Today was the day! Elephant day!!!
Of course I woke up entirely too early at 5am even though the van picking me up wasn’t coming until 8-8:30am.
I tried to go back to sleep but I was just too damn excited.
At 8:30 the van came and picked me up and took me to the Elephant Nature Park office here in Chiang Mai.
I entered the office and looked around. There were a couple dozen others doing the same thing.
These would be the people in my life for the next week. Most seemed in their mid 30’s or older and most were female.
And they looked earthy (is that a word?)
After paying the rest of my 12,000 baht ($400) balance I got a volunteer tshirt and water bottle and then waited patiently for the vans to take us up to the nature park.
I swear I turned around for a second and all of a sudden everyone was gone.
There were just 3 of us left. The other 40 had loaded up 10 deep in four different vans.
About 20 minutes later we finally boarded our van and were off.
While it would have been nice to be in a full van talking to a bunch of people, this wasn’t a bad thing either – the three of us each got our own row in the van so we kicked back and relaxed for the hour ride up to the park.
After counting 7-11s for awhile, we were shown a short video on Lek and her park on the way up.
As we entered the park and I got my first glimpse of an elephant a smile grew on my face from ear to ear.
Outside of maybe at a zoo when I was really, really young I had never seen an elephant before.
At the park I envisioned everyone already bonding and we would be the ones left out but to my surprise we arrived mere minutes after the others as they had stopped for a break along the way up so all that worry was for naught.
In fact, the three of us got to do something the others didn’t.
We hopped out of our van and our guide led us to an elephant and handed us a bushel of bananas to feed this beautiful creature.
Around the camp you quickly realize that elephants aren’t the only animals living here – there are tons of dogs and cats around as Lek opened a shelter for them as well.
In fact, along with the 37 elephants, there are 150 cats and 400 dogs.
We were soon fed our first of many buffet vegetarian meals we would have this week.
While I’ll definitely miss the meat I can’t really complain about the food as they went all out and prepared over a dozen different dishes for us.
I took a little of everything just to suss out what I did and didn’t like so I’d know for the rest of the week.
Now I assumed that most of the people volunteering here would be vegetarian as it just seems to go hand in hand with the kind of people that would volunteer doing this but when I asked the table I was sitting at who was vegetarian not a single person of the 10 raised their hand.
Someone who had been here a couple of weeks ago did tell me about a shack in the village 5 minutes away that barbequed meat so I mentally made a note of that.
After lunch it was time for all the busy work – not with the elephants but with room assignments, orientations and a video.
All the rooms here are shared by two people and as the man was writing our room assignments on the big white board I saw the name Jason beside mine.
So, my search for Jason began.
It was kind of comical because as each man would approach the board I would ask “are you Jason?” and they would nod their head no.
By now everyone was curious who this Jason was.
Turns out he’s imaginary or he missed the trip or something because he never did materialize.
So, yeah, got the room to myself!
Don’t know if it’ll last all week but I’ll enjoy it while I can.
After getting settled into our rooms we were all led to the conference room (well, it’s the second story of a hut) to watch a video on elephants and what they go through in their lives.
Some of the video was actually pretty disturbing to watch as the elephants are basically tortured into submission so they can be domesticated in order to earn money for their handlers.
Really sad actually.
Then there was orientation where we all went around in a circle and said our name, where we were from, and our special skill.
So, 43 names to remember – no problem…
There were a handful of people who were here for a second week and of course they all sat together acting like they owned the place.
Pretty sure I won’t be friends with one of them as she was deeply offended later on when I thought she was from the UK since everyone else in their group was. Turns out she’s from Australia and apparently I deeply offended her.
Um, whatever – get over it.
At 4pm everyone went to the river to bathe a couple of elephants.
Well, almost everyone.
I was so tired and had no energy so I passed on it seeing as how I would have plenty of opportunity to do that at another time.
I did go to that man with a barbeque at his shack with the man who told me about it, Hugh.
Barbequed chicken for 50 baht ($1.25).
Much better choice!
At 6pm we all went to a welcome ceremony put on by the local tribespeople where the shaman whisked away all our bad luck and ushered in good luck by having us all wear white string bracelets.
The sun seemed to disappear quickly as the next thing you knew the sky was dark and it was time for dinner.
After dinner I joined the group of kids in their 20’s because they had cards out and I was just itching to play some cards – any cards.
We played Uno for a couple of rounds and they broke into a monster game of Big 2 with three decks between the 8 of us.
The game took forever and everyone was more focused on inane chatter about accents or some crap like that.
It was excruciating. I was so bored and quickly realized I sat at the wrong table. I just don’t fit in with these guys at all.
I excused myself under the guise of going to bed but just left and sat on my own for awhile.
As I got to my room a cat was hanging around outside and meowed it’s way up to me.
I sat outside on the chair next to my door and the cat lept up to my lap. This was the first time I had had any kind of affection from a cat since I had to put mine down a little over a year ago.
So I sat there and cried a little. Sad thinking about my cat but also sad about how the day turned out.
It wasn’t the big kumbaya sit around in a group and swap stories kind of day.
The main reason I came on this thing for a week was to hang out with a bunch of great people and now I don’t know if that’s actually going to happen.
There were a few good people but most I don’t relate to at all so this week might be really long for me.
Guess we’ll see how the rest of the week goes…