (Checks the jobs board) Group B: elephant poop. Elephant poop in the rain? Perfect! The elephants have bedrooms *ah I was so lucky to have a bedroom right next to theirs. Listening to them sleep, socialize & eat while falling asleep was very soothing* where they go for the night to get some rest. Since elephants only sleep for about 4 hours a night, they spend most of the night eating and what goes in must come out. So poop duty in the rain it was. *this was surprisingly our favorite job at the park. We liked it so much, we volunteeredto do it during our free time* We were given shovels & signaled to go in each bedroom, shovel up the poop & put it in the back of the tractor. Eric was the lucky chosen one who got to ride on the tractor to the compost field and shovel the poop out of the truck *so lucky* After we completed our morning task we showered, had lunch, then went on to our afternoon job which was walking the elephants through the park. Now this was wonderful. Simply blissful. We just wondered around the park with the elephants (and a guide) and watched them play/eat/socialize while our guide provided information about each animal we crossed paths with. There are over 1000 animals roaming ENP (these are estimated numbers because they are constantly growing): 71 elephants, 500 dogs, 200 cats, 300 water buffalos, monkeys, horses, pigs, birds, rabbits. So how they can remember all of them by name is crazy, let alone all their info is just impressive. I’d like to take a second and just inform you that all of the animals at ENP have been rescued from an abusive situation and are here to heal before being released into Lek’s protected jungle (a large piece of jungle land, owned by Lek, where the animals live freely but are still protected from being hunted). For example, the monkeys from chemical testing labs, the dogs from meat factories and the elephants from logging. *Go ENP! #Lekforpresident* Wednesday: This was the hardest day for me both physically and emotionally…. Wednesday we were assigned the all day job of traveling out of town to a corn field where we cut stalk for the elephants to enjoy. In order to get out of town 10 of us hopped in the back of an old pick up truck & stood while holding on for dear life (the traffic laws here are better than in Vietnam but still not up to a safe standard, not to mention they drive on the other side of the road) for the hour plus commute (each way). On the way out of town we drove pass a dozen people riding elephants, elephant training centers & elephant camps (NOT to be confused with ENP. These camps abuse the elephants, use them for slave labor, force them to perform and allow tourist to ride them. These are NOT sanctuaries like ENP). My heart sank & my stomach turned the moment we saw the first sign. I knew these kinds of places existed and have seen more documentations of them than one person ever should but actually seeing it all in person was something I was not prepared for. The tears that rushed down my face were not only from the pain I felt for the elephants but also from anger. I was infuriated, literally shaking in my boots and felt like I just wanted to scream. I wanted so badly to jump out of the truck and physically harm the humans involved in the whole situation. But instead I got lightheaded, clenched my stomach and griped the truck rail a little tighter. I have never felt so helpless in my life. I wanted to yall to the ignorant tourist “get off! You’re hurting them!” but It was like I was frozen, couldn’t move or speak. I, honestly, think I went into a state of shock. It just blows my mind that humans can be so cruel to such a delicate, loving, helpless, beautiful creature. The most mind blowing part is that the Thai people (and anyone who practices Buddhism & Hinduism) view the elephant as a sacred religious symbol, a symbol of luck, royalty and strength. So how you can abuse, kill, torture something you worship is just asinine. The worst part of it all, the real gut wrenching feeling, comes from knowing that there is nothing I can do to help.
This week presented a roller coaster of emotions. Our main reason for traveling to Thailand/Chiang Mai was to visit the Elephant Nature Park (ENP). The intent of the ENP is two fold: to shelter abused elephants from the tortures they faced as working/show animals, and to teach us about the cruelty they endure so we can spread the word about this ongoing travesty. Seeing how these majestic creatures are being abused so they can bring us entertainment is absolutely heartbreaking. The process of training elephants starts with ‘The Crush’. Simply stated, it means to divorce the baby elephant from its spirit, or to split the will of a baby elephant. Elephants are separated from their families as babies and are contained within a torture device which makes them subject to beatings, sleep deprivation, hunger, and thirst to break their spirit and make them submissive to humans. From there on, it’s a lifetime of abuse and exploits. I can go on and on about our week in Chiang Mai and the Elephant Nature Park, but I wan’t to keep it short and sweet. DO NOT support any industry that exploits elephants for work or entertainment. Please help keep the elephant spirit intact.
“One should not kill a living being, nor cause it to be killed, nor should one incite another to kill. Do not injure any being, either strong or weak, in the world.” – Buddha