The wake up call
The rooster that lives beneath my homestay crows peacefully. Once and then once more, like a single-worded song, and finally I am awake. The clock beside me blinks twice and eventually my eyes focus on the neon 5:45AM in front of me. I push myself up sluggishly with the aim to open the window, and flood my dark wooden room with sunshine.
As it is every morning, I need to feel the earthy breeze in order to wake up. Like a freshly roasted pot of coffee hanging in the air, the smell of trees are now my natural caffeinated jump start. The doors to my window creak as I force them open and immediately as if a part of a well-orchestrated queue, blue and green gravitate in my peripheral. A jolt of energy waves through me like the wind that’s just entered my room, and I am now ready to prepare for the day ahead.
6:00AM and I finally find myself rising from my cocoon. The mosquito net that laid above me has finally been put back into place after a long night’s sleep, and I dress hurriedly. Something comfortable enough to hike in, yet still accountable for the intense heat that I know all too well. I check my bag twice to make note of everything I need, and walk out onto the silky wooden planks of my homestay. I wave good morning to my family and immediately get greeted with a hello and my lunch being handed to me, in which I return the favour with a meaningful “Da Blue Pado” and a massive smile. My house Grandmother (already clothed in her traditional Pakinyaw dressing) is seated by the open stove, cooking something deliciously hardy that lingers in the air around me. She’s been there for hours nonetheless, and won’t be done until lunchtime as per usual. She, as well as the other members of my family, now have been hard at work for hours, and my appreciation continues to grow as I stroll through the home on my way to the door. My eyes follow from my two-house sisters playing a local game in the yard, to my house mother tending to the hilarious amount of chickens and roosters that surround her.
My flip flops, positioned nicely by the front steps, slip on with ease and I begin my day with the journey up the village hill. One foot in front of the other, I continue along the earthy path and wave ‘Da Blue’ to each home I pass, knowing that, such as my own, they have all been up and working hard for a very long time already. Each one greets me with a smile that reaches ear-to-ear and I feel a sense of warmth as I continue along the heated dusty road. A string of chicks cross the path in front of me and I stop for a moment to let them pass. Their mother guides them cautiously across the pebbles, and I am grateful for both their presence, and the short break I received by stopping to appreciate them. Finally, as if a beckoning, I pass Root’s Coffee shop and I know I’ve almost arrived at base. If that wasn’t a tell-tale of how close I was to arrival, then the abundance of dogs would tell me nonetheless. Polo (one of the many base dogs we have) comes into sight, running below the safe space we call Base Camp. A few steps more and I can see the roof float into view as well as the slow-moving figures beneath it.
Breakfast of champions
To my right I see a landscape, painted vividly with mountains and fields as far as my eyes can see, and to my left the breakfast bar (my favourite place to be). This morning for breakfast we have hard boiled eggs; although appreciative I know it will not be enough and so I begin by popping two slices of bread into the toaster. The teapot is sizzling already, and I pour myself a cup of scolding tea. The air is wet and slick, boiling like the cup between my nimble fingers, despite this I know today will be a good day and so a smile crawls onto my face like a bug, itching. I take a sip of the hot seeped liquid and let the heat run through me, already sweating from the rudeness of the sun, the tea neither helped nor made it worse. It only felt like what could be described as perfectly comfortable.
A loud DING sounds in the background and I snap back to my breakfast being ready, a quick swipe of Nutella onto my toast, and I plate them evenly around my three eggs (drenched in tabasco) a hefty meal for an elaborate day. The clock above our ‘Daily’ board reads 7:30AM and I see the trucks pull up by the road, our cue has arrived, and I am prepared to come back exhausted. My bag is on my back before I know it and I’ve tied my second shoe thoroughly, one foot up and the second, and I am now seated comfortably criss-crossed in the back of the pickup. Ready for today’s endeavour.
A bumpy drive accompanied by silent breeze and dust, and we’ve arrived within twenty minutes of our starting point. We all jump out one by one to greet our mahout with laughs and ongoing conversation about trivial things,
and comments on the weather. Seconds become minutes and our journey has begun into the thick line of trees and shrub. Green on top of green as well as hues of other earthy colours vibrate around us and distance becomes less recognisable. Time fades and clocks begin to lack importance, as the excitement towards our destination grows as evenly as the distance we continue to progress on. We retain more and more ground and each fallen stump we climb, each broken bamboo we balance over, each pile of leaves we carefully step between in hopes of not slipping, forces us closer until we’ve finally arrived. Bulowan the oldest bull we have in our forest is a sight for sore eyes, his beautiful head; giant and strong, and his body; held high with grace, stood peacefully before us. His presence was deafening and for a long moment we stood there in awe.
An hour becomes two and before I even acknowledge how much time I can spend watching the natural mannerisms and characteristics of a content elephant in the forest, it is time tohead back for lunch. The hike back feels shorter and more thrustful now that we are aware of the grumble in the pit of our bellies. We make it back in record time and arrive to the open field in which our 4×4 pickup truck had dropped us off hours prior. Next to the base of a large tree trunk sit three figures, the mahout that had been guiding us, the Old Chief who wore age on his face pridefully, and another mahout whose elephant could be seen feeding in the nearby distance. Although hungry and tired we take a seat with them and spend time appreciating the sun on our face and the grass beneath us. I take a seat wisely positioned next to the man whom had been leading us for the afternoon, and enjoy the crunch of leaves beneath me. Cool to the touch, thankfully. A few minutes pass of us comfortably sitting in silence, and we listen as the men converse poetically amongst themselves. We are physically drained from the mountainous hike, mentally exhausted from the abundance of social interactions, and emotionally fatigued from the fascination that the huge beasts we’d spent all morning with had infused in us. We sit appreciative, with happiness resting on our faces.
The mahout I had been seated next to pulls out a bag with a large amount of banana leaves inside, he plays with it and wets it on his tongue until it is soft enough to roll the tobacco. We watch as if we were seeing an artist create his own piece and he comes out with a beautifully wrapped banana cigar. He lights it with one take and then smiles at me very big before passing it into my rawed over fingers. One last tired smile lounges on my face; as to show my appreciation for their acknowledgment, I inhale gratefully. The rush hits my head like the breeze hits my back, clean and crisp and refreshing all at once. I look into the tree lines and leaves fall slowly… Quietly…
Today has been a good day.