Chiang Mai, Thailand
Worst night’s sleep ever! There was something crawling and scratching around my room all night moving my stuff, literally dragging it around! I didn’t know what it was because I was too scared to look! I tried to block the noise out – I put headphones in and turned up the music but the battery ran out on my phone and computer, I put my fingers in my ears, I even tried stuffing them with my own hair! I just couldn’t get to sleep. I couldn’t even turn on the light to see firstly because the light is too weak to actually see by and secondly, the switch was on the other side of ‘it’ to me!
I ruled out my worst fear – RUS (Rodents of Unusual Size, or any size at all for that matter) because there was no gnawing or chewing – just scuttling but far too big and industrious for it to be an insect of any kind. Nor could it have been anything as big as a cat or dog because they couldn’t have gotten in. I hoped it might be a pygmy elephant in tap shoes but dismissed the thought as most unlikely. Perhaps el duende’s Thai cousin? Whatever it was, it had the strength to move things and enough intellect to have purpose in doing so.
At one point, I saw two dogs in my room so got up to let them out. As I did, I noticed my computer charger on the sideboard so grabbed them to recharge for the remainder of the night. I turned back to my bed to find it had somehow completely changed … this was a dream! And the clatter of dogs paws? The bloody ‘thing’ dancing around again just when I’d finally drifted off!!! Eventually I had to get up so I made a racket and stomped to give it a chance to get away rather than stay and fight me! It must have made its escape because nothing moved when I kicked my bag. None the less, I put it up on Rachel’s now empty bed in the naive belief that it would be safer there.
I have no idea what it was – suggestions welcome!
This mornings work assignment was elephant food which involved scrubbing an endless supply of pumpkins, watermelons and pineapples to make sure they were free of any nasty pesticides. It was fairly monotonous but things perked up when I got to use a machete to hack up some pumpkins!
We had a fair bit of free time after that which I spent hanging with Lindsay, Geoff, Mark and Kerri just shooting the breeze and chewing the fat. After lunch there was a screening of the Volunteer DVD that had been shot and compiled throughout the week. It seems I’ve spent a lot of time bending over with a camera behind me!
Anyone who was interested was then able to go on a walk to say our official goodbyes to the elephants ahead tomorrow’s departure. Of course I went with a big bunch of bananas to claim my last kisses and cuddles.
Afterwards, Chay led a few of us on an expedition outside of the park to the nearby local store to gather supplies for tonights party, namely a few bottles of moonshine. The shop itself was little more than a shack stacked with every item you can imagine. The very obliging shop keeper even gave us a few shots of his various home-brews to get the party started. Back on campus, the Volunteer Coordinators were also getting in the swing of things with shots being offered to any and all passers by.
Before the party could start in earnest though, we had a formal farewell dinner in Northern Thai style. Low tables were set and laid with sticky rice and a selection of other local dishes which we enjoyed seated on the floor. Not only was it delicious but also a very thoughtful and special was to celebrate our time together. It really is difficult to believe that less than a week ago, we were all strangers. Having become the closest of friends in that time, it’s equally unthinkable that tomorrow we must say goodbye.
Back down in the bar, we had an injection of fresh blood by way of the returned volunteers from the ‘Journey to Freedom’ program (there are two volunteer programs, ‘Park Volunteer’ which is what I have done and ‘Journey to Freedom’ which is a more trek-based). They were a welcome addition with so many stories and photos to share. One of women was celebrating her birthday and ordered in a round of beers to ‘shotgun’. Despite my vast and varied drinking experience, I was apparently the last person on earth to learn this formidable drinking game. For anyone else who may have been living in a cave, you basically get a can of beer, hold it on its side, punch a hole, put your mouth over it then pull the tab – the beer is shot into your mouth and down the hatch in a matter of seconds. Luckily I’m a quick study and beer is cheap!
Several cans and few shots of moonshine down, I was a regular chatty cathy. I spent quite a while talking with Volunteer Coordinator, Chet about his self-proclaimed obsession with Australia. He showed me the copious files on his computer of photos, videos and information about anything and everything Australian. It was almost sobering to see his dedication to his fascination for a destination he fears he will never get to see, feeling unable to raise the requisite funds to meet the entry visa requirements. I was struck by the gross inequality in our circumstances. Week after week, Chet takes care of tourists from all over the world for whom this trip is one of many they’ll take in their lives, revelling in the affordability of it. We come, we go and he shows us the time of our lives whilst trying to scrape together every baht to raise an amount that, although not chump change, is definitely well within the grasp of most Australian/NZ’s, North Americans and Europeans but a veritable fortune to the average Thai person. If anyone out there is ever looking to send someone around Australia – Chet is your man – he is a destination expert, he’s an over the top character, he has fans all over the planet and he deserves it!
Our numbers dwindled, several taken down by a bug that seems to have swept through and hit certain individuals, including Geoff, pretty hard. Those of us with strong constitutions and iron guts drank on. Lindsay and I became ensconced in another heart to heart that had us slurring vows of undying friendship through the tears at the end of the night.
It was well after midnight by the time I got back to my room far too tipsy and tired to worry about the beasties tonight!