By Valeria Hinojosa
Two years ago when I started my blog, WaterThruSkin, I decided to work with nonprofits that were providing safe havens to rescued animals – namely SaveElephant Foundation & Elephant Nature Park. Since then, I’ve been donating 10% of all profits made on my shop to that charity and hoping that one day I could visit the elephants myself and see firsthand where that money was going to. Finally, the day arrived.
SaveElephant works with different elephant sanctuaries throughout Thailand offering daily or overnight packages to tourists so they get their elephant experience in a different way: by giving elephants love and watching them simply be elephants for an entire day or two. I chose to stay overnight in Kanchanaburi’s Elephant Haven.
From River Kwai Jungle Rafts Pier, we took a taxi at 7am to Kanchanaburi’s bus station where the Elephant Haven team picked us up at 8am. An hour later we reached the camp and were welcomed by 6 beautiful elephants waiting to be fed. This camp has about 19 elephants that were exploited for human entertainment for years until this sanctuary was created. Now, these magnificent creatures get to enjoy their days roaming freely around acres full of trees, rivers and mud-pits, enjoying delicious and healthy snacks throughout the day, and even have the occasional refreshing bath given by human admirers.
The first activity the elephant caretaking team planned for us was to teach us how to prepare elephant superfood balls, a.k.a “Elephant Cookies”. We prepared 6 fist-size balls full of rice, tamarind (for its Vitamin C), bananas (potassium), salt (minerals), and protein powder for our babies. According to our guide, feeding the elephants these cookies prior to giving them fruits and leaves helps them digest food better and remain healthy. Once we were done with the cookies, we walked towards a small fountain where dozens of watermelons floated. Each of us washed and cut 10 watermelons, put them in a basket and headed towards the elephants.
First, you feed them the cookies, then you feed the watermelons. This part was hilarious! I would be feeding Boon Me (‘my’ elephant) and suddenly Chopper (the youngest elephant in the tribe) would try to steal watermelons out of my basket, even though my friend was feeding him at the same time! After breakfast, we walked alongside the elephants to the nearest river where they immediately submerged themselves and splashed water everywhere. I think this was the part I enjoyed the most!
There was one elephant, Mali, I connected with the most. She would follow me everywhere, look for me and just stand next to me whenever possible. She let me hug her and caress her and talk to her. It was beautiful! I also connected with Vinnai “the elephant whisperer” at the shelter, and the most kind-hearted soul I’ve meet in a while. He sings and talks to the elephants and in turn, they’re all in love with him and follow him everywhere. All I wanted to do is hug him too!
Luckily, the elephants were not the only ones who got to eat: the sanctuary had some of the best vegan Thai food I’ve ever tried – just think of any traditional Thai recipe, then substitute tofu for shrimp or chicken – it was pure heaven. After lunch we walked through an artisan’s market with vendors selling arts, crafts and plenty of boho fashion. After admiring these truly Thai handicrafts, we headed back to the shelter just in time for elephant playtime – in the mud, no less! This is a pachyderm dream come true – they love rolling around in the cooling (and skin-friendly) mud, only to be rinsed off by we humans. It was a kind of ‘elephant spa’, if you will.
After such a fun-filled day, we needed a shower too, and cleaned up in our tiny yet cozy house, had a coffee and watched the sun setting over the river, marvelling at how wonderful it feels to enter the world of the elephants, and looking forward to the next fun-filled day with our newfound friends.
About the author: A Vegan, Yogi, Runner, Philanthropist, Adrenaline-junkie, Adventure-seeker and Animal-lover,Valeria was born and raised in Bolivia but now lives in Miami.