Monday, May 6, 2013

Patara Elephant Farm Review

Patara Elephant Farm Review

Today we did our elephant "owner for a day" and it was awesome!! Josh had 1% interest in it but humored me in going. There are 18 places to choose from in this city and I spent quite a bit of time choosing a place and am so glad I did. There are a lot of differences in the different places and this hit it perfectly. They take great care of the elephants which is debatable at many, I guess you have to poke them with knives to train them since they're hard to domesticate, so lots of places with all the elephant tricks have used that method, at least around here. Anyway, the elephant population has dramatically been declining the past 300 years, something like 40,000 to 3,500 now b/c of tech and not a lot of need for them, so they've been dying off, esp that last 20 years has been a huge drop. So they adopt elephants and use tourists to come and "adopt them for a day" so you can learn a lot about them and help take care of them and pay for the program. It was incredible!!

Josh's cousin went on his mission here and before we came and before I knew about this place, I asked if there was anywhere we could ride an elephant bareback. He said no, nobody does that anymore b/c of safety and liability reasons, you all have to sit in a chair now. That wasn't the case and I was thrilled, it was much better than that. After teaching us a few things, he asked me to come up and feed the elephant in front of the group. It was pretty nerve wracking to be honest because you're supposed to put your hand in their mouth b/c if you pull it to the side, they'll swing their head closer to you to get it so you yell, "bone!" and they open their mouths up high and you put your hand in and feed them sugar cane and baby bananas. Then you say, "D D" for good job. They gave us each a basket and we fed the whole thing to them super fast b/c they just wolfed it down. My legs were shaky b/c she was SO fast eating it and kept opening that giant mouth right in my face so fast (I can just see it now, "an elephant bit my face!" to top Pinky's job). They weren't tied up or anything and we were basically alone with them, the mahouts (their lifelong helpers/sometimes owners) were roaming around, but not right by us. Once she gobbled them up and I told her there weren't any more she scrounged for more food. I asked and as would be expected, pregnant ones eat nearly twice as much. Normal ones eat about 400 pounds a day, though I don't know how it's possible to eat more!

THey helped us find a good match for an elephant. I got the one I was demonstrating with--he also had me come up and brush the elephant and tell her to lye down and whack the dirt off her. It was really intimidating having that giant thing soooo close and laying down by me. She was also 15 months pregnant, so she was a big girl. They gave Josh the only male in the group and he was giant. There were 8 of us total (a couple of other groups were already out, but they try to keep them small). There was one other guy, he and his wife were on their honeymoon and he was also dragged there bc of his wife :). After we fed them, we pulled on their ear yelling, "Ma! Ma!" and led them down into some water where we got to bathe them. That was my favorite part of the day, pretty surreal for me. We scrubbed them down and then told them to lay down in the water and we go on their backs and washed them. It was so incredible b/c they were just giant, but so calm and beautiful and those big eyes just looking at you all pleasantly like they were saying, "Thanks for the massage!" It was our in the jungle with a waterfall behind us, SO cool. They took stunning photographs during it too which I'll try to send when I can get the other computer up with the CD drive.

Josh's elephant seemed to be a little stubborn, which was sort of funny. I was hoping today would help instill more of a love for animals when he got to work all day with one, but I don't think it worked. His elephant was hot to trot for the ladies in the group and during our lunch break was getting it on with one. Josh told me later he was nervous they were going to stop him when it was time to go b/c it was taking a while and he'd end up with a frustrated elephant who was already stubborn, I am laughing out loud again just thinking about him telling me about it! It was SO funny. Then we got to climb up onto the elephants. There were two ways to get up, unless you were on Boon, the male, and then you had to do it one way. I climbed up the leg of mine, but Josh had his bend down and he leaned up, grabbed a rope and jumped up on the neck, then turned around one on. I think that's why they had Josh ride him bc he's so tall.

Riding was really cool. They gave us clothes to wear--the top so we looked like a trainer to the elephant, the pants to protect our legs. Their hair was SOO wirey, really rough. Having ridden horses gave me an advantage i think b/c although it was different and much higher, it wasn't that weird. It was weird having no bridal or anything to hold on to. The mahouts were always nearby, but mine wasn't really close by much b/c my girl was so tame I think, she just followed everyone. Josh's kept going off on his own and it freaked me out a few times (and makes me crack up again just thinking about it) b/c I was behind him and it seriously looked like his elephant was about to go off sharp drop offs several times and there isn't anything really you can do about it as a rider. His mahout had to keep pushing him and yelling at him to move away from places. We went up some pretty steep up and downhills where the paths were quite rocky and only a couple of feet wide by some drop offs. It was thrilling to say the least in those spots, esp b/c we'd get backed up sometimes and you'd be stuck by the edge.

Then we arrived where they keep the babies and their mamas and it was awesome. It was so precious and incredible (overuse of the word, I know, but it was!). There were four babies 4 months-2 years and they were so playful. I can't wait to send pics! After a nice break there, they had us share elephants with our "lovers" or friends. I sat in front on the elephants head basically with my legs on her face with Josh behind. That was only for the last 30 minutes. The novelty had worn off for Josh by the who was drenched in sweat and his inflexible legs were giving him charlie horses since they were pulled up for so long. I keep laughing while I write this, maybe you can imagine it. Everyone else is in paradise talking about how cool and surreal it was and Josh was like, get me off this thing. I told him we had another two hours and he said he didn't. Ends up they over estimated the time, so that was the end of the riding. We just fed them more food, then went to a shop where we looked at our pics and ate ice cream before the beautiful drive home. We met some really nice people and tonight Josh even said he was glad we did it!

It started to pour on our way home, timing couldn't have been better since it was forecast to rain all day. We showered once back and laid down for a nap, jetlag is still lagging ;). Then we both woke up feeling groggy, at some good THai food and walked to the street market. Josh then split and went to a Muay Thai boxing match while I planned to shop the night away, but I ran out of money about 20 minutes after he left so my night was cut short (it was only about $20 anyway). I bought a couple of shirts for the kids, some lights for outside and some saffron for cheap! I didn't even have a cent left for a ride home, so I had a hot sticky walk back. We passed the elders on the way to the market too which was really fun to see too! I've been cooling off and relaxing here since. Josh just came in and ran back out to buy some mango sticky rice, which happens to be night and day from the kind in the states, SO good.

Off to eat the yummies! XO Afton


Tierney Kirk said...

This sounds SOOO fun! I can't wait to see pictures of you guys riding the elephants. I look forward to more stories from your trip :)

Sarah M said...

Thanks for the updates! I love reading about your adventures.