After that we headed right down to the elephants and learned basic commands for controlling them from the mahouts there. We had a laminated card with the commands and helpful Thai words around our necks for an easy reminder, as well as a shoulder bag filled with our lunch and treats for the elephants. Some commands we learned:
Mae long- lay down
Look- stand up
Son song- leg up
At first I was dubious about the care of the elephants because they use the canes with metal pokers to hit and control the elephants sometimes and I hated that. But they rarely used the metal part, mostly they just whacked the elephants with the stick to make them go and after being with them for some time we realized they barely feel it.
After getting the hang of the commands we went on a walk, starting with the mahouts on the elephants as well to make sure they stayed in control. After a bit they hopped off and walked along side us to make sure the elephants were still well behaved but we were the only ones on them. They didn’t use the big seats on top of the elephants, we were directly on their backs which was so cool! It took me a while but I finally figured out if I sit on the neck and bend my knees up to rest my feet behind the ears I had better balance and was much more comfortable.
We walked up the hillside and across the river up to a pool of black mud. When we got close we dismounted and the elephants ran to the mud wall and started spraying themselves and rubbing their bodies all against the mud. They absolutely loved it. We tossed mud on them, which inevitably led to tossing mud on each other, which ended up with us and the mahouts covered in black mud, which Spencer and I were told we were not allowed to wash off until the river. So we got on our muddy elephants, completely black with mud and rode down to the river, passing some other tourists on elephants who looked astonished to see us looking so strange.
My elephant ran straight into the water and submerged itself and began to shake shake shake to get the mud off. Luckily I could hold on to the rope around its body and laugh and laugh as it wiggled around under me in the water. It stood up finally and we walked across the river then it lay down again and I hopped off and swam around and splashed water on it and other elephants and jumped off the elephants into the water, one mahout did a backflip off. They would dive down and wiggle around with us on their backs and we would laugh until they stood up again then do it again. Swimming with an elephant was one of the silliest and most fun experiences of my life.
After the river we walked the elephants back and said goodbye to the Danish family then Spencer and I went with two of the mahouts to cut down banana trees to feed the elephants. We filled up the entire pickup truck with banana tree trunks and brought them back to the elephants who devoured them. They actually tore down a couple banana trees during our walk that day too!
We cleaned up as best we could in a freezing cold shower then spent the evening with Jo who talked to us about the elephants and we realized how well they were treated; each one has its own mahout that loves it and takes care of it and they are not overworked, they can eat all during the walk and are finished early unlike other elephant camps where the elephants are walking all day with different groups of people with about four people on each ones’ back…not good. Jo showed us how to make sticky rice in bamboo over the fire and how to make little boats out of banana leaves which we made omelets in over the fire as well. That with vegetable soup was delicious mahout jungle dinner! Then Da, a mahout showed us Thai drinking games and we had a great evening, then fed the elephants corn at nine at night.
The next morning we got up at seven am to feed the elephants again and to clean up their poop from the night. We learned more commands and practiced controlling them more then went on a walk up the mountains just Spencer and I and the mahouts. It was so peaceful and beautiful. We had a relaxing afternoon and Spence and I went to the river to swim with the dog Bacon then got ready to go ride the elephants into the jungle to camp and stay the night out there.
It was four mahouts and Spencer and I and three bottles of whiskey. Needless to say shenanigans ensued and we slept well, even with no sleeping pads. Dinner was all over the fire, sticky rice in bamboo and pork on skewers and whiskey. Very fun and very delicious.
The next morning we were up early and rode back through the sunrise on our elephants. Spence and I had to get back to town early to catch the taxi to get to Second Home farm, which ended up being a disaster. We caught wrong taxi after wrong taxi and ended up going all the way back to Chiang Mai, then getting another taxi to a town near the farm, were told there were no more buses that night and had to stay in a nice guesthouse that cost us an extra 600 baht…but we slept for 11 hours and got a ride with the owner directly to Second Home where we are now, reunited with Gavin and Agi, a couple I met at Daruma farm near Bangkok last month! What a wild ride!
Spence on the big ele