I have always thought elephants were cool animals. Ever since reading Dr. Seuss’s, I Wish That I had Duck Feet as a kid, I have imagined how cool it would be to have a trunk. However, whenever I have gone to the Atlanta Zoo I have rarely seen an elephant. I am not sure why it is that my schedule hasn’t lined up with that of the elephants…maybe four little kids pulling at my legs to go in different directions…or maybe having to count 25 kids on a field trip. Repeatedly. Whatever the reason, I have never seen one of these magnificent creatures up close.
When I found out I would be going to Thailand I had this crazy desire to ride one. It just bubbled up from somewhere in my horse-riding past. Our last day in country, we got the name of a reputable elephant camp from our contact and we were on our way. Problem was that the taxi ride out of the city took longer than planned and we missed our elephant riding appointment… so we scheduled another. However, despite the delayed riding appointment, we got there just in time for the elephant show, which turned out to be amazing. Honestly, they smile. Truly. Like they are laughing as they play soccer. Drop kicking, heading the ball, goal tending…trumpeting when they score. You could see their personalities more with each shot.
Then they did the most amazing thing of all…painting! Each elephant stood behind an easel, including the baby…who was the most adorable thing ever! Blank white paper…no lines, no outlines. Each handler handed his elephant a brush with paint already on it. Then the most incredible thing happened, these huge animals held the brush up as if they were thinking about what to draw, and made the most delicate and specific lines. At first I was thinking it would be a few strokes…first grader style. They soon proved me wrong. You would think they had opposable thumbs or something as detailed as these paintings were! Their dexterity was remarkable, and it was fascinating to watch.
The baby took longer than all the others, which led me to believe that he was still being trained. From my vantage point I couldn’t see the painting. When he finally finished and they turned it around to show the crowd, I was stunned. It was the best picture of all. I was completely intimidated as an artist…by a baby elephant…in Thailand. I wondered was this a dream? They took bows and trumpeted to the applause of the audience, and came over to visit us. Toto we aren’t in America anymore…no liability issues in Thailand. You can go into the ring with the elephants, or just wait for them to come to you.
Soon they were hugging us, putting hats on our heads, and pointing at our purses to “gently” suggest that if you have your picture made with them you should give them some money. It seems they can identify specific bills, and they point them out when you open your wallet. As soon as you put it in the trunk, up it goes to the man on his back. The more pictures you take, the more money they want. Whereas if you give them bananas, they go straight into their mouths. Discerning creatures, and well trained. But being so close to such big animals was like my own personal elephant encounter. Their trunks are solid muscle and scary powerful. I have no doubt they could easily crush pretty much whatever they wanted, yet they also paint the most beautiful images. In fact, this group holds the world record for the biggest elephant painting, painted by the most elephants at one time. They are such a dichotomy. Strong and gentle. Feeling the power of that trunk, getting to pet their faces and be right beside them…it was incredible. The very best thing to me, was getting close enough look into their eyes. They look so wise, like they know everything. I can see the reason they are so revered in the culture there. Fabulous creatures.
We went to the see the tigers while we were waiting for our next elephant ride appointment. We thought we had plenty of time to get to the tiger place, pet the tigers and get back to the elephant place. We were wrong. By the time we finished with the tigers (also beautiful animals…but sadly not as well cared for as the elephants), we had missed our second riding appointment. It was over 100 degrees, we hadn’t eaten since breakfast and it was 2 o’clock, we were tired, hot and hungry, and the ride back to the city was long…in traffic…with no air. We made the decision to not to make another appointment. I was a bit disappointed, but I was not feeling good by this time and adding more time in the heat was not going to make things better for my dehydrated self. Besides, I truly felt that our up close time with the elephants was better than sitting on top of them in the hot sun anyway. It was such a great way to spend our last day. By the time we boarded the plane, I smelled like elephants, tigers and sweat all the way to Korea, at which time I hot-footed it straight to the “Rest and Relax” showers. I might have washed off the smells, but the memories will be with me forever.