This was the elephant trip that almost never was. The first time we attempted to go ended in a car crash and trip to the hospital. I had my doubts about the safety of the second trip, or even getting in a car again, but K. insisted to the organization that the next car we took had a good driver and seatbelts. Both qualifications were sort of true, for while the Land Cruiser had seatbelts, I was the only one who got shafted by sitting in the belt less middle back row. The driver was a far better driver than before, but he giggled like a schoolgirl and kept laughing “oh my god” when driving over the last stretch of unpaved road to the camp. I think he was tweaked.
The drive to the elephant camp was beautiful. The last few kilometers of the trip followed a winding and rocky dirt road along the edge of a river. The valley was vibrant green and unspoiled except for a few subtle plantations and signs of an earlier flood. We passed a few tourist elephants parks before reaching the thatch and bamboo log buildings of the elephant camp. Unlike any other elephant park in Thailand, this is a model of eco tourism. The elephants aren’t ridden (which is bad for their backs), they aren’t trained to perform or paint. They are just supposed to be elephants. Of the 24 animals at the park, most have been bought and rescued from old age, abuse, and overwork at tourist parks. The owner also uses the park as an example for non abusive training. Traditional elephant training in Thailand involves a cruel process of pain and abuse to “break the spirit” of the animal so that it is subservient to man. Here, the training involves nurturing and reward.
Before heading out of town, we had picked up two truckfulls of delicious fruit including pineapple, watermelon, and banana. It took some effort to keep them from ravaging the truck when we arrived, and when we started to feed them, the whole supply was gone within minutes. It was must fun feeding the babies, who were about the size of a Shetland pony and covered with bristly hair.
The full day involved bathing the elephants twice in the river, going on a walk, eating lunch, watching a documentary, feeding the elephants, watching them pee buckets, talking, getting head butted by the youngest elephant as he tried to pin us against the fence, drinking coffee.
The ride back home, however was insane. We rode in a similar van as the accident, with the same driver. He drove in an insane way as before. Fast, recklessly, while talking on the phone and stroking his hair. I truly felt like I was going to die again. He seemed to calm down once he picked up either a prostitute or girlfriend, but by that point my nerves were shot and was looking forward to drop and kiss the motionless ground.