“You mean you spent your holiday looking after an elephant?” my friends ask incredulously before bombarding me with dozens of questions.
Yes, it’s true; I spent my holiday this year with my very own elephant! It all came about when I decided I needed to get away and try something new. They always tell you a change is as good as a rest and I was hoping that was correct, because after working extra hard for the past 12 months since the start of the ‘credit crunch’ I felt I deserved some quality relaxation.
I convinced two of my girlfriends to come along and they had since become just as excited as I had about our ventures into the unknown. Arriving at the Royal Elephant Kraal in Ayutthaya, Thailand, we weren’t too sure what to expect but were looking forward to getting stuck in. I never expected that I would get out of it what I did. By the end of the trip, I’d made a true friend and fallen in love with an ‘ele’.
We were shown to our accommodation, which consisted of some comfortable air-conditioned bungalows, each with its own bathroom. Following a briefing on the safety aspects of sharing a village with 90 elephants, some of which consisted of cheeky, mischievous babies roaming free, we went off to meet our elephants. There were 10 of us on the programme, a mixed bunch from all over the world; two Ozzie grandparents, a lone Israeli traveller, a 30-something British girl with her Mum, a young couple from Australia and us three girls.
Suddenly, there I was, standing in the middle of a dusty yard, meeting Nampeung (pronounced Nampoon), my elephant! She looked enormous as she graciously knelt down so that I could grab her great flapping ear and clamber onto her back. Perched behind me was a smiling Tia, her ‘mahout’ or trainer/keeper. With a short grunt of instruction from Tia, we were off plodding along behind a line of big-bottomed elephants. I felt very far from the ground but at the same time very safe. Elephants are unbelievably gentle considering their size. They have been known to lift injured dogs with their trunks and move them out of the way and their slow marching feels rhythmic and reassuring. I looked around to see everyone had the same goofy grins on their faces. Next, we were taught a few elephant commands; cries of ‘hua!’ (go) and ‘how!’ (stop) rang out across the field in-between streams of Thai banter as the mahouts called out to each other.