I have deeply fallen in love - no, not what you think of. I do not want to miss Nina on my side. It is kind of a different love. I fell in love with Kod, "my" elefant!
Although spending some time with the elefants is quite over my budget, I really wanted to do a trekking or a mahout course for some days. I did a lot of reserch where I could do this and I finally decided to do a 3-day homestay programme at the Thai Elefant Conservation Center.
By public bus I went from Chiang Mai in the direction to Lampang and told the driver to drop me off at the Conservation Center. That was easy going and I quickly arrived at the center where I was welcomed by some friendly ladies at the information desk. By car they drove me to the bungalows for the homestay programme. The room was ok, next to the bungalows of the "real" mahouts and away from the tourist crowd. Nice! I quickly went for a bathroom pit stop - but first I had to rescue a frog sitting in the toilet bowl. I changed into my mahout outfit and 5 minutes later me, 2 australian ladies and a norwegian couple were ready to meet our elefant. And there she came. It was the biggest elefant, and the most beautiful one - my Kod! It was love at first sight. Lay, her mahout, greeted me with a big smile (he did not speak a word of english, but we didn't care and had a great time together). He gave me 3 bananas to feed Kod. Elefant eat ab to 200kg of food per day (what a job to collect all the shit - and they do collect it to make dung paper out of it!). Kod loved my bananas and then it was time to climb on the huge lady: right hand on the ear and left hand on the belly. Kod lifted one leg and I had to step on the leg. Well, I hardly reached her back with my head. How the heck was it possible to bring one leg on it. Lay just told me to jump. And I did and somehow managed to sit on the elefant. Damn it, that was high! Then, the mahout told the elefant "hup soong". Kod lifted the leg again and I could go down again. I had to repeat climbing on the elefant and then the mahout said "tag long". This means, coming down over the head of the elefant. Kod lowered her head and I could easily jump down. And again I had to get up. The mahout gave me a small stick. I threw it on the floor and said "Geb bon". And Kod, being a great lady, gave me the stick with her trunk. Being down on the floow again, I said "non long" and my huge lady slowly laid down. So, one last time I told her "so soong" and she lifted her leg and I climbed on her back. I was getting tired - this is sport! Now we went on a short walk. Nothing to relax as I had hoped. This is a shaking experience. The ears of the elefant were to low to hold. I could just keep myself off falling by balancing. We went to the showground where much too many people were watching us. They could give the elefants something to eat. One lady came to Kod and gave her a 20 Baht bill. I thought by myself "How stupid is this tourist by giving money to an elefant". But my big lady is clever. She took the bill with her trunk and gave it to me (of course, I gave it to my mahout who was more than happy).
After the tourist show it was time for bathing. Well, I was wet within a few seconds. Kod loves bathing and she was playing around like crazy. It was a great experience (and the following day I knew what she wanted to do and kneed on her back - like this I did not get that soaked any more). We had some more time with the elefants before we brought them back to the forest where they spend their nights. Each mahout has only 1 elefant. He takes care of everything and feeds him/her daily even if it is his free day. Lay, my mahout, has been working with Kod (she is 31 years old) for 15 years. We met at the homestay kitchen, had a nice dinner and talked a bit. We were all pretty tired and went to bed early. When the tourist crowd is gone, this is a peaceful place without internet access, without noises - but with not much comfort. But who cares, spending time with the elefants is great comfort!
The next morning at 6.30 am it was time to meet the elefants in the forrest. Hell, it was freezing cold! We took some sugar cane - the brekkie for the elefants. On the way to the camp we went for a quick bath. That was a very peaceful experience in the early morning. Back in the camp there was more sugar cane for the elefants and also breakfast for the human beings. The rest of the morning was the same as the day before. After lunch I visited the dung paper factory. They make beautiful paper out of the elefant shit. A great way to use the huge amounts of dung. I continued my walk to the Elefant Hospitals where ill elefants (lots of them have injuries because of land mines in Myanmar). But there was also an elefant with her baby. That was amazing - a moment never to forget!
Well, the 3rd day we did not do anything different. But it was not boring for 1 second. It was simply wonderful to spent as much time as possible with the elefants and I can highly recommend such a programme. I will definitely do it again!
Much too fast, my trip through Northern Thailand was over. I quickly met my friend Hanspeter and his wife Anong again in Lampang and had a wonderful lunch with them before Air Asia brought me to Bangkok and Gulf Air back home. It was a special experience, my first trip on my own and I will definitely repeat it. I had a wonderful time and enjoyed every minute. However, I prefer travelling together with Nina and I hope, she will be fit enough very soon to hit the road again.