Rub a Dub

Day 5 – February 5, 2014
Baan Tha Klang, Thailand
Surin Project Homestay

Every morning everyone gathers and meets for breakfast to eat and learn about the ever changing daily schedule.

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This morning we were presented with a very full day. To start, our group was to water the bamboo plants all around the large elephant enclosure to help make sure that the ele’s always had something to eat.

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(photo by the Surin Elephant Project)

The enclosure is large but it didn’t take long and soon we were changing into already dirty clothes for a swim in the river and the chance to bathe an elephant. Fun fact: elephants are excellent swimmers.

As a large group we marched through a small local village and past fields and herds of buffalo grazing.

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The walk was long and hot but when you have the view of a dozen elephant butts its sort of worth it. When we got to the river each elephant and mahout was paired with two people for safety.

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Elephants move quickly in the water and like to roll around, I can imagine it’s hard to keep track of 12 elephants and 16 volunteers all at the same time. We were assigned Sah Fai who is my favourite ele, if I’m allowed to pick favourites. She’s the oldest of the group at 24 and also the biggest. She has gorgeous pink markings on her ears and trunk and a small pink ring around her back left leg. Her mahout is Thong Di, a small man with a mischievous streak who delighted in getting Fai Sah to spray us with her trunk.

After we had waded into the water with Thong Di and his massive elephant he got her to lay down and roll onto her side, submerging her whole body. He invited us to splash her with water and scrub her hard, rough skin to help get the dirt off.

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During our walks we had gotten close to the elephants, touching them a bit, but it had been nothing compared to this. Here, standing in the water looking up at her she was a wall of grey skin and tiny black hairs. You could see her sides heave with breath and her eyes look around curiously. Her ears flapped and she threw her trunk up with joy. For all the sadness and hardness in these elephants lives, this must be as close to heaven as they get.

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Looking around every elephant seemed to be experiencing the exact same thing and every volunteer was loving it. It was everything I had been looking forward to and fulfilled all those crazy fantasies I had when we had started planning this trip so many months ago. One by one the ele’s finished their baths and lumbered out of the water with us following behind, everyone chattering excitedly about the experience.

When we returned to camp we had just enough time for a bucket shower to rinse off the river water before visiting a local noodle shop for lunch and then starting our next job for the afternoon. Our group had selected planting so off we went by truck to water corn fields and plant watermelon seeds. By this time in the day the sun was high and hot and the earth we were digging into felt like clay. It didn’t take long before our river swim had become just a memory and the hard work made us sweat. The mahouts were there to help and after an hour or so we packed it in and climbed back onto the truck.

In the evening we visited a local market that happens every Wednesday and is a big draw for the local community. Visiting markets is one of my favourite things to do while travelling because it really gives you a taste of local flavour.

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This market was small but packed with people and vendors selling everything from household goods to clothing (new and used), electronics and of course food.

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There was fresh produce and meat, a man with tiny peppers in a huge bowl, cooks manning hot grills and a small dessert section we visited twice.

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Back at the Project I took an early night and skipped dinner. My eyelids were so heavy and despite my best efforts I was asleep by 7pm, exhausted by a hard days work and dreams come true.

To learn more about the Surin Elephant Project please visit their website.

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