In a few days, we'll be back in the US, basking in the Pacific Northwest in our wool socks and puffy coats. As our Kiwi friend Tom said, “New Zealand is cold, quiet, green and epic”. We nodded in sync as our thoughts shifted to coming home to Oregon, which is also “cold, quiet, green and epic”. It's time to leave our quaint wood and cardboard shack on the beach, the mischievous resident puppy Rennie, the daily dahl, sambol and rotti meals and the warm waves.
Every day is an adventure, but here are a few highlights from the last two weeks:
We had one of our most amazing sessions one morning as we teamed up with our South African neighbor, now friend, Charl, and drove to a nearby point. For an hour, it was the three of us in the water, watching the sunrise, taking long, perfect shoulder to head high waves, and trying to pull into mini barrels. We caught so many waves that hour, that none of us were in the line up at the same time. Sure it's not Indo, it wasn't an epic swell by any means, blah, blah, blah. But it was magic and we still talk about it.
True to form, Chris is coming home broken, his right hand anyway. The story… We were surfing a nice morning session catching some mellow waves, just the two of us. Throughout the morning, the crowd was building, with many surfers with awful etiquette and poor skills. A bad combo, and we should have gotten out of the water like we usually do then. But no, with a week left we kept going. Chris was run over by another surfer and the end result was a broken metatarsal for Chris and a cracked and dented surfboard for the other guy. A trip to the local and very dodgy government hospital 45 minutes away confirmed in X-rays that it is a significant fracture. They “decided” not to cast it for some reason and we'll be coming home to help a Bend orthopedist send his kids to college. So we made it 11 months and 3 weeks, which is not too bad for a guy with a long history of breaking himself.
As we spend the next three days traveling home, we begin to reflect upon the last year. It's overwhelming and emotional. And mostly we are still shocked at times that we actually pulled it off! While we planned and worked hard and saved, there was always the fear that things would go completely sideways either before we could go or during our travels. Now we face the fears of the “after” – how to go back to living and working in the States, and NOT SURFING everyday. Of course we always have lots of ideas for future surf travel. Regardless, we are filled with gratitude for all that we have seen and done, people we have met, food we have eaten, animals we've encountered, and most importantly, waves we have surfed.
We did it!
In several earlier posts, we have mentioned that really the only way we are able to travel for so long is to be on a pretty slim budget, so we have to pick and choose how we want to spend our money. Every day presents so many oppoortunities, that we just can't do it all. However, we splurged to spend time with the elephants.
Elephants, both wild and domesticated, are a very important and interesting part of Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand. Elephant imagery is found in the oldest of artifacts, proving that elephants have been a part of their culture for a very long time. However, the elephant-human interface lies in a precarious place, and the future of wild elephants is at stake in much of these parts. One hundred years ago, there were up to 300,000 elephants in Thailand. Now there are only 5,000, and only about half of those live in the wild. The other half are domesticated “working” elephants, with a variety of jobs. The Thais have a brutal historical method of “breaking” a wild elephant to train them for working. Learning the details of that will forever be imprinted upon both of us whenever we see a “trained” elephant. Many of the domesticated elephants have historically been used for logging, but with the ban of logging in Thailand in 1989, these elephants found themselves out of work, so they were put to work in tourist jobs such as elephant trekking, shows and street begging. Not a good situation for these jungle animals. Elephants are very intelligent, social and emotional animals and the physical and emotional stress of living in Bangkok or carrying people around on their backs is a tough life.
We decided we'd like to learn more and visit a place that has a positive impact on elephant tourism, so we did our research and found ourselves booking a two night stay at the Elephant Nature Park, an hour north of Chiang Mai. Elephant Nature Park rescues orphaned, abused and unemployed elephants and gives them a happy life at the park. They also work to stop illegal logging and habitat destruction, and help educate both tourists and locals about the plight of Asian elephants. This was definitely not fitting in our budget, but we could certainly justify giving our money to an organization such as this.
Upon arriving at Elephant Nature Park we see there are elephants just cruising around the property. After we get settled with our small group of other visitors, we meet our guide we learn a few basic things like “do not stand between two elephants” (no kidding), or “try to not stand behind the elephant”. As you can imagine, there are several reasons for this second rule. We get our logistics for the day and learn the days schedule, like when we have lunch, which is after we feed the elephants their lunch.
Every elephant has a mahout that helps care for and watch over that elephant. Mahouts are a very ancient tradition and every domesticated elephant has one. When an elephant is rescued and brought to Elephant Nature Park, the mahout either comes as well, or a new mahout is found for the elephant. The park then pays the mahout a decent wage and provides housing for him so he, like the elephant, doesn't lose his job as well. Since some of the elephants arrived at the park with injuries or poor health, the park has an elephant medical clinic where the elephants come in for treatments for various ailments. It looks like a gas station. The park also employs over 70 locals from nearby villages and most of the food comes from the local area. At any given time, they have 250 workers and volunteers at the park, all for the care of 34 elephants. Each elephant consumes 10% or more of their body weight, each day. They eat the grasses and plants within the park but need supplemental food, so locally grown elephant feed arrives by the truckload. It is quite an impressive organization.
The park is set up so that you get to spend time with elephants in both a human setting, like feeding them pineapples, watermelon, bananas and pumpkins from a feeding platform, and out in the field, where you get to watch them behave naturally. The morning started with meeting and feeding a few of the older “ladies”, incredibly gentle, friendly beings. Standing next to a 10,000 pound animal is strange, and odd things come into your head…like footwear. What am thinking, wearing open toed shoes? Does it matter? This thing could kill me with a quick swing of the trunk. Later on, we joined in on one of elephants favorite things, besides eating, of course. Bathing! The park is situated on a river, and several times a day, the elephants bathe. And when you are standing next to one of these giant beasts with a built in water hose, you get wet. They love it and we loved it even more.
The following day, we went with our guide out in the field. Our guide gives us the basic rules again. However, this morning, he gives us another rule. “When I say 'run', I mean it, and we have to run all in the same direction.” We look down at our flip flop clad feet again. Hmmm. Ring, ring. Pick up the clue phone. Just not getting it. So we walk out onto the property, spend about two hours learning more about each elephant, petting and feeding a few, and watching other elephants from a distance. With one elephant, our guide says “Give her a kiss. She loves kisses.”
Soon we started to recognize each elephant's unique personality. Some are friendly and enjoy attention and some are troublemakers. Believe us when we say an elephant, if it wants to, can make a lot of trouble. At one point in the morning, while watching a family of seven (they are very family oriented, and will group themselves into adopted families), it happens. We have to run. A four year old boy elephant, the very mischievous troublemaker of the group, strays from the herd and looks at us, walks a bit, then starts into a jog right towards us. When elephants “jog”, it's like a solid run for us. Our guide tells us to run and we trip our way through matted grass and piles of elephant poo. It is a little scary, yet oddly exciting in a warped kind of way. From our new, distanced vantage point, we turn to watch the young elephant again. He has stopped, but actually looks slightly amused at the whole scenario, as does his mahout.
Being able to learn about these fascinating animals in this setting was such a great experience, and we are so glad that we dipped a bit too far into our budget to do this. If you want to learn more about the Elephant Nature Park visit the website at www.elephantnaturepark.org. You can buy lunch for an elephant!
From leopard sightings to skyscrapers, we are on the move, full backpacker style. The swell started pumping during our last few days at Arugam Bay, or as our Kiwi friend Tom says, “the surf was gangbusters.” We went on exotic tuk-tuk adventures everyday, pulling over to watch elephants grazing at dawn, finding great waves, and eating piles of banana/chocolate/coconut rotis. Sri Lanka treated us so well, that we have decided to return in August for the last month of our journey. So we've stored our surfboards there and are now traveling light and fast. Okay, maybe not so fast… But two small daypacks and one duffle is a dream compared to that PLUS three shortboards. Taking a break from surfing (this is a YEAR in trim, after all), was a tough decision, but we are already enjoying the ride.
We took the long route back to Colombo, traveling by train and bus to the southern tip, then up the west side of the island. Our first night was spent in Tissamaharama, where we embarked on another half day safari, with the hope of seeing a leopard, as this area has the world's highest concentration of these animals. We had heard good things about a particular driver, Eka Deka, so we requested him to guide us through the park. We climbed into a very old British Land Rover, and proceeded to seriously haul ass out of town, passing cars, cars, busses, and other wide eyed safari goers. Clearly this guy has been doing this for a while and was hell bent on getting us to see as much as possible. Eka Deka did not disappoint and we were rewarded with many animals, including a leopard sighting. We pulled up to about six other jeeps that spotted the leopard walking off the road and into the bush. As all the other tourists sat there, scanning the bush, Chris happened to glance behind us, just in time to see the big cat saunter into the road, yawn, then proceed to lay down in the middle of the road, while about 30 tourists faced the other direction. For a few minutes, it was the two of us quietly watching the leopard lounge in the road, truly an amazing animal.
From Tissamaharama, we spent the next night in Galle, a 1600's Dutch colonial fort built on a peninsula on the southwest coast of the island. Unlike anything else we have seen in Sri Lanka, the fort was packed with narrow brick streets, colonial architecture, and small cafes and shops, giving it a very European feel. The fort, being a fort and all, is surrounded by a huge wall that is entirely walkable. From Galle, we bus hopped our way up the west coast, stopping in dry season surf spots such as Hikkaduwa and Bentota. Not to disappoint, our last travel leg of the day was on the most jam packed, sticky, sweaty commuter train. Ah Sri Lanka, we can't wait to come back!
We are currently spending a few hectic days in wealthy, modern, shopaholic Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. A quite pleasing city, with outstanding architecture, excellent public transit, cheap digs, and some incredibly humid heat. Fortunately, there are tons of air conditioned malls to get a reprieve from the sweatfest. We've spent a few days here, living the city life, sightseeing, riding public transit, shopping, eating street food, getting our fix of western food (Krispy Kreme and Pizza Hut, anyone?), and just doing some good old fashioned people watching. A very diverse city, from local Chinese and Malay, Chinese tourists, European backpackers, Aussie trash (we'll touch on that in another post), and Muslim women, faces covered in full burqas, buying designer hand bags. Consumerism really does bring the world together!
Since we are now on the slackpacker trail, rather than the surfer trail, so we are definitely hanging with a different crowd. Our “backpacker inn” in KL is quite a scene with a rather eclectic mix of twenty something Euros, a few dubious looking middle aged men, and a Japanese guy who sits with his MacBook all day, looking like he is doing very important work. The place is a funky, multilevel place, covered in original oil paintings with paper thin walls between the rooms and friendly staff.
Time to leave the city before we get hooked on junk food!