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.

31 March 2013

The last work day, Thursday 28th

The week continued to be very hot and today the mercury soared above 40c. The evenings are warmer too, and did not often have the cooler winds blowing through the valley, with refreshing strong gusts at times. This morning I chose to help out one of the other groups who were short on team members as this was their corn cutting day. Our group had an ele-walk and a mud-pit clean on the schedule, but I don’t feel that I missed out having done both in the last seven days. Corn cutting can be a long and hard day as I found on Tuesday of this week so I’m sure an extra machete being wielded made a difference! As usual, Say was up to his brain-teaser tricks again.

We cleared the corn field in good time and it was an easy load on the truck as it was able to park adjacent to  the stacked bundles and we didn’t have to carry them over two fields as before. We had finished it all by 11:30am and had our lunch in the field. Say, our coordinator, suggested taking a short side excursion to the Srilanna National Park to see the dam and reservoir, it was just 1.5 km further down the road. The reservoir looked quite low, but that would change within the next month or two when the rains begin. We were back at the park around 1:30pm and had the afternoon free, with the option of tubing. I decided to take advantage of the quiet afternoon and rest and catch up a bit on my blog writing, and besides in the heat I didn’t want to move much at all.

As the sun set behind me, I stood on the western bank of the Mae Tang river, to watch the elephants at play.  Navann, cute as always, put on quite a show with his family, which led perfectly into Leks talk with the volunteers.

In some ways it is hard to believe this is my last night at Elephant Nature Park, but the past three weeks have been a life altering experience - thank you Lek and Darrick. It feels like I have been away from home for three months and I have a long journey ahead of me, but it will feel good to get there.

Fruit, Fence posts and a Full Moon, Wednesday 27th

The morning started in the ele-kichen and we prepared the water-melons, washing and chopping and peeling. The supply of pineapples was low today, so the elephants got pumpkin and bananas in their lunch basket. The pumpkins are more like squash, not the big orange jack-o-lantern type that we see at home. The truck arrived full of bananas and we counted the number of bunches on each stalk as we unloaded, which is how the value is estimated. All stowed away and the amount verified with the driver, it was time to feed the elephants their lunch and then back to the kitchen to finish removing the seeds from the tamarinds. The tamarind is added to the banana ball mixture and the seeds are replanted.


We spent the hot afternoon outdoors, it has been in the low 40’s Celsius for the past few days. We headed out to the eastern part of the park to repair fencing around the banana plantation. Some of the posts needed to have deeper holes dug and re-set and the barbed wire tightened or reattached. 

Luckily the local ice-cream man cycled by on the road just above us and we hailed him for a cooling snack before finishing work for the day. The thick clay soil we discovered about two feet down was wonderful for molding and brought out a bit of creativity in the group!

Afterwards I walked up to the village with Lewis and Julian and bought a soft drink – it was a syrupy coconut-flavored concoction, but quite refreshing. Then, as has become our afternoon routine, down to the river for a swim and time to play with the elephants in the water!

The full moon rose in the sky, glowing crimson through the inky blue canvas of darkness. It was a hot and still night and I went to bed earlier than usual to rest up for tomorrows work.