I booked this trip primarily because of the opportunity to volunteer with Elephants. Even though it's only a few days of the complete itinerary with We Are Bamboo this was worth every minute. After the first night in Chiang Mai meeting up with the group, we met at 8:30 am to embark on our journey. The process to get into the mountainous region north of Chiang Mai is loading into a traditional transport of a truck with seats in the flat bed and luggage tucked anywhere it would fit including on the roof. This hour journey gets more and more remote and farther up hill until we reached the Camp No. 9 of the collaboration of We Are Bamboo with the Elephant sanctuary.
There was a day trip group already working with the animals so it was super fun to see them getting their mud bath and what we would be able to do that day. We were whisked up the stairs to an open air loft for our introductions and receipt of our traditional shirt gifts. We are working with Asian elephants that were once roaming in this region. They were used in war and for their great strength to build communities. The rescue operation has 65 elephants over 9 camps and growing. Some of them were rescued from private citizens or from tour companies.
Asian elephants are smaller than African elephants and are identified by their shape and their ears. They eat, sleep, bathe, eat, sleep, etc. After their day within the camp zone they go into the jungle with their caretakers each evening. Our tasks after meeting them was feeding, giving them a bath and tossing mud on them especially as they reach a certain age and can't roll or sit.
There are two grandmother elephants at this location - one 71 and one 74. One of those grandmothers is rare in that her tusks are inverted. It's amazing to see these creatures so close and to acknowledge the wisdom of the aged. My knowledge of elephants is that they have a strong memory and they have family bonds. Who knows what type of life these old ladies have lead, but it does resonate wisdom and life experiences as we age. Their eyes are a venture into the soul.
After introductions and a feeding, we then took the herd down to their bathing spot. They had already gone through this ritual once earlier. One of the elephants didn't want to get into the water, but tried to give herself a dust bath. The photos below except for us walking the trail were taken by the staff. Unfortunately, even though I received a green light from my doctor I was worried about getting water, dirty water, into my ear after having reconstruction on my ear canal. Therefore I didn't partake as exuberantly as I really wanted to but everyone had fun.
The next step was to apply mud on the elephants which required us to go back to the other side of the camp. Meanwhile this was our first bonding experience as a group. My roommate as the other single person traveling was celebrating a birthday which was awesome. There were 8 of us total and Emily and I were the only ones without an extra friend in the booking. We all commented that we had noticed the group was sold out at 12, but through our experiences we were really happy we were brought together and that the group wasn't larger. Here's some shots from the staff and us applying mud.
Then we ventured down to the local waterfall to wash off. I was in the back of the pack. Expect the unexpected and always keep your eyes on the ground. I'm a bit of a clutz so I want to make sure I don't trip or fall. I was also lame in the mud because I was worried about it getting in my ear - darn medical crap - and the antics got crazy with a mud play after the elephants departed. On our way on the trail, one of the group of 8 slipped and fell. She was in a lot of pain and said she had heard a snap. Several in the group were already way ahead so the four or five of us kind of split up duties. I tried to cool off her ankle and delicately tell if she could move her toes and what area was painful while the staff went to get a first aid. Meanwhile someone else went to get her friend. Once we had extra people and I had attempted to wrap her ankle to stabilize it with gauze rather than a stretch bandage. In any case, Ebony was taken to the hospital in Chiang Mai and discovered she indeed broke her ankle pretty seriously. We were down to a group of 7 for most of the rest of the trip. Here's my plug to purchase travel insurance if you are spending any time venturing and this is also required of the tour company. It's not fun to lose your vacation on the first day. Our group ended up a bit fractured that afternoon as we all processed what happened and everyone tried to get mud off of themselves and their hair. The staff prepares the meals for you at this camp which was really nice. I felt like I was back at girl scouts, but as an adult. The dorm was bunks and because there were only 8 of us we all had bottom bunks. The tradition is to have a bonfire and attempt smores without sticks. I love campfires and prefer not to have artificial lighting out in the camp so I stayed close to the fire while the rest of the group played a raucous and fun few rounds of Uno. Tomorrow is another day of volunteering.