It's water for elephants. In real life.
So far we have been introduced to, greeted, fed,
and checked in with our elephant about how she slept last night.
(See 'Our Elephant Adventure' Part 1)
Next I get to unhook my elephant and lead her to water.
How do you lead an elephant where you want her to go? You tug on their ear! My boys got a big kick out of this, 'cause back when they were little, that's how they knew they were in real trouble. No, I did not actually tug on their ear, but I absolutely got their attention by pinching their earlobe. Followed by what they refer to as "The Fierce Whisper". All done with a smile, so nobody else was the wiser. It beats yelling, and was far more effective. Anyhow, the point is, they thought it was hilarious that I could control a 4-ton elephant in the same manner.
So how do you water an elephant? You pour the water from the hose right into her trunk, and she lifts it to her mouth when it gets full. And then you do it again. And again. And again. And again.
She drinks allot. This is one big animal!
After a little dusting off ('cause remember, she is healthy and has slept well and thus has dirt on both sides of her body),
Then we spray them down a little, we are just about ready to go exercise our elephant.
Before our 3 hour ride through the jungle, though,
we must get on them.
How do you get on an elephant? What I learned is that there are 3 ways to get on an elephant.
#1) She offers you a bent leg to use as a step to hoist yourself up on her back;
You might notice he's demonstrating this on a very small elephant, which makes it allot easier.
#2) She offers you her trunk to use as a step to hoist yourself up on her back.
This was Mr. C's challenge.
Or, #3) she plants her forehead on the ground, allowing you to leap-frog over her gigantic head to grab the one rope that you can cling to as you hoist yourself onto her back. That's my gig.
Difficult! But I did it!
Then, by the way, you are sitting backwards and have to do a 180 to be facing front. Advisable.
And do you get to choose which method? No, you do not. She defaults to whatever method she was trained with.
And just for the record, this is high. You are way high. She is so very tall, and by the time you are on her back the earth seems very distant. Very cool, but wow. Really high.
Now we are ready for our jungle trek. You might have notice that there are no saddles, benches, or the like. Nothing to really cling to your seat with, except for clenching your knees together around her football field sized neck and hanging on to her ears, which she did not seem to mind in the least.
I wonder how I can describe the feeling of being atop this enormous beast. Every step is as solid as a steel piling, she is solid and huge and amazing.
Did I mention that Mr. C's elephant was a mama?
So her baby went along for the journey.
Downright adorable, this Baby E. At one point during the excursion he decided it was time to eat (evidently this banana snack was not holding him); and, even though they tried to dissuade him, he was insistent. So the entire caravan came to a screeching halt right there in the jungle while Baby E nursed. Way cool!
Now we arrive at the river, our short-term destination. Or, as the elephants like to refer to it, "Spa Time". We trade our elephant training outfits for water wear, and wade in to scrub our elephant head to toe.
It is interesting to find that the handlers / trainers do not let us slack. Every inch must be scrubbed. In case you haven't noticed, there are allot of inches on an elephant. For a buffer-guy like Mr. C, it's elephant buffing heaven.
Even those troublesome spots behind the ears and, yes, even under the tail. When you've reached as high as you can go, (which is not so high in my case) no problem. They have it all figured out.
They just ask the elephant to lay down in the river so you can get to the higher spots. I was amazed at how much they loved this! They love the water! In fact, Baby E was totally immersed, just swimming like a great big fish.
Then we broke for lunch, a true jungle version. I will never forget this lunch! Everything laid out on banana leaves in an open bamboo hut.
It's all finger-food, meaning sticky rice wrapped in leaves, sweet rice wrapped in leaves, white rice wrapped ..... well, you get the idea.
Plus fresh mangosteens and bananas and other jungle fruit. And chicken drumsticks. It all tastes pretty amazing after 3 hours atop an elephant.
Then, (and this is so cool) we tossed out the chicken bones and toothpicks, and we wrapped up the remainder of our lunch in a those big ole' banana leaves; and this became our gift to our elephant (they needed a snack, too, you know).
Before heading back to camp, though, we have to pose for a group picture. All the humans in front, all the elephants in back.
And, as you might have guessed, they give us a really good farewell shower of our own. The day would not be complete without a little elephant snot.
The water, by the way, was freezing cold.
A shortcut ride back to camp, and it was time to say goodbye.
So how do you get down from up there? Another good question. The elephant gets down on her front knees and allows you to sort of slide off. Difficult. If you want to know how to do it gracefully, you would need to ask someone else. My legs were so cramped from holding that position, from clinging atop her for dear life, that when I slid off my Betty Lou, they did not hold me. They gave way and I plunked right down in the dirt! Not my finest moment.
The Patara Elephant camp is a refuge for Thailand's elephants, which is one of the reasons we chose them for our excursion. They are focused on re-population, and their mating and live birth and infant survival rate is impressive. (This is their latest addition, a three month old baby.) They also take in the retired circus elephant, the homeless, the wayward, and those struggling for survival in a shrinking jungle. These are the healthiest elephants I've ever seen. They are well-fed and loved and cared for ~ and they get a spa treatment every single day!
I was surprised by their curiosity. I was surprised at their playfulness. I was surprised by their affinity to touch and be touched, to interact with us.
He is, in fact, so affectionate that if you sat down on this rock,
he would try to climb into your lap, just like a small child might do.
So while there are various ways to have an elephant adventure in Thailand ~ some part days, some full days, I can only speak to our full-day "adoptive" experience, and it was one of the most amazing things I've ever done. I am still bonded to Betty. I still remember how she felt, and how coarse and thick her skin was, and how soft her mouth and lips were, and how she smelled (not bad!); and how willing she was to meet someone new and spend the day with this inquisitive American and give me the experience of who she is and what her world is like.
I miss you, Betty Lou. Thanks for becoming my friend and giving my an unforgettable day in the Thailand jungle.