Up close and personal with elephants
Our second full day in Chiang Mai saw us up at the crack of dawn to be ready to leave after a good breakfast for the Patara Elephant Farm, where we partook in the "Elephant owner for a day" program, a series of scheduled events that include feeding, cleaning, bathing an elephant and riding it bareback through the jungle. It is a strenuous program and not for the faint of heart, but if you have any fondness for these great beasts, it is worth the sore thighs and exhaustion at the end of the day. Besides, if the trip up the mountain proves to be too much for you, there is a van that will take you down while the trainer assigned to you (each person has a trainer as well as an elephant for the day) will gladly ride it down, after having had to walk up beside the regally seated falang on the way up. You needn't be shy about it; several people took advantage of the automotive option down. The paths in both directions are rugged and one is left amazed at how sure-footed, indeed dainty, these great animals prove to be picking their way along well worn mountain paths that leave little room for error or waywardness.
Mae Wan Dee was assigned to me after we were introduce and she approved me -- or at least did not reject me. There exists, apparently, an elephant version of "instance dislike", that those who run the program are sensitive to. No one in my group had to be reassigned because of pachyderm preferences, so we were on to the next step, brushing the dirt off our animals before bathing them in the nearby stream. They throw dirt onto their backs, both to get rid of annoying flies and -- this was news to me -- to prevent sunburn. The tough hide of these gentle beasts is apparently more sensitive than one would think. In order to minimize the chances of having to bathe off mud, one takes some of the local vegetation and brushes them down with it.
The program for the day has been described many times on the internet, so I won't repeat it here, but will jump right to the pictures. Once home, I may add to the text of the blog and post more pictures.
The Beauteous Mae Won Dee.
She is 35 years old and occasionally quite willful, as when she decides she is hungry and plows into the nearest tempting vegatation for a mid-journey snack.
Bathing Mae Won Dee in the local stream
Me brushing the dirt of Mae Won Dee
Me riding Mae Won Dee off into the jungle and up the mountain
Me, Charlie, Mike, and Serafin (from left to right) before starting our jungle trek
Photo taken with Mike's camera by a mahout
Climbing up the mountain through the jungle. Note how rugged the track is
Swimming with elephants. And you didn't believe me!
Charlie took this photo with Mike's Canon G11
Baby elephant. She (he??) came with another group that arrived at the falls after we did. A big hit, naturally, and too cute for words.