Daily Wanderlust: Elephant Love

My days at Elephant Nature Park consist of a lot of animal time. When Navann, the park’s new baby, was born on Oct. 28, it thrilled me to no end.

I get to spend time with a baby elephant!

And, while I don’t get to see him too often, the times I do are pure delight.

Yesterday, I spent a few minutes with him and his mom, Sri Prae, as he enjoyed a little interaction. But, my favorite moment wasn’t when he was head-butting me, but when he and mom took a moment to show their love to each other.

Oh, elephant beauty and trunk snuggles. 

Baby and mom at Elephant Nature Park

Destinations

Giving thanks

Maryland

I’m sitting in the kitchen of the house where I grew up. Around me, I can hear the happy chatter of my mom, dad and brother. I hear the jingle of metal from the tag on Barkley, our old and gorgeous springer spaniel’s collar. I look outside at the naked trees against the bright blue sky.

I’m home. And so grateful to be here, in this beautiful moment.

Only, this isn’t my home anymore. In fact, my home is thousands and thousands of miles away. On the other side of the world, actually.

This Thanksgiving is the last one at my childhood home. It is the last Thanksgiving in Maryland. Next year, my house will be in Delaware. In rooms with no history. No ghosts of my former self to wrap their arms around my memories. This Thanksgiving is also the last with Barkley. He’s been around since 1998. Truthfully, I never expected him to last this long. He’s a good boy, and I know his next life will be even more awesome than this one.

It’s all so hard to comprehend. At times it feels as if the life I have in Chiang Mai is this sweet, sweet dream and any moment I will be awakened and back in America, going through the mundane motions of my previous life. I have two very different realities — my American and my Thai — and sometimes they are hard to separate.

I miss my family when I’m not around them. But, I don’t miss my old life. At all.

My life has changed so much in the past year. From working as the director of communications for a Las Vegas restaurant group to coping with major depression to quitting said job, to uprooting my life and heading to the jungle in Thailand to be an expat. It’s been a wild ride and I am so thankful for every single moment.

Chiang Mai apartment

Not every moment has been easy. There were times when I doubted myself. Times when I missed home and realized that being an expat wasn’t what I thought it would be. But, for the most part, life has been a dream.

So, this Thanksgiving, I want to give thanks to the people in my life. The readers of d travels ’round. You’ve been on quite the journey with me this past year. And, I want to give thanks to the people who have supported me: my family, my friends, the amazing Lek Chailert and the entire staff at Save Elephant Foundation.

I want to give thanks to that damn rooster that caws every morning just before sunrise. And to the tuk tuks that putter down the street in the middle of the night and tell me my baht isn’t enough for the quick ride to my apartment. And to my amazing friends in Chiang Mai who keep me company on those humid nights at old wooden picnic tables and make me laugh. I want to give thanks to the animals — especially Mr. Lucky and my favorite elephants, Medo and Navann. Life is even more fulfilling when there are animals to love, who love you back (even if Mr. Lucky likes to clench my nose between his sharp little teeth).

Finally, I’d like to give thanks to my parents. I know my decision to live abroad isn’t easy. And, Thailand is not close. But, they have always loved me and supported me and encouraged me to follow my dreams.

At the end of the day, I know this one truth above all else: I am incredibly lucky. And, I wake up every morning and go to sleep every night knowing this truth.

So. Thankful.

Asia Blog Expat Life Thailand

Daily Wanderlust: Bath time at Elephant Nature Park

Since I now am an expat in Thailand, spending my days helping Save Elephant Foundation (which includes a healthy mix of visiting it’s flagship project, Elephant Nature Park), I have oh-so many photos of life here. Namely, life with elephants. Let’s face it, I could take photos of tuk tuks, views from my apartment and more, but what people probably want to see are more of the adorable elephants, right?

Well, here you go.

Mae Kham Paan loves her time in the river. She’s one of the only ones who takes it upon her self during bath time to reach her trunk into the river, soak up water and then shoot it out of her trunk and onto her back. The most awesome thing? She does it with a huge smile on her face. Swear.

Bath time at Elephant Nature Park

Destinations

In memory of Rajah Gajah

The day I arrive to Chiang Mai, I am greeted with beautiful news:

Elephant Nature Park has a newborn baby boy.

Instantly, I feel my heart flutter at the idea of meeting a baby elephant and spending time with him, getting to know him.

Rajah Gajah surrounded by volunteers just after his arrival

The first time I head back to the elephants, I stand outside his large pen as he lays there, in desperate need of his mother’s milk. A few volunteers stand and sit around him, his tiny body laying nearly still on the dirt. They fan him, keeping the bugs away so they do not penetrate his very weak immune system.

His mother has rejected the little boy, trying to kill him once he was born. Immediately, he was removed from her side and taken to the park so he could have a chance at life.

But, his life is in jeopardy. Mom is nearly half-a-day away, and even though she is en route with the goal of getting milk from her, his chances are slim.

I stand at a distance, looking at the tiny boy, with his little pink mouth open, sleeping.

A few days later, I return to the park. This time, I am allowed in to pen to see him.

Lek Chailert consoles baby Rajah Gajah

Lek is with him, legs intertwined with his, singing Que Sera Sera to him. When a truck whirs by, he stirs and Lek leans over his body, covering his gray ears. I stand, fingers gripping the chain link fence, in silence.

He deserves his best shot at life. And, his best shot at life is most definitely here.

Lek and volunteers fan the baby elephant, keeping him free from bugs

Lek leans protectively over Rajah Gajah

Elephant and human feet mingle

Eventually, he teeters to his feet, tottering around in search of his milk bottle as he waves his short trunk awkwardly through the air.

The baby elephant, Rajah Gajah, tries a bottle from Lek.

Of course, I fight back tears as I watch this nearly helpless creature as he fumbles towards food.

He’s just so little. So at our mercy.

Rajah smells his mom's scent on Lek and tries to get milk

Rajah stands between a volunteer's legs, which mimic how he would be with his mother, and drinks a bottle

When I return a week later to the park, concern stretches deep over Lek’s face.

“He won’t eat and he has diarrhea,” she says softly from the wooden bench overlooking the vast land where the rest of her elephants roam freely. Lek just looks exhausted. She breathes heavy and sighs. “I am so worried he won’t make it.”

I try not to let that thought cross my mind.

There’s no way the team here will let the little guy slip away from us.

But, he does.

Only two weeks after he arrives at the park, five months premature, the baby, who takes on the name Rajah Gajah, slips into a coma and passes away. It is no one’s fault. He had round-the-clock care from vets, volunteers, staff, and Lek. He just wasn’t meant to be in this world. And, while the loss is heart-breaking, it reassures me to know that while he was on this earth, he was loved more than most animals could dream.

Asia Blog Thailand

How Mr. Lucky got lucky

I have a bleeding heart. If you know me, you know this.

And, on my third day in Chiang Mai, this bleeding little heart is tested.

“Hi,” a couple says, walking up quietly to the large crop of desks inside the Elephant Nature Park office. “We found a kitten and wanted to let you know … it’s down the street … it doesn’t look good. Do you want to go and get it and bring it back here?”

I try to mind my own business as I sit on the other side of the desk, but when I hear the words “kitten” and “doesn’t look good” my ears immediately perk up.

“Oh noooo,” says Patty, who runs the office. “That’s not good.”

Silence.

“Diana, you go with them and see where the kitten is ka,” she says to me.

Me?

Charged with the task, I leave my laptop and follow the couple down the street, crossing over the moat which surrounds the old city of Chiang Mai and through Thaepae Gate.

“We saw it and tried to give it milk, but it just sat huddled in a corner, not moving much,” the girl says.

When we come to the kitten, my heart breaks.

Under a metal bench of some sort, I see him. Squatting down. Oh-so thin. Shaking. His orange and white fur is a shade of gray from the pollution. His leg looks a bit deformed. His one eye is cloudy.

My heart breaks.

“I … I … don’t know what to do,” I tell them. What am I supposed to do? Take him back to the office? “Let me call Patty.”

So, I get her on my phone and she tells me to call the park and the volunteer who runs the dog shelter. On the phone with her, I nearly burst into tears.

“We can’t save every street cat in Chiang Mai,” she explains, but I can hear it in her voice. Don’t give up … yet.

Then, I fight for the little guy.

“He just looks so scared. So sick. We can’t take him?”

“Well … look at him with me,” she says, quickly succumbing to my desperation at saving the sickly creature.

I scoop him up in my hand, report to her that he has pink gums, no fleas, a big belly.

“OK … what you can do … if you want … is take him to the vet and see what is wrong with him. You will have to pay for it. Then, if he is OK, I think we can take him up at the park.”

My heart thumps happy.

I leave the couple and scoop his tiny, shaking body into my arms and nuzzle him in my neck as I head back to the office, trying desperately to shield him from the puttering tuk tuks, the thick humidity and the smell of diesel fume that winds its way up my nose.

I try to get a red bus to the vet, but instead, one of the staffers tells me she can take me on her motorbike.

I freeze with fear. I’m scared to death of motorbikes, even though I have been on them before. Here, in Thailand, where you have to always be mindful of getting knicked by one, the idea of holding a kitty and clinging to someone driving sends me into a near panic.

“Don’t worry,” she says to me soothingly. “I will drive good. I promise.”

So, I put the kitten in a cardboard box and hop on the back of her motorbike.

“It is OK if I hold on to you?” I ask, voice shaky.

“Yes, of course.”

And then, we are off into traffic. I try to move as little as possible. At red lights, I peer into the box and talk sweetly to the kitten who has ceased his little meows and traded them for hisses.

“I know, I know,” I whisper to him, wishing with all the world that he will calm down.

When we arrive to the vet, they peel the box from my arms and take him into a room where they examine him.

Mr. Lucky at the vet

Just rescued from the street, Mr. Lucky heads to the vet’s office.

“He very sick,” the vets says once she is done. “He need lot of medicine.”

“What’s wrong with him?” I ask.

“Don’t know, but we do test to see. He stay overnight. Expensive.”

I’ve come this far.

“Do what you have to do,” I say, feeling myself give in to this little life I am trying desperately to save.

She does one blood test as I stand in the doorway, watching him cower on the metal table.

“Oh no, it no look good,” she says, furrowing her brow and casting a sympathetic glance in my direction. “He has parvo. Very sick. May not live.”

I stand there. I can feel the tears coming. I can feel them wanting to leak out of my eyes in front of these strangers. Although it has been less than an hour since he entered my life, he’s already touched it.

I don’t want him to die.

“What do you need to do?”

“He stay overnight for a few night, we give him medicine and get him to eat soft food,” she says.

“I can’t spend the money on him unless I know he has a chance at life,” I explain, wanting her to know if his chances are slim that he will make it, I cannot afford to pay the bill.

“He may make it, depend on immune system,” she says.

I hand over my credit card and let them swipe it.  It’s not nearly as expensive as a vet in America, but it is pricey for someone who has just moved to Thailand and found a street cat.

“What his name?” She asks me before I leave.

“I don’t know,” I say, not wanting to name him and get attached to this little puff of cat.

“He Mr. Lucky,” she says. “Mr. Lucky because you found him.”

That night, she calls to report to me his condition. “He poo poo a little. He eat a little. He take medicine. Call you tomorrow night unless he get worse.”

The next night, she calls me to report that he is getting better slowly.

And, the night after, I head to the vet to go and see him.

“He would have died had you not found him,” she says as I stroke his little body in my arms. “He very sick. Mom and brothers and sisters probably dead. He would have died in days if not treated. Mr. Lucky? He very lucky.”

Mr. Lucky stays a few more nights at the vet and is then taken up to Elephant Nature Park to finish the de-worming (because he has that, too) and finish his treatment for parvo.

Mr. Lucky slowly gets better.

Still so tiny and fitting into the palm of my hand.

When I head to the park a few days later, the first thing I do is go and see him. He’s quarantined and when I step inside the room, my heart melts.

“Mr. Lucky,” says the volunteer who took him in, “Look who is here to see you.”

From under newspapers, he pokes his little head out and meows. Then, he is in my arms again, purring.

His belly is still a bit swollen from the worms, but he looks a million times better than he did when I first rescued him.

“Hey little guy,” I whisper to him, nuzzling his little body in my face. “You look so good.”

We snuggle for a few minutes before I put him back into his cage and I disinfect myself so as not to get the other animals at the park sick.

Mr. Lucky is an adorable sleeping cat

A little purr machine, and then Mr. Lucky passes out in my arms.

A week later, I head to see him again. This time, he is out of quarantine and hanging in a cage. He mews when he sees me and then, as soon as he is in my arms, crawls up to my neck and tucks his tiny body there, softly purring.

I walk away from his cage and find a secluded spot on a bench. We sit together for 30 minutes. A wave of happy rushes over me as he lays on me.

I saved a life. And, now I get to see this little Mr. Lucky live out his other eight lives. Entirely Lucky.

And now, more than six weeks after being treated and healthy, this is how cute the little playful guy is:

Mr. Lucky hangs out with Mom D

Six weeks after being found …

A portait of the cat, Mr. Lucky

He strikes a mean pose, eh?

Asia Blog Expat Life Thailand Travel

Daily Wanderlust: Elephants!

Apologies for the slacking of the “Daily Wanderlust” for a bit. I’ve been adjusting to life as an expat in Chiang Mai, so it’s been hard to keep these coming at the same rate I was.

To prepare you for what upcoming posts can include, wanted to go ahead and toss this little photo out.

It was taken at Elephant Nature Park the other day … while I was working. Yeah, my job pretty much rocks. This is a photo of two elephants, best friends, and one of their mahouts.

A mahout looks over two elephants at Elephant Nature Park

Destinations