Chiang Mai, Thailand
I tell you there were some sore heads this morning but again, none of them were mine! I am strong and mighty! With a shocking rate of absenteeism, there were fewer of us to carry out the morning’s tasks – rather than the usual three chores, it was reduced to two and we were given our pick between food and poo. Now here’s the kicker – I deliberately chose burning sun and pachyderm poo over merciful shade and lovely fruit – oh haven’t I’ve changed – I don’t even know who I am anymore!!! But I had my reasons and they were twofold: 1. It was my last chance to actually be out amongst the elephants and 2. Sticky likes to stick with the poo people. Over the last couple of days, he’s been attacked pretty badly by the other dogs and is covered in bite marks. Yesterday morning, outside my room, I saw a pack closing in on him. It was one of the few times I’d seen him without a stick and of course intervened to drive them off. As I did, he anxiously scrambled around in the bushes looking for a stick – it broke my heart. I wish I could take him with me.
Then came the next of my big goodbyes. Lindsay had a flight to catch so had to take off before the rest of us. Stone cold sober, we reaffirmed our friendship vows, promising to stay in touch and meet again one day. Until that time, thank you Lindsay for the listening and the laughs.
The time came to pack my own bag and place it in a big communal pile just as we had done one short week ago. Our much diminished group shared one last lunch, took group photos and then climbed back aboard our awaiting minibuses without so much as a chance to say proper individual goodbyes. With that, we were on the road back to Chiang Mai.
At one point, we were pulled off the road with all other traffic to allow the royal families motorcade to pass at phenomenally high speeds before continuing our own journey to drop each of us back at our respective hotels. First out was Suzanne who I’d befriended on the first day. Although she kept largely to herself throughout the week, we’d shared some meaningful moments and I was sorry to say goodbye. Eventually we got to my stop and it was time to bid adieu to Geoff who’d been suffering badly next to me the entire way, unable to even sit up and speak. I don’t even know if he was able to register the moment which denied it a little of its emotional impact but probably for the best to be clear of someone so diseased! I’m of course joking Geoff and wish you a speedy recovery and safe onward journey. Canada is a permanent fixture in my travel plans so no doubt we’ll meet again.
And with that, I was by myself once more. As pleased as I was to be back in the lap of luxury at Hotel M, I also felt deflated that such an intensely meaningful adventure was behind me. The towels folded into the shape of elephants on my bed, though a nice touch, were no substitute for the real ones I’d left behind. Still, a hot shower, a fresh change of clothes and a view out my window of the markets springing into life went a long way to restoring my forward focus.
From my air-conditioned hotel, it was just a few feet to the beginning of the Sunday Walking Street markets. These markets are a Chiang Mai institution, running the length of Ratchadamnoen Road, they showcase arts, crafts and street performers from around the region.
This was my first real taste of Chiang Mai city and taste it I did – across the course of the evening I sampled a thing called ‘ancient ice cream’ which seemed remarkably like modern ice-cream, fried banana roll with condensed milk, fresh mango juice and pad thai all for mere cents. I also picked up a loofah to help get out some of the ground in dirt from the past week. Further to this cause, I pulled up a pew at one of the very many al fresco, makeshift massage places for a foot massage that I hoped would restore my feet to something nearer their original colour.
As I ducked and weaved through the crowds, occasionally seeking out respite in the many temples lining the route, I inevitably bumped into people from ‘elephant camp’. It was later in the evening that I encountered Keshia, Abi and Clair who were in turn searching for Becky from whom they’d become separated. I joined them for a while, each of us keeping one eye out for Becky and the other on the stalls. Keshia and I soon forgot we were looking at all, getting carried away in our own conversation causing us to lose Abi and Clair as well! I stayed with her until they resurfaced and then sent the three of them on their way back in the direction I’d come from.
Minutes later I found Becky! I was so pleased because I hadn’t had a chance to properly say goodbye after all the quality time we’d spent sucking up the signal in the WiFi zone (side note: one of my favourite moments at Elephant Nature Park was one afternoon in the hotspot with maybe 6 of us sitting around silently tapping away at our screens. Becky, in all seriousness, cursed the fact that because of the time difference, all her friends were offline and said something like “why can’t I have friends from all around the world to talk to?!”. At that, the rest of us – representing the four corners of the globe – were pulled back from our virtual worlds to the real one to laugh and point out that that was exactly what she had in front of her! Priceless!).
We strolled between the stalls conducting character assassinations on some of our ex-camp colleagues whilst beatifying others. But she seemed to be hinting at something else… it turns out Becky had been nominated to confront me about rumours that there was something going on between Geoff and I! I don’t know if I was more shocked or amused by this revelation and had a *************vincing her that there was absolutely no truth to it. If we’d been seen alone together, it had far more to do with the fact that we were the only ones who seemed to believe it was entirely appropriate to drink beer at lunch after shovelling **** all morning, as opposed to any romantic inclinations! To be honest, I don’t think I convinced her at all but it tickled me no end to think I’d been the subject of such speculation! There’s a first time for everything!
Becky is only in Chiang Mai for one night before heading back to Elephant Nature Park to serve a second week. We made plans to catch up upon her release before she disappeared into the crowds again to find the other three. Having completed my loop, I was now back at the Thapae Gate in the shadow of my hotel and ready to call it a long and eventful day.