Monday, January 17, 2011

T - Zero

It is 9:14 p.m. Monday night. Just about everyone has retired to their tree-house for the night and all you can hear is the barking from a bunch of the dogs that have been rescued and reside at the sanctuary. We found out today from Lek, founder of the Elephant Nature Park, that the land has become a sanctuary for elephants (35), water buffalo (15), dogs 70+, cats, geckos which live in and out of our tree house, 2 monkeys, a baby black bear and 30985729835 mosquitoes. The occasional trumpet from the elephants breaks the sounds of the nighttime as well.

So much has happened today. Refreshed and ready for the day!

We started our journey meeting Oleeve who is our assigned guide for the day. She is very sweet and cute and barely measures 5 feet tall. At the Elephant Nature Sanctuary office, which is an hour from the reserve, we sign in, get out free volunteer t-shirts and new water bottles and water bottle carrier side sling. She rides with us on our 50 minute ride to the Elephant Nature Park.

Leaving the city of Chiang Mai:

Approaching the rural 'jungle' of Chiang Mai.

As we approach the entrance of the park I am excited to see one... two... three... fo... many elephants walking with their mahouts towards the feeding platforms for their 11:30 a.m. feeding. We are invited and taught how to feed them. There are 35 elephants and 5 natural herds have formed.

Shortly after, we are brought upstairs to the tree house conference room. There are 60 of us volunteering, some of us for one week and some for two, and it is the largest volunteer group they have had to date. I am at first selfishly saddened by this as it seems the group is too large to keep intimate, but I try to keep an open mind. We meet Nat (pronounced Nut) who is hilarious and very cute and he gives us the basic rundown of what we will be doing in the park and where we will be staying.

We immediately learn the golden rules of the park:

  • Never approach an elephant from behind.
  •  Never stand between two of them (if the two get close together, they could crush you)
  •  Never break the plane between mahout and elephant until the mahout gives you permission
  •  Never EVER make a fuss over a baby elephant - Fah Mai (21 months old) and Chang Yim (18 months old) - until the mahout (always close by) and Mum (equally close!) are happy for you to do so.