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Footsteps of a stranger

I am standing in a river; my ankles and knees are covered with mud, and the cloth which I am wearing smell like, well let’s say, as if they are worn more then once without washing. This is definitely an unusual situation for me. And also a little out of my comfort zone since I have no idea what else is swimming or living in this muddy water. The past few weeks I was spoiled with crystal blue waters and sandy beaches. “But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger you learn things you never knew”. This quote from the movie Pocahontas sums pretty much up, why I am standing here. I have seen so many wonderful and breathtaking places on this earth that I feel like I want to give something back, even if it’s just a little gesture. So here I am volunteering for a day at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand.

But let me start from scratch. The driver, who was supposed to pick me up, arrived one and a half hour to late, but I am so much more patient then I was back in Switzerland – so no problem for me. But somehow the driver felt like he had to catch up the lost time or this was his natural style to drive a car, which I really hope it’s not. The elephant sanctuary is about one hour (normal) drive from Chiang Mai in the Jungle. Although the nature got more and more stunning with it’s banana trees and green colors in every shade, I couldn’t actually enjoy it. I kind of had the feeling I wouldn’t get to see the next morning. Lucky me, after a 45 minutes drive of hell I finally arrived at the elephant place, where a friendly men welcomed me and showed me the way to the “class room”. I sat down on a bench, grabbed a piece of paper and a pen and tried to catch up with the class. Topic: How to talk to an elephant. And right in front of me, there they were: four huge majestic elephants. I wrote down every word I had to, but it turned out, I had to memorize it anyway, makes sense right. “Ok you got this,” I was saying to myself. I mean I managed to memorize folders filled with information for my finals during my time at the university. I wonder where all that information went?  It’s certainly not in my brain anymore. Anyways back to the elephants: After the vocabulary session we got in touch with the elephants for the first time.

You know how big they look on pictures or maybe you have even seen one close on a safari or in a Zoo. Standing right next to one is a whole different story. I wasn’t afraid or something but just overwhelmed. That huge creature standing next to me, made me feel so tiny. Ok I admit, I was little skeptical in the first few minutes.

After the first contact was made we went to the river so they could have their bath. It’s actually like being the elephant’s mom for one day. Luckily we got out of that muddy water into a part where the river was clear. I said the words I had to memorize, but I guess the elephant already knew pretty well what to do. So suddenly this huge creature just kneeled down in front of me in a slow motion movement and then lay down on it’s side, half of its body in the water and with it’s eyes closed. It felt like she (my elephant was a girl) surrendered herself completely to me. No words can describe the feelings I felt, while standing there in the jungle river with a giant elephant laying next to me.

But I was here to help so I gathered myself together and started working equipped with a strong brush. I had to make sure my elephant was covered with water everywhere and then I used the brush to massage her. The grey skin felt hard and almost like sandpaper and the hairs more like a rope than a hair. After the bath my elephant was clean, while I on the other hand was dirty and wet from head to toes – but I didn’t care at all.

What does a mom do after bathing her child? Right, feeding. So after having fun in the river it was time to feed them some dinner. Again I tried my recently learned words for “open your moth” but it was more the smell of the bananas and sugar canes, which made her open her mouth. I watched her eating I knew with one smack of her trunk she could hurt me pretty bad and one step on my foot – well I guess you can imagine. But yet I didn’t feel scared. We are all connected to each other’s: humans, animals, and nature.

Before saying goodbye I gave her a good night kiss and my day as an elephant mom was over. Impressive and unforgettable.

I uploaded a few pics and a video for you guys.

xoxo Nadine



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1 Comment

  • Reply kathy (from

    What a lovely photo that is of you and the elephant. And what a fantastic experience you had there. Thank you for sharing

    January 2, 2017 at 2:54 pm
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