Chiang Mai, Thailand
I didn’t exactly leap out of bed this morning, it was more of a crawl to a somewhat subdued breakfast with fewer than usual companions. I guess there are a lot of sore heads today although I have to say, I don’t actually feel all that bad – just a little tired.
My group was assigned to poop scooping again although certain princesses weren’t in the mood preferring to stand back and watch the rest of us shovel away. Weak, weak, weak! If you can’t handle your hangover loves, don’t drink! Me? Work hard, play hard and never shirk your responsibilities because of self-inflicted delicacies! Still we eventually got through it and were given the rest of the morning off to just hang out in the heat.
After lunch, a few of us headed down to the river for the 1pm washing of the elephants. There are two bath times a day at 1pm and 4pm – generally speaking the 1pm is far busier because of the day visitors which has made the 4pm slot typically more popular with the volunteers. However, this was Rachel’s last chance because she’s leaving us this afternoon to return to Taiwan. There weren’t enough buckets to go around but I was happy to watch from the sidelines knowing I’ll have other opportunities in the days to come. I was taking some photos from the narrow bank of the river just up from where they bathe when the rare “white” elephant (she’s kind of mottled but her tail hair is white – see photo) decided to cheekily steal several bunches of bananas the mahouts had put to one side for a more equitable distribution. Knowing she was being naughty, she decided to make a run for it… along the bank to where I was standing. It goes without saying that elephants are big but when they’re heading straight for you and picking up pace, they’re massive!!! I looked for her mahout but couldn’t see him as I scrambled frantically up the bank and out of her path. I felt the air around her move as she narrowly passed me with her ill-gotten gains. She didn’t get far before she ran out of path but I was sure to make my escape before she turned around and headed back!
We were again given a choice of afternoon chores: “Sand” was first to fill up because it involved laying sand in an enclosure for puppies. “Hit the Nail” filled up second because it wasn’t the third choice which was “Fertiliser”. Guess which one I ended up with? Yep, all that elephant poo has got to be good for something and I was about to find out what! If I thought dragging the logs for the bonfire was hard yakka, I had another thing coming. To begin with, the puppy people bounded off to tool shed first and took all the good shovels leaving us with broken bits and pieces that could barely be called tools at all – I’m talking about shovel heads split in two, others apparently made of aluminium and even ones with no handles at all.
We were bundled into the back of a big cattle truck and driven out to a field with a mound of poo so big it blocked out the sun whilst giving off its own heat! Our task: to ‘shovel’ it into bags, pile the bags onto the truck, travel with them to a neighbouring farm and spread it under very many fruit trees with very low branches. If that doesn’t sound too bad to you, I haven’t stressed enough that we had no useful tools (so had to resort to using hands at times), or how hot it was, or that it was elephant ****!!! Big, heavy stuff – in fact I’m starting to suspect it as the universes richest source of dark matter! When we spread the last of it out under the fruit trees (most of ENPs fruit and vegetables come from surrounding farms which they trade for this rich fertiliser), the sense of relief was profound… until Aik announced we had to do it all over again for the rest of the trees! The very thought was unimaginable but I didn’t have to imagine it, I just had to do it. The final insult came as we were leaving the field back to go back to base – Hope, the bull elephant currently crazy with musth, threw a rock at us! Luckily it missed but we were glad not to be going back for a third round!
Hot, bothered and covered in poo, we were delivered back at 3.40pm. Rachel was due to leave at 3.30pm and I hadn’t said goodbye yet. With the last of my energy, I ran back to our room but she wasn’t there. I ran to the common area stopping everyone along the way to ask if they’d seen her, no one had and I couldn’t find her. Just as I was about to give up hope, I saw her wandering in from the fields where she’d been saying her final farewells to the elephants. Everything just bubbled up at once – relief, happiness, sadness – just the intensity of the experience we’ve all shared coming to an end so soon. Forgetting myself and my putrid state, I just hugged her tight and shed some tears. I walked her to the awaiting minivan and waived her off.
I turned back around to find my other friends standing by the cattle truck waiting for me with open arms and inner tubes already in the place of the poo bags. Six of us climbed on board and hung on for a bumpy drive back up stream. As great as yesterday’s tubing excursion was, today’s was even better. It was a more intimate group, I knew what to expect and I kept my shoes on to give them and me a good wash and make it easier to climb out over the sharp river rocks at the other end. More than that though, it washed away the overblown emotion and restored my equilibrium.
Compared to last nights festivities, tonight was an altogether quieter affair though voices and tempers were raised at one point when the conversation turned to the subject of indigenous rights. Those bigoted sisters from White Rock were giving Canadians a bad name! I’d like to say I taught them a lesson but I’m sure they’d like to say same about me. The truth is that we all escaped with our points of view in tact, more’s the pity.
It was strange going back to an empty room. Rachel, thank you for the fun and friendship until we meet again.