Chiang Mai, Thailand
After another night of being serenaded by the hue and cry of the dogs and elephants, it was again time to get to work. Although my team was allocated elephant kitchen duties, I had a leave pass to join one of the vets on his morning rounds along with a small group of fellow volunteers.
We rendezvoused at the Elephant clinic where we helped the vet mix various lotions and potions for his assigned patients. We loaded up a medical kit, grabbed a big basket of bananas and were on our way. We tended to wounds, hid tablets in bananas and had so much fun doing it that it could barely be considered work at all. Our more worn out team mates tended to agree when we reunited for lunch.
We got to choose our afternoon assignments from a range of preparatory tasks for tomorrow night’s Loi Krathong festival. The banana tree team was instantaneously full at the mention of climbing trees with machetes so I opted instead for the bonfire on the beach gang. How hard could it be? Believe me when I say it was the most gruelling physical labour I have ever done! Building the bonfire itself was easy going enough and quite social. I enjoyed the opportunity to get to know Jan and Dave, fellow Australians and recent retirees, a bit better – this place really has drawn remarkable people to it.
With the bonfire in good shape, we next had to provide seating for around 50 people by way of big heavy logs that needed dragging from far and wide to be placed around the fire. Some weren’t too bad but a couple of them were real doozies requiring the entire might of the team to drag them inch by inch with ropes. The irony was not lost on us of being surrounded by ex-logging elephants who could have shifted these logs like twigs. I hope they at least got a giggle out of watching us become the beasts of burden.
Proud and sweaty at what we’d achieved through an impressive display of teamwork, we made a dash for the river too cool off, jumping in clothes and all. Aik, our Volunteer Coordinator, was the chief antagonist in the ensuing water fights! Drenched but happy, we dried off on the way back to the common area to be reunited with other volunteers returned from equally successful (though less strenuous) missions. Covered in filth and looking very much like something the elephants dragged in, I decided I needed a Chang beer first and a shower second. I settled in again with my posse for a couple before heading back to my hut to wash away the detritus of the day while it was still hot enough to tolerate a cold shower.
Before dinner, Jodie – long term volunteer and resident tattoo artist – gave us a talk that put a soap opera spin on the lives of the elephants at the park. It was a very entertaining and animated insight into the comings and goings of these magnificent animals.
Dinner was served and in an attempt to get to know more people better, I made the mistake of sitting at the wrong table! I said yesterday that by and large everyone I’d encountered was generally lovely to talk to with interesting stories to share. Today we were joined by a new pair of high-bunned clones who I seem to be having an allergic reaction to. In my experience, such strong responses in me are indicative of either a ‘mirror of dharma’ being held up i.e. I’m seeing my own less-admirable traits being reflected back at me by the other person or they’re replicating an archetypal villain from my past. I’ve felt the rub of a few from the former category – passionate young girls with soapboxes stacked high but this piece of work was every popular prick at school who made me feel like a freak. Having learned to deal with and despise bullies at a very young age, I find her insufferable. I don’t even know why she’s here – I can only assume its because grey is in this season!
Rather than put her in her place, which was not mine to do, especially considering the others seemed to be enjoying her condescension and poor grammar, I extricated myself from the proceedings and decided to deal with the tension in altogether more pleasant way. Above the bar is a small sheltered platform where woman from the neighbouring village offer massages for next to nothing. I opted for a full hour oil massage for a mere ฿200 (AU$6.30). They threw up a sheet to form a make shift screen to protect my modestly even though I could clearly see the people below. I strategically placed myself so that I wouldn’t return the favour should they look up! My masseuse seemed impossibly young especially for one so professional and practiced. As she worked away, I relaxed into it and enjoyed the sound of distinct and familiar voices and accents drifting up from below.
If nothing else, it allowed me to echolocate my gang and seamlessly rejoin the conversation I’d been overhearing. I should mention that our loosely formed membership has grown to include all-round good guy Mark and the ever charming Kerri from New Zealand. Along with Lindsay and Geoff, we managed to keep the bar in business until it closed at 10pm.
At this stage, Geoff very quickly catapulted us all from the getting-to-know-you phase into the field of too-much-information as he shared his secrets (of which he has few, there’s not too much being held back by this guy!) of how he managed to subvert the Governments internet censorship. It was an eyeopening education.
As I walked back to my room, there was a total blackout which here in the jungle means black! I did my best to fumble through my things to find my contact case and remove them in the dark and get ready for bed without disturbing Rachel. I climbed into my own bed knowing that all the howling and trumpeting in the world wasn’t going to keep me from a sound sleep tonight!