Monday 22 June
Yesterday, myself and several other volunteers travelled seven hours on the bus from Bangkok to Surin. The differences in the two places are pretty acute! Surin, while modernised with 7/11s, Big C Supermarkets, KFC and other such features, is far more peaceful and traditional than Bangkok. It’s also much, much cheaper!
After being taken to our volunteer house in Surin City, our Volunteer Leader Nam came to meet us to bring us up to speed on the project before heading there. Nam explained that, here in Surin, Elephants are considered near enough holy. That’s why there are a number of villages dedicated to buying Elephants from cities, where they’re mistreated and kept as tourist attractions, who then keep the Elephants, and dedicate themselves to ensuring the Elephants receive plenty of food, exercise and a generally happy life. As volunteers, the money we have paid to be here is the real true help. Our presence he is an opportunity for us to be involved and see a day in the life (or a few, as it were) or a Mahout- carer for the Elephants.
Nam did also make us aware that the Elephants are chained. This is due to insufficient space in the area- if this Elephants could roam then they would eat all the crops, and the village would have no food or income. If kept in the cities, the Elephants would be malnourished and mistreated. It’s a highly complex issue, and not an ideal one, but Nam emphasised strongly that the Mahouts love there Elephants dearly, and their care should never be doubted.
After this introduction, we all went to dinner at this little restaurant next door called P-Koi! I had a super fierce Shrimp Pad Thai, which I ate way too fast but it was delicious, and sampled a couple of local drinks.
And then pootled off to bed to prepare myself for what promised to be an interesting day!
This morning we got up and all piled onto this bus ready to drive to the village of Ban Tathit.
And then we sat there for an hour or so because, what do you know, one of the volunteers from our house had gone missing. He was there yesterday, he seemed totally keen and then *poof* gone! They investigated his room and all that remained was the guitar he bought yesterday in Bangkok, and his key to our house. After some searching, and many phonecalls made by the volunteer co-ordinators, it was established that he had actually shot off to Brazil of all places to try to win his ex-girlfriend back. No kidding! Anyway, so now I have this new guitar.
So FINALLY, after all of that, and a couple of hours drive, we arrived!
And, after dropping off our bags to our rooms
We went to meet the Elephants here at the home.
I’m glad I was warned first about the chains, because I have to say it was pretty hard to see and, even understand it in its context, impossible to accept. But it is what it is, so for now let’s just carry on…
This afternoon, we went around the village chopping Banana Trees and Sugar Cane to feed to Elephants. What’s interesting about these Elephant Villages is that they really area exactly what they say on the tin! Everyone here is in some way dedicated to making the Elephant happy! We basically drive around, ask folks “hey, do you have any Banana Trees or Sugar Cane we can cut?” and then we go on into their property and do it!
So, that’s what we did.
We got to one particular house to cut their Sugar Cane, and the atmosphere there was electric! The whole family was sat together, laughing, butchering a pig!
Turns out they were preparing for a wedding!! They welcomed us with open arms and sat us down and shared the celebratory treats they were enjoying alongside butchering with us! This included raw pork in chilli…Yes.
And, this delightful little number
Which turned out to be Thai Whiskey. Which tastes kind of like paint stripper, but is strangely ok with lemonade!
So, chopping and feeding done, we all washed our hands and started to prepare dinner!
A crispy tasty stirfry!
So, first impressions are mixed… I’m really very uncomfortable about the chains, but interested in the place overall so I’ll see how it varies but… I don’t see me staying here a full four weeks. That Cambodia being round the corner is just too tempting by comparison.