I’ve learnt a new meaning to the phrase “being thrown in at the deep end.”
Hikes leave at 7:30, so you have to get up early every day in order to go. Breakfast is brought to base and usually (always) consists of rice. After eating and filling up my water bottles we set off on my first hike.
We went to find Khum Suk, 64, Kha Moon, 34, and Lulu, 5. This group of elephants are a family unit consisting of grandma, mother and grandchild.
We hiked for 2 hours, over a river, up steep sided, slippy slopes and through the undergrowth until we suddenly stumbled upon them. While the mahouts knew they would be there it was a shock for me to see the elephants right in front of me just standing in the same forest I had been trudging through for the past 2 hours.
Because it was our first time meeting the elephants we got to feed them pumpkin (lukay bow). I fed Khum Suk, but Kha Moon got a little bit because the people feeding her had run out and she pestere
d me for more. I’m not complaining! Elephant trunks do not feel anything like you would expect. Their skin is rough, but smooth and firm all at the same time. The strength within their trunks is just incomprehensible. They were only taking pumpkin from my hand but I still felt like they could break my arm in two if they wanted to. From a distance they didn’t look that big, I just took it in my stride, like seeing elephants you see regularly in photos, but getting up close is a whole other story. I’m used to being around horses, but elephants are so much bigger in every single way and they’re a lot more intimidating and awe-inspiring. You get an impulse to reach out and touch them whilst simultaneously wanting to get out of their way.
In order to observe the elephants naturally and take data we moved away a little distance. We remained like this for a little over an hour, just observing the elephants’ natural behaviour (which consists mainly of eating). During this time we had to constantly move out of Lulu’s way, as she’s quite inquisitive but doesn’t seem to know her own size yet!
It was while we were watching the elephants that I realised I had been bitten by a leech. I was wearing wellies, long socks and tight leggings yet somehow the little bloodsucker still managed to worm it’s way onto my skin and steal my blood. I didn’t notice until after it had drunk its full, fallen off and left me bleeding. I wasn’t really bothered by it, but from then on everyone else was super conscious of leeches being around. The only annoying thing was the blood on my clothes, but I got that off with a scrubbing brush when we got back.
We hiked back a different way,
this route taking us up on to the ridge of the mountains. It provided incredible views but my legs and lungs complained relentlessly. The sun had come out, and while it was a manageable temperature for sunbathing, for hiking it proved challenging. I thought the hills in Exeter would prepare me for hiking in hilly terrain over here, boy was I wrong. It’s like comparing mountains with molehills.