My partner and I are off to North Thailand in three weeks to work with elephants. Specifically the ones at Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, North Thailand. Large, grey proboscis-laden pachyderms banana-hoovers abound there, as well as many rescued dogs, cats, buffalo, cows, chickens and assorted other beasties. They’ve had 2 baby elephants since I was there last year – Navann and Dok Mai. Will I be able to resist hanging around them like a tween at a Bieber concert? Probably not. Will I be able to stop myself from trying to sneak one home in my luggage? Well, that would be a yes, because we only have a 30kg luggage allowance, and I’m pretty sure even a baby banana-hoover weights more than 30kg. Will I be able to avoid snakes, spiders and leech attacks? That remains to be seen. Last time I was in Thailand, it wasn’t out in the jungle I came close to having a snake-related cardiac arrest, it was in a town where I was innocently waiting to cross the road and one fell out of the power lines beside me! Very funny God! Read that story here. Read about the Giant Killer-Leech Attack here.
And so, the preparation begins:
- Organise someone to work my shifts while I merrily traipse around South East Asia for 5 weeks – check. Note: they must be benevolent and prepared to listen to my every tale, upon my return, of enjoying myself thoroughly in tropical climes while they’ve slaved at the coalface on my behalf. Without stabbing me with the nearest carving knife.
- Transportation – check. So far we have an airplane complete with driver and waitresses. Dear Lord, please let this be the time when the airline decides they love me lots and ushers us into business class instead of cattle class.
- Working out paying the bills ahead of time and while away – check. For bills are a merciless lot and don’t care if you’re going on holiday. The miscreants keep flying into your letterbox regardless and often dig up long-lost relatives, like car registration and subscriptions to the magazines you never get around to reading, to bring with them. This is to ensure you jerk awake in the middle of the night on a regular basis having had nightmares about missing payments of great import and significance.
- Figuring out places to stay before and after the volunteer period – check. Well, mostly. Because my partner is with me this time, we’ll be able to split the accommodation costs, so I won’t have to go back to the concrete cell with complimentary cockroaches I stayed in last time. But the research required for when we go places I haven’t been yet either is driving me nuts. I tend to budget only so much per night for sleeping (300 Baht) because I’d rather save my money for shopping for frivolous tidbits and unusual oddments than fork out more for a place where I’m only going to lie around snoring, so that narrows down the odds of finding reasonable places considerably. But hey, the smoking iguana bamboo incense holder and Hindu God padlock collection ultimately make it all worth while.
- Travel Insurance – check. After weeks of looking, I’ve finally found a company that is okay with us going to work around ‘dangerous animals’. Other people can go mountain-climbing, parachuting, bungy-jumping, base-jumping and riding motorcycles amongst some of the most suicidal drivers in the world and get insurance for this, but when we want to go and work with banana-hoovers, oh no! That simply will not do! “We don’t want to know you, thank you for ringing, and good luck – goodbye!” Seriously, since when is a banana-hoover less safe than a two-wheeled game of chicken in Asian traffic?!
- Send itinerary and insurance details to relatives – check. On the unlikely event of my demise, I’ll be able to posthumously shout them a trip overseas. I hope they at least grab a cocktail or two while they’re there and drink them in my honour.
- Copy passport – check. I’ve never lost one yet, but I did drop my plane ticket once in Kuala Lumpur airport and it was delivered back to me while I was sitting on the plane waiting for takeoff to India. That was just before e-tickets came in. Considering you can’t even get into New Delhi airport without proof of your flight, I may still wandering the streets of Pahar Ganj, juggling for a living if it wasn’t for that lovely stranger who hunted me down to return it to me. Bless his heart, wherever he is.
- Look at buying every travel gadget and doodad under the sun – check. Narrow that down to what you will actually use more than once and can actually fit into your luggage. Resist buying a new camera because it has more optical zoom and chrome-plated zinca wires than your present one. Defy those who tell you that nobody travels any more without this sonar-driven mosquito-slaying crocodile repellant device that also incidentally washes your clothes. Repel all efforts to convince you your one-year-old phone is a decrepid relic and you need a new sparkly shiny one like this –
- Contact credit-card company to let them know you’ll be spending in yonder places and not to cut you off because you just used it to buy a silver toe ring or pay for an elephant-related tattoo in the back of beyond – check.
- Visit doctor and get enough pills to enable you to schlepp your luggage, shopping, washing and the huge pile local Asian maps you mostly won’t look at and still be able to stand up and order a cocktail at the end of each day – check. Because you’re getting old and someone stole your youth and stamina while you weren’t looking. While you’re there,, request diarrhea meds so you can phart with confidence after trying out a new curry dish plus assorted exotic fruits. Read ‘The Gentle Way of Phart’ here.
Whew! And I haven’t even included packing in this lot! I think I’ll save that for another post. All this going away on holiday organizing is pretty tiring. I remember now why I only do this once a year. That old chestnut about needing a holiday to get over your holiday has a certain element of truth in it.
As for this banana-hoover business, it – I hope in my wildest dreams – is a small window of opportunity between the domestication and near-extinction of elephants and the reintroduction of them into the wild and the reinstated forests in various and sundry locations. An opportunity to communicate with and touch them, to listen to the myriad of sounds they emit, to observe their relationships with each other and to watch their wide and saggy backsides as they meander from this place to that, in their never-ending search for fodder. For fodder galore they need, as it takes a hundred kilos or so of vegetation to run a banana-hoover on a daily basis. An opportunity that I hope my grandkids never get to have. Because in their time, I like to think that elephants are back in the wild again, where they belong.
And in the meantime, I’ll go and visit them and help feed them and shovel their pooh and just adore them in general. Because in my eyes, they beat lolling around a posh resort and reveling in luxury any day. I’m a bit odd like that.