Gentle Giants, Thailand

August 24, 2009

We’re here to volunteer – to work – and that’s what we’re going to do! Get moving ladies!

We were expected at breakfast around 7:30am after which, we headed over to the elephant kitchen where we would find out what our jobs would be for the day. Oh look – there’s a chart with our names on it – all ready to go!

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We’re in teams

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and there’s a chore list

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Chores ranged from cleaning elephant poo to planting grass.  None of it was easy – all of it was fun!  We were divided up into groups on the first day and stayed together for the week – so within our particular group – we became very close.

Remember the baskets of fruit we fed the elephants on our first day – not once wondering where that fruit came from? Now we know.

The fruit truck arrived every couple of days with 2.5 tons! It was our job to unload it, clean it, and stack if for future use.  We have all discovered muscles we didn’t know we had – and every one of them ached by the end of the day!

Cleaning the pumpkins – After soaking in a solution that cleans off any pesticides –

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We scrub them – put them back into a tub – and then they go to Michelle who wields her trusty machete!

That’s me, Linda (middle) and Donna (rt)

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Stacking them on shelves

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Peeling back the yucky layers of sugar cane – these will be chopped up too.

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Next on the task list – grass planting

Donna and I in our rubber boots – ready to go plant grass.

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A truck took us to the mud pit that was the grass planting field. We hung on for dear life – to the sides, the top – whatever to keep from falling out the back end. Below is the tractor we walked behind. It’s carrying bags of grass shoots.

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We carried the bags through the mud…Gentle Giants 60

…got stuck in the mud…

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…got very dirty…

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…and planted grass…

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You walk along the row and shove the grass stalks into the ground at an angle

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Elephants need lots and lots of grass

One day, we headed off again to parts unknown to gather and load bamboo poles into a truck.  We began our journey by climbing over a rickety bridge that swung back and forth – very precarious!

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On the other side – we picked up our river boats – uh bamboo rafts – and off we go!

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Things were a bit unsteady standing on the rafts and using poles to propel us forward – so there are no pictures of me/us actually poling down the river. Both hands, focus and balance were needed to remain upright and dry!

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A riverside hotel

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After getting our bamboo rafts down river to the trucks, we broke them apart and loaded them.  Now that was an interesting ride back!  Try sitting on 75 bamboo poles in a truck going 60 mph down a back road in Thailand!  Can you say OUCH! Seriously, we all climbed up and into that truck – found a place to sit – and freaking bounced our way back to camp.

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That night, we celebrated Mira’s birthday!

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Another morning, we took a truck ride about 45 minutes away to a corn field where we cut down an entire field of corn stalks to bring back to the elephants.  They do this every day!  You can begin to see why they need so many volunteers!

An early start – the sun is just rising
Me and James

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Sure…it’s easy to ride in an EMPTY truck…
Linda and Mira

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Laura and Donna

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Dan on top with some helpers and our fearless leader – Brad Pitt – sleeping

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Yes – it is an entire field of corn!

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I’ve got my very own machete!

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Brad Pitt himself woke up to help.

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The bunches are then bundled and tied up

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…then carried to the truck and loaded

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I believe that we loaded 200 bundles!

We have a great team!  That’s Dan and Laura on top…helper, Mira, James, Linda, me, Donna, helper.  Bottom row are all helpers.

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The ride home was not nearly as comfortable as the ride to the field.  There were lots of bugs and ants that crawled all over us the entire trip! Yuk.

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I rode on the top of the truck…like that would ever happen at home.  Look Ma…no seatbelt!

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One morning, a camera crew arrived at camp to film documentary.  They wanted shots of the babies playing in the mud pond. But there was a problem. The baby elephants would not go into the mud pond because of all the buffalo poo in it – the stink was impressive.

But hey — that’s what volunteers are for! You got it – they sent us out to the mud pool with buckets to scrape off the top layer of poo – in our bare feet – disgusting! Can you say “tetanus shot anyone”

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Clean for the first 5 minutes…

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The mud fight that ensued was down and dirty.

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Oh yea – and just in case the mud and poo weren’t enough – there were snakes in the pond too!

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All this led to our first swim in the river.  The current just about took half of us away – it was cranking!  But at least the mud and poo went along with it and off of us.

 

One afternoon we actually took advantage of the current – got a ride up the road a piece – took inner tubes and floaties – a couple of beers a piece and had our own little tubing party on the river!

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We drank as much river water as we did beer -and so far -no one is sick!  We worried for a minute because all the elephants in the valley consider the river to be their own personal toilet – so it’s not surprising to see a big old dump come rushing past you at any time.  We began to joke that it was a little like playing dodge ‘em.

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Ever wonder what the inside of an elephants’ mouth looks like?  By the end of the week, we were hand feeding them.  Their tongue is really, really cool!

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A hand could get lost in that!

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