The highlight of the trip so far— spending the better part of a day hanging out with these gentle giants.

I'm surrounded!
All your plantains are belong to me.

Operating as a sanctuary for the rehabilitation of abused, neglected and injured elephants, the park’s mission is to rescue one elephant at a time in order for them to acclimate to their new environment and choose their own pack. We arrived in the morning to find four big baskets of watermelon to feed our elephants as an introduction of sorts. After having their fill, we each received a satchel full of plantains and walked with these lovely ladies (they were all female) to a clearing for more snack time.

Fording the River

Total national geographic shot.
Serving up some national geographic realness.

The small pack of four crossed the river for a little break from our infinite selfies to graze on some foliage. It’s pretty amazing how up close and personal the experience was, and also quite surprising that the elephants were comfortable, if not tolerable, with us humans. Many of them have had traumatic and tragic abuse at the hands of cruel trainers and it’s a wonder they tolerated us at all. Seriously, watch a youtube video of “Breaking an Elephant’s Spirit” if you want to spiral headlong into a deep, dark depression.

Pamper a Pachyderm

Is this real life?
Cue the theme music from the Jurassic Park Original Motion Picture Soundtrack.

We crossed the shallow water and met back up with the elephants to walk along the river, plantains in hand. The elephants were very accustomed to the route and needed little guidance from their caretakers, as the bountiful snacks were motivation enough. I did notice one or two elephants down the river who were not part of the sanctuary, led by guides and giving couples rides on their backs. PLEASE never ride on elephants, ever. The combined weight of the iron harness and the people is equal to half a ton of weight on their back for eight hours or more a day with no break. Don’t ever ride an elephant!

In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle

The lunch shaaack, that's where it's aaat.
The lunch shaaack, that’s where it’s aaat.

Halfway into the short trek, our group had a nice lunch break with a delicious homecooked meal served family style. On the vegetarian menu: fried spring rolls, french fries, fried tofu, white rice, fresh fruit, tofu with mixed greens and two types of noodle dishes. Our group of mostly Americans, with a couple from Argentina and one from Germany, enjoyed the buffet with a panoramic view of the elephant sanctuary from a distance.

Pamper a Pachyderm

Fording the river, we only lost 14 bullets, 2 wagon wheels an 1 ox.
Fording the river, we only lost 14 bullets, 2 wagon wheels and an ox.

The park operates as one big sanctuary, with smaller programs operated by different owners. Programs vary from staying at the park and volunteering to one day excursions. Our program, Pamper a Pachyderm, definitely lived up to its name. Not only do the elephants get to enjoy unlimited snack time, but we also got the chance to give them a bath in the river as well. I’m not quite sure if they were more irritated than zen at us splashing them with buckets filled with water, but with more watermelon baskets, they didn’t seem to mind.

The Best Day Ever?

I'm David Attenborough and this Planet Earth.
I’m David Attenborough and this is Planet Earth.

After finally parting ways with our mini-herd, we were treated with a view of the elephant park’s youngest baby elephant playing around with a toy tire without a care in the world. I’d say this is one of the best experiences I’ve had in this or any other lifetime. It was such a humbling experience to observe and interact with these intelligent and emotional creatures, and I hope this post helps spread awareness to how damaging and harmful elephant rides and circus performances truly are.

For more information on this awesome organization or to plan your own trip, click here.

Thanks for reading!