12 December 2014

On Patrol, Thursday 21st

I am always up early, usually by 5:30am and one of the first to appear at the human kitchen in search of a morning coffee. It is a great time to watch the dogs playing in the cooler morning air, as the sun quickly rises over the hill. Breakfast time is is shared with many of the dogs, although they are not to be fed our food as it can often lead to quarrels amongst them and besides they have a plentiful supply of nutritious kibble and fresh water.

Poo patrol this morning, our turn again for elephant clean up time. We got through the mornings chores quickly and finished with time to spare, so we pruned the bamboo hedge growing around the parking lot and meet-up point. The leaves were plucked from the cuttings to feed to the elephants, so as is so often the case here, there is not much wasted.

I had felt tired today, I think partly due to it being day 11 of not so much hard work, but being constantly on the go. The air quality was also quite poor today too and several of the volunteers I talked felt a bit sluggish. I ate well (which is not hard to do here) and kept hydrated and I had a nap for an hour before we met up for the afternoon assignment.

As can often be the case, the work schedule was subject to change, and this afternoon, instead of painting our group went for a walk with founder Lek Chailert. It is always fascinating to listen to her elephant stories and watch her interaction with the herd. Like our walk last week, we met up with Faa Mai, the four year old female who just adores Lek. Of course, it was another great photo opportunity and every one had a chance to have the perfect picture with her that will be a lifetimes treasure. 

An after work tubing trip was delayed as one of the other volunteer groups were out and we had to wait for their return to have enough inner tubes for all of us. Some of decided that a dip in the river would be enough water time and we went swimming in our favourite spot, just upstream from where the elephants bathe. We hadn’t been there long when Lek came down to the river and asked us if we would mind sharing the water with the baby elephant. We were all a bit puzzled, what did she mean? Was she joking? The volunteer Coordinators are always pulling our leg about what is happening next, but Lek was serious. Navann was soon in sight accompanied by his mother Sri Prae and auntie Kam Pam.  We were ecstatic; surely this was going to be the highlight of the whole trip! What an amazing experience, to bathe and swim with a baby elephant and his family …. just incredible, something I will never forget.

The most perfect day, Saturday 23rd

I awoke and it was daylight already, the first time in my two weeks here at Elephant Nature Park. I had been setting my alarm clock for 6:00am but was always awake before then. The last couple of days I haven’t bothered, so this morning I slept through and was surprised by the light filling the room, it was 6:25am and the day had started without me!

This morning our group had the Ele-Walk scheduled as or morning chore, as you may have read before, it’s not work at all, but a leisurely walk around the park with lots of photo opportunities. There were many highlights and one of them was leading Jokia and her companion Mae Perm back towards the group of volunteers. I almost felt like a Mahout .... if only for a few minutes!

After the walk we had to clean out the main mud pit, the water is changed and several of us broke up the surrounding ring of earth with hoes. It wasn’t long before the first handful of warm sloppy mud was flung and it was 'game on' from there. Within fifteen minutes we were all covered from head to toe in reddish-brown goop. A clean up in the river was necessary before heading back to our rooms for a proper shower.

After lunch we had a group photo and then took several wheelbarrows around the park and out onto the main road cleaning up any garbage, we sorted five full barrows into recyclable material and the rest to be disposed of.

We were swimming down at the river when Navann and his mother and aunt came down for their bath. It was wonderful to have an opportunity to be so close to him and this time I was not standing back from the action taking photos! 

After bath time the family headed up to the steps and Navann was very playful and inquisitive. Lek took some great photos of that cute baby pushing against me, he weighs a considerable amount and it was hard for me not to be completely pushed over. He has so much coarse bristly hair on him, but his skin is like soft leather. Again at the scratching log he came over and used me as a rubbing post. It was just unbelievable and probably the highlight of my stay. Thank you Lek and Heather for these beautiful pictures.

Tonight was the traditional dinner and I shared a table with Annie the long-term volunteer and Benjamin and Sarah from France. It was a delightful evening and an excellent way to end week two and an unbelievable day.

1 April 2013

Going Home - Gangnam Style, Saturday 30th

Spa On Air, Incheon, Seoul
Spa On Air, Incheon, Seoul
 Leaving the searing heat of northern Thailand, it was refreshing to arrive in Seoul, South Korea early in the morning with temperatures just slightly above freezing. I had traveled overnight in shorts and a t-shirt and headed to the 'Spa On Air" on the lower level of the airport to freshen up and change into warmer clothes.

Spa On Air, Incheon, Seoul

Spa On Air, Incheon, Seoul
The spa charges 15,000 KW ($15) to access the hot pool, cold pool, sauna, steam room, showers and change-rooms with a well stocked vanity (I only needed to purchase a razor and tooth brush). For an additional 12,000 KW you can have a single bed in your own small room to sleep and time-adjust. I opted to just shower, shave and change, to take advantage of my 12 hour layover and see some of Seoul on a 5 hour sightseeing excursion offered from the airport by OMI Travel.

Magical Mystery Tour
Cheonggyecheon Waterway
 Jeans and a sweatshirt were enough to combat the chill on this sunny, but crisp morning. The twelve of us boarded the tour bus at the main terminal that would take us and our guide to downtown Seoul. We visited the Cheonggyecheon waterway, a 5km stretch of restored river that became a shanty town after WWII and had been filled in for many years. 
Korea National Folk Museum

Korea National Folk Museum
Next was the Korea National Folk Museum and Gyeongbokgung - the royal palace built in the Joseon Dynasty (1392 - 1897)  by King Taejo. As much as 60% of it was destroyed by Japan in the early 20th century. It has been gradually restored since then.

Zodiac - Ox


 Lunch was included in the tour price of $50.00 and I had Bibimbap, a Korean dish of vegetables and rice in a bowl, in a little restaurant off Insadong, a shopping area with many antique and traditional Korean craft stores. We had about 90 minutes of free time to browse around, but I had room in my bag for nothing much more than a postcard! We headed back out to Incheon (ICN) the main airport for Seoul. The tour was very good value, I would highly recommend it and it's a great way to pass some time - many connections through Seoul seem to have a long layover in at least one of the directions. 

As I write this we are 37,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean on our 5700 mile journey to Seattle. It has been an incredible trip and I shall be home in a few hours - ready to start planning the next one!

Saying Goodbye, Friday 29th

I felt great sadness this morning walking up the driveway towards the main building for breakfast. It was another hot and beautiful morning and I did not need my sweatshirt to guard against the usual morning chill.

I went out for a walk with Jodi Thomas, she has tremendous knowledge about the elephant behaviours and interactions. 

 It was fascinating and interesting, observing the different family groups and learning their histories. It took a couple of hours and was a good excuse to put off the inevitable job of packing. A few dozen more elephant photos wouldn’t go amiss either!



After the walk with Jodi, it was lunchtime and I really did have to pack. My second bag that I bought in Chiang Mai last Sunday for 200THB came in really handy - as I seemed to have accumulated several souvenirs, almost all from Elephant Nature Park. I made a couple of trips from my room to the meeting point to drop my bags there, awaiting the driver and busload of day trippers heading back into the city. 

It was time to say goodbye to Ahn and I think he knew I was leaving. It broke my heart, I so wish I was able to take him home with me, but having one rescue dog at home already, it was just not possible. I gave Annie the rest of the biscuits I had purchased and she agreed to have special visits with him - at least he is good for 'Jammie Dogers' for the next few days.

 I didn't look back as we climbed out of the Mae Tang valley, as much as that view of the park is thrilling when you arrive, I was sad to leave. We arrived at ENP office about 5:00pm and I left my luggage there and headed out for supper - Taste From Heaven of course! I had Pad Thai with egg and a fruit lasse (140 THB). I toured the market for a while but mostly people-watched until it got dark. Patti had arranged for a Tuk-tuk to take me to the airport (100THB) and it zig-zagged around the moat of the old city and then south for the 20 minute trip to the departures terminal. I got my bags shrink-wrapped, just in case) for $4.00 a piece and sat waiting for the check-in counter to open, while sipping on a green tea blizzard from Dairy Queen.