We had such a wonderful day with the elephants that we decided to learn even more about these animals. Pooping is a big part of their lives so we decided to make it a part of ours! Fellow MomSchooler Deborah had another great suggestion: let’s go and do arts and crafts with elephant poop! I can’t say that I’ve ever heard that phrase before but it sounded intriguing so we said, “Sure!”
Dan opted out of this activity too. He was mildly jelly of our elephant adventure after it was all done, but he was none too interested in the poop, so he happily dropped us off at the poop paper place outside of town.
The PooPooPaper place had a nice system: a guide leads you around the area, taking you through the steps of making paper from elephant poop. The guided tour wasn’t any additional cost and there was barely any wait, so it seemed like a well oiled machine. But now that we were out of the city hustle and bustle we had an extra visitor on our journey: mosquitoes. I wasn’t sure if they were going to bother us or not but that’s not an equation you want to get wrong, especially as you are trying to listen to a guide tell you important stuff about elephant poop. So before our tour started I went off in search of bug spray. The desk where we paid ($3) to get in didn’t have any at the moment (they usually do) so I went over to a neighboring area that had a lot of tourists – some village where you get to see women who wear jewelry around their necks to make them very long. (Sidenote: I was intrigued by this village so I looked into it, thinking maybe we should go. My conclusion was that it was inauthentic and could be supporting human trafficking so I crossed it off the “to do” list.) But I needed bug spray and there were some little shops over there so I figured maybe I could find it there.
Well, the shops were happy to sell me overpriced souvenirs but no bug spray. I was pretty desperate – Zoe attracts mosquitoes like a moth to light, and her bites last a long time. Dengue is also not unprecedented outside the city so I really needed no more reasons to hunt down this spray. But no store was selling it so I figured I’d ask some tourists. I didn’t see any so I asked the tour bus drivers. A few talked to a few, then a few others and finally, some guy led me to his car and pulled some out of his glove compartment. He was going to let me do a few sprays but the kids were all the way back at the elephant poop place, so I really needed the whole bottle. I pulled out 100 THB ($3) and offered it to him for the rest of the bottle. He was quite surprised.
“But it’s half empty,” he said.
“That’s OK,” I said.
“But you could buy a full one at the store,” he said.
“But I need it now,” I said.
Then he did that polite Thai smile and bow and thanked me for the money and I headed back to the PooPooPaper place. This is how you Figure Sh!t Out. I honestly have no idea if that was a good price or a bad price, but I figured that indeed I could buy a new one at the store, so he could too. He seemed happy so we’re all good here.
One advantage to traveling with older kids is that you can leave them on their own as you hunt down mosquito spray. When Deborah and I left they were in the gift shop but when we came back they were in the cafe, ordering cookies and tea and water. OK, no problem! I love how comfortable they are just wandering around and taking care of their own needs. Not sure why they needed SUGAR at that moment, but you win some and you lose some. They finished up right as our guide was ready to take us around.
I’m going to assume you are as interested in elephant poopoo paper as we were (kids are telling me to speak for myself right now) so I’ll share the process with you. You never know when you’ll be out in the wilds of Asia or Africa and need to write a greeting card or something.
Step 1: dry the poop
Fun fact: elephants poop up to 20 times a day. Wow! That’s a lot of poop! More fun facts: elephants eat grass and leaves and veggies so their poop has a lot of fiber in it. Their tummies also don’t digest well so when the poop comes out it’s got a lot of the same ingredients, in almost the same form, as when it went into their mouths. This is great for making paper. But first it needs to dry out. It takes about two weeks in the sun to dry out all the poop, but what is left looks like a coconut, with lots of hair or hay-type material. It smells like nothing.
Step 2: rinse and boil
After it’s all dried out and only the fibers remain, it’s time to let it soak overnight in water. Then they rinse it 3 times and now it’s time to boil it. The boiling process also has no smell, in fact it smelled like a camp fire and after awhile we were all wondering if there were any marshmallows offered on this tour.
Step 3: dry again
Once again it’s time to use nature to dry the fibers. Somehow my notes failed me at this point so I’m not sure how long it has to dry but I guess until it’s dry. That’s a good answer. Look! Squirrel! #distractiontechnique
Step 4: color, if you like
Here is where they use a machine to add color to the material. They add recycled paper (20% of the material is recycled paper), some water, the color and then the machine mixes it. It becomes a bit of a clump, and kind of feels like Play Doh.
Step 5: spread on the screen
Once it’s in a nice little ball, you add it to the water that is the same color and spread it out evenly on the screen, using your “tiger hands”, said our guide. You want to make sure it’s spread evenly with no holes and no clumps. This was pretty easy to do. Haley, our perfectionist, wanted to work on it much longer than we did.
Step 6: more drying
Once the screens were covered evenly with a thin layer of the colored material, we put it out in the sun to dry. The sun needs about 5 hours to dry it completely, but the guide let us have some screens from a previous group. She showed us how to peel off the paper, which is similar to removing the plastic off a new electronic item (very satisfying). From here we have a large sheet of paper, ready for whatever crafts we may want to do.
This is the process done by hand, and this paper is good for gluing things on or maybe writing with a fat felt tip marker. But the paper is rough and bumpy and fragile so would not be good for using a ball point pen. The paper that is milled by machine is flat and able to be used for actual writing.
Paper is done! Time for art class!
Now it’s time to use the paper! The PooPoo Paper People (P4) had a great system set up where you could buy any number of things, from bookmarks to greeting cards to photo frames or scrapbooks. Then you could pick out any decorations you choose, sit down at the table and use the glue to decorate it. The girls had a great time making a greeting card, a photo frame and a notebook. Kind of like our elephant day, the pace was slow and relaxed, there were almost no other people there, the girls had a great time doing it with their friends and the moms enjoyed chatting, advising and taking pictures.
We finished up our day in the gift shop, where we were able to buy a few treasures for people at home.
At the end of our tour it was time to head back into town. There were 6 of us so we decided to find a truck or a large taxi. One driver made himself known to us and after finally agreeing on a price, we hopped into his suburban. Halfway back to the city he had to stop for gas. He put in 20 THB (75 cents) which I guess was all he needed and/or could afford. I bet he’s wishing he was around when I needed bug spray.