Our final night was spent at the Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai, Lek's base of operation and a sanctuary for injured elephants who can't be returned to the wild. She also cares for stray dogs and cats here - a real menagerie! We arrived in the evening with enough time for a quick shower, the first for quite a while, before a glorious Thai banquet with a dozen different veggie dishes and dance entertainment provided by the local school children.
That evening we celebrated our week with a few Chang beers culminating in Gary telling us he doesn't like cats and then falling asleep without locking his bedroom windows! Schoolboy error! Tim and I posted as many cats as we could find through Gary's window until he was woken by their meows!
With a heavy heart and fuzzy head we spent our final day touring the park meeting and feeding various elephants all rescued from circuses, trekking or logging companies. Many of their injuries were horrific, blinded by cruel mahouts who couldn't control them, backs and legs broken through over work or forced breeding programmes plus land mine injuries from Myanmar and Cambodia. All were free to roam the luscious park and cared for by their mahouts.
In the afternoon we took 2 of them for a bath in the river which ended up with us being as wet as them, then around 4pm they all arrived at the HQ for feeding time, watermelon, bananas and, for the older ladies with no teeth left, cooked pumpkin sandwiches that Sarah and Ella fed them with Lek.
We had an amazing week on Journey to Freedom meeting some wonderful people and sharing some truly remarkable experiences. We learnt so much too about our comrades and their respective countries over a week where there is little privacy or personal space we all got on so well considering! Thanks to Gary, Tim, Ella, Kat, Mel, Abi, Erin, Chelsey, Theresa and Alice. Also thanks to our guides Kan, Stam and Sek and our Karen hosts for their wonderful hospitality.
The work that Lek has done and continues to do is so courageous and inspirational and deserves the international recognition that it is now receiving. Hopefully we have helped to make a difference too.
The ENP provides plenty of space for injured and rescued elephants to roam with a mahout keeping an eye on them
Many of the elephants enjoy human company especially at feeding time
There are two baby elephants at the park both less than one year old
You just couldn't drag Sarah away from this place
Some of the elephants wander around in pairs, others in micro herds
This old girl was scratching an itchy leg using a stick held by her trunk
Ahh bath time - our favourite, although I think we ended up just as wet!
The group after bathing (with) the elephants
Some of the elephants had tragically been blinded by their previous mahouts in order to try and control them better. This doesn't seem to affect the confidence of some of them though, they stride around and if they bump into things so what, they're generally bigger than most things anyway.
This can be the result of overwork or forced breeding leading the broken legs and backs. Whilst we can't imagine the pain these girls are in they still manage to wander around the park and eat 100kg of food a day!
With youngsters comes trouble, the two babies and a slightly older cousin are constantly playing, much to the annoyance of the parents
The old girls being fed cooked pumpkin sandwiches by the young girls
The gang - after an amazing week together, many friendships have been forged and unforgettable experiences shared - thank you everyone