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Senior Gabby Magalski Spends Summer in Thailand at Elephant Reserve.

Senior Gabby Magalski rides her elephant, Pang Wang Jaow, down the dirt road with her partner Annie McTigue. Even in full elephant trainer garb, a dark, blue denim suit, she can still feel the sharp hairs of her elephant pricking up as Pang Wang Jaow trudges to the river for a bath. Magalski looks across at the dense, green Thailand jungle, spotting the occasional stalk of bamboo below her. Wobbling precariously atop her elephant’s back, she leads Pang Wang Jaow towards the river .

Magalski spent three weeks of her summer in Thailand with a group called Rustic Pathways, which specializes in international teen travel. She spent roughly one week at the elephant reserve and two touring around the exotic country.

Magalski and the Rustic Pathways group visited temples, marketplaces, and a place called Tiger Kingdom where they had the opportunity to step into tiger cages for a photo op.

Magalski settled into to her small, wooden room on the first day of her trip. With only one window and two twin beds, which were pressed together to make room for walking, McTigue and Magalski had few luxuries. In the bathroom they found a single toilet and a shower, with only occasionally working pipes with cold water.

The next morning, Magalski rose early. The group of 26 reserve volunteers were paired up and assigned to elephants which they would take care of for the rest of the week. Magalski and McTigue were assigned Pang Wang Jaow, a middle-aged female. Excited, the girls went to wake her from her reserve home in the lush, green jungle. They rode her down the road, off the bank and into the river for bath time; a routine that became their everyday ritual.

“They were really dirty in the morning from spending the whole night in the jungle,” Magalski said.
“They get dirt and leaves all over their back that they can’t reach with their trunks.”

While their elephants waded in the cold water, the girls would scrub the elephant’s rough, grey skin with their hands, making sure to get all the excess brush, dirt and leaves cleaned off.

Next came breakfast. The elephants wrapped their newly cleaned trunks around the hay, bananas and sugar cane that Magalski fed them out of her hands. Their long, prickly hairs grazed her fingers as they popped the food into their mouths.

“They were very grabby,” Magalski said. “If you had a banana, and they knew it, they would stick their trunks in your pockets.”


With more than four transportation changes to get to the reserve, traveling to Thailand was no easy task. A flight to Los Angeles, then to Tokyo added up to over 20 hours.

“The flying was pretty awful,” Magalski said. “I was just kind of going with it, I wanted to be where I was going.”

After a one day layover in an empty Tokyo airport, the crew of 26 arrived in the large, modern airport in Singapore. They had yet another layover until finally making it to Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, where they were shuttled in vans to their rooms at the elephant reserve.

The group continued their daily routine and played with the elephants all week at the reserve.

“The mahouts [elephant trainers] would play soccer with the baby elephants,” said Gabby. “They can be pretty dangerous when they are playing.”

They also rode their elephants around the jungle, passing through small villages of simple, bamboo huts.

When she wasn’t with her elephants, Magalski liked to hike up the mountain by the reserve. Peering through the towering jungle trees, she viewed the vast scenery of Thailand from a bird’s-eye-view.


After returning home, Magalski had trouble getting back into routine.

“I basically went to bed when the sun set and woke up when it rose in Thailand,” Magalski said. “It’s not like that here.”

After spending three weeks away from any technology, it was confusing for Magalski to make the change back to normal. Letting go of the experiences from Thailand, and especially saying goodbye to Pang Wang Jaow was a struggle.

“It was really sad,” Magalski said. “I miss my elephant.”

Even after a difficult time coming home, Magalski’s trip to Thailand has brought to light her love of traveling. She even plans on getting involved with the teen leadership program, AMIGOS, so she can travel internationally again.

“It’s really nice to learn about other countries’ values and their culture,” says Gabby “[This trip] gave me a better understanding of the world.”

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Taylor Bell

Taylor Bell is a senior at East. This is her second year on staff and her first year as a staff photographer. Along with The Harbinger, she is on the swim team and gymnastics team. Read Full »

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