Sunday, February 22, 2015

Thailand-Chiang Mai

For Lantz's birthday and for our last big adventure for our trip we rode elephants.  This was the kids Christmas and we had all been looking forward to it.  Before our trip we watched videos from others who visited the same place and we were excited and nervous.  Many times my friend and I would think...are we sure we really want to do this with our kids?!  We decided we would regret it if we didn't!  Boy were we right!

This particular elephant place came highly recommended.  There are tons of places to go in Thailand but this place treats their elephants good.  We learned while we were there that it is in fact a family that doesn't necessarily love elephants but in their words...we live in the land of elephants and we need to do our part.  It happens that our part of helping the world is to protect elephants.  We were told in our introduction that we probably came expecting the ride to be the best part...but we would leave thinking the other stuff was the best.  That was so true!

Someone from the company picked us all up at 7:30 in the morning we drove about 50 min up the mountain to the elephant farm.  We got to spend time walking around and being near the elephants.  Then we actually started.  We learned about the place and about taking care of elephants and then we spent the day each in charge of and caring for our elephants.  Zak and Makelle had their own.  Lantz chose to ride with someone so he got the Bensfields grandma!  I was supposed to have Damon and John was in charge of Karlee.

We all got to feed our elephants a basket of bananas and sugar cane.  We got to put it in their trunk or place it clear back in their mouths.  We learned what words to say for them to open.  Next we got to learn how to get them to follow us and we took them for  a drink and to spray them off.  We also learned how to get them to lay down so we could brush them off.  Then we learned three different ways to climb on to them...crazy!!

I was surprised that it wasn't more scary to be up close next to them.  It wasn't scary at all.  They were super nice and never tried to come forward at you and they didn't  back into you or anything.  Now getting on top of them was another story.  It was quite the time to climb up and then you realize how far off the ground you are.  You ride bareback with nothing to hold onto expect a rope behind you if you really need it.  You are supposed to ride with your legs bent behind their ears right on top of their heads.  Lantz rode with his legs forward on the elephants head!  Crazy!  The plan was for Damon to ride in the snuggly with me.  He fell asleep and instead of trying to hand him to me the elephant trainer attached him to him to walk beside me.  That was super nice of him but I knew it could only last so long and then Damon would freak when he came face to face with a stranger next to an elephant.  Karlee was with John.  She didn't want to ride on the elephant because we had originally told her she would be in the backpack on Johns' back.  That is what she wanted.  After muscling her up to John in the backpack he rode for just a bit and realized it wasn't going to work.  It made the weigh unproportional and she needed to come out of the backpack.  Once again the trainers trying to be helpful carried her in the backpack.  She didn't like that a bit and she was screaming!  Meanwhile that woke up Damon and he was screaming!

So we are riding the elephants...and we are going up the mountain on this little trail.  It is steep and rocky with some areas that had cliffs!  It was crazy!!  I kept thinking...we were having a great time with the elephants..why didn't we stop with that.  What were we thinking to ride them up a 4-wheeler trail!!!!  Just as  I was reassureing myself and Zak who was on the elephant behind me that elephants are sure footed animals and that it just feels insecure but really he isn't going to fall off...well then an elephant stampede happened!  We were just headed up an incline when John's trainer yelled for him to jump off.  Just then he looked back and saw elephants running.  Apparantly our kids crying scared the two baby elephants at the end of the line and they started running to the front.  They were trumpeting and that caused their moms to pick up speed behind them.  Cambria the 10 year old girl in front of me either started falling or the trainers started pulling her off.  I just remember seeing her going sideways and hooves being near her head.  I thought she was going to be crushed before my eyes.  Then I realized that 3 of the trainers had her.  I then saw that John was off his elephant and wondered if he had fallen too or if he had gotten his trainer had told him to bale.  Behind me Zak was bouncing on his elephant with a look of terror!  We got the elephants calmed down and Cambria got right back on!  I was impressed.  Makelle and Zak both asked to have their trainers ride with them for the rest of the trek up the mountain.  The whole stampede lasted about30 seconds...but boy was it scary and I haven't had an adrenaline rush like that..ever!

When we got to the top the ladies had a huge table set for us on palm leaves.  It looked so cool!  We had fried chicken and meat kabobs with tons of Thai fruit and yummy sweet rice desserts.  Everything was really unique and so good.  It was wrapped in palm leaves too.  We sat there enjoying a great lunch while we each told our perspective of the stampede.  Our adrenaline was still going strong as we each talked about what had just happened.  John mostly sat there sick and trying to catch his breath.  After the stampede he had carried both of our kids one on the front and on his back up the mountain...a long steep hike in flip flops in the heat.  He will tell you he paid the most of anyone for this trip and he got to carry his kids up the mountain for the elephant ride!  I was complaining about how my legs hurt and I was saddle sore from the elephant...he gave me a look that could kill...he had just walked up that mountain!

We got back on the elephants and walked down the mountain to a watering hole.  Each kid got to ride their elephant and wash it in the water.  John switched me and he gave the elephant a bath while I watched Karlee and Damon.  He wanted to cool off.  They got to scrub and wash the elephants.  Then they lined all the elephants up and they poured buckets of water on them.  Then the elephants got to  have a turn and they poured water on our group.  It was fun to watch and the water was cold!  Then the kids got turns holding the trunks and squirting the other in a water fight.  Zak and Makelle went first and then Janay and Lantz had a turn.  It was fun!  After washing them. John got on with Lantz and the others all got on and they rode up the mountain just a bit to our car.  There we got to give hugs to our elephants and say goodbye.  When Karlee gave her hug and said goodbye she was all smiles.  You never would have realized she had not liked the day!

Then our driver took us to see the 2 week old baby elephant and a 2 month old baby elephant.  It was so fun and cool.  The newborn was fun to watch him get up and stumble and wobble around on his feet.  Such a cool experience.  We all got to change and we got our free t-shirts and our DVD's with our photos.  Then our driver took us home!  It was a great day...a little scary for a minute...but a super cool experience!  It was worth our splurge.  It was so fun to come home and look at the pictures!
I still can't believe we got to be that close and care for them for a day.  I really can't believe we got to ride them.  Especially up a treacherous mountain..with my kids...that was crazy!