December 19, 2018

Playing with elephants

Dateline: Chiang Mai and Mae Taeng, Thailand-

Woke up this morning and headed to breakfast where cultures again complimented each other on my plate. Some sort of chicken curry noodles with French toast. Who said breakfast can’t be ecumenical? And it’s a free buffet with my hotel. Hampton Inn needs to take a lesson or two in terms of quality and taste. No time for exploring before the shuttle van arrived to carry me off to a day with the elephants.

Bath time

Being a good UU ecotourist type, I had elected a day with the elephants at a sanctuary for those who have become injured or aged or abused and where they are allowed to live out their natural lives. No riding or mahouts with goads, but plenty of opportunity to watch them at play and to feed them (bananas are a favorite) and wander among the herd families dodging elephant dung and random water buffalo.

Meeting the tourists

The van contained me, a young couple from Finland, a Vietnamese couple from Orange County, an older Australian couple and a couple of Brits from close to the other Birmingham and we had an hour and a half drive out of town to get acquainted. One of the things I like about international travel is getting thrown together with odd assortments of people and learning about them. It gets even more interesting when none of you has a common language, but even then, the human family usually makes itself understood. It’s something that we miss out on a lot in the USA and our culture is the poorer for us not having to deal with multiple sociologic and linguistic differences on a daily basis. The van, fortunately air conditioned, chugged along the highway out of town, then turned down another narrow mountain highway, which apparently was paved by the same contractors responsibly for the roads of Walker and Marshall counties.

Fields, mountain, river… what else does an elephant need?

We arrived at the Elephant Nature Park (https://www.elephantnaturepark.org/) in one piece, molars only slightly loosened. Feeding time and bunches of bananas quickly disappeared into inquisitive trunks. Then a walk through the grounds to meet the elephants, the water buffalo and a couple of zillion dogs and cats (they rescue those as well. I declined to adopt one on my way out the door.). After lunch, over to the river to watch them gambol about at bathtime. In the usual tropical temperatures of northern Thailand, it would have been a sticky and uncomfortable day but I lucked out with the weather and it was in the 70s, cool with high overcast and a light breeze making it all a very pleasant experience.

We repeated the trip back along the river road (dodging a couple of water buffalo drawn carts that had traffic slowed to a crawl) and into town. Time for a quick dip in the pool, then one more walk through the old city to take in the sights, sounds and smells of Chiang Mai street life. I get to sleep in a bit tomorrow as I don’t have to leave for the airport until 10 for my flight to Bangkok.

Elephants aren’t reminding me of any particular stories. Neither Steve nor Tommy would have been particularly keen on a day at an elephant rescue park. Tommy liked his nature at a distance from an air conditioned vehicle. Steve would have spent the day complaining about the weather, teasing the elephants, trying to violate the safety rules, and wondering why the guides kept getting mad at him. (‘I didn’t know any better’ was one of his favorite phrases after some particularly egregious misbehavior).

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