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Elephants | Elephant Journals | Jan. 13-17 | Jan. 18 | Jan. 19-20 | Jan. 21-22

The Elephant Journals

Thailand, January 2006

In January, 2006, I flew from the San Francisco International Airport to Tokyo, Japan, and then on to Bangkok, Thailand to meet up with my new friend, Amanda de Normanville. Amanda and her husband, Gary Soden, are the founders of All For Elephants. Amanda was to be my trusted guide into the world of elephants.

January 21, 2006: Kanchanaburi 6:35 p.m.

Amanda and I got to our hotel quite late, showered with immense pleasure. I have to say that the amount of dirt that streamed off my body certainly amounted to evidence enough that I had not showered recently and that I had been in the country. The evidence disappeared rapidly down the drain with clear and audible groans and moans of pleasure. Amanda and I headed out after our showers. Refreshed, we were ready for the town. We found a food court and had a lovely light dinner. Then a bit of shopping at the Night Bazaar and we were ready for bed. We fell in to our hard-mattress beds at midnight.

Up at 7:30 a.m., we had a more leisurely breakfast than usual before leaving for the airport. Once at the airport, we had plenty of time to window shop and sip coffee. Our flight to Bangkok from Chaing Mai was lovely. From the air we could see wide swaths of undeveloped jungle and mountains. Smoke rose from controlled burns and filled the canyons. No wonder I have been coughing!! When we arrived in Bangkok we met up with Gary before grabbing a taxi to leave for less populated areas.


Dining Area


Our taxi ride took us out of Bangkok about two hours west to the town of Kanchanaburi where the famous Bridge over River Kwai still stands today. We drove into the outskirts to the home of Jumbo and Jittin. Jumbo and Jittin are two dynamic women who are working with Amanda and Gary towards acquiring sanctuary land for the elephants. This has proven to be a difficult, time-consuming task and the help of these two women has been invaluable. There are layers upon layers of government from whom one must acquire approval for use of land, especially since Amanda and Gary are foreigners. I was very much looking forward to meeting them, having heard so much about them. Jittin is perceptive and diplomatic and Jumbo has incredible business sense and is resourceful. Their joint efforts are forging a way for Amanda’s and Gary’s dreams for the All For Elephants Sanctuary to come to fruition.

When we arrived, a woman by the name of Belinda Stewart-Cox, author of Wild Thailand, met us. Belinda studies elephant/human conflict, traveling throughout Thailand and to other countries as her research requires. I was told this was her home base while in Thailand. I was interested to know more about her research, but the subject never came up and she left for Bangkok for the weekend shortly after we arrived. However, before she left she brought us into the cool interior of the 3-story home. The first floor consisted of the kitchen, living and dining area, all tiled. There was also an exercise room and a bathroom. The second floor was the private space of for Jittin and Jumbo, including another comfortable living space, office space, sleeping quarters and a porch surrounded by lush tropical plants. On the third floor, all rich, dark, hardwood, were three bedrooms, including Belinda’s, and a large office out of which Belinda operates her research, plus another bathroom.

A Patient Gaze

We settled our luggage in the entrance way and removed our shoes just as Jittin came down the stairs. What a beautiful creature! She had strong and, yet, gentle energy. Her English was great. She ended up almost immediately asking me point blank what I had “read” about the elephants, meaning what had I intuited. I was catapulted into a deeper place by her question, for which I was grateful. The answer was “We (humans) are like the elephant, not the other way around” and, for me, being in the presence of the elephant accentuated the numbness that still resides in me (which can be translated to resistance.) I still have the dimmer on, in other words. No problem! The elephant says “Hang out with me and you can awaken.” This answer intrigued Jittin. She spent the entire evening coming back to the subject, including wanting to know more about the work I do with horses.

Jumbo came home about an hour after we had arrived. Jumbo has a face that reveals a wonderful sense of humor, eyes that don’t miss a thing, and she carries herself with great confidence. I felt immediately safe in her hands. We all went out to dinner at a beautiful outdoor restaurant on the River Kwai. Jumbo did all the ordering and each dish was superb. The light was so dim I had no idea what I was putting in my mouth, but each bite was delicious. Jumbo was interested in me, too, which felt so good. These two women were as delicious as the food!

Jumbo said I had the spirit of a horse and I cried for her recognition of that fact, or perhaps for the honor of being associated with what I consider to be an exemplary example of manifested spirit. We all decided that our coming together was a collaboration of the horses and the elephants because, remarkably enough, there is one of the few horse stables in Thailand right next door to Jittin and Jumbo’s house which houses 40 horses. In fact, Jumbo told me their house is built on top of a horse cemetery. As she told me this, I thought of Brannon, my beautiful horse/elephant. I held her tight in my heart just then, as we left behind the River Kwai in the heart of Thailand on a journey only she could have instigated. Before going to bed, we all made plans to rise the following morning and go over to the horses to work with them a bit.

January 22, 2006: Kanchanaburi 11:30 p.m.

View of Sanctuary Land from Resort

Our plans to be with the horses were postponed. Today we drove north to a reservoir close to Amanda and Gary’s proposed sanctuary. The vehicle we went in was an old Land Rover, which I had no idea was made by Honda, but there was a Honda symbol on the steering wheel. We are talking bare basics here. The engine roared into the cab with no insulation, the seats had very little cushion between butt and metal and the steering had a somewhat delayed reaction to any turning of the steering wheel. After two hours, Gary driving, we stopped at a gas station with our cute, little Thai guide, Phim. We filled the tank, used the restroom (first time squat toilet) and got some snacks. Then, we set off again for the reservoir. There was a lovely resort by the water at which we stopped and had lunch. From there we drove around the tip of the reservoir to get to the other side. A young man, the son of the head woman of the village closest to the sanctuary land, joined us and we drove off through the village along deeply rutted dirt roads. Past the village the roads deteriorated rapidly and we ended up parking and walking the rest of the way to the boundaries of the land.

The villagers had recently cleared some of the land near the sanctuary and the slashed bamboo blocked the road entirely.

Hiking Sanctuary Land

Our guide took us into the jungle to go around the block. Our walk covered about six kilometers or 3.6 miles.

We hiked along a creek bed that periodically had water in it, but was mostly dry. This led to the edge of the lake, but it was only a small finger of the lake with no vistas or anything. Cows were grazing here and there in the jungle as we headed in and we actually had to shoo away a large group of cows on the way back.

We finished our hike at about 4:30 in the afternoon and drove home. As the evening descended, we discovered one more minor detail about our transportation. Our lovely vehicle had only high-beams. If Gary tried to put the headlights down to low-beam, there were simply no lights. Consequently, we annoyed hundreds of people during the several hours it took to drive home. The trip was long, noisy and hard on the body.

Since we couldn’t really talk over the engine roar, I passed the time looking out the open side-window. As we passed the dimly lit huts, I would get fleeting glimpses of the interior and the people going about their evening lives. Some huts had people sitting in groups; in others there were just one or two. Some had fires burning. Most did not. It was like looking into the distant past or like some dream I vaguely remembered. This sensation grew even stronger when I began to see glowing fires on the sheer mountainsides. I asked our guide about them and she said the mountains burn like that every year.

Watercolor of Sanctuary Sunset

Smoke filled the air and the eerie glow beneath the forest canopy reinforced the sensation of a memory I could not quite grasp. Some of the fires were so big as to line the mountainside from peak to base in on long streak, looking like flickering lava. It was a remarkable sight. The guide said it was not to be worried about. So, I just enjoyed the sensation of “knowing” about these fires. It is very late now that we have finally arrived back at the house. We all fell promptly into bed, our heads full of the pros and cons of the proposed sanctuary land. As I write this, there is a beautiful 6-8 inch Gecko eating a moth on the screen of one of the many windows looking out of my third story bedroom.

Check back soon for more journals.




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