Written by Ashley Macnie, Student Product Manager at travelcuts
Continued from Volunteering in Thailand Pt. 3
My second week in Huay Pakoot began with an early Monday morning hike. After only one week on project, we were deep into our daily routine and were raring to go by 7:30am. This morning, my group was going to be reunited with the same elephants from our very first trek, Dee Dee and Gureepo.
We departed Basecamp and drove off through the surrounding hills to our drop-off point. The landscape surrounding Huay Pakoot is quite breathtaking and surreal to experience firsthand. It was dry season during my visit, which meant that the rice fields were stupa-like in appearance with their empty, multi-level terraces. Dee Dee and Gureepo were camped in the forest beyond a barren corn field, so our hike began with a dry and dusty uphill trek through cornstalk remnants. Once we reached the edge of the forest, we welcomed the drop in temperature that the shade provided.
These two elephants really like to explore their forest abode, so once again we hiked in search of their whereabouts. At times these hikes can seem tough, but one must keep in mind the conditions that these elephants used to live in, and be thankful that for us as tourists and volunteers, roughing it in the bush means we get to see these creatures in their natural habitat.
After about thirty minutes of following the elephant trails, we were greeted with the familiar knocking of the wooden bells worn by the animals. We said our hellos to Dee Dee and Gureepo, and followed behind them as they foraged for food. At one point we watched as Dee Dee playfully stole food right out of Gureepo’s mouth. She didn’t seem to mind, however, and just carried on gathering her roughage.
In time we settled down and made ourselves comfortable as we watched and collected data on Dee Dee’s behaviour. He likes to wander, however, so it became a group effort to try to see what he was doing while he was above us on the hillside. One thing I’ll never forget is the calming effect you experience while observing the elephants in the forest. At times a silence falls over the group as we do nothing but watch. It’s definitely magical.
Eventually our time in the forest ran out and we were due to return to our meeting point in the corn field. We had some more Pakinaw lessons scheduled for the afternoon plus a presentation on elephant welfare, followed by a cooking lesson, so we were eager to get back to Base to enjoy some lunch and a cold bucket shower before our other activities began.
Each GVI intern and some staff members are tasked with sharing a presentation on a topic that’s related to their field of study, or one that is of general interest. During the two weeks that I was in the village, I saw presentations on biodiversity and ecology, but the one that stuck with me the most was dedicated to animal welfare, focussing on the Asian Elephant. It’s really quite impactful to learn about the intricacies of these animals alongside in-field observations.
Our treat for the evening was a cooking class with one of the homestay families of Huay Pakoot. We were split into groups and sent to various homes to help prepare and cook our dinner. The home I was to visit was known for its good meals, so we were all looking forward to the activity.
We were given the job of sous chef and chopped up bowls of different vegetables, with our homestay mom demonstrating how they were to be prepared. We then watched as she cooked our food over the fire, expertly tossing the veggies in the wok.
Once the food was ready, we sat around the different offerings and enjoyed our meal, while a group of elder women sat by and chatted away. It was a nice opportunity to experience dinner in a different home, and to meet more of the local villagers. By the time we were done, we were full and looking forward to a relaxing night on Base.
Prior to this day we heard some murmurings about a possible “River Day”, and this night it was finally confirmed. The next day we were going to take a break from hiking to drive to a local swimming spot for a day at the river!
The following morning we were driven by the mahouts along winding, bumpy roads until we reached our debarkation point. From here it was an easy hike through rice paddies and along dirt trails to our home for the day. We swam and sunbathed on the banks of the river and the mahouts cooked some lunch for us to enjoy. We were even accompanied by a small herd of water buffalo who took up the only patch of shade in the area (such smart creatures).
Not to sound motherly, but here’s a tip: apply sunblock, reapply often, and get someone to help if need be. My day in the sun ended with a bright red, keyhole-shaped patch on my back where I failed (i.e. forgot) to apply sunscreen to a spot not protected by my shirt. It was an uneasy sleep that night, to say the least.
Here’s another tip: hydration is your friend and helps to fend off sickness. After our day at the river, I woke the next morning with what felt like a head cold and had to miss my last elephant hike. I regrettably spent my last day on Base resting instead of saying goodbye to the elephants. I hope to return one day to experience it all again, but if you plan on volunteering with GVI, make the most of every moment! Once I was reunited with the group we all had some lunch and had an afternoon of free time.
After your first week of having dinner with your own homestay family, you have the option of inviting other volunteers to join you, or you can also visit with other families who are hosting GVI volunteers. On my last night in the village, eight to ten of us brought the dinner prepared by our own families to a fellow volunteer’s home to share potluck-style. It was honestly my best dinner on program! By this point we had all become good friends, so it was a bittersweet way to end the day. I also found out that the family we were visiting, which neighboured my own, owns the dog I had befriended during my time in the village.
Every day, without fail, this dog greeted me in the morning on my way up the hill from my homestay, and again in the evening on my way back down. You definitely become a part of the village during your stay on program, and the resident dogs make it easy to overcome your home sickness. I made sure to leave my leftover food for him to make sure he got spoiled.
My final day in Huay Pakoot came to an end, and as I returned to my bed for the night all I could think about was how much I was going to miss village life.
Read the last part Ashley’s adventure in Volunteering in Thailand Pt. 5!