Once in a Lifetime – Okinawa Photographer
Last month for the holidays we ventured off on another off island trip and what we would find out the day that we left was our last “big” off island trip. One of our bucket list countries to visit in Asia was Thailand and specifically Chiant Mai. We had heard how beautiful it was and definitely experiences we wouldn’t forget. Of course at the top of our list was seeing and riding elephants. Lucky for us my friend Karen went to Chiant Mai last spring and had done all the research on humane elephant villages and found this great elephant conservancy – Thai Elephant Home. This conservancy not only takes good care of their elephants, but also gives back to the community and local forestry as well.
The girls weren’t too sure at first since it was quite chilly that morning, we had a long ride to get to the elephants and then they were presented with clothes made for someone twice their size! But they moved passed it quickly when we saw the elephants up close and personal. They were handed bananas immediately and were in awe at feeding them with their bare hands so close.
They instructed us how to get on the elephant and how to command it to move, etc. Let me just say that getting up on a bare back elephant is as thrilling and crazy as it sounds! When a 10+ foot elephant stands up and you have nothing to hold onto but placing your hands on it’s head it is quite a surreal experience. And amazing. And let’s be honest – fairly nervewracking at first. But after a lap around the “playground” at the camp you settle in and get used to it. These elephants eat up to 300 pounds a day and it certainly showed with several of them. Maya’s elephant was a “teenager” and going through a growth spurt, which meant she stopped to eat every 5-10 feet! Mine liked going very near the edge of the cliff to get her food which makes for one nervous mama. I think my mahout secretly found it amusing and waited for some time before bringing the elephant back to the trail.
We stopped about a 1.5 hours into our trip for lunch for ourselves and our 4 legged hungry friends. This also gave us time to get to know them a bit better and feed them some of the food the mahouts gave us for them. They could sniff it out many feet away and one took liberties with my pockets to make sure she had gotten everything I had in there.
We also had time for some elephant kisses.
I can’t even describe this amazing experience we had and for once it immediately set in with the girls. I could see it in their faces and throughout the trip they both said several times “this is so cool” and it’s exactly what I wanted to set in for them. We emphasize that with them when we go on any trip, but especially the trips we have taken while stationed here in Okinawa. These are experiences not many people get to have and they should embrace them. Easier said when you’re 40+ and not 8 and 11 and mom and dad are dragging you around to yet another temple in another Asian country! I want them to appreciate other cultures, countries, history and in all sappiness – time with their family. These are memories we have together and I want them to remember them. I love our time together on these trips, especially now that they’re older and much easier to travel with on adventures.
I know for myself I just kept thinking “I’m in Thailand riding an elephant bare back through the forest”.