Jodi had told us that some of the elephants could be drama queens, and on this last day I got to see it for myself. I was lolling about in the dining area having my morning coffee and looking across at the elephant clinic, where there was always an elephant to be seen who lived there on a semi-permanent basis due to her need for ongoing foot treatment, plus another elephant who hung around keeping her company. Every day at ENP I had seen both of them there together. Today something caught my eye – there was only one elephant (Number 1). The more mobile one (Number 2) had gone for a wander around the back. Elephant Number 1 suddenly noticed she was gone and made a hell of an uproar! She started bellowing ‘Come back! Where are you?!’ – presumably in Thai Ele language – and kicking up a right fuss. I spotted the other one come out from around the back, and I actually saw her heave a great sigh. She took her time wandering back to the front of the clinic then trumpeted to Number 1 – ‘All right! Keep yer proboscis on, I’m here!’ They touched trunks and felt each other all over for a little while then settled back into their usual routine of, well, eating. Ah, the trials and tribulations of a BFF relationship.
I joined a few other volunteers who were looking over mahout Korn’s little wooden sculptures of his elephant friend Hope. They bought two or three between them and Korn went away to hang little bells around the necks of the statues, because Hope usually has one around his neck, and he wanted them to look that little bit more like his friend. I wandered off to the gift shop and bought myself a double statue of Medo and Mae Lanna, another of the BFF pairs in the park. Medo being the elephant my daughter would be foster-mother to for a year and Mae Lanna being the one I did ‘Oms’ with a few days before. These now have pride of place on a shelf in my Tiny House, with the blessed string I wore on my wrist at the Park surrounding both their necks.
We were all given certificates for being volunteers and fabulous pooh picker-uppers, then many of the others (after untold swappings of email addresses and several slightly tearful farewells) got into the Park vans and returned to Chiang Mai to continue their travels. Ursula and I had chosen to leave later in the afternoon so we could indulge in our own private goodbyes to the Park.
I spent the rest of my day revisiting various parts of the Park, taking photos, playing ukulele and purring at the elephants loitering at the feeding station, who were doing a nice job of being Pachyderm Banana Hoovers. Elephants do purr in their own unique way. They emit low growling noises, some of which our ears can’t pick up. There had been times when I had turned around to see if it was an elephant coming or a 4-stroke motorbike. Which had worked out to be about 50/50, on average.
I grabbed a few shots of the orchids that were stuck to tree trunks and wooden posts, other flowers in the lovely gardens they have there, and I even managed, after many days of trying, to get a photo of a butterfly doing its thing. You see lots of them around, but when you aim your camera at them they seem to magically disappear into the ether or move so quickly the camera can’t keep up. Also of interest were the aerial roots hanging down from the gigantic trees by the feeding station, some of which had been tied into knots for manageability. A sort of horticultural macrame.
In the afternoon I finally found the buffalo wallow. I had to ask a few people for directions as I had never been able to spot it, and it turned out that I had walked past it several times and not realized how close I was. Blonde! So of course I took half a million photos while dodging the soccer game that mahouts and ‘camp leaders’ were playing nearby. Mad if you ask me – playing soccer in 30 degree C heat and 90-something percent humidity? Not for the fainthearted!
For some reason buffalo have always fascinated me. Although not as big as your average elephant, buffalo are still a pretty impressive size and they amuse me with the ‘Doh’ look on their faces. I wouldn’t, however, mess with one no matter how vacuous they look, because they’re quite efficient killing machines when riled up. Apparently several people in Africa are slain by them each year after having gotten up their nose, one way or another. I could see why I had walked right past the wallow once I saw it – essentially it’s a great big slush puddle that the buffalo hide in, and while indulging in their bovine version of a spa, their backs are almost at ground level. They say that many of us mammals had ancestors that gradually emerged from living in water over many millennia, and looking at these particular beasties I can well believe it. They just stand there up to their necks in a muddy concoction, sort of like live, sludgy boulders with horns, with a look of complete bliss on their faces, jostling every now and again to compete for what looks like a better spot a few inches away.
At last though, I had to emerge from my denial and come to terms with the fact it was time to leave. Back to reality, where pachyderms are not part of the scenery and you don’t turn around regularly to see if an ele is creeping up on you, back to roads and traffic and power lines and various other dubious delights of living amongst humanity. Into the van I climbed, optically inhaling every inch of the park as we drove back up the driveway and out the gate, with only once thought in my mind – Elephant Nature Park, we haven’t seen the last of each other. I’ll be back!