D6: We woke today exhausted. Jason especially. Twila Beth had a tough time breathing overnight and was up a lot. Jason had to sit and hold her so she could sleep upright. I bet he was up almost all night with her. He's a good man. She had swallowed a bunch of snot so decided to projectile vomit twice. This time I had to put a towel down in the bed because she soaked it. The entire bed. And it's a king. How? Impressive girl that one. But today the elephants called.
Did y'all know people come from all over the world to Chiang Mai to spend time with elephants? I'm not sure why or how Chiang Mai turned into the elephant Mecca and when I Googled it I got no solid answer. Marketing and consumerism over time combined with an initial habitat of the creatures, I assume.
Awesome coincidence occurrence…Jason's best friend Ryan and his fiancé, Kayla, just happened to be in Chiang Mai at the same time as we. They are getting married in April and are here for a vacation/early honeymoon. We had the joy of sharing the elephant experience with them.
The day at the sanctuary was quite the adventure. Scary, treacherous, life threatening, anxiety provoking then followed by joyous, relaxing, blissful and meditative.
Before going further, I should probably mention that there is controversy surrounding whether it is appropriate to ride the elephants. I read several blogs on the Internet about why a person should not ride an elephant. Certainly I didn't want to do anything that didn't support kind treatment of animals and eco sustainability. And I didn't really care about riding the actual elephant (although now that I have I'm so glad I had the experience). Our elephants appeared to be enjoying themselves as much as I was and did not show any signs of abuse (During residency I was trained at recognizing the signs in humans, and will assume elephants show similar signs as the humans on the TV show, "My 600lb life".
We arrived at Thai Elephant Home, a sanctuary which houses 20 elephants-14 adult elephants, 3 are males, 11 are females, and 6 'little' babies. Several of the females are pregnant. We then changed into denim pants and tops and were escorted to our personal elephant. Mine was a female named Mali who happened to be pregnant with her first baby, at just 19 years old! Babies having babies. So young. I asked her if she still had a relationship with the baby daddy but she just flapped her ears and kept walking. May have been too painful to discuss. I learned that elephant gestation is 2 years long and she is halfway through which means we were pregnant together all last year! I know how she feels.
We bonded with the elephants we were to ride by feeding them about 20lbs of bananas, one of their favorite treats. Then we were thrown onto the back. Literally. Bareback. I was so scared. I didn't know how to hold on or where. I envisioned myself falling off and being trampled by her massive foot. I was frantic. I thought I was going to die and who was going to raise our baby? Especially if Jason died too. It's amazing the difference between 35 year old mom Annie vs 20 year old backpacker Annie. I have way more panicky thoughts now. I am much more careful and consider future consequences in a thoughtful way which I never before did. But as I said before the day unfolded into something magical. I jokingly said we should have trained for the ride by going to bars and riding mechanical bulls because that's what it felt like. As the time went by I relaxed. I found a way to be comfortable riding Mali. I bonded with her knowing she had a baby growing inside her and I wondered if she could sense I was a mom too (I'm sure I smelled strongly of breastmilk going over 4 hours without feeding TB...any breastfeeding moms remember how uncomfortable that feels (and wet)).
We rode our elephants up the mountain to a cool spot where we ate lunch in banana leaves (the best pad Thai I've ever had). There we bathed our elephants in mud to cool them off and relaxed gazing at the spectacular mountain view. Then we descended down the mountain to the cold clear river and swam with our new friends. We splashed about and they loved splashing us with their trunks. I could see them laughing at us with their eyes as they sprayed us with freezing water. Arriving back to camp we found mom, dad and TB in good spirits. Although I enjoyed the four hours we were away, I was paranoid at how Twila Beth would behave while I was gone. Mom reported she did fabulous. Of course she wouldn't take the bottle I left her (it is not easy to manually express 5oz of breast milk and I was sad to dump the bottle of liquid gold) and was hungry and fussy and ready for mama.
We said goodbye to our new friends (the elephants) and headed back to town. After dropping the oldies off at the hotel, Jason, TB and I headed into Chiang Mai with Ryan and Kayla. After the magical and exhausting time with the elephants we badly needed massages. I got a Thai massage with TB attached to my boob most of the hour. That was quite interesting to say the least. But the lady was so accommodating. Jason's massage was performed by a lady boy, which I did not realize was so until after. Jason said he knew the whole time. But he's progressive and so didn't mind.
After the massage, the five of us wondered the night food markets of Chiang Mai and sampled gyoza, roasted pork, chicken kebabs, more Khao soi (the official dish of Chiang Mai) and my favorite, sticky rice with mango! Twila Beth, not having napped during the day, was cranky and exhausted. But she loved looking around the night food markets, silently doing research for her future food blogs she will no doubt write in between her first and second year of medical school when she travels to Asia or Africa to volunteer at some third world hospital (like her mama did). Tomorrow we head to Laos.