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.

In the shade of a lychee tree, Tuesday 26th

I slept right until the alarm went off at 6:00am. Our first real work day of the week, and our new group were heading out to the cornfield for the day. It’s a tougher start to the week than some of the other chores, mainly because of being out in the heat for most of the day, but good to get it done. We sat under the shade of lychee trees to have lunch and continued working until about 1:00pm. A stop at the 7-11 on the return trip for ice cream was a welcome treat and also hot cup of ‘butterfly pea flower tea’ when we got back to camp. The tea was a beautiful blue colour, like a delphinium, but I will need to look that up and see where it comes from. Then off to the river for some tubing to cool off after a very hot days work in the sun. We have four work groups again this week, as we have around fifty volunteers and four volunteer coordinators.

The evening was quiet with a gentle warm breeze blowing through the valley. Annie and I sat and talked for a while and I helped her file some of her photos and video. As I retired to my room, there was an air of expectancy as many of us had heard that this could be the night that Sao Yai’s baby would arrive and we listened intently through the chattering of the regular jungle noises for sounds from the enclosure. 

28 March 2013

Return to ENP, Monday 25th

I woke up early in the coolness of my air conditioned room. It felt good to have a deep, sound sleep and I got ready to walk over to the ENP office, just a few blocks away, to start my third week at the park. I got there just after 8:00am and the first bus of volunteers was just leaving. I paid my fee for the week and boarded the next bus filled with volunteers excited at what this next week would bring.

It felt good be 'home' and I knew that I had made the right decision, spending my last week here. As we left the main highway and twisted and turned our way up into the Mae Tang Valley the anticipation grew until finally the first glimpse of the flat pasture of the park filled with elephants and the river, a shallow ribbon meandering to the left.

I toured around with the new volunteers getting to know some of them before we had lunch. It is a more cosmopolitan group this week with volunteers from Canada, USA, UK, Australia, South Africa, Germany, Switzerland, India, Iceland, Holland and Singapore. As before the largest portion of volunteers seem to be younger women from England, traveling the world, many in their gap year.

This afternoon, I met Lek and she invited me to join her and Navann’s family group over in the meadow. There were six adult female elephants all protecting and fussing over him. It was a great photo opportunity and I had a chance to be close to him again.

The feeling of a baby elephant, who weighs between 500 – 600 lbs putting his front feet on your shoulders is quite an experience, you quickly realize the strength that these wonderful creatures have. I think Navann is almost getting too big to play with me this way, at just five months old, but he seemed to like the company of other males as fellow volunteers Julian and Lewis also received much of his interest.

We headed down to the river with the family for bath time and had some more play time there. Always wary of where his adoring aunties are, it seemed best to stand still and let Navann's curiosity lead him over to you, than try and attract him. The family group seemed less agitated this way, but they were never far away - always watchful.

This evening was the welcome ceremony which is always interesting to watch and this week I managed to take some better photos and video of it. It had been a long and exciting day and I did not stay up too late after dinner, retiring to my new room, which is right next door to the one I occupied for the previous two weeks. Ahn is still here to guard me.