Natalie's initial impressions of the village!
Arriving at base and you are almost on top of the rainforest world, mountains as far as the eye can see basking in glorious sun. Everywhere you look there is life here, from ant, beetles, spiders and any kind of insect you can think of or not. Chickens with chicks, pigs and piglets, water buffalo of course the villagers themselves always busy and the most important elephants.
The villagers live in traditional houses made of a hardwood frame and a lot of bamboo all made by hand. My room is separate from the family home a small hut on stilts which is tidy and clean with a mat for a bed and a pink mosquito net suspended from the ceiling. I am quite lucky in that I have a bathroom down a short dirt path with a western toilet, though of course I have to flush this myself with the water pan, I also have a shower and the family proudly show me their washing machine.
Back at base hut we are taken for a tour of the village situated on the steep mountainside, this is difficult terrain especially in the beating sun and they call this the cool season. We walk up the slope to the school and in my head I promise myself I will never walk this route again.
After meeting everyone we eat communally each of the villagers provide food to base hut and we are blessed as the villagers tie a white string (in a geeju ceremony) around each wrist of all volunteers and staff this is for good luck and protection. After eating a fantastic range of food with rice, having elephant chats and risk assessments its off for and early night. It is pitch black at around 7.30 at night and the villagers are early risers 4-5 am.
First sighting of the elephants babies Mario, Lulu and Bi Mai is fantastic walking up the mountainside to meet us with their mahouts. The joke is on me we are off up the same track I swore to never walk again, but baby elephant pace is spot on for me, this time I make it in one go. We stop before entering the forest and feed the babies bunches of bananas they are so gentle stretching trunks to sniff and take them from our hands and within seconds you feel comfortable enough to place the bananas in the elephants mouth. They are gracious gentle and beautiful.
We then head off into the forest, the gradient is what I imagined and somewhat of a challenge, but is that not partly what I am here for. We are in close proximity with the elephants and can watch for most of the hike they seem to make short work of the steep mountainside happy in their real environment, crashing through bamboo and any trees in their way which they decide not to eat first. Their eating habits are varied they choose to eat some leaves, a lot of bamboo and bark from other tree species. Of the three elephants Lulu seems to be a girl doing her own thing she does not hang out with the boys, but is usually within sight of them. Mario is best buddies with Bi Mai, he follows him everywhere, they most often bottom to bottom, but sometimes bottom to trunk and eat non-stop.
We head back with the babies and mahouts trekking back the route we came, I find quite demanding I start to think the thing is to believe this is a passable route, the amazing fit and athletic mahouts almost run up the route in nothing but flip flops. However they are very good coming back to help when I struggle, they are very friendly and advise slowly, slowly and make you feel at ease.
Back at base my homestay has delivered my lunch in an ideally designed little lunch pot in a bag woven by hand by the villagers, its trademark lunchtime while here in the mountains. The afternoon is filled with elephant chat and other information regarding the village and some free time.
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