Grateful, overwhelmed, changed, full, at peace. These are all words that would accurately describe my current state of mind as I sit in the BKK Airport at a loss for words. Finally, something has shut me up. Actually, the real problem isn’t the lack of words but the inability to express my emotions to the level they’re being felt.
White water rafting was something I always imagined myself experiencing on my 50th birthday. Not once did I think I would be in the right place at the right time and have the opportunity staring me in the eyes so early. This ended up being one of the wackiest, weirdest and wildest trips of my entire time away and every moment had me more and more sure that explaining this to all of you would be nearly impossible. I think the two days we spent away ended up being one huge “you had to be there” moment. Even so, it was the perfect end to the adventure that has consumed my life for the past five months and as my stories from abroad come to a temporary close, why not end with something you may have to strain to believe? Friends and family I give you my strangest days yet.
Just one small part of this world
In no time, we made it to Mae Hong Son in one piece. A very surprising factor at that point! I was drenched yet again but so happy from the days events and the bonding that we all had every stroke of the way. Things wrapped up very quickly and after a circle of email exchanges and goodbye hugs, we all went our separate ways. Those two days are ones that will stay in my memory forever for so many reasons. Our time together was shocking, thrilling, adventurous, scary, resourceful, hilarious and most of all, full of love, kindness and friendship, the three things that will stick out strong and proud. I am so thankful that I got to know these beautiful people. I’m thankful for the lessons this has taught me about necessity and appreciation. I can’t imagine what it would be like to share my home every night of the week so I’m especially thankful for that wonderful family of three. I had never been a part of an experience like that before and I think every one of us would benefit from a night living off the Earth and everything it provides. It really opens your eyes to a thing or two.
Throughout the next few days, I spent my hours with the four other guests surrounding myself with three elephant’s loveable ways. Lotus, Wassana and Pang Dow are the three most sociable and tame of the eleven that live at the sanctuary. Never in my life had I been able to interact so personally with such a large animal. Those three girls are nicknamed The Girl Gang and better yet, The Gossip Girls. They are one hundred per cent inseparable. After meeting Lotus, I noticed she was waiting patiently by a big pile of corn, hardly attempting to eat even a piece. Fa told me she was waiting for her girlfriends and the sound and sight of them meeting each day is unforgettable. He described it as “turning the whole sanctuary into Jurassic Park” due to the noises they make as they reunite. Sure enough, Pang Dow and Wassana came prancing down the hill and the three of them squeaked, squealed and trumpeted their hearts out, banging their trunks together like they hadn’t seen each other in years. It was remarkable. The relationships between every elephant were incredible to watch. When it comes to emotions, nothing seems to differ these creatures from humans. There are elephants that hate each other, elephants that form a possy and just like the Gossip Girls, elephants that you just can’t tear apart.
Each meal was spent under a hut by the pond. We were barefoot, cross legged and content as could be with the elephants by our side. Traditional vegetarian Thai dishes were prepared and fresh fruit always dawned every table. During breakfast, Lotus loved to saunter on over and stick her squirmy trunk under our roof looking for papaya, her absolute favourite fruit. On our second morning there, she rested her trunk on the side of the wall and soaked up every bit of attention we would give her. Her giant mouth would open playfully when she was looking for scraps and we wouldn’t hesitate to stick a few pieces of fruit onto her squishy pink tongue. I always giggled wildly while feeding them anything. The novelty never seemed to wear off and their bubbly nature caused the feeling of breezy freedom to run right through my veins.
During our first day, we took the gang into the jungle for some shady socializing. The six of us and a Mahout drove on a cart out into the depths of the greenery and set up hammocks underneath a collection of Lychee trees. I guess I should explain what a Mahout does. I like to call them elephant whisperers. There are seven Mahouts that work at BLES and are in charge of easing the elephants into their new home, acting as a safety net with guests in case something gets out of hand and are connected to the elephant somewhat like a second parent. It’s very difficult to describe and so much easier to understand when watching the interaction between a Mahout and their elephant. All of them strictly spoke Thai and I always watched wide-eyed as they would gently touch them and softly speak words of ease and direction into their ears. There are very specific phrases and tones used to guide an elephant and I was even able to pick up a few from observation. Fa told me that “the Mahout doesn’t choose the elephant, the elephant chooses the Mahout.” I believed it. They had a bond that was obviously born out of a gift that each of these brilliant Thai men possessed and it was so special to watch as it unfolded before my eyes.
m running. Before he arrived here, Somai was caught in a terrible forest fire and 70 per cent of his skin is now burned and easily torn. Despite it all, he gave off a very relaxed and kind presence. Mee Chok is only four years old and prances around like a bundle of pure joy. It’s a shame he’s too young to understand how to behave properly with humans because he looked like a ton of fun and a real free spirit. The dogs joined us up top and we watched as the three of them ate their hearts out and occasionally stuck their trunks through the cracks in the wooden floor to see if we had any treats hiding!
The dreaded time finally arrived and before I knew it we were packing our bags and ready to go home. I made my way to the beautiful ladies chowing down on a mound of freshly picked papaya’s. Goodbye’s have never been something I’m good at so I decided not to make too much of a scene. I knew that we would be seeing each other again in the future so in the end, a “see you later” fit just right. As I gave Lotus one last hug around her thick trunk, I became aware of everything they had taught me throughout my time here. These elephants have helped me learn about compassion and the height it can reach in the heart of just one person. I didn’t expect to be so overwhelmed by my love toward each of their souls and how their personalities would steal my heart and captivate me for hours on end. It is this level of emotion that I will strive to reach in everything I do and work towards each day. Before we were even introduced, they taught me about hope and strength. Through everything they endured, their bodies pulled through and although those three girls have every right to despise people until the day they die, they chose to love us right back. They choose to dance in the rain and frolic in the papaya’s because they’ve put the past behind them and welcomed this new life with a positive perspective. Shouldn’t we all follow their example and do the same? Life happens but we choose whether or not we want to let it bring us down when faced with beauty and inspiration. Nobody in this world is forced to let the past rule their future. While I had my moment with each lady, I noticed how much they had taught me about control and balance. Their giant bodies have the power to harm anyone and anything in an instant. Instead, they walk with the utmost grace and every move they make is done with care. In my moments of stress and despair, I plan to “think like an elephant and move like an elephant” in order to achieve serenity.
I encourage you all to take a look at the Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary website and take some time to read each elephant’s individual story. As well, don’t hesitate to check out the story behind the creation of this organization and how it all began.
I woke up on Monday morning knowing that I would finally be visiting a part of the world that sparked so many thoughts and dreams inside my mind. Over one year ago, I remember sitting in that cafe with my good friend Rebecca very clearly. Traveling had been but a teeny, tiny thought in the back of my mind at this stage. There were still things to consider, choices to make, a conscience to follow. We reached the topic of Ireland and I expressed how much I dreamed to experience their culture one day. Rebecca had taken a recent trip to Scotland and almost instantly brought up this mystical destination. With excitement in her eyes she told me, “If you’re going to be near Scotland, you must go see The Fairy Pools.” We pulled up a photo on my phone and as they appeared, I was struck with amazement. The atmosphere seemed to sparkle with true magic and called out to me as a place I needed to be and absolutely could be. Looking at this photograph had me thinking of the many other almost unbelievable places the world holds. You read about them in the top ten books, watch them as backdrops in famous films and then wonder how you’ll ever be able to reach them yourself one day. They tend to seem so surreal. As I studied that photograph closer and closer, it hit me. For the first time in a long time, I realized that nothing was holding me back from immersing myself in these places that ignited such a passion and inspiring flame within me. I wanted to see them, didn’t I? Then why couldn’t I make the leap? I didn’t have permanent ties or commitments that had me stapled to the ground. In fact, nobody in this world really does. We choose our priorities and in that moment I was so sure of what mine were. My bucket list wasn’t going to sit in a corner and become torn as time passed me by. I needed to travel and The Fairy Pools would be seeing me very, very soon.
Finally, I found someone walking toward me on the trail and we stopped to photograph the same pond reflecting the peaks. He confirmed that I was in fact heading in the right direction and the pools were waiting for me at the end of the path. I continued on and had been wishing several times for a tripod. The lighting cast a shadow over almost everything and my photos weren’t having any of it. It was as if someone had heard my thoughts. I suddenly approached a beautiful waterfall and knew that I had arrived. A man sat crouched in front of it, balancing a tripod on a jagged rock. “Would you like to have a go with it?”, he asked me. I kid you not, this man proceeded to connect my camera to his tripod and let me use it for as long as I needed to get a clear and bright shot of the beautiful sanctuary in front of us. As Santiago in Paul Coelho’s The Alchemist always says,
Climbing Blarney castle was exciting because the spiral staircase was very narrow, dark and mysterious. Climbing up it alone felt like an adventure. Each opening lead you into a new room labeled bedroom or kitchen, whatever they thought it may have been used for six hundred years ago. At the top of the castle there sits very special stone. It’s said that if you kiss the stone, you will be granted eternal eloquence. I didn’t realize how much of a tourist attraction it had become although maybe I should have assumed. The Discovery Channel has named it one of the 99 things to do before you die. I also didn’t realize how difficult it was to reach the stone and give it a smooch. Seriously, this thing was located underneath the bottom edge of the castle’s wall. I had to lie down on a padded surface while a man held me tightly as I cranked my head all the way back and planted a peck on its slippery surface (I hoped to god it was because they had washed it). Not only that but a man stands on your other side with a huge camera and snaps photos of this event which end up being extremely overpriced. Of course it’s all worth it in the end. Eternal eloquence will do me some good! I chuckled as the lady behind me very loudly expressed to the man, “You better watch where you put your hands there mister.”
The tour didn’t end up have much of a “tour feel” at all. It felt more like one giant road trip with a bunch of strangers who eventually became friends. Our driver was an older man with a funny hat and a polka-dot bow tie who had a wicked and quick sense of humour. John was his name and he took us around that ring with laughter and ease. I was almost grateful for his driving instead of my own. It allowed me to really concentrate on what was around me without the worry on the rainy roads and let me tell you, there was a lot to look at and process as we cruised along. John let us stop at all the key photo opportunities and take as much time as we needed to enjoy the breathtaking beauty that is Killarney. It was raining hard almost all day but it reminded me of my walk through the Pyrenees. I liked the vibe that the misty horizon brought to the atmosphere. It was magical. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing half the time. Am I really here? Is this really happening to me? It was one of those moments I’ve found myself experiencing now and again on my travels. I needed to remind myself of my whereabouts. “Okay Sam, you’re in Ireland. You’re actually in Ireland.” It’s not like the scenery wasn’t enough of a reminder alone but it’s so incredible that you just have to pinch yourself every once in a while. It was, in fact, all real and I was really there as a part of it. Things like this exist in the world. Like I said, I think the photos can do the most justice although even then, it needs to be seen and felt with your entire body.