Svet Neveu

This is the blog for Marc and my honeymoon in Thailand and Indonesia, 2016-2017!
  • Day49

    Death by...

    January 26, 2017 in the United States

    We're back from our epic trip! Now we're thinking about all the highlights and memorable moments. And moments of terror. We thought we'd share some of them now that we're safe and sound. We compiled a top 10 list of our scariest adventures:

    10. Moped taxis make us mopy

    We experienced ten serious minutes of terror without handlebars on two wheels! In Bangkok, some friends convinced us to take a moped taxi to our tree house hotel. They said it was fast and more direct than cars and metros. Marc and I each got on a different moped and off we went! Over speed bumps and zigzag streets with sharp turns. Without handlebars. Or a seat belt. Or a helmet. Or anything to grip except the driver. And those no passing lines on the road were only for decoration.

    9. Hot stone massage

    In Chiang Mai, we tried a variety of massages. But those hot stones?! No one said they were warm! And we wanted relaxation?! It wasn't some wimpy Western massage…

    8. Marc wished he checked his water shoes before showering

    At the Elephant Nature Park, our accommodations were basically “glamping” style (glamorous camping). We were one with nature. We had no choice because bugs were everywhere in the rooms. One day, Marc showered with his water shoes on and felt a rock inside his water shoe. Then that fist-sized(!!) rock started moving... and bit his toe! I heard him scream down the hall. Yes, spiders have eight eyes. Eight creepy eyes. Below is the spider picture with a wall sign for scale. I mean it when I say fist size.

    7. Lawnmower on the highway

    In Sukhothai our daily massage took longer than expected and we had a plane to catch to celebrate the new year in Bangkok. How bad did we want to catch that plane? Bad enough that we jumped on our only option: a tuk-tuk on the road to the next town. Marc literally jumped on it when the driver took off as we were still throwing our bags in the moped tricycle, before blasting at full lawnmower speed on the highway full of cars. And to say we used to be scared about seatbelts not working in the four-wheel taxi when we first arrived in Thailand...

    6. Tree vine attacks

    At Khao Yai national park, in the jungle, we saw a lot of wildlife. None of what we saw scared us: not the poisonous spiders (pic 2), giant termite nests (pic 3), giant ants, leeches, poisonous bright red, fuzzy caterpillars, centipedes, or wild elephants crossing the road and pushing cars out of the way. But those tree vines can jump out at you when you least expect it! They can knock you over if your hat is on too low and you aren't watching for them!

    5. Tree branch whack attack at high speed: duck!!!

    We thought those vines were dangerous until we got to Koh Pra Thong island for the turtle project. Then we saw some killer trees. We took several rides in the back of a pick-up truck to get between the village, pier, and beaches. I mean in the back of the truck, not safe in the passenger seat protected by windows. Down the dirt roads through the rugged savannah. Savannahs aren't exactly landscaped. Those low lying branches took many good whacks at our heads and necks! Duck!

    4. Blind, giant coconut beetles

    It's a lawnmower! It's a bird! It's a cockroach! No!!! It's a coconut beetle. They look like silver cockroaches with wings. If you're lucky, they'll fly into a wall, crash, buzz like crazy, fall over upside down, and flap their wings until they turn over, get right up, and fly into the same wall. Over and over. If you're unlucky, they'll cling on your shirt and just hang there to bug you. Pun intended. Because they are blind. And have no purpose in life.

    3. Hornbill Hill

    On Koh Pra Thong, we had to climb this very steep, slippery hill to observe and monitor turtles feeding in the water. We had to pull ourselves up ropes to get there. We didn't see any hornbills or turtles, but plenty of deadly dropoffs into the rocky water below. Better not fall asleep during the two-hour afternoon observations...

    2. Beach tractor scares

    Sometimes at the turn-back point of our morning beach walk, we met with the Thai guy from the nearby village in charge of patrolling the other half of the beach on his tractor. Usually he motioned us to turn around and go back as there was nothing to see, but this time he screamed “turtle! Turtle!” and signaled us to climb in his tractor. That is, the wooden plank hanging behind his seat. Marc almost got his foot caught in the engine belt during the ride, but if that didn't get you, either the smoke or the hot gasoline spilling out will.

    1. Morning joy ride

    For our first morning beach patrol for turtle nests, we had to take a motorcycle before dawn as we were leaving from the village. We quickly discovered that the only thing working on the dashboard was the fuel gauge. In particular, the headlight wasn't. So we had to use a flashlight instead. Good thing we couldn't see much around, we would later discover in the daylight that the bridge we crossed was full of holes and had partially collapsed. See the horror in my face while riding one down a sketchy dirt road in pic 4 (no holes visible though!)

    Against all odds, we made it home safe and sound! Many, many thanks for your wedding gifts that made this trip possible. We got scared, amazed, educated, inspired, and we hope we made a difference volunteering and supporting the local economy whenever possible.
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  • Day48

    Les tortues

    January 25, 2017 in Thailand

    (This is a translation of the turtle post. See last post for pics.)

    On a débarqué sur Koh Phra Thong un peu comme les alliés en 44, sans armes mais avec bagages. Le "longtail boat", dont l'hélice est au bout d'une perche reliée à un moteur de voiture reconverti qui fait un bruit de tous les diables, nous a débarqués dans la mangrove à cause de la marée basse. On a dû patauger jusqu'à l'île où on a fini par rencontrer Lesley, de notre projet Naucrates (www.naucrates.org), qui nous a amenés au village de Pak Chok.

    Pak Chok est l'un des trois villages de Koh Phra Thong ("l'île du Bouddha d'or"), pourtant l'une des plus grandes îles de Thaïlande (15 x 10 km). Il a été rasé lors du tsunami du 26 décembre 2004. L'aide de l'ambassade de Suisse et du Lions Club à permis de reconstruire une école et des dizaines de maisons identiques à l'européenne, alignées au cordeau à l'abri des vagues, et de rebaptiser Pak Chok, modestement, en "Lions Village". Tout ça sans vraiment demander leur avis aux habitants, qui ont pour la plupart préféré ne pas revenir et chercher du travail sur la côte. Aujourd'hui 10% des maisons sont habitées par 40 personnes, l'école ne sert plus, et Lions Village est dans l'ensemble un village fantôme.

    On y a passé 2 nuits pour rénover la déco du petit musée aménagé dans deux des maisons, destiné à promouvoir les activités de conservation des tortues marines et du reste de l'environnement de l'île. Le musée avait besoin d'un coup de jeune pour attirer les quelques touristes un peu aventuriers (Koh Phra Thong n'est pas reliée à électricité ou l'eau courante). On a dormi chez Pa Nee, 72 ans, qui tient le resto (une table). Sachant que c'était notre voyage de noces, elle a décoré notre chambre (un lit avec une branche en guise de penderie) avec du tulle et des roses en plastique, c'était adorable !

    Chaque matin à l'aube, on a patrouillé les 15 km de plages désertes qui bordent l'ouest de l'île pour voir si une tortue était venue pondre pendant la nuit. C'est facile d'identifier leurs traces, comme si un tracteur était sorti de l'eau, mais à notre arrivée il n'y avait pas encore eu de nid de tout l'hiver. Il y a 40 ans, elles venaient pondre presque toutes les nuits, mais aujourd'hui la surpêche et les bouteilles en plastique les tuent en masse ou les empêchent de trouver un coin cozy sur le sable.

    Pour atteindre les plages depuis Pak Chok, c'était très pratique de prendre une petite mobylette avec "side car", un caddie rajouté qui permet, avec les deux sièges de la mob', de transporter jusqu'à 6 personnes sur les chemins sablonneux. Le premier matin il faisait encore nuit noire et on a conduit à la lampe de poche, le phare de la mob' ne marchant pas, ce qui nous a évité de voir les trous dans le pont. Du coup on était très zen pour contempler le lever de soleil entre les cocotiers.

    On a aussi fait des observations systématiques d'une petite zone de la mer où les tortues ont l'habitude de manger, installés sur les falaises d'une colline qui a sauvé la vie de dizaines de personnes lors du tsunami, où les survivants sont restés piégés plusieurs jours. Ces observations font partie d'une étude à long terme sur le comportement des tortues, et comme les patrouilles matinales, ont lieu tous les jours de novembre à avril depuis 20 ans.

    Après deux jours, on a déménagé chez Nok, qui gère des bungalows construits par ses soins au centre de l'île, d'où on peut accéder aux plages à pied. Comme l'île est très plate et sablonneuse, la végétation au centre n'est pas très luxuriante et on se croirait dans la savane. Depuis la plateforme où on s'est délectés de la cuisine thaï de Lamion, la femme de Nok, en contemplant un paysage africain et en écoutant la musique reggae de Job 2 Do (lien dans le post de Svet), il y avait une ambiance hétéroclite et beaucoup plus sympa qu'à Pak Chok.

    Le reste du temps, on a profité des massages sur la plage, des fonds marins à couper le souffle, et des smoothies au lait de coco avec notre petit groupe de volontaires. Le paradis, si on est prêt à se faire cogner au dîner par des gros scarabées "noix de coco" presque aveugles (les pauvres), se doucher avec les grenouilles, et traverser un bras de mer à gué matin et soir pour rentrer (gare aux grandes marées !).

    Notre semaine s'est terminée en beauté, avec la découverte du premier nid de la saison près du village de Thung Dap, à la pointe sud. On a pu s'assurer que les oeufs étaient bien là et regarder les gens jouer à une sorte de poker local en attendant que le reste des volontaires arrive pour mesurer les dimensions du nid et sa position. Dans deux mois à l'éclosion, d'autres volontaires se relaieront toute la nuit pour s'assurer que chacun des 100 bébés tortues descendent jusqu'à la mer sains et saufs. A force, peut être que les tortues reviendront pondre plus souvent.
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  • Day47

    Proof of aliens

    January 24, 2017 in Thailand

    We have traveled through Thailand for over a month now and are on our way home. We thought we'd tell you about the aliens we found in this country, quietly lurking among us... and not just once! But four times!

    The first alien we spotted was at Jim Thompson Farm in the eastern (Isaan ethnicity) part of Thailand. We wanted to learn about the legendary man who is credited for making Thai silk so famous so we visited his farm.

    Jim Thompson was an American working for the government. The legend says he was really a spy. He opened a Thai silk company, made a fortune, and then disappeared! Some say he got in trouble and killed by enemy spies, and others say he got hurt in the jungle and died. Regardless of what happened to him, his farm was very interesting. We frolicked through flower fields (see pic), pumpkin patches, and even learned about the full life cycle of the silk worm! Or that's what they wanted us to believe.... Those worms didn't fool us. Judge for yourself in the second pic. They were totally extraterrestrial!!

    The second specimen comes from the island where we did our turtle project, Koh Pra Thong. There we met Barry, an independent marine biologist from Canada who helps out with the turtle project duties. (Fans of Big Bang Theory will say there are lots of similarities between him and Sheldon Cooper. He could totally pass for Sheldon's father!!) He studies a fascinating creature called a sea cucumber for it's economic potential in the Thai food market. Locals eat these bizarre creatures and trade them for profit. We thought they were spiky little blobs with necks. But not from this planet.

    The third specimen comes from a national park called Khao Sok. There, we spent a night in the lake in a raft house. (The last pic shows our front yard, the lake. Our lodge was floating in the land by buoys and we could just jump in for a swim anytime we wanted.) We got to canoe from the mainland an hour into the lake and took a tour of the wildlife on the spectacular limestone walls and jungles that make up tons of little islands in the lake. We saw hornbills and langur monkeys. We took a special flat bamboo raft to a cave (see pic)! We saw bats, "bacon" style stalactites, and even an alien hiding within the formations. The picture below is very convincing that we found ET.

    We even ate aliens in Bali. The locals call it fiddlehead fern. We can it a green little three-finger alien that looks like a leaf and tastes delicious with grated coconut!
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  • Day47

    Turtle Conservation on Koh Pra Thong

    January 24, 2017 in Thailand

    The almost final stop of our trip was to Koh Pra Thong (which means "Island of the Golden Buddha") to work on a turtle conservation project. And what a week it was!! First, we arrived by boat (well, a lawnmower engine powering a canoe) from the mainland onto the island.

    We arrived on what seemed to be a deserted island! Clean beach, and nothing but palm trees as far as the eye could see, dotted with coconuts. Not even a sign of one person around.

    When the boat arrived, the tide was too low to make it the pier. So we pulled what I call "a mermaid" to get onto land. This is my glamorous name for walking to land through knee deep water! Yes, with all of our luggage. Little did we know we'd be pulling mermaids a bit more than we would have liked this week.

    The island of Pra Thong only has three villages with stretches of beaches around the coast and a dry savannah in the center. Pak Chok village is the one where our project, Naucrates, has been headquartered. See the pic below of our group at the HQ spot. Also pictured there is our trusty ride visible that gets us around between beaches, ports, and villages: our motorcycle! (Well, it's more like a lawnmower-powered scooter with a shopping cart attached that seats four comfortably.)

    The story of Pak Chok was very overwhelming for us. Before 2004, it was a lively, modest-sized Thai fisherman's village. After the fateful tsunami of 2004, it was different. Three pulses of tens of meter-sized waves hit on a quiet Sunday morning that year, and this village was devastated.

    Hundreds of villagers died, and the rest relocated for fear of another disaster, spirits and ghosts that might haunt them (part of their Buddhist beliefs), or lack of work. Today, the village population is 40. Yes, only 40 people total. (The other two villages were not hit half as hard and did not loose many people. Today, the emergency system is much better and the village was relocated back to prevent damage if another one hits.)

    The Swiss embassy and other rescue groups rushed in to provide aid and rebuild. But the rows of European style square houses neatly aligned down the street that they built just didn't get filled up. The street (and there is only one main street in the village) is now full of deserted houses and empty land that serves as a constant reminder of the event. And we had to stay there two days with the constant reminder of this ghost town.

    Our group spent two nights in Pak Chok village. Volunteers were hosted in the very basic white houses. Ours was the best, though. PaNee, our host, is the village restaurant owner. (Her place seats only eight! She keeps the place going all by herself at age 72!) She heard two of the volunteers were on a honeymoon. So we got a honeymoon suite! That means a tiny room with nothing but a mattress inside and a bathtoom downstairs (past the frogs and beetles) with nothing but a ceramic hole in the ground for a toilet (an Asian toilet), a shower head that doubles as a sink, and a bucket for flushing... but hey, at least it was decorated with pink lace and flowers! She even made me a bridal bouquet!!

    The founder of our turtle project, Monica, was on the island that Sunday of the tsunami. She and many locals saw the wave come. They all ran up "Hornbill Hill", fighting the steep, slippery slopes and sharp branches, and pulling on ropes in some spots, and were saved from the waves crashing at their ankles. Most survived because they reached tall hills quickly enough.

    It turns out that Hornbill Hill is tall enough to also see far out on the right beach where turtles feed. What was the haven for survivors is now a haven of hope for turtles. When we see turtles feeding in the rocks in the water, that lets us know they successfully found their way back to the place they were born (female turtles always return to their own nesting spot to lay eggs) to restart the cycle and lay their own eggs. We took turns observing for turtles in the water as one of our main daily volunteer activities and noted the conditions in which we saw them. This is part of a long term survey for the project where we monitor their behaviors. We only saw one green little head pop up once during our whole week. See the pic below of us observing there (that was almost our whole group pictured). The angel statue in the pic is a memorial to a baby who was taken by the tsunami.

    Another activity we did daily was monitor the beaches every morning (3 hour walks before breakfast!) for any egg nests laid the night before. These need to be monitored and protected by volunteers so that when they hatch (about two months later) they can get as many babies to the water as possible. And so they don't get eaten by locals. We had many disappointing mornings during our week. It's not as easy as it sounds to walk on super soft sand in the sun all morning. Especially not when we had to pull many mermaids to cross from one part of the beach to the next, sometimes in waist deep water! See the picture of me and John, one of the team leaders, swimming to our end point! (Lots of major world news were happening the week we were in Koh Pra Thong, but for us, high tide times were the main dinner table discussion with the group!) :)

    Our last day of the project, we reached the end of our beach and I said, it's hopeless, no one has seen a nest all season. Let's go back early! I'm tired!
    And sure enough, a local man (who surveys another section of the beach daily for a Thai turtle rehab center in partnership with our group) waited for us in his tractor with good news. When he saw me and Marc, he yelled "Turtle! Turtle!" ( That's the only word he spoke in English.) He insisted that we get into the back of his tractor (on a wooden board that sat the two of us somehow!) to see the nest. Or at least that's what we thought.

    He actually took us to his village, Thung Dap, to feed us breakfast first (rice and shrimp soup) and pick up the village boys who wanted to come along. We took an epic ride to the nest with practically the whole village coming along in a wagon pulled by the tractor! We even got to see their favorite pastime in action: card games with serious money at stake! Most of them spoke no English but we really appreciated their hospitality and seeing their simple way of life.

    We reached the nest, and the villagers and even two French resort tourists joined us in excitement. Our group took measurements and made notes to add to the long term database on turtle activity. See pic below of villagers, kids, two tourists, and our volunteer group all huddled around a turtle nest taking pics and measurements.

    We also contributed to the turtle museum. Unfortunately, after the tsunami and instability of the project that followed it, the museum is not in good shape. This, plus flooding every rainy season causes the need for lots of paint and maintenance. So we got to use our creativity!! We painted sea creatures on the walls and Marc added a huge bright "museum" sign (in English and Thai!) to make it more inviting and attractive to visitors. See my little lantern fish on the walls in the picture.

    In the end, we still got to have a fun time. Between the beach walks and long observation sessions, we passed a few resorts on the way. One even had a "massage center" (an outdoor bungalow right on the beach by the hammocks)! See pic below. Also, we took one day off of turtle duty and took a boat ride to the Surin Islands to go snorkeling. We have never seen so many corals as we did in those waters!

    We also had a chance to take a cooking class at another lodge where we were housed, Nok's place in the savannah by the beach. Play Nok's favorite song to get a feel for the kind of guy he is (a Thai hippie who loves reggae, which he played at dinner every night: https://youtu.be/BVzwoqde15g. This is now our theme song of the week. Doo doo doo doo da dum...!). Nok built a restaurant and some bungalows (all mostly by himself). Our project partners with him. He lodges and feeds the turtle volunteers. Lucky for us because everyone considers his wife Lamion the best cook on the island! Nok and Lamion showed us how to make authentic Thai fish cakes with cucumber salad, tempura fried mushrooms, and Massaman curry! This was our third cooking class on our trip and we still managed to learn lots of new recipes.

    At the end of the week, we managed to rescue one turtle safely back into the water!! Well, a land turtle stranded in the savannah behind Nok's place...not exactly what we imagined! It got lost and suffered a dog bite. Nok delivered him back to his pond. Hey, at least we can safely say we did what we came to do: rescue turtles!

    --

    French text is posted separately.
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  • Day37

    Mimpi

    January 14, 2017 in Indonesia

    We arrive at the Monkey temple in Bali. It is home to the Monkey Forest grounds and houses about 600 wild but friendly macaques. It also houses three Hindu temples, all apparently constructed around 1350. Marc gets a friendly inspection by one particularly curious monkey in search of snacks. (See pic.)

    Then we upgrade our view to another temple: the 16th century Tanah Lot temple -- in the sea. This is a holy place to worship the Balinese sea gods and located in a gorgeous rocky beach. We sip dragon fruit and avocado smoothies and watch the waves crash on the rocks. We then see another with an impressive eleven-tiered palm fiber roof in Lake Bratan, also to worship the Hindu sea gods. See pic.

    Then we visit a jaw-dropping site that stretches as far as the eye can see: a site of rice paddies, called Jatilauwih. But not just any rice paddies. Six hundred hectares of hills and terraces of rice paddies, with greenery and water creating a surreal and artistic contrast on the landscape. Its historic usage, cultural value, and beauty all make it a world heritage site. See pic.

    We then arrive at a coffee plantation resort in north central Bali, Indonesia called Munduk Moding Plantation, or MMP. We get greeted with a welcome fruit drink, a brightly colored flower arrangement we can wear around our neck and a chocolate strawberry honeymoon cake waiting the fridge. Our candle lit bungalow dinner overlooking the sunset already awaits us.

    We then spend half a day watching coffee bean processing demos of both modern and traditional methods (roasting in a machine that takes only 15 minutes to perfectly roast the beans, and the hand mixing method on a clay pot on a fire, that takes about an hour). We even get to help grind the beans (see pic).

    Then we learn about a very special coffee: coffee ("kopi" in Indonesian) luwak. This is the rarest coffee in the world. It is made from beans eaten and pooped out of a civet (a kind of wild fox)! The beans are collected from their poop, cleaned, and processed the same way as the others. But the civet digests the coffee bean's skin, creating a unique flavor. We drink coffee luwak every day during our stay here. Because why not?

    At MMP, we find the infinity pool, something new to us but very sought-after in the world of luxury travel. This pool is built on the edge of a hill, designed to look like it goes on forever into the clouds. We swim in the clouds!

    We go to the spa. We get covered in chocolate scrub one day and and a lulur treatment the the next. Lular is a scrub made of fragrant herbs (turmeric, jasmine, sandalwood, rice powder), yogurt, and oils that was traditionally used by royalty in Java since the 17th century.

    We need to rinse off, so we go to our room where there's a flower petal bath and a bottle of wine waiting for us. Not once but three days in a row.

    Over the top? Probably just a little. But hey, you have a honeymoon only once. And why not make it a "mimpi"? Mimpi is the name of the resort's restaurant. It means "dream" - a perfect metaphor for the second portion of our stay in Bali.

    --

    Après Sarinbuana, on a terminé notre séjour à Bali à Munduk au nord de l'île, dans une luxueuse plantation de café. Ici, on s'est senti en lune de miel comme dans les films : bains de pétales de roses, soins enveloppants au cacao (maintenant je sais ce que ça fait que d'être une tartine de Nutella), et le top du top, nage dans la piscine à débordement, où on est soit parmi les nuages, soit dans l'horizon volcanique si le temps est clair, au soleil couchant... Ça change du nettoyage des bouses d'éléphants :-)

    On a appris plein de choses sur la culture et fabrication du café et dégusté le délicieux kopi luwak. Le luwak est une sorte de chat sauvage qui mange des grains de café. Une fois récupéré dans ses crottes, les grains acquièrent un goût exceptionnel, qu'on a pu confirmer.

    On en a profité un maximum en restant sur place, ayant déjà visité, pendant notre séjour à Sarinbuana, des temples en pierre volcanique (y compris un investi par les singes qui ont essayé de me chiper ma bouteille d'eau et mon appareil photo), des rizières en terrasse à perte de vue, un village de pêcheurs aux bateaux colorés sur le sable blanc au coucher du soleil, et traversé plein de villages.

    Après avoir rechargé les batteries, on est revenus en Thaïlande où on s'apprête à partir sauver les tortues sur une île (presque) déserte.
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  • Day33

    "If you change nothing..."

    January 10, 2017 in Indonesia

    What if you lived in a place where...

    1. The pink and purple sunrise through the palms and curly ferns (see pic) woke you up every morning right in your front window, visible straight from your bed, and a volcanic mountain top were visible through the left window;

    2. You took your shower (outdoors, in a naturally green landscape!) with products locally made with all local, natural herbal ingredients, and the water went into a local waste water treatment used to fertilize banana trees;

    3. Openess were a part of life in many ways. There were no locks on doors because there were no criminals. There were barely any walls because the natural mountain breeze tops A/C and you can see the sunrise more clearly that way;

    4. The perfect breakfast consisted of fried bananas and chocolate or passion fruit ice cream, and coffee, all grown in the back yard;

    5. You were surrounded by a dense, fertile "food forest," far from the polluted city 700 meters above sea level on a volcanic mountain. It had over 100 edible plants and spices like vanilla, nutmeg, cloves, pepper, cocoa, papaya, edible ferns, snake skin fruit(!), etc. providing abundant ingredients for meals that looked beautiful on top of being super fresh, organic, and healthy;

    6. Everything around you were built from sustainable building materials (bamboo, palm leaves, etc., including your bed sheets!) which didn't dominate the landscape and were based on permaculture principles. And they even featured traditional wood carving door and window frames. (See pic of our romantic dinner set in a bamboo gazebo overlooking the mountains and fireflies.)

    7. Fair wages, new skill development, talent nourishment, and ecosystem awareness were important parts of the training for staff working for you. And business profits plus donations went directly to supporting the local village through college scholarships, ecosystem conservation projects, trekking guide associations, tree planting, and school improvements;

    8. There were no need for dishwashers because banana leaves served as vessels for streaming dishes (creating very moist chicken!) and as decorative plates, too, and could be composted afterwards;

    9. Feedback for improvement were taken very seriously, since locals attend regular village meetings and provide input, including on ecosystem conservation;

    10. Ecotourism meant something, showing that is possible to create a business that provides support and income for the long term, not just short term gains that destroy habitats;

    11. Insects and crawly creatures, even though brightly colored and sometimes the size of your first, were not at all harmful to you or even something you want to fear or kill. Rather, they were seen as a sign of a healthy ecosystem that composts garden waste, and effectively cleaned up lizard poop in your room;

    12. Massage (with sounds of cicadas chirping in the background) was a part of daily life, including the opportunity to learn the technique and practice on your partner;

    13. Vacation didn't mean just luxury. It also meant self-improvement, through workshops such as language class, traditional offerings and costumes, cooking class (see pics of the last two below!), and learning through locals who took you on day trips and treks. And they didn't just teach you history about a temple or scenic lake; they shared wisdom with you about their life and village and then you learned it was because they were also part time farmers, physics teachers, town hall leaders, and bird conservation activists!

    14. A social and economic model existed to inspire all who visited about traditional culture, stimulating the local economy, and sustainable life in harmony with nature, all at the same time?

    Well, this place isn't fictional. Heaven exists on Earth and it's called Sarinbuana Eco Lodge, in the mountains of central Bali island, Indonesia. This lodge is the first of its kind, built from scratch by an Australian couple to be dream retreat in paradise. It's in a village of 200 locals, supporting 25 village families directly and many others indirectly (see #7 above).

    We experienced every one of these things during our weeklong stay here, and we left feeling more inspired, pampered, and nourished then the rest of our month traveling. This place shows it's possible to create a sustainable, eco business and do it in a beautiful, inspiring way that benefits the ecosystem, the local community, the staff, and of course, anyone who has the pleasure of staying here.

    Sarinbuana is a true model for the future of our planet. The lodge bathroom has a sign on it that encapsulated the way we felt here: "if you change nothing, nothing will change." The builders of this place had a vision to redefine extravagant, wasteful, harmful "luxury" tourism and to build a small heaven on Earth. Well, they accomplished this and inspire visitors like us to go home and make a change too.

    We're excited about our upcoming week back in Thailand to do some turtle conservation, but Sarinbuana will likely remain the highlight of our trip.

    --

    Imaginez un endroit où...

    1. On est réveillé par des ciels flamboyants au lever du soleil, et en tournant la tête on peut contempler le volcan par la fenêtre de gauche (en général, on s'est recouchés après jusqu'au petit déj),

    2. On se douche dehors avec du savon naturel, et l'eau sert ensuite à irriguer les bananiers, caféiers, et cacaoyers du jardin pour faire pousser ledit petit déj (et ses assiettes en feuille de bananier),

    3. Au total, une centaine d'autres plantes alimentaires poussent dans ce jardin d'Eden : vanille, fruit de la passion, papaye, fruit de "peau de serpent", muscade, fougères pour les salades...,

    4. Loin d'être considérés comme nuisibles, les insectes (parfois gros comme le poing et souvent très colorés), dedans et dehors, sont le signe que l'écosystème est en bonne condition,

    5. Les habitations sont dissimulées dans la forêt, construites en bambou, palme, et autres matériaux qui poussent sur place (ainsi que tout à l'intérieur, jusqu'aux draps !), ouvertes sur le monde : les portes n'ont pas de serrures et les murs sont ajourés pour rafraîchir les intérieurs par convection, et le bois des encadrements est entièrement entièrement sculpté par tradition,

    6. Tout le village participe aux activités du lodge : cuisine, jardinage, excursions, treks, massages, activités artistiques..., est payé correctement, et chacun peut perfectionner ses talents ou apprendre un nouveau job, tout ça dans le respect de l'environnement, les profits sont réinvestis dans l'école, des bourses pour l'université, la reforestation, etc., et les gérants du lodge assistent aux réunions du village pour avoir leur feedback,

    7. Les massages font parti du quotidien, et on peut apprendre ou perfectionner sa technique,

    8. Le cadre est non seulement enchanteur, mais aussi source d'inspiration, tout comme les conversations avec les guides et taxis, qui sont tout à la fois cultivateurs et profs de physique à l'université !

    Tout ça existe à Sarinbuana, sur les pentes du Mt Batukaru à Bali, où un couple d'Australiens s'est expatrié il y a 15 ans et a développé cet Eco Lodge sur un terrain où il ne restait plus que quelques cocotiers. On en est repartis reposés, inspirés, et impressionnés par la société Balinaise qui a compris depuis longtemps comment vivre en harmonie sur une petite terre aux ressources limitées, sans vraies disparités, mais pourtant avec une culture phénoménale qui investit tous les aspects du quotidien. Il nous reste beaucoup à apprendre d'eux et changer nos habitudes et décisions pour réussir la même expérience à l'échelle de la planète !

    On a hâte de démarrer notre semaine de conservation des tortues marines en Thaïlande, mais ce séjour à Sarinbuana était probablement le meilleur moment du voyage.
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  • Day27

    Recipe for wild eggplant curry

    January 4, 2017 in Thailand

    Sorry, this is not a story about gourmet Thai cuisine. It's actually the story of rugged jungle survival.

    We have just emerged from Khao Yai National Park, Thailand's first national park and home to thousands of unique species of plants, animals, and alien life forms (the two astrobiologists can confirm that). It was like something out of Tarzan meets The Jungle Book: thick green bushes, hundred-year-old-trees with new trees engulfing them, and curly, thick vines to swing from all over the place. See pic 1.

    We survived this two day jungle adventure thanks to two fantastic tour guides/drivers/expert wildlife spotters: Sonya and Pong. We began our adventure with a night tour of a bat cave! Not just any bat cave. One with a special Buddha shrine built inside the cave (see pic of Marc standing in front of it, pic 2) and fist-sized centipedes crawling all over! We even saw the bats swarm out at sunset and fly to the far mountain tops to hunt for food (mostly insects). The swarm was probably thousands of bats and looked like a dark cloud filling the sky!

    The next day, Sonya and Pong took us on a day-long wildlife spotting adventure. We saw everything from wild deer to 70 cm long Black Giant Squirrels jumping through the treetops to two types of monkeys: pink tail macaques and gibbons. Macaques love to eat tourists' food and were often right in the road just waiting for treats! Sadly, they were also eating plastic trash left on the ground by inconsiderate tourists. The gibbons were way up in the treetops and harder to spot. But Pong spotted a few! We saw some rare and colorful birds including a barbet, parakeet, Myna, several hornbills (some species make a loud hurricane sound when they flap their wings), and a woodpecker (which we just heard). The bird pics you see here are taken through the lens of Pong's special birding telescope. We also saw a diversity of colorful bugs including poisonous spiders, and even a moth coming out if it's cocoon, dangling on a single string of silk, right at eye level!

    We also took quite an intrepid hike through some very steep and slippery terrain to get a glimpse of the last wild crocodile left at Khao Yai. But after our James Bond and Bondette adventure, we did it! We found him!

    We even saw a wild elephant! It was busy getting to a salt lick for a snack and decided to cross the main park road, which cause an hour-long traffic jam and required an army's help. No, literally. Thai park rangers are military officials and several trucks of them had to block the roads so tourists wouldn't startle the elephant and so it could cross safely.

    We also saw a huge diversity of vegetation and fungi, like the strange "Medusa" fungus growing on one bush, as Sonya named it. It was proof of alien life!! See pic 5.

    If we would have been stranded in the jungle, we would have been able to get by, though! Wild ginger grows abundantly. So do cinnamon trees, whose bark can be dried to make cinnamon sticks. So do wild eggplant (which look like tiny green berries). And so do wild fig trees (which the park calls wildlife's restaurants, open 24/7, since they produce tiny red figs for many of the park's birds and animals). So there you have it - a recipe for jungle style survival food: wild eggplant curry! Top it off with a refreshing beverage: water that can be sucked out if you cut open a thick vine.

    --

    La Thaïlande à une forme de cœur avec une ficelle en bas. A Chiang Mai on était dans la moitié gauche du cœur, maintenant on est dans la moitié droite pour trois jours. Cette région de l'est, qu'on appelle Isaan, est plutôt pauvre par rapport au reste de la Thaïlande et a une culture assez distincte. On a pu faire l'expérience de la délicieuse cuisine locale, avec des assaisonnements moins sucrés (pas de lait de coco), des poissons de rivière, etc.

    On a d'abord visité le parc national de Khao Yai ("Grande Montagne"), qui comme son nom l'indique englobe du relief, et donc une végétation très variée selon l'altitude (max. 1200 m), même si à nos yeux inexpérimentés c'est jungle à tous les étages.

    La jungle abrite plein d'animaux exotiques, et avec l'aide de deux guides à l'oeil avisé, on a vu des perroquets, des "hornbills" (sorte de toucan), des macaques qui s'approchent un peu trop des visiteurs trop contents de leur donner des snacks dont ils n'ont pas besoin, des gibbons beaucoup plus difficiles à apercevoir en haut des arbres, un éléphant sauvage qui a choisi de prendre la route pour aller dîner, paralysant le trafic dans le parc, et même le dernier crocodile du parc (espèce en danger critique), qui va sûrement être déplacé après avoir attaqué des visiteurs le week-end dernier. Sans compter tout un tas d'insectes plus ou moins dangereux ou aliens, d'arbres immenses, et d'autres plantes dont on peut faire des currys ou des meubles en rotin.

    Aujourd'hui on a visité la ferme de soie de Jim Thompson, un agent secret américain reconverti homme d'affaires dans les années 60 et dont la disparition mystérieuse à fait de lui une légende locale. La ferme, un hot spot pour les touristes thaïlandais, est assez iconoclaste : on apprend comment la soie est fabriquée et on voit même des vers à soie en action, mais il y a aussi d'immenses champs de fleurs champêtres, de fausses citrouilles géantes, et, heureusement pour nous, une reconstitution de village d'Isaan et des métiers ancestraux très instructive.

    On s'apprête maintenant à passer l'équateur (pour la première fois !) demain matin, direction Bali, mais ça se mérite : réveil à 2h30... À bientôt depuis l'hémisphère sud !
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  • Day25

    Thailand's first capital and New Year

    January 2, 2017 in Thailand

    We spent two days in Sukhothai, Thailand's first capital. It's name means, "dawn of happiness" and celebrates the kingdom that existed there as the beginning of the Thai heritage we know today.

    Sukhothai is a grouping of thirteenth to fifteenth century Buddhist temples, stupas, assembly halls, and Buddha icons (including one that is nine meters tall!) inside a historical park -- 26 total temples. There are beautiful lakes with lotus flowers all around and lots of exotic greenery where you can stop for a picnic. You will notice in three pictures that the temple tops are shaped like a bulb with a pointed tip. This is a very important Sukhothai style of architecture that symbolises the Buddha's thoughts blossoming out of the ground and into clarity like a lotus flower when he achieved enlightenment.

    It was so scenic here that Marc was proud to relocate the exact spot of the cover photo of our guide book (see pic)!

    The town is grouped into the old city and the new city. The old city is the most concentrated in temples and is surrounded by guesthouses and souvenir shops. The new city is farther away and mainly hotels and higher-end restaurants. Luckily, we booked a cute little guesthouse at the heart of the old city. This allowed us to rent bikes and tour the entire temple complex conveniently, since the park is about the size of a college campus.

    Biking was not completely a stroll in the park, though! In Thailand, people drive in the left side of the road. So we had to really focus hard on riding backwards!

    Inside the park, the ruins reminded me of a mix between Chichen Itza ruins in Mexico and the tourist atmosphere of St. Augustine, Florida. Unlike the many temples we saw in Chiang Mai and Bangkok (see pics in previous posts) that retained their construction, and were very bling-blinged out, painted gold (very modestly!), with lots of "disco" style glass tiles around the roofs, making them very shiny, colorful, and somewhat overwhelming, the temples of Sukhothai were mostly reduced to their bare bones brick structures. They have been restored but many of the roofs and other structures had been lost over time. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so restoration, greenery, and well-kept maintenance were unsurprising. What was surprising was how calm and peaceful the park was, even at high tourist season! It was so calm that we enjoyed sunrise overlooking the temples and lake (pic below) and a sunset picnic practically all alone. Great place to see the last sunrise and sunset of 2016, no?

    Something else added to the peaceful and calm atmosphere of this place: our daily hour-long oil massages at Rose Massage. ;)

    After sundown, the park put on an impressive light and music show. Lanterns were lit in the trees and floated in the lakes, and colorful lights shine on the temples (similar to the evening light show in Chartres, France).

    We ended our visit to Sukhothai on New Year's Eve and flew to Bangkok for part two of our adventures there and to celebrate my birthday -- in class!! We flew on a boutique airline, meaning we were greeted with a coffee and cake buffet -- at our gate?! And instead of those sad, dry nuts you get on most airlines, we got gourmet lunch -- on a one hour flight!

    The classiness continued throughout the night. We arrived at the Sheraton for a special dinner experience, Dining in the Dark (DID). This is not an experience unique to Thailand (in fact, I heard of it in San Francisco) but we finally decided to go for it since we've been wanting to do it for a while. Plus, the prices of food in Thailand are so low that it was worth it.

    DID is literally completely in the dark -- not even a candle or night light. You are guided by a blind server into your seats, making the experience even more special. You are guided through a four course meal of the chef's choosing, and your server instructs you where to find your utensils and even how to finish constructing the meal. We had to shake our cocktails and combine the soup broth into the bowl of tempura crab --- completely in pitch black darkness!! We did wear an apron, so don't worry about the mess, lol. We ended up mostly eating with our hands because utensils only get you so far when you can't see what's on them...
    Now that's classy!! Below is a photo after we DID it!

    We rang in the new year and my birthday at a cocktail lounge with a live band, dancing, and Thai-spiced cocktails (lemongrass, chili, mint, etc.). We spent the first day of the new year touring around the modern downtown Bangkok and explored the Hindu temples, shopping and art centers, and some exotic birthday meals (topped off with Thai brandy)!

    Now we are at a jungle resort at Khao Yai National Park. Pardon me as I go back to my nap in my hammock before our jungle bat cave excursion tonight...

    --

    On est arrivés à Sukhothai sans problème, et on a dormi dans une chambre d'hôtes en plein cœur de l'ancienne cité (13e-15e siècle), à l'écart de la nouvelle ville où sont tous les hôtels.

    Sukhothai à été la première capitale du royaume Thai, a l'époque où les peuples venus du nord se sont rassemblés sous l'égide d'un seul roi pour repousser les attaques de leurs voisins. Sukhothai devait ressembler à Chiang Mai version moyen âge, avec le palais royal et des temples en brique et en pierre entourés de nombreuses maisons en bois, mais aujourd'hui il ne reste plus que les colonnes et des bouddhas en pierre, et des stupas en brique. Le palais à complètement disparu. Du coup, ce qu'il reste est bien plus sobre et à mes goûts européens que les dorures des temples modernes que je trouve un peu tape à l'oeil.

    Sans les bâtiments entre les temples, de grandes allés goudronnées bordées d'arbres ont été aménagées. Elle délimitent des espaces de pelouses et de grands arbres, ainsi que des pièces d'eau construites en même temps que les temples par souci d'esthétique. La réflexion des bouddhas élancés (un style propre à Sukhothai) dans les lacs parsemés de lotus roses au lever du soleil est peut être le plus beau paysage que j'ai vu du voyage jusqu'ici. En plus on a pu se déplacer à vélo un peu comme sur un campus universitaire et pique-niquer sur l'herbe, c'était vraiment paradisiaque !

    C'est comme ça qu'on a vu le dernier lever de soleil de l'année, avant de rentrer à Bangkok en avion (qu'on a failli rater parce que notre massage quotidien à duré plus longtemps que prévu). Une fois arrivés, on a sauté dans dans un taxi pour un réveillon hors du commun. On a dîné dans le noir complet, dans un restaurant "Dining In the Dark". Il y en a plusieurs dans le monde, et l'idée est que (1) on apprécie mieux le goût des plats sans la vue, le sens dont on se sert le plus, et (2) on comprend mieux ce que c'est que d'être aveugle (les serveurs le sont tous). Je ne sais pas si le goût était plus prononcé, mais le dîner était délicieux et on a eu tellement de mal à utiliser les couverts qu'on a mangé presque tout avec les mains, heureusement les serveurs avaient prévu le coup et nous ont donné plein de serviettes. On est passés en 2017 dans le bar adjacent, très chic sauf pour les expats accompagnés d'escorts, une triste réalité en Thaïlande qu'on avait réussi à éviter jusqu'ici.

    Après un dernier aperçu de Bangkok pour le nouvel an et l'anniversaire de Svet, on est partis vers l'Est du pays, la région la moins visitée sauf pour Khao Yai National Park, notre prochaine destination.
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  • Day20

    A taste of the North

    December 28, 2016 in Thailand

    We spent 10 days in one of Thailand's northern-most cities, Chiang Mai. One week of the time was at the Elephant Nature Park where we lived at a sanctuary for elephants rescued from the abusive tourism industry (see last post). As volunteers, we were rewarded with some fantastic food! We had buffet meals every day which were totally vegan. That is because the founders of the park don't believe in any kind of animal cruelty. We got everything from grilled BBQ pork style vegan shish kebabs to hot dogs that I swear tasted exactly like the real thing!! And endless combos of coconut, noodles, tofu, and tofu-like textured meat substitutes!!

    The rest of our time here, we explored and got a true "taste" of this colorful region.

    We first visited a tribal village, Lisu, and got to see life there with a tour guide. Lisu is a mountain village of only 1000 people of Tibetan descent. Our guide took us to see a local artisan who hand-makes colorful bags and a shaman who can heal sickness. We drank Lisu tea in traditional bamboo cups in his healing house as we learned about the traditions here. Legend has it, only spirits can choose who will become the next shaman. He uses bones and other symbolic tools to see the future, approve or disapprove if a couple can get married, and heal villagers, often after modern medicines don't cure them.

    We then visited Araksa, the only tea plantation in Thailand which produces its tea strictly by hand. Dozens of other tea plantations in Thailand exist, but they use machinery. We got to hand pick tea leaves ready for green tea production (see pic of Marc and his basket of leaves), cook our leaves dry in a large wok, taste the teas we picked with traditional northern sweet roasted rice cookies, and even take the leaves home to drink as a souvenir of our own hard work!

    We got the ultimate taste of the city with a guided walking food tour! Our fantastic guide was Nat (border patrol policeman by day, foodie by night!). That's the second pic. He took us to six total stops that are known by locals to be the best food trucks and hole in the wall cafes. Tourists don't come to these hidden gems since the menus are only in Thai. We were lucky to experience true local eats: pad Thai noodles wrapped in a thin egg omelet burrito eaten with banana flowers, crunchy fried roti "crepes" with curry and chicken, a Chinese veggie called morning glory (broccoli-spinach hybrid) sauteed in garlic and pork skin, and a Lanna (northern ethnicity) style platter of minced chicken in spicy tomato sauce, coconut curry meats, crispy dried pork skins, marinated veggies and cucumbers to counter the hot spice, and green chili sauce in case it wasn't already hot enough. Of course, it was all served with sticky rice. The Lanna platter is also pictured in the second pic with Nat. And we topped off the night with Thai-spiced cocktails.

    Another northern specialty we tasted was Burmese cuisine, since this area used to be occupied by Burma (Myanmar). Our favorite was tea leaf salad, which is full of fresh vegetables, crunchy balls, and other components we couldn't really identify. After stumbling on some dried broad bean snacks at a convenience store much later, we discovered that those are part of the salad!

    In Chiang Mai, we even squeezed in a trip to the National Astronomy Research Institute of Thailand, NARIT. We came to give our dissertation talks there as visiting researchers (http://www.narit.or.th/en/index.php/job-opportunities/74-stopover-astronomers) and to establish possible future collaborations. The center is only 8 years old but they may open an astrobiology branch soon! They were very welcoming and grateful, and they asked us great questions after our talks. We surely deserved our daily one-hour massage after that hard day, lol.

    I'm writing this post from one of the oldest and most revered temples in northern Thailand, Wat Doi Suthep, as I'm sipping passionfruit juice. Real, high quality, cold exotic fruit juices like this are available for very cheap on every street corner from vendors. They are one of the many interesting fruit and meat snacks you can buy in the streets literally every 10 metres. Another favorite is anything on a stick: grilled meats, balls of fish or tofu, whole pineapple, etc!

    At this temple, we got a taste of the sights of the colorful and sparkling temple and stupa structures as we smelled the incense traditionally burned as part of Buddhist blessings and prayers. We also visited several other Buddhist temples, including Wat Jetlin (or Chedlin), which was used for the coronation of Lanna (a northern Thai ethnicity) kings in the 16th century.

    At one temple, Wat Chedi Luang, we even got to meet a monk as part of the "chat with a monk" program. Temples encourage tourists to get to know the Thai and Buddhist ways of life and exchange their own experiences with monks. We met Saboan, pictured below. He came from Cambodia to go to study Buddhism in Thailand because it was less expensive. He splits his time between college classes (English and Buddhist studies) and the temple (prayers, chores, studying Buddhism). He's not allowed to play sports for fear that the public might not take monks seriously and respect them less, but he seems happy. He enjoys his monk community and sharing knowledge about Buddhism. He was also happy to practice English on us because he wants to become a tour guide in Cambodia after college.

    Now we are heading to a Word Heritage site for a few days, Sukhothai, where we will see ruins of the ancient Siamese empire and first capital of Thailand. "Khop khun ka" for reading and "sawadee ka" until next time!

    --

    Après notre semaine parmi les éléphants, on a passé quelques jours à Chiang Mai, deuxième ville de Thaïlande avec 400000 habitants (Bangkok en compte 15 millions). Un peu comme à Toulouse, une bonne partie sont des étudiants, et la vieille ville est entourée d'un canal, à vocation défensive. Chiang Mai est aussi beaucoup plus relax que Bangkok, voire hippie, avec plein de petits cafés et chambres d'hôtes. Je me verrais presque y habiter !

    Portés par cette ambiance détendue, on a fait des massages une priorité : aromatherapie dimanche soir en arrivant, pierres chaudes lundi, compresses aux herbes mardi, enrobage au miel mercredi, et tête et pieds jeudi avant de repartir. Il n'y a plus qu'à nous faire rôtir au four et on est prêts à servir !

    D'autant qu'on a été bien nourris, grâce à une balade gustative guidée par un gourmet local, Nat (voir description détaillée en anglais). Nat, la journée, enquête sur les trafics de drogue (héroïne et meth), de teck et d'ivoire à la frontière birmane. Les paysans frontaliers birmans et laotiens sont très pauvres, et la culture d'opium et son raffinement en héroïne, contrôlé par des gangs et barons, leur permet de survivre mieux que s'ils ne cultivaient que des légumes. Nat est amené de temps à autre à arrêter les malfrats en hélico, c'est un James Bond gourmand.

    Entre ces pauses relaxation et dégustation, on a visité plusieurs temples. Au premier abord on est submergés par les couleurs et les dorures, mais quand on s'y arrête quelques heures, comme à Wat Doi Suthep sur la colline qui borde Chiang Mai, on apprécie mieux l'art et l'architecture. Il nous manque quand même les codes approfondis du bouddhisme pour vraiment comprendre. On a pu échanger avec Saboan, un moine cambodgien, sur la vie étudiante en Thaïlande et en Occident.

    Enfin, on a passé un après midi scientifique au National Astronomy Research Institute of Thailand, fondé il y a 8 ans, pour presenter nos recherches et jeter les bases de possibles futures collaborations. Les chercheurs du NARIT ont été super accueillants, comme la plupart des gens qu'on a rencontrés depuis notre arrivée.

    Maintenant on repart vers le Sud, avec une étape à Sukhothai, la première capitale de Thaïlande, à 5h30 de bus si tout va bien.
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  • Day15

    Saza and Mae Jan Peng's Story

    December 23, 2016 in Thailand

    Lek is 4 feet tall. But she has a giant heart and an even bigger mission. She grew up with elephants in her family since childhood. After seeing the cruelty and abuse behind the scenes of one of the most popular and profitable industries that use elephant labor, logging, her eyes opened. Coming to the elephant sanctuary she created 20 years ago, our eyes opened as well.

    We've been here for one week volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park along with about 60 other volunteers of all ages and nationalities (including Russia and France!).

    We simply signed up to do chores around the park for a week but we got a whole lot more out of this program than stronger muscles (from unloading many melon trucks that elephants pop like M&Ms!)

    Our daily schedule consisted of breakfast at 7, work until lunch, a long lunch, and a few hours of afternoon tasks. Overall, we worked about 4-5 hours a day and got to do many enrichment activities in the evenings. Tasks consisted of scooping elephant poop (it's actually not that stinky!), cleaning the park, cutting corn stalks, and my favorite - elephant food preparation!! That consisted of unloading fruit delivery trucks, sorting and storing the fruit, cleaning off the pesticides (yes, these animals are spoiled...), and rolling rice balls for the old and sick elephants who can't chew well.

    We had a great group of volunteers (shout-out to A Team!!) who we'll keep in touch with. But we also made two very special friends this week, Saza and Mae Jan Peng. We fed them their favorite treats, bananas and watermelon, or bathed them in the river, almost daily.

    Saza is a 70 year old elephant rescued from a tourist riding and trekking business. Her back wasn't the only thing that suffered. Trekking involves a sad story of neglect and abuse by the "mahout," or trainer. Elephants like Saza are first captured as babies and their mother is killed so she doesn't attack in defense. They are then chained and beaten in a cage for a week until they lose their will to fight humans and they become dead on the inside. Then they can begin a grueling life of obeying a mahout who uses violent hooks, chains, and other techniques to train them that he's their boss. The mahouts have been trained by their fathers to do this for centuries in the northern hill tribes and so they see this as tradition. Tourists pay well to see elephants do tricks, so it's good income.

    Mae Jan Peng is around Saza's age. Her name means Full Moon in Thai. She was also bought to the park after a life of logging and giving rides. Elephants have about the same life expectancy as humans; imagine yourself giving countless piggy back rides daily and carrying logs chained to your legs up steep hills, and falling, injuring yourself many times, and breaking your legs in the process, well into your 70s!!! And not having a choice because you'll get beaten if you don't obey.

    There are 70 total elephants here who all have similar stories to these two. Their physical injuries can be healed by the veterinarians at the park. But 85% of the elephants come to this sanctuary have mental problems. Those can't be healed.

    And this occurs not just in Thailand but all over Asia. Elephants are also used in many Asian ceremonies, for street begging, and circus performances. Ivory from males' tusks has been sought after for centuries, and is still ironically used in religious temples as a symbol of good luck.

    Why are we going into this grueling detail about the hidden truth that tourists don't see behind the elephant hand stands at the circus and seemingly harmless treks through the jungle? Because awareness is the only way to change this. If you see any animal, not only elephants, (parrots, monkeys, etc.) being used for tourism in any way, chances are their story is like Saza's and Mae Jan Peng's. Not supporting these industries and raising awareness are the only ways to stand up for tortured animals.

    That's why activists and visionaries like Lek are making a difference. She has started many other rescue efforts and continues to inspire us. Read her story:
    http://greenglobaltravel.com/2013/08/28/interview-lek-chailert-elephant-whisperer-elephant-nature-park/

    They say it takes a village to raise a child. The local village here in northern Chiang Mai has come together to raise the many animals here at the park. What I mean is the mahouts are employed by the park to retrain and care for their elephants using positive reinforcement, not chains. And their wives are employed as cooks, housekeepers, and masseuses to ensure a stable income for the whole family and a smooth operation of this incredible park for day-long tourists and volunteers. And the children of mahouts attend a local private elementary school on scholarships provided by the park. The park has 450 staff members today. And hundreds of volunteers, all staying different lengths of time, taking care of the animals. What an incredible way to bring a community together.

    --

    Ça fait une semaine qu'on habite parmi les éléphants dans un sanctuaire au nord de Chiang Mai. On aide a les nourrir et nettoyer le parc. Un éléphant de 2 tonnes mange 200 kg chaque jour, multiplié par 70 éléphants qui grignotent des paniers de pastèques comme si c'était des paquets de m&m's, on n'est pas trop de 60 volontaires pour aider le staff !

    Les volontaires viennent d'un peu partout, y compris de Russie et de France, et on a bien sympathisé en particulier avec notre "Team A" avec qui on va rester en contact. Tous les jours, c'est petit déj à 7h depuis la plateforme d'où on contemple le lever de soleil qui illumine les cascades de nuages entre les collines, ainsi que les éléphants qui sortent de leurs enclos. On travaille ensuite de 8 à 11 et de 13 à 15, avant de profiter de balades et baignades avec les éléphants, massages (quotidiens !), cours de cuisine ou de culture Thai, sans oublier les repas copieux et délicieux.

    Le parc a été créé par Lek Chailert, surnommée "la femme qui murmure à l'oreille des éléphants", pour protéger les éléphants d'Asie des abus de l'industrie du deboisage et du tourisme. Avant l'interdiction de couper le bois de teck en 1989, les éléphants étaient utilisés pour charrier des troncs d'arbres sur les pentes des collines. Pour les rendre dociles, les "mahouts" (leurs maîtres) les capturent bébés et tuent leur mère et leur nourrice pour les laisser sans défense. Ils les mettent en cage pour une semaine et brisent toute résistance à l'aide de piques et de chaînes, jusqu'à ce que l'éléphant se plie à leur volonté. Depuis 1989 ils ont reconverti l'usage des éléphants pour le tourisme : spectacles de cirque, mendicité dans les rues de Bangkok, promenade de touristes dans des nacelles. Bien sûr, les éléphants sont capables de tirer un tronc ou de porter une personne sur leur dos, mais imaginez en porter plusieurs, 10h par jour, sans famille et sans nourriture adaptée, pendant 75 ans. C'est le sort des 2000 elephants "domestiques" (il y en a aussi 2000 qui vivent dans les forêts) de Thaïlande. Il y en avait 100000 il y a quelques dizaines d'années, mais les traumatismes et l'abandon de ceux qui ne sont plus rentables on fait que leur population s'est effondrée. D'où l'Éléphant Nature Park pour réhabiliter les rescapés mais surtout éduquer touristes et locaux. Pour en savoir plus :
    http://greenglobaltravel.com/2013/08/28/interview-lek-chailert-elephant-whisperer-elephant-nature-park/
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