This week is all Elephant Nature Park (ENP), all the time. Every day will be a detailed post on a day or two of the seven days I spent at the park in February 2013. I hope that those researching volunteer opportunities will find the detail helpful in determining if this is a week and $400 they want to sign up for. In my opinion, it’s totally worth it! Once again, thanks so much to donors who made this week possible. For more info on the ENP, you can visit their site here and learn more about the individual elephants here.
Day 6 and Day 7
On our last day of work, we had ele poo duty in the morning, and a group photo in the afternoon. That night, we had a farewell dinner, sitting on the floor and watching dance performances by girls from the local village. Chet MC’d in a spangly vest and bow tie, which I coveted.
We had one last bit of excitement, as we did one last job on day 6. One of the elephants was really sick, and needed sandbags under her to keep her supported as she lay down in her last days. (Sadly, she died a week later.) We walked far out in the field to the riverbed and poured sand into old flour sacks, and then heaved the sacks up on the two trucks the volunteer coordinators drove out there. Suddenly, an elephant wandered over to us, curious as to what we were doing and possibly intrigued by the gray truck that looked vaguely elephantine. The VCs shouted for the mahouts to come over, and all of us volunteers circled the trucks to get away. It was a comical little dance, until the rest of the herd came over too. Then it got a little scary: the mahouts were sprinting across the field, shouting “hut! hut!” and the VCs were yelling at us to run, and we all hoofed it in the opposite direction. We arrived back at the main building a little out of breath but okay, and laughing about the close call that even a safe haven for wild animals can provide.
What else can I tell you about the experience at the park? There was an activity most evenings, which you could join or not, as you chose. One night, the VCs taught us about Thai culture, and we ended the evening singing a song called “Dance Banana,” which was as silly and fun as it sounds.
Another night, founder Lek spoke passionately about her work here and how we all make a huge difference in what she’s able to do and the elephants they’re able to help. Her whole ethos is one of respect and caring, and it’s no wonder everyone who meets her is inspired to help.
The rooms were more comfortable than any of us had expected—a few people got their own rooms, but most of us bunked with one other person, in a room with twin beds covered in mosquito netting. Western style toilets were also a pleasant surprise, as was the wifi sometimes available in the dining area. You’re roughing it, but not as much as you might expect to.
Elephant shelters are right outside the rooms, so you can see them standing there every time you go to the bathroom. You can even spy them through the windows in the showers.
They do have a laundry service, which I used, because I simply didn’t have enough clothes that I could bear wearing again when they got as dirty as they did. Pro tip: bring at least 2 pairs of pants or shorts, so you can alternate, and be sure to bring at least one pair of pants and one long-sleeved shirt; you’ll want them when you’re cutting corn and bamboo.
There’s plenty of leisure time. I wrote in my journal, read, chatted with fellow volunteers, and sometimes napped. Some volunteers went up the road to the dog shelter, and others went up to the store outside the park for their cigarette and salty snack needs. Women from the village come to the area above the dining room each night to give massages (at the cheapest rates I saw in Thailand), and a woman sells beer and snacks til about 9pm.
I had a wonderful time volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park. I met a lot of wonderful people and had some great conversations. I saw one of the loveliest moonrises of my life. I watched a baby elephant practice using his trunk. I was exhausted the whole time, yet almost always contented.
I was nervous going into it, but I was able to keep up with the rest of my group and I can look back and proudly say, “Yes, I was witness to the grace and beauty of elephants, and I did something tangible to make the world a better place for a short time.” That’s about as good as it gets, isn’t it?