A typical day
By Susanna (Stitch) Wolz
29yrs old, Australian. Volunteer for 2 weeks – December 2012
The first week can be a bit hectic but it ensures you learn about the project, the elephants, the village and experience some local customs and way of life.
Mornings start around 7:00am with breakfast of rice or noodles brought to base camp by one of the homestays until 8:00 and then, if it’s a morning hike, we set off at 8:00am. I must admit, I was pretty nervous for the first couple of hikes – I am embarrassingly unfit and was worried I would get left behind but everyone watches out for everyone else and don’t mind if the pace is a bit slower seeing everything seems to be up steep hills. There are also plenty of ‘rest stops’ and is really doable even for the most unfit but determined people. The staff are supportive and patient and I, for one, really appreciate it! The elephants of course, also make it all worthwhile and we switch the reasons for the hikes from banana feeding and observation to health checks.
We spend about 3 hours out every day at the moment and you really get to know the elephant you’re assigned to – their personality, their ‘rank’ in the herd of 5, how they interact with others as well as their mahouts. It’s truly lovely to watch them in their natural habitat and interact with the attentative mahouts. Hikes can take you through jungle/forest, open fields and corn fields. It’s really picturesque and there are plenty of photo opportunities. You feel amazing when you accomplish it and reach top shop after the hikes for an icecream and if you make sure you stretch afterwards, you’re usually only a smidge sore afterwards.
Then it’s back to base camp for the lunch prepared for each person by their homestays and which you collect before you leave for the hike. The food has been fantastic! It’s usually a combination of meat, eggs or vegetables (with pumpkin and a local potato being favourites), and rice. It’s fun to compare what everyone gets in their parcels everyday and it changes often so you don’t really get the same thing over and over… except for rice of course. I do miss fruit though, it seems it’s a rarity which surprised me but if I have a craving for something sweet or pot noodles or similar, there’s always the trek up the hill to ‘top shop’. You can make special requests from those who make the 5 hour trek into Chiang Mai on the weekend and the poor person who goes often leaves with a list for things like bread, cereal, jam, fruit and other things that we didn’t think we would miss until we don’t have them.
After lunch we switch between presentations about the village, elephants, the project and others and then it’s rest time for a few hours. This is a great opportunity to head up to the school for free wifi, have a snooze, do some washing, have a bucket shower or just read.
For dinner you are met by one of the staff who will join you at your homestay for delicious food that there is always too much of. Every Friday all the homestays prepare food for everyone and the staff and volunteers eat a pot luck dinner together and then it’s back to base camp for the evenings activity. This ranges from basket weaving to mahout English classes, woven goods night (where we can buy locally made sarongs, scarves and bracelets), movies, Pakinyow (local dialect) lessons, elephant poo paper making, loom weaving and quiz nights. Bed is whatever time you feel like but I am usually pretty exhausted. Get a good night’s rest because tomorrow, it all starts again!