Wish you were here, from Chiang Mai

If there was one person in the world I could have had with us in Chiang Mai this week, it’d be the girl with the elephant tattoo on the back of her neck…

I always think of my little Lucia when I see elephants. She loves the things. Like LOVES them, loves them. Almost as much as I love her. So if you account for sleeping time, Loosh was on my mind for approximately 70 hours this week. Everywhere I turned, an elephant shirt, an elephant necklace, an elephant satchel. Four days of colorful elephant everything.

Then yesterday, there was a real elephant. Three big elephants and one baby elephant, to be exact. And if anyone could have smiled harder than I did, it would have been Lucia.

I struggled at first, as I’m sure Lucia would have, to wrap my head around the ethics of the whole thing…is this animal cruelty? Are the elephants treated nicely? Is this just a glorified zoo? If I visit a park or sanctuary, do I want to ride one as well? If so, which one?

Hours upon hours of research turned up a particular gem—Elephant Discovery Chiang Mai—and from what I could tell, it was a total haven for these big beauties. Their mahouts revered them. There were no chains, no hooks, no pens, no riding rickshaws. Just elephants and their human friends living harmoniously in the dense bush about 2 hours outside of Chiang Mai. If Lucia could have seen the way the people and elephants alike smiled, I think she would have approved too.

This is how you do a day at Elephant Discovery Chiang Mai. This is how you make an elephant lover like Loosh smile so dang hard…

First you hop in the back of a 4 wheel drive with the A-team [[hello fellow Americans!]], windows down, Paw, our guide, singing lead to every Bob Marley, Maroon 5 and Shakira song from the last decade. Drive for two hours through the northern Thai switchbacks, with a coffee bubble tea in hand, and swoon over Paw’s incessant giggle.

When you arrive at the humble park, the small family of elephants will greet you like an old friend. You’ll be overwhelmed and slightly timid at first, but as the gentle beings sway back and forth and bat their pretty brown eyes at you, it all just melts… And you start to realize that this day is going to leave an elephant sized stamp on your life’s memory book.

You’ll learn about the village’s tradition of raising elephants. And the sad truths about some of the more circus-like attractions closer to the city [[#CountryGirlForLife]].

You’ll get buddied up with an elephant like our 37-year-old Campot and you’ll become her new bestie with a little banana-lovin.

CampotThen, oh my gosh, Lucia, you get.to.bathe.the.elephants… Not like you grab a hose and spray them down in some superficial line-up…but you walk them down to the river and they lay down in the warm water for a good scrub. It is probably the coolest thing you’ll ever do…

Until the babe squirts water on you and you feel like you’re in some Nat-Geo-Jungle-Book medley of a dream…then THAT’S the coolest

squirts

The trek through the winding, tree-draped river and alongside the rice paddies and up steep jungle banks is only made more amazing by the fact that a multi-ton beast is gliding along underneath your groin-straining-straddle.

Lunch is served in a hut. We aren’t convinced that it wasn’t KFC Original Recipe tied up in banana leaves. But when the baby comes to clear the dishes, you don’t give a flying crap about the authenticity of lunch.

Babe

In fact…

with a view like this…

view

and a new friend like this…

friends

and a weird friend like this…

weird

…nobody cares what the lunch recipe was, cause the whole thing was the perfect recipe for a perfect smile-inducing kind of day.

smiling

One that I so desperately wish I could have shared with little Lucia baby.

perfect

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#SoThisOneTime, for the first time.

I know, I know…this blog has been a total downer so far. But that’s about to change. Cause yall.. I’ve done some pretty dang cool things in my 26/27 years…things that have taught me the sweet side of life’s bittersweet. So, since I can’t commit to a #ThrowbackThursday or a #FlashbackFriday [hello 18 million time zones / avoiding that type of unnecessary deadline-inspired pressure], I’m inventing my own series…#SoThisOneTime. No, No, NO do not say ‘at bandcamp.’ Band Camp would never have let me in. I do too many cartwheels to hold a flute for a sustained period of time.

I digress.

Here it is. My first of many, #SoThisOneTime posts.

So this one time, I spent my birthday [yes, I specifically recall that it was my 18th] dancing in my chair at the Hard Rock Café in Sharm El Sheikh, with Egyptian waitors singing Happy Birthday to me and kissing my arms and hands. All in front of my family. I think it was probably my most stand-out birthday moment ever.

We’d spent the first half of our two-week-trip touring the Cairo Museum [in which our tour guide pointed out the world’s first invented condom among other ancient oddities] and riding camels across the desert with the oh-so-iconic Pyramids as our backdrop. We had a driver and translator and armed body guard with us at all times. To this day, I don’t know why we were considered VIP, but for whatever reason they felt the need to watch our six at all times. We saw decaying ox on the side of the road, kids drinking water that didn’t even seem suitable for a pet and perfume stores pungent enough to cover up the smell of those poor decaying ox. We saw all of the monumental tourist things you are supposed to see. We cruised down the Nile River and much to my horror, my family dressed up to match the evening belly dancer—it was a hot mess.

Then, we vacationed. Yes, this word-choice-transition from ‘trip’ to ‘vacation’ is very intentional. We drove across the desert for what felt like days. You know when you’re flying and you lose sense of movement and progress and situational awareness, cause all you can see are clouds? No environmental cues to suggest you’ve moved at all? This was like that. Just sand in all directions for as far as you could see. Though I assure you we felt the movement…turns out they don’t pave their deserts. Sand is bumpy. It was hot. It was not pleasant. What was even more unpleasant? When our free-for-all desert excursion came to a dead halt…we’re talking Beltway at 5pm on a Friday afternoon kind of halt. Turns out it was Egyptian rubbernecking as we crept past human bodies covered in blood-soaked white drapes. It felt like a movie. I don’t know how those people died, but I don’t think it was by choice. I’ve always hated rubbernecking.

Anyway, we made it to the Red Sea. And this is where I hold some of my fondest family memories. As you might imagine, we were pretty sick of each other by the time we did 3 years together in one tiny on–base house, spent eons of hours living in the Yukon back seat floating all around Europe, not to mention my raging ‘get me the eff out of this house and into a dorm room’ gem of an attitude.

All that aside, we snorkeled in water so crisp and blue that I’d suggest it tops the Great Barrier Reef [yup. I said it]. We parasailed for the aerial view and four-wheeled across the dessert just to have a cup of piping hot traditional Bedouin tea with a group of villagers. We climbed Moses Mountain in the middle of the night just so we could squeeze under some blankets to watch the sunrise over the land where The 10 commandments were delivered. We saw the Burning Bush. We stayed at a fancy hotel and even I, the horrible angry teenager, reveled in the towel animals and pretty flowers that adorned our beds every afternoon. We smoked Hookah along the boardwalk [and by ‘we,’ I mean everyone but me, cause I just was THAT much of a prude].

We did a lot in those two weeks. But I think the best thing we did was define the distinction between ‘trip’ and ‘vacation.’ Yeah I loved #ThatOneTime. We aced that trip / vaca hybrid. Lesson SO learned for this #GrowthNGrace journey.