It was an early start with a breakfast for champions, courtesy of Ayu. Green banana pancakes, a bowl of fruit, complete with tea and mango juice. My stomach was happy.
I decided to go to Taro Elephant Safari Park. Made kindly drove me the half hour trip to the park through an abundance of rice paddy fields and road roaming dogs. As tranquil as the centre of Ubud is, it was nice to briefly escape the enslaught of shops and tourists and become completely surrounded by carpets upon carpets of tall grass. People worked in the sparse number of wooden stalls that lined the roadside, as children played in the road and bare-chested old women perfectly balanced large, round heavy-looking dishes and bags of rice upon their heads. If I were a true, professional photographer, I thought, these scenes would be perfect.
Some minutes later, we arrived at the entrance of Taro Elephant Safari Park. If you want a ride on an elephant, it’s a little bit pricey – but the money goes into caring for and protecting the elephants. They have thirty elephants there, most of which were sadly from abused backgrounds. Each one had their own personal carer. Being the crazy animal lady that I am, as much as I love seeing animals, I still kept an airof sceptisim about the place. I hate zoos and seeing animals in poor conditions, to the point that on occasion I have become so enraged I have almost started a fight, or have just wanted to cry afterwards. In conclusion, I don’t frequent zoos much, but I was curious to see what this elephant park was like, after learning of its reputation.
I did opt for riding the elephant, as I was eager to see the entire grounds of the park and how the carers treated them, so it wasn’t long before I was standing in front of two enormous grey creatures. I was immediately captivated by their eyes. In complete contrast to their lumbering, wrinkly corpulence, their eyes were full of serenity, covered by long, dainty eyelashes. Almost Mona Lisa like, in the way they seemed to know something you didn’t. I stroked one of them and felt his rough, tough skin. The labyrinth of lines and wrinkles all over his skin, not unlike like those on a road-map, were just like an enlarged version of the wrinkles and patterns of my own skin. And don’t even get me started on their trunks. How crazy and amazing is it that we have something on this earth with a nose like that?!
My elephant ride was provided by an enormous, beautiful female elephant called Ola, but after profusely watching the Jungle Book during my childhood, in my mind I kept calling her Colonel Hati. She took me for a ride through some more lush, green forest where I saw all sorts of exotic flora which I carefully tried to photograph. As we galumphed (my new favourite word) through the forest, Ola’s Mahout (carer) explained to me a few interesting elephantine facts. For example, I learnt that an elephant’s gestation period is 22 months. TWENTY TWO MONTHS. Flippin heck.
After the forest, we plodded back to the park grounds and headed towards a large pool of water. With myself and the Mahout still on, Ola entered the pool and immersed herself in the cool water, but luckily I think it was only my flip flops that got wet. As we did a circle of the pool, it wasn’t hard to notice two more elephants swimming and cooling down in the waters as well. With the odd excited trumpet sound, the two young elephants gambolled along in the water, rolling, tumbling and spraying water through their noses at each other. It was the equivalent of two small children messing about in a swimming pool together. Honestly it was one of the happiest things I’ve ever seen.
With that my tour with Ola was now over. I carefully climbed off and thanked her for taking me around.
I do believe that the people working at Taro Elephant Park do try their best to maintain standards and treat the elephants with respect and care. Saying this, it’s not without it’s faults, but I think that it’s more related to gaining as much income as possible, to keep the place running. For example, after the ride I was told about a show where the elephants performed tricks for the audience. I didn’t go but watched from afar. In my opinion it was pretty unnecessary and a little sad to watch, but on the other hand I guess the people who run the park are wanting their customers to feel they received the full value of their park ticket. This is something which I guess will only change once the customer shows they don’t want that sort of enterainment any longer.
One other thing that was slightly distressing was seeing a humongous male elephants chained to a post. I asked the Mahout about it and he explained that because he was so big, it would be unsafe for him to roam the park at a time when there were so many visitors present. I did believe him on this, as I had seen many other elephants walking about freely. The issue of money almost always changes the nature of even the truest of intentions, but after seeing the carers in action with the elephants, hugging them and feeding them, and one even joking and calling another elephant his wife, their is definite care and love at the park, and I was happy to have seen it.
*Tune in next time for some traipsing through rice fields….
Go Go Go!
Where: Ubud, Bali in Indonesia.
Why: Monkeys, temples, rice fields, elephants, culture and wonderful food.
How: Most airlines will fly regularly from Jakarta to Bali, but return fares can change throughout the year and range from 400,000 Rp – 2000,000 Rp (approx £20- £100). From Denpasar Airport, Ubud is about a 2-3 hour drive away, dependant on traffic. There’s plenty of accommodation in Ubud, with interiors to cater from luxury to budget. I stayed at Nirwa Homestay which for around 150,000 Rp (£7.50) a night was perfect, with hot water, western toilet, clean rooms and quiet surroundings.
Taro Elephant Safari Park has varying pirces of entry, depending on what you would like to do. If you would like a ride on an elephant, the cost is around 600,000 Rp (apprix £30) and of course it is less if you do not wish to. Funds go into supporting and caring forthe elephants.