A Love of Great Strength

Over the past three days, I have had the incredible opportunity of spending a few precious nights in Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary. Tucked into the jungle in Sukhothai, Thailand, this home has opened my heart as wide as it could go and filled it with lessons, knowledge, compassion and most importantly, true love.

Image

 I’m not sure where to start when I think about expressing my feelings towards this organization. It is one built on a sliver of hope which has slowly grown into a magnificent achievement and life change for so many animals in need. All it took was the heart of one woman who left her entire glamorous world behind to save the life of a special baby elephant, Boon Lott (meaning survivor in Thai). On a holiday around Thailand much like the one I myself am experiencing now, 22 year old Katherine Connor’s eyes were opened to the traumatizing conditions that elephants are often put through by their owners here in Asia. She sacrificed everything to keep little Boon Lott alive by sleeping with him at night and presenting him with the very first elephant wheel chair on his second birthday. Katherine’s story is one of complete fate and demonstrates a passion and strength that inspired me the instant I became aware of it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to meet this beautiful woman during my time here. Katherine was away doing what she knows best and fighting for the life of yet another elephant in need. I missed her by just one short day. Instead, I learned about her life and story through the many articles posted around BLES and each one of them touched me, spoke to me and had me itching to help make big change in this world. 
 
BLES is home to 14 rescued dogs, 26 cats, four cows and of course, 11 elephants. Each elephant has a story. Behind each of their golden eyes is a life that will break your heart to even fathom. Most of them were purchased and sold to tourist attractions, being forced to perform and give rides for days on end with little to no water or food. They lived their lives on a concrete slab and were controlled by heartless hands. Others were used for logging or chained on the side of the road as the cars whizzed by occasionally fuelling this act by throwing money their way. They suffered foot rot, land mine accidents and infections. It’s a wonder they all survived. The good news is, the months of fighting that Katherine and her team go through to rescue these gorgeous animals leads them to a life of absolute freedom. 
Image
 Heading back to my very first day, I was picked up by a man who works at BLES named Fa. He rocked some pretty cool dreads and had a very relaxed and calm energy about him that I felt immediately. Four other guests would be joining me through this experience and we were side by side in the truck in no time with no choice but to become instant friends! Pat, Colleen, Steve and Marilyn are two couples related through Colleen and Marilyn’s relationship as cousins. With one couple from New Zealand and the other from Australia, the four of them created a group of fun, adventurous and fascinating people to get to get to know. I loved each of their personalities and the sense of humour from their husbands had me laughing up a storm. 
ImageFa giving off a ton of character as usual 
 
Arriving in BLES really was like entering a paradise. After traveling in on the bumpy dirt road we made it into a clearing full of lush green and several dogs and cats ran to greet us, barking and meowing their hellos. Beautifully built wooden homes, verandas and shelters acted as our rooms for sitting, eating and housing for the Mahouts and volunteers. The entire place had a feeling of complete zen and relaxation which took over my whole body as we entered and had me anticipating the moments to come with happiness. It was as if I could feel the elephant presence before they even appeared and I was dying to finally meet them. 
 
After taking in every sight, smell and feeling, we were shown to our personal log cabins hidden among the trees. Each one was beautifully decorated with elephant touches. I was smitten. I knew right away that it was highly possibly I would sit myself in the middle of this sanctuary and never leave. 
 
I wandered down to the pond by myself and explored what I could while the others got ready for lunch. As I walked further up the main path, something caught my eye. A big and bold grey elephant stood within the trees, munching away and swaying its tail back and forth. I didn’t want to approach him right away since I wasn’t sure of his nature but I stood back and watched as he lived life on his own terms. The entire sight was beautiful and I was awe struck with amazement at his size and grace. The personal stories of each elephant were located under the main structure which also held passages explaining how the biology of an elephant works when in a natural habitat. There were so many things I wasn’t aware of. The sensitivity of an elephants foot, the 80,000 muscles inside that one trunk, it all wowed me. They are such incredible and intricate creatures. I continued to walk around the sanctuary learned the horrific past of each elephant and the work Katherine and her husband Anon go through to bring them to peace. Reading about the conditions they were put through extending beyond what I described above broke my heart into a million pieces. I truly wondered how people slept at night with the knowledge that something so sacred and sensitive had been harmed by their will. 
 
After reading these stories with tears in my eyes, I’m so thankful that through everything they endured that all of these beauties ended up in a place like this. At BLES, elephants can roam free, are fed and hydrated constantly and form wonderful relationships with each other. They stress the use of the word foundation to describe BLES as opposed to camp because the days of catering to tourist related acts are no more. This is most certainly an elephant haven and they are so lucky to be in the hands of people who care so deeply about their well being. 
 
It was one thing to read their stories but an entirely different feeling to meet them face to face. I’ll never forget my first interaction with Lotus. My heart crumbled as I thought about her abusive past. I couldn’t imagine anyone hurting her. I was shocked at her gentle nature and the movement of her delicate trunk as it blew soft air and thumped against the ground in happiness. Her striking presence approached me ever so softly and the second I wrapped my arms around her strong trunk, I knew why Katherine felt so compelled to devote her life to these stunning creatures. She absolutely captured me and hasn’t let go since. We spent many moments together and I will miss our connection more than I can begin to express. It was then that I decided to adopt Lotus and donate monthly towards her care and the care of the entire sanctuary. My only hope is that this beautiful place can continue to thrive.
ImageThroughout the next few days, I spent my hours with the four other guests surrounding myself with three elephant’s loveable ways. Lotus, Wassana and Pang Dow are the three most sociable and tame of the eleven that live at the sanctuary. Never in my life had I been able to interact so personally with such a large animal. Those three girls are nicknamed The Girl Gang and better yet, The Gossip Girls. They are one hundred per cent inseparable. After meeting Lotus, I noticed she was waiting patiently by a big pile of corn, hardly attempting to eat even a piece. Fa told me she was waiting for her girlfriends and the sound and sight of them meeting each day is unforgettable. He described it as “turning the whole sanctuary into Jurassic Park” due to the noises they make as they reunite. Sure enough, Pang Dow and Wassana came prancing down the hill and the three of them squeaked, squealed and trumpeted their hearts out, banging their trunks together like they hadn’t seen each other in years. It was remarkable. The relationships between every elephant were incredible to watch. When it comes to emotions, nothing seems to differ these creatures from humans. There are elephants that hate each other, elephants that form a possy and just like the Gossip Girls, elephants that you just can’t tear apart. 
ImageSuch hams these girls are. Always posing up a storm.

Image
Each meal was spent under a hut by the pond. We were barefoot, cross legged and content as could be with the elephants by our side. Traditional vegetarian Thai dishes were prepared and fresh fruit always dawned every table. During breakfast, Lotus loved to saunter on over and stick her squirmy trunk under our roof looking for papaya, her absolute favourite fruit. On our second morning there, she rested her trunk on the side of the wall and soaked up every bit of attention we would give her. Her giant mouth would open playfully when she was looking for scraps and we wouldn’t hesitate to stick a few pieces of fruit onto her squishy pink tongue. I always giggled wildly while feeding them anything. The novelty never seemed to wear off and their bubbly nature caused the feeling of breezy freedom to run right through my veins. Image
Image
ImageDuring our first day, we took the gang into the jungle for some shady socializing. The six of us and a Mahout drove on a cart out into the depths of the greenery and set up hammocks underneath a collection of Lychee trees. I guess I should explain what a Mahout does. I like to call them elephant whisperers. There are seven Mahouts that work at BLES and are in charge of easing the elephants into their new home, acting as a safety net with guests in case something gets out of hand and are connected to the elephant somewhat like a second parent. It’s very difficult to describe and so much easier to understand when watching the interaction between a Mahout and their elephant. All of them strictly spoke Thai and I always watched wide-eyed as they would gently touch them and softly speak words of ease and direction into their ears. There are very specific phrases and tones used to guide an elephant and I was even able to pick up a few from observation. Fa told me that “the Mahout doesn’t choose the elephant, the elephant chooses the Mahout.” I believed it. They had a bond that was obviously born out of a gift that each of these brilliant Thai men possessed and it was so special to watch as it unfolded before my eyes. 

Image

Image
 This little circle of trees had us closer to the elephants than ever before. It felt safe and secure. The elephants loved every minute of it and all of us were highly aware that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Hours passed but every minute was just as exciting as the last. They were so willing to accept our endless praise and attention. We poured our drinking water down their trunks and handed them sticks which they used to itch their bellies instinctively. It was there that I learned the most beautiful animal fact on the face of this Earth. Elephants have a hole located just outside their eye that emits hormones. I noticed that the girls would put their trunks over this hole and always wondered what it was they were doing. That’s their way of asking, “hey love, how are you feeling right now?” This is how they check in on each others well being and they do it so often too. The care that they showed for each other was a true display of friendship that we should all follow by example. 
 
Image
ImageImagePang Dow and her big ears slapping me in the head! What a silly one.

Our nights were spent over a tasty dinner and glasses of beer as we all sat talking about our day and everything from politics to education to our beliefs about world issues and more. Abba over a small speaker set accompanied our voices and cats always curled up on our laps even when we didn’t ask them to. BLES is a place of acceptance and belonging. I fell asleep surrounded by a flowing, white canopy and knew that my second full day would bring just as much wonder and lessons as the first. I don’t think I’ve ever slept so soundly and dreamed such perfect dreams.
 
I made a mad dash the next morning right out my front door and straight into the cart which took us on a banana run. We weren’t the only ones who needed breakfast. Actually, this was considered a snack for the elephants. Three kilograms of bananas! There certainly is a lot of one that needs to be fed! The country side we drove through was incredibly beautiful. We passed by farmers drying rice in the middle of the road and dogs balancing on the backs of motor bikes. Most of us jumped out and helped to hoist the bananas into the back. These were grown organically and we were all free to try as many as we pleased. I’m almost certain we’ve been doing bananas all wrong back in Canada. These tasted like no other and I chowed down on several along the way. 
 
The girls certainly seemed to love them just as much as I did. As we approached BLES with breakfast in tow, I saw them standing in their usual eating spot by the entrance way. As soon as we stopped, their massive trunks dove right into the big pile of food and squirmed like snakes to pick the ripest bunch. They use that instrument so delicately and it can move in some incredible ways picking up both very large objects as well as the tiniest around. I’m pretty sure I could watch them eat happily forever. 

Image

We took another walk into the jungle that day but this time we were introduced to some new friends. Mee Chok, Pang Tong (Boon Lott’s mother) and Somai were nestled in the bushes when we arrived at an elevated wooden platform off the path. The smell of the bananas brought the
m running. Before he arrived here, Somai was caught in a terrible forest fire and 70 per cent of his skin is now burned and easily torn. Despite it all, he gave off a very relaxed and kind presence. Mee Chok is only four years old and prances around like a bundle of pure joy. It’s a shame he’s too young to understand how to behave properly with humans because he looked like a ton of fun and a real free spirit. The dogs joined us up top and we watched as the three of them ate their hearts out and occasionally stuck their trunks through the cracks in the wooden floor to see if we had any treats hiding!Image
Image ImageImageHappiness is…

ImageImage
After eating lunch, we all took turns washing the girls and hosing down their muddy bodies. It’s the simple things that make them happy just like the things we take for granted would make us happy too if they were absent from our life for a while. We were given a few opportunities to go and collect corn or do another banana run the next morning but I opted out. All I wanted to do was stay with the elephants and have them take my breath away again and again. 

ImageImageImageImage

During our rest hours, I would take my ukelele down to the pond and Fa would teach me a few songs or intros to his favourite pieces. During the days he isn’t working at BLES, Fa composes music and has been living out both of his passions simultaneously for years now. I hope he knows that he has quite the amazing life going for him and it was such a blast listening to the songs he’s created and making music with a new friend. His goal is to compose a song for each of the eleven elephants at BLES that represents their nature and personality. I think that’s just beautiful. 
 
As our final morning approached, I tried not to focus on the goodbyes I would have to face. We still had a few precious moments to experience first and I savoured them with all that I had. During our last trip into the jungle, we were accompanied by the trio. Along the way, Fa collected a fruit called a Pomelo which is essentially just a grapefruit to us but a tad sweeter. The girls could smell them from a mile away and after we cut them open and took bites of the juicy fruit, we shared our leftovers and were instantly loved. Feeling completely calm and content, I stretched myself out in the swinging hammock and stared up at the three girls towering over me. Wasanna had wandered over and I stroked her wrinkled skin while the sun beamed down and warmed my face. Looking up into her big brown eyes, I had to ask myself if this moment was real. This striking animal with such a wonderful and sweet soul was just inches away from my smiling face. Fresh fruit was just an arms reach away and I was immersed in the beauty of Thailand’s nature. Things really couldn’t be any sweeter and this farewell moment was exactly what I needed to keep in my heart until the next time we met. 
 
ImageImageImageThe dreaded time finally arrived and before I knew it we were packing our bags and ready to go home. I made my way to the beautiful ladies chowing down on a mound of freshly picked papaya’s. Goodbye’s have never been something I’m good at so I decided not to make too much of a scene. I knew that we would be seeing each other again in the future so in the end, a “see you later” fit just right. As I gave Lotus one last hug around her thick trunk, I became aware of everything they had taught me throughout my time here. These elephants have helped me learn about compassion and the height it can reach in the heart of just one person. I didn’t expect to be so overwhelmed by my love toward each of their souls and how their personalities would steal my heart and captivate me for hours on end. It is this level of emotion that I will strive to reach in everything I do and work towards each day. Before we were even introduced, they taught me about hope and strength. Through everything they endured, their bodies pulled through and although those three girls have every right to despise people until the day they die, they chose to love us right back. They choose to dance in the rain and frolic in the papaya’s because they’ve put the past behind them and welcomed this new life with a positive perspective. Shouldn’t we all follow their example and do the same? Life happens but we choose whether or not we want to let it bring us down when faced with beauty and inspiration. Nobody in this world is forced to let the past rule their future. While I had my moment with each lady, I noticed how much they had taught me about control and balance. Their giant bodies have the power to harm anyone and anything in an instant. Instead, they walk with the utmost grace and every move they make is done with care. In my moments of stress and despair, I plan to “think like an elephant and move like an elephant” in order to achieve serenity. 
 
Last but certainly not least, the elephants here at BLES have taught me about love. Love for your friends, love for your family and love for the people who have guided you to the place where your feet are currently resting. It is a love built on trust and founded in the belief that they will be there to catch you when you fall. It is entirely unconditional and everlasting through the bumps and cracks that tag along for the journey. Yes, all of this was discovered through resting my forehead on the trunk of an elephant and knowing right away that this is the kind of love I want to give to the people I’m surrounded by daily. This is the kind of love that I never want to stop feeling. 
 
ImageI encourage you all to take a look at the Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary website and take some time to read each elephant’s individual story. As well, don’t hesitate to check out the story behind the creation of this organization and how it all began. 
 
There’s one more thing I need to mention and I hope you’ve all continued to read up until this point. I’ve recently sent out an email to my family requesting that each of them donate money towards the sanctuary as my Christmas gift this year. There’s nothing in this world I possibly need right now but there are thousands of elephants in need of rescue. If our world continues to act in arrogance about elephant care, this species will be extinct by 2025. That’s twelve years from the new year! I kindly ask that if anyone is looking to lend a hand to a cause in need this year or was thinking of purchasing a gift for me this Christmas, please donate toward BLES. It costs $34,000 to purchase one elephant and absolutely every penny counts. I guarantee the money will be sent directly to the organization and go towards bettering the lives of elephants for years to come. Please notify me if you’ve sent a donation as I would like to send a letter to Katherine with a grand total of donors and outline my respect for everything she does. 

Image

 
 
 
Advertisements

6 thoughts on “A Love of Great Strength

  1. thank you for sharing this amazing journey with the world. I love Lotus too. and Walk like an elephant is a wonderful meditation for going through my native New York City. One day I will go to BLES and your story makes me think its possible!

    • It is always my pleasure to guide people along on my journey through words and pictures. Thank you so much for your words, they mean the world to me.

      I’ve been keeping that mantra with me ever since I left that beautiful paradise. It is such a versatile way of life and I hope that you’re keeping it with you too.

      I absolutely believe you will get there! Every dream, goal or vision is possible if you stay motivated and send out beautiful energy.

      All the best and please let me know if you have any questions! I would love to hear about your experience when you arrive in BLES one day.

      Sam

  2. Wow is all I can say. I must go visit. This is a dream for me to touch and feel one of the most elegant gentle beings here on earth. My heart aches deeply every day for what they suffer. To be able to see them in a place of serenity would fill my heart with overwhelming joy and tears of happiness. I fear I may never want to leave.
    Thank you for your wonderful story so that myself and others can picture in our own minds how beautiful an experience this was…and that the elephants that reside there are happy and content for the rest of their lives.
    Giving us hope that someday soon the Elephant will suffer no more. It is going to take many people like us to get it done! However we can in our own way and within our means. By donating what we can and by spreading the word to educate others. It was only a short time ago that I began to learn about the horrible plight and future outcome of the elephants. Im ashamed I didn’t know earlier. It is my life’s mission to bring awareness and do what I can for these pure soles. ❤🐘❤
    Thank you from my heart. I WILL go to BLES however possible.

    • Hi Robin!

      I am so overwhelmed by your beautiful response. I feel just as you do, always heartbroken to hear about their treatment but so hopeful thinking about a place such as BLES that gives them the paradise they deserve. It is true, I was very upset to leave this sanctuary full of love. I know I will be there again very soon.

      It is always my only goal to touch people emotionally with my writing and photographs. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the more people I can inspire to follow their heart and make change, the more we will make a difference in the world. I am so glad you were able to mentally join me on my journey!

      It will take many passionate people to turn things around but as far as I’m concerned, every post like this is just bringing us one step closer! It’s a beautiful process. That’s wonderful that you’re taking action. It’s never too late!

      Thank you again and I would love to hear if you make it to BLES! Please keep in touch 🙂

      Keep reaching those dreams,
      Sam

  3. Samantha, it was great to spend that time with you at BLES. You are like a breath of fresh air. Your words above blew me away, such depth. Best of luck, the world’s waiting for you. I will follow your career with interest. Best wishes, Colleen

    • Colleen! It is so great to hear from you!

      Thank you so much for your words. I loved sharing that experience with all of you. It means so much to me that I have your support and love every step of the way!

      All the best in everything you do and we will be in touch xo

      Sam

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s