Tag Archives: animal shelter

Holiday Season ‘Down Under’

I hadn’t planned on visiting Australia initially because I’d learned from fellow travelers that it was a very expensive country to visit.  However, it was while I was in Malaysia volunteering at the animal shelter that I just happened to receive an email from a good friend of mine whom I’d known back in New Mexico.  We had lost touch over the years despite attempts on both our ends to keep in touch, but alas he found me:)  And as chance would have it, he was living in Sydney!  So of course I had to go see him!!

The timing of it all to this day still fascinates me.  It’s just further proof in my book that everything happens the way it should.  After a couple of email exchanges I made plans to see him and spend Christmas and New Years with him and his partner:)

I arrived in the ‘land down under’ mid-December and was greeted at the airport with the loving embrace and friendly faces of my friend and his partner.  After a quick nibble out, we headed back to their place where I met their two kids, Willow and Bear, two absolutely adorable pups!!  We stayed up quite late that first night (and for the next several nights) with bottles of vino and beer, catching up on all things past and present.  What a truly amazing and still surreal time!

They showed me around all the hotspots of Sydney; Bondi beach (pronounced Bond-eye, not Bondy), the Opera House (of course!), the harbor area, Mansly, the Botanical Gardens and the Watson Bay area where sailboats dotted a quiet bay eclipsed by beautiful homes gently sloping from the water.  It was all so picturesque and beautiful!  We even ventured a bit further out on the weekends for little road trips to the Blue Mountains where we viewed the Three Sisters.

The thing that surprised me about the Opera house was that the roof was made of tiles!  From all the pictures I had seen prior to seeing it first-hand,  the roof simply looked white and I hadn’t noticed anything particularly remarkable about it.  However up close, it was impressive to see that the roof was in fact made of white and beige tiles and that they formed very specific patterns giving each shell a unique and artistic flare.  In addition, again from pictures, I had always imagined that the Opera house was a singular building and each layered ‘armadillo shell’ was part of the design to enhance acoustics for that one stage.  I had no idea that in fact there are multiple stages allowing several productions to occur within the same season.  Just goes to show you that you never really know about something until you get up close and personal with it;)

The Botanical Gardens were absolutely darling!  They seemed to go on forever and though they were basically next door to the heart of downtown Sydney, they had a quiet and calm about them that made you feel miles away from the hustle and bustle of the city life.  2016 just so happens to also be the 200th birthday of the gardens, so that’s pretty cool:)

The Blue Mountains too were a surprise as I had no idea such lush green life and landscapes could be found in Oz.  Again, most of the pictures I had seen of Australia boasted the main highlights of the Barrier Reef, the Opera House or the Outback where the land is red and lacking plant life.  But in the Blue Mountains, I could have mistaken us for being in Virgina near the Blue Ridge!  Simply beautiful!

The only odd thing to me was knowing that it was only a week away from Christmas, yet not really seeing any sort of Christmas decorations anywhere!  There were a few scattered here and there, but nothing like I was accustomed to seeing in the States around Christmas time.  However, that didn’t stop us from doing some decorating ourselves:)  J’s mom had sent him a Christmas tree, so on or about the day before Christmas, we got our drinks on (which put us all in a jolly mood) and set up the Christmas tree and other decorations to get the place looking festive!  A few gifts were exchanged, delicious food was cooked, and we all reveled in the joys of being with good friends.

Christmas Day passed and New Years was quickly approaching, so the next big thing was to decide how to ring in the New Year.  We settled on trying for one of the free spots at a park on the harbor (Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair).  The only trouble was that once capacity for the park was reached, they closed it off therefore not allowing any new people in.  And because this venue was free to enter (and honestly was one of the best in my opinion as it had a fantastic view of the harbor, the bridge and the opera house) the lines would no doubt be long.  The chances of getting in at all were unpredictable!

‘A’ (J’s partner) had to work New Year’s Day, so that left ‘J ‘and I to try for a park place where ‘A’ would meet us later.  We made it there around 10am to find a line that wove back and forth and forth and back with what looked like thousands waiting to get in!  We got in at the back of the makeshift line and thus began the slow and arduous task of walking a few feet every couple of minutes, slowly inching our way to the entrance gates.  Luckily we came prepared however with water, snacks and sunscreen.

I should mention at this point that the Norwegian couple I had met back in Kuala Lumpur were also in Sydney for New Year’s.  We had reconnected via email and arranged to meet at the park.  After about an hour or so, they arrived with another friend in tow and they joined ‘J’ and I in line (which still had only moved a couple hundred feet or so, lol!!).  The mood around us was festive and it was funny to see how many people had already started hitting the beers hard!  Personally it was just too hot in the direct sun for that in my opinion, plus having to find a bathroom would have been its own kind of torture!!

The hours ticked away as we crept closer and closer toward the finish line… Finally, about 4 hours later we were in!  While there were already thousands of people in the park, it didn’t feel as crowded as I would have thought which I was very grateful for!  We scouted a place to sit under a nice shady tree, then sent one of the fellas to the nearby food and drink kiosks for some cold beers!  We sat around enjoying the cold beers and continued chit-chatting and all was absolutely perfect, save for one thing…

‘A’ was still at work… The plan we had hoped for was that he would be able to get off work a bit early, then head to the park where he could hopefully hop in line with us and make it in before the park reached capacity.  However, at this point it was already past 2pm.  The line that had formed behind us seemed longer than the line we had initially started in, and according to the online information, the park had already almost reached capacity and would soon be closed off.  Not happy news!!  As the time ticked on it seemed less and less likely that he would be able to make it to the park.

Seriously a huge conundrum!!  I didn’t want ‘A’ to have to spend New Year’s alone, especially without his partner!!  But I also didn’t want to leave our park spot.  We debated back and forth what to do and eventually settled on me staying in the park, and ‘J’ leaving the park to be with ‘A’.  In addition ‘J’ had started not to feel so hot, as even though he kept reapplying sunscreen the entire time we stood in line, he still managed to get a pretty bad sunburn!!  So as he wasn’t feeling the best he said he was fine with leaving to be with ‘A’.  Though I know I shouldn’t, I do still feel guilty for having stayed behind because I wanted the three of us to be together for New Years.  But as ‘A’ and ‘J’ said, they had “been there, done that” with Sydney’s firework show.  It wasn’t so important for them to see them again, but since it was a first for me, they said I should definitely see them.

So I hung back with my friends from Norway and rang in the New Year watching fireworks shower off the Sydney harbor bridge and light up the harbor waters.  It was such a beautiful sight!  I love everything about fireworks; the sounds, smells and sight of them.  Being so up close and personal to such a spectacular show was unbelievable.  I’m so thankful for the chance to have been able to be there!

After the show, I parted ways with my Norwegian friends and met up with ‘J’ and ‘A’ and we headed home to comfort the pups.  Though we were not able to spend New Year’s night together, we did have our own New Year celebration a bit later.  Popping a bottle of champagne we wrote down things we no longer wanted to be burdened with in our lives and set them on fire Zozobra style!

On to Summer Camp in January

Back to Australia

Back to Homepage

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Reunited with Horses

For two of my weeks on the island of Langkawi, I took time out from volunteering at the Bon Ton animal shelter and headed over to Island Horses to volunteer there.  I had originally planned to volunteer there longer, but due to an unforseen event, was only able to do two weeks.

I’ve been a rider for most of my life but hadn’t been near any horses for over a year at this point, so needless to say I was so thrilled to finally be back in their presence.  Perhaps only horse people will be able to relate to that the smell in the air when approaching a horse facility.  It is perhaps my favorite in the world as it smells like coming home to me!

Island Horses is a working stable with three main functions.  First, they train endurance horses and have a team that competes worldwide (in fact during my time there the owner and his son were in Argentina for a competition!).  Second, it’s a breeding facility for Malay Arabian horses and finally, they offer jungle and beach riding tours for tourists.  They are very safety conscientious when it comes to taking riding tours out, which of course is very important!

As a volunteer at Island Horses a bed and bathroom were provided (shared with staff) but meals were not.  However the GeoPark (where the cable car was located) and the seven falls waterfall national park, were only a 5 to 10 minute walk away.  There, a variety of foods could be found all reasonably priced.

As a volunteer I was assigned 5 horses to care for and an aisle of horses to water 3 times a day.  Our days started at 7am until 7pm with a lunch break from 12-2:30pm.  All that was expected of me was to groom each horse twice a day as the stalls and feeding were done by the staff.  While I did spend my first day simply grooming my five horses (essentially with a fine-toothed comb so I could get to know every inch of them to get a baseline for any changes during my time there), three days didn’t even pass before I’d incorporated other little tasks to my daily duties.

I will admit that the first several days there were tough for me.  And not for any other reason except perhaps a bit of cultural differences and the natural environment.  The way I’d been raised to care for horses was not the standard I’d found there.  I’m not saying the horses were not cared for, because they were all fed quite well and watered appropriately and such, but other things in my opinion, were not up to snuff.  However, what made it extra tough was the natural terrain and weather of the environment, which made caring for horses in general that much harder.  Wounds don’t heal as fast as they would in dry environments and keeping stalls dry is equally difficult during the wet season.

As someone who was simply coming and going in only two weeks, my business there wasn’t to complain and point out all the things I thought weren’t right, but rather to simply lend my hand and do my job (so to speak).  So it was by the third day I’d made up my mind to take care of my five horses as if they were personally mine.  On top of daily grooming I also began to take care of cleaning their stalls, treating their boo-boos and cleaning equipment used for them.

In the short time I was there, I rode twice on the beach and through the jungle.  It was such an amazing feeling to be back on a horse!!  Words simply can’t express the exhilaration I felt!  It was also funny to me because while I’d been used to riding draft horses and having to physically put in a lot of work just to make them and KEEP them moving forward, I’d almost forgotten how easy it is to get Arabians to move forward, lol!!  And while I would have loved to have ridden more, since I was young it’s been instilled in me that as horse people our primary concern is for the care of the horse.  Riding is a privilege and comes only after all the needs of the animal are met.

The facility itself is undeniably in one of the most beautiful locations on the island.  Surrounded by lush jungle, nestled at the base of one of the mountain ranges and only minutes from the beach, I certainly got spoiled living in such a beautiful environment.  The wildlife in the area was also fantastic.  Aside from the horses, cats and dogs at the stables we would also be frequently visited  by deer, two types of monkeys, water monitors, bats, snakes, wild boar and stray dogs!  It practically was its own zoo!

While I was only there two weeks, leaving was just as hard as if I’d been there years.  Leaving the animals of course was the hardest part for me but also leaving Amirah (my staff roommate) and Shanto (a 12 year volunteer) was very tough.  Even in that short time I felt like part of the family and welcomed in ways I hadn’t imagined.  I think of them daily, as I do my family at the Bon Ton shelter, and look forward to being able to return there again.

On to The Majesty of Kuala Lumpur

Back to Malaysia

Bon Ton Animal Shelter

The Bon Ton animal shelter, located on the Duty-free island of Langkawi originally started in Kuala Lumpur over 20 years ago.  There, a restaurant/hotel owner and animal lover began a shelter and several years later moved the operation to Langkawi.  The shelter consists of several parts.  One is the retirement ward where over 60 dogs spend the remainder of their lives in spacious yards or in the owners home and are tended to carefully and lovingly by full-time staff members.  The second part is located at a different location near the base of the mountains of Langkawi where over 70 dogs are looked after by full-time staff.  The last is also located at the Bon Ton Resort and they are the “regular” shelter dogs.  Over 50 young to middle-aged (or even old dogs who think they are still young such as 16-year old Nemo) dogs call the shelter home and are walked daily by volunteers and have play-time or social time in the afternoons.

The volunteer program is organized by another avid animal lover volunteer of over 10 years, Dorothy, who is a resident of Langkawi and joins in on the morning walks daily.  There are of course other staff members who assist in the cleaning and general caring of the shelter dogs and over 100 cats there as well.  For with so many animals, it would be impossible not to have staff on board!!  While volunteers help with walking dogs, feeding, general cleaning when needed and play time in the afternoons, the staff concentrate on deep cleaning the dog and cat shelters daily and assist in the clinic when a vet is present.

Though I’d only really had one other experience volunteering at an animal shelter, I will say that volunteering at the Bon Ton animal shelter, well it was like the gold standard or 5 star of shelters!  Why do I say this?  Simply because of the standards of care given by the staff to the animals and the way that volunteers are treated.  Accommodations are provided for, daily meals are taken care of, and even one meal weekly from the restaurant is provided!  And let me tell you, the Bon Ton restaurant food is absolutely delicious!!!  To this day I’m still missing their steaks with mashed potatoes in balsamic gravy!!  Accommodations included a bed, private bath with HOT water (almost fainted hearing this), TV (what???) with a DVD player (pinch me now!!).

But of course all this came with actual work.  Six days a week, from 9:45am (sometimes 9am depending on need) until 6pm (lunch break of course provided) we worked with the dogs and cats.  Feeding, walking, cleaning, playing, bathing, constructing new shelter bits, raking yards, putting up new fencing, etc, etc.  The work in my opinion wasn’t difficult, and because I was there for the animals, it didn’t really matter to me how long the work days were.  In fact, there were several times that I or other volunteers worked well past the 6pm mark, but it was all for the animals.  And as animal lovers know, animals know no time!  They are 24/7 responsibilities who in return offer the most amazing and purest of love.

I ended up staying at the Bon Ton Animal Shelter for about 2 months in total.  During my time there I also learned about a horse stable on the island that also allowed volunteers to come help, so I ended up moving there for a couple of weeks, then returned to Bon Ton for the last few days I was on the island.  Then sadly had to say my goodbyes for good and had to head to Kuala Lumpur, then out of the country as my 3 month visa was coming close to expiring.

Volunteering at the Bon Ton animal shelter was an amazing experience.  The loving care provided to the animals by staff and volunteers made the experience so very rich.  I look forward to returning there when time permits and miss the animals (and people of course who I think of as family) daily!!

On to Reunited with Horses

Back to Malaysia

Duty-Free Langkawi

I finally left Thailand via ferry from the Tammalang Port at Satun and about an hour and a half later was greeted into the Northernmost island in the Andaman sea of Malaysia, called Langkawi.  After clearing customs I grabbed a cab for the T-Star hotel in Cenang.

During the 40 minute cab ride my driver informed me of some interesting facts about the island.  According to him,  Langkawi was barely visible on the map of tourism and tourists until the 70’s when the Prime Minister declared the island Duty Free.  Since then, Langkawi has skyrocketed as a hot spot for tourism (loads of tours from feeding eagles to snorkeling are available) and shopaholics looking for the best deals on booze, makeup, chocolate, perfumes, etc.

Another tidbit he shared with me was that the population on the island was about 85% muslim, 10% Indian and the rest a mix of Chinese, Expats, and Europeans.  After having been in Thailand for so long with diversity in foods only being available in larger cities, Langkawi was a breath of fresh air on that front with a large variety of cuisine choices to choose from.  Of course they also had traditional Malay foods, which consist of rice, fish, chicken and lots of vegetable varieties.  The foods are generally a bit spicy (though not as spicy as Thailand) and their national meal is Nasi Lemak, which is a rice dish cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf 🙂

I went to Langkawi with one specific goal in mind: to check out the animal shelter on the island and see if they needed volunteers.  T-Star, my chosen hotel for the week was an absolutely delightful place and only about a 45 minute walk to the shelter.  Every day, at least twice a day troops of the macaque monkeys came through the hotel leaping from balcony to balcony in search of any sort of food.  There were signs everywhere to beware of things left on the balcony as they may be snatched and for good reason because those little guys were fast in snatching things!!

The day after I arrived I started my wander toward the animal shelter to check it out.  I was a bit confused about it at first because online they seemed somehow located at a hotel resort, which didn’t make a ton of sense until I got there and learned the story.  The Bon Ton resort, located next to The Temple Tree hotel is owned and operated by an animal lover.  The owner started both hotels and the restaurants attached to them and uses moneys from the hotel and restaurant to fund an animal shelter located just in front of the resorts.  There, over 100 dogs and over 100 cats find shelter and a loving home.

I arrived a little after 10am and chatted with the volunteer coordinator, Dorothy, and began the next day doing half days at first (since I was walking 5 km there and 5 back daily).  Morning activities consisted of taking over 50 dogs for walks around the hotel grounds with fellow volunteers, then picking up after them and finally serving them lunch, which consisted of rice cooked in beef broth with chunks of beef and a variety of vegetables, all prepared FRESH daily by the restaurant chef!!

So for the first week I walked to and from my hotel to help walk the doggies in the morning, then spent my afternoons trying out new restaurants in the area and walking along the Cenang beach.  As my week started to come to an end, it turned out that one of the Nepalese workers for the shelter had to go back home, so I was asked if I wanted to stay in one of the volunteer rooms so I could help with full-day activities along with the other 2 full-time volunteers.  I agreed and moved in to my new accommodations (complete with 2 yard dogs, John and Mummy) and began full day activities.  Of course, though I’d only planned at first for a month there, it quickly turned into two:)

On to Bon Ton Animal Shelter

Back to Malaysia

Leaving Sangkhla

The time had finally come to say goodbye to Sangkhlaburi and the animal shelter.  I say ‘had’ because I’ve now been away from there for the past 10 days (how time flies!!).  The hardest part was leaving all the animals behind.  Worrying whether the disabled dogs were getting their night-time blankets, whether dogs were getting their proper daily meds, whether laundry had been done and dogs had been walked occupied my mind for several days after having left.  But as we all know, the world doesn’t stop turning because one has moved on to something else.  Volunteers will always be there to care for the dogs.

I left for a couple of reasons, the first being that I had been in Thailand at that point for almost four months and yet still had only seen a tiny fraction of the Country.  Second, as it was early on during my time at the sanctuary, personality clashes arose again.  High School cliques started forming again creating a huge divide between people who cared for the sanctuary dogs and those who cared for the clinic dogs.  Personally I think that the two would go hand in hand, but alas it wasn’t the reality.

Thankfully though my last two weeks there, just as the first week or so of first arriving, were my absolute favorite.  Not because it was the beginning and end of my stay, but again because of the organic nature and vibe of the workers during those times.  That ridiculous line between shelter and clinic was erased.  No cliques, no favoritism, no inclusion of only certain people and not others.  No more bull essentially.  Just everyone working together, learning and aiding where needed.  It’s amazing how some people can naturally lead others in working together as a team while others create divides so they can pump up their egos where necessary.

I still think of the faces of each animal daily.  I will never forget them and though I wish I could take each one with me, I know the chilling reality is that there are animals all over the world that need equal love, care and shelter.  For now I’m simply traveling and just as I organically happened to find the sanctuary in Sangkhlaburi, I’m keeping my ears and eyes peeled for the next opportunity.  But until then, I’ve headed South to check out the mystery and beauty of the Thai Islands.

On to Unexpected Company

Back to Thailand

Thankful

Normal life has set in.  I haven’t been doing anything special, haven’t been engaging in any new adventure or activity, haven’t gone off to some new exotic place…  No, regular life is in full swing.  I’m still volunteering at an animal sanctuary in Sangkhlaburi, Thailand so the regular duties of feeding, caring for, and helping to heal injured shelter dogs takes up much of my time.  And by the time all is said and done with the dogs daily, while there is time to do something new, I’m just too tired to think about that “something new ” and instead always opt for a quiet night of sipping beer on the porch while watching Sangkhlaburi street life.

I haven’t written anything on my blog in a while because in my mind I haven’t done anything “interesting”.  I wonder what exactly to write about and whether people would even be interested in reading “normal life” posts.  One thing does always come to mind however, so instead of my usual adventure/travel stories or stories about my random drunken escapades, I will write about this: being thankful.

See, even though my life has settled into being “normal”, I realize on so many levels that it isn’t.  While there is a lot I still wish to accomplish and have in my life, I think daily on how thankful I am for the things I do have and have achieved and experienced.  It’s almost turned into a form of prayer for me.  Each day I try to take time out and think about all the things I’m thankful for.  The list always starts general, then randomly pops from narrows to specifics.  So here are the things I’m thankful for today.  Hope you enjoy and perhaps find inspiration to seek out and acknowledge all the things in your life that are worth giving thanks for.

Aside from the top 3, they are in no particular order.  Today I’m thankful for:

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Good health
  • Being physically and mentally able to workout
  • Being in good company
  • Living in Thailand
  • Working with animals
  • Waterbelly (a sanctuary dog) NOT being run over by a car this morning
  • Emails from friends
  • Having traveled to several countries
  • The people I’ve met along the way in short bursts, yet who I’m still impacted by today
  • Having found apple cider vinegar here
  • The little girl next door who instead of holding a blank expression while looking over at us on the porch actually smiled and waved!
  • Learning a new Thai word from the market lady (“kai gai” is egg)
  • NOT seeing the neighbor behind us flash her body parts while walking along the road as she adjusts her clothing
  • Nambia’s for breakfast
  • Watching random firework displays light up the sky on the Mon side
  • Seeing the temple lit up at night
  • Having the relief of rainfall after a ridiculously hot and humid day, even though we aren’t supposed to get any rain (according to the forecast)
  • Watching the monks give morning blessings to people throughout the neighborhood
  • The support and patience of my family as I live a quarter to half way around the world from them
  • Knowing I’m loved by my family and friends
  • The hope to meet a man to love indefinitely along my travels
  • The dogs that survive the unthinkable
  • The dogs that move on to a better place, freeing themselves of the pain they were suffering here (of course it’s hard to lose them, and we always wonder whether there was anything else that we could have done for them, but I know ultimately they are in a better place)
  • NOT being woken throughout the night by either barking dogs or our neighbors insomniac tendencies
  • Hearing the dogs in a synchronized howl
  • My mosquito net!
  • Thursday and Saturday markets
  • Having a day off from the sanctuary
  • Learning something new everyday
  • Witnessing small kindnesses (a young brother was helping his younger sister take out several rubber bands from her hair and smoothed it out when done)
  • Watching the 9 chicks that live in our neighborhood grow up (and seeing all 9 daily)
  • The water delivery guy
  • Local community support for the sanctuary (Som Chai, Dr. May, Sai and Charlie)
  • Meeting new volunteers from around the world
  • Hearing of friends engagements
  • Hearing that friends struggling with health issues are doing better
  • My memories of times past
  • Being content with what I have and where I am
  • Feeling blessed in so many ways
  • The hope that I continue to be thankful and grateful for every little and big thing in my life
  • And lastly that I am able to continue to travel, explore, and give back to the life around me

On to Ode to Water

Back to Thailand

Spay Camp and Elephants

Part of what the Animal Shelter does here, aside from the everyday free care and treatment of animals, is to go to neighboring villages and monasteries to spay and neuter dogs and cats of the area.  These spay camps (as we call them) are great opportunities not only to get a day out and away from the everyday tasks of running a shelter, but also to better the community so animal populations don’t run amok and also provides a way for surrounding villages to get to know who we (the animal shelter) are so they can feel more confident about coming to us if ever needed.

Dr. Mays set up several camps for us, two running on consecutive days and then two more for the following week.  Though I have had experience in basic horse care/vet skills, dogs and cats are a different beast.  I had no experience in giving shots, IVs, prepping animals for surgery, etc.  The spay camp I attended quickly changed all that very quickly for me however 🙂

We set off around 10 to a nearby monastery about 30 or so kilometers away (myself, Jo, Nyzil and J. (the vets)) and arrived about a half hour later to an absolutely serene and beautifully peaceful monastery nestled off the road among gentle slopes and lush vegetation.  We were greeted by residents of the monastery and were shown to a large covered car port where we began to set up two tables for surgery.  Since this was my first go round with spays, I was mainly just taking instruction on how to set up the table and basically aped Jo (who is well seasoned with spay camps) asking about a trillion questions along the way.

I was paired with J., the newest vet on the team, and Jo was with Nyzil.  I will admit I was at first a bit reluctant about how J. and I would work as a team because we had several miscommunications that led to many frustrations in times before.  I don’t know what it was exactly that happened however in the first few minutes of setting up the camp.  To this day I still can’t pin it exactly.  But what I do know is that as the table was set and the first two cats were starting to doze into a deep sleep in preparation for the surgery, something just clicked with J. and I.  It wasn’t spoken, it just happened and suddenly I began to understand how she thought and worked.

She taught me how to shave the cats, how to give injections, tricks on how to tell whether the animal was starting to come out of their slumber, how to check the heart rate and much more.  We worked fabulously together and by the end of the day, after a lovely lunch provided to us by the monastery residents, we had banged out 8 cat spays.  Well, in all honesty one of the cats whom we tagged as being female turned out to be male after failing to find the uterus!  Hey now, we all make mistakes!  No judging!! 😉

We finished about 3pm, packed up and headed out.  Since it was still relatively early and we had not received any news from the shelter about needing to return immediately, we decided to check out the Khao Laem National Park, just a few kilometers down the road.  The park boasts a nature trail several kilometers long with 9 different waterfalls and a rather impressively large tree.  We all set off for the hike and crossed the river about 250 meters in to see the tree, but when we crossed back over, Jo broke one of her flip-flops making it basically impossible for us to hike any further.  We instead opted to swim in the river for a bit then made our way back to the car.  The day was still young however so we decided to head off to a village Nyzil knew about that had elephants!

The turning for the village was only about 10km from Sangkhlaburi, but getting to the village required quite a bit of off-roading and a few minutes of scary grounds to drive across.  The dirt road kept splitting and though Nyzil was navigating, every now and again he’d say out loud “I’m not sure this is the right way because we are supposed to be heading toward the mountains”, lol!!

Luckily he did get us to the right place and my oh my, what a beautiful little village it was!!  Nestled at the base of a mountain, across the river on a rather shady yet sturdy bamboo bridge lay a magnificent quiet little community full of life of all kinds.  Nyzil had been there before on a previous spay camp and even recognized several of the dogs he’d operated on by the little notches left in their ears.  No one in the village spoke even a word of english and of course none of us knew the word for elephant in Thai, so we were left to a game of charades.  Correction: we actually left the game of charades to Nyzil who proceeded to try to act out what an elephant looked like to the locals all while repeating the word “elephant?”.  It was seriously quite amusing to watch and I’m sure the villagers were probably playing dumb for a bit just to keep watching him make impressions, lol!!

We finally found one villager who acquiesced to knowing what we were trying to get to and he led us the way.  We walked through a rubber plantation…  Here I have to stop because I had no idea that rubber is made from tree sap!!!  There were hundreds of trees lined and tapped with a little collection basket for the sap and when I was told it was a rubber plantation, I just kept repeating “rubber???  As in rubber tires??” because I’d just no idea that’s where rubber came from.  I just assumed it was all a petrochemical production!  Just goes to show you learn something new every day:)

Moving on, we walked past the rubber plantation following the sound of a distant bell along a wee path.  Our guide then started off the path through the field to which Jo wasn’t able to walk on (no shoes) so she headed on the path just to explore while myself, Nyzil and J. followed our guide.

The sound of the bell grew louder and louder and a few minutes later, up ahead in the bushes enjoying a meal of various natural vegetation stood Moosa!!  What an absolutely BEAUTIFUL creature!!!  She wasn’t scared of humans as she worked in the village but when not working she had the run of the land, going where she pleased and had only a rope with a bell around he neck so she could be found when needed.

I had never touched an elephant before.  Had only fed them cucumbers and other veggies when in Ayutthaya.  This was how I’d wanted to experience them though.  In the wild, free from cages and tourists, no forced tricks or contraptions on her back to give tourists rides, no sticks with sharp hooks at the end to make her go one way or another, simply living free.  I couldn’t stop petting her and telling her how beautiful she was!!  We spent probably a good half hour with her as she continued to nibble then said our goodbyes and headed back to the path.  Interestingly enough our timing was just right as Jo was also returning from her walk along the path and she too had spotted the other elephant of the village down the way.

The sun was starting to set at this point and we were all getting hungry, so we set off for another spot along the way back to Sangkhlaburi for some dinner.  The Nature Club, a hotel and activities center only about 5km from the town was where we chose to stop.  It too is set in a beautiful location surrounded by mountains and a rather large lake.  We had a few drinks and food, then headed home.  The days activities and bonding that occurred throughout the day between the four of us was unexpected but absolutely amazing.  That day is now one of my fondest memories of Thailand.  It was truely a day I think we all came away feeling absolutely blessed and thankful.

On to The “Bum Gun”

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Power of a Howl

There is something so magical about the sound of dogs howling in unison.  I don’t know the exact reason for why a howl begins or the exact purpose of a howl but I do know it must have a hand somewhere in bonding dogs.  Whatever the reason, the power of it is undeniable.

Usually it begins with sounds of a scuffle.  One dog having overstepped their boundaries or another simply having a bad day.  The fight breaks out and the thought goes through my mind every time whether to rush to the enclosure where the scuffle broke out and try to intervene.  Somehow like magic however the sounds of thrashing and growling slowly turn into a howl.  Not from either of the fight participants, but from a nearby dog.  The sound of one howl turns into three, then seven, then eleven until within just a few seconds every dog (including those who were previously fighting) stops what they are doing to join in.

It reminds me of 101 Dalmatians where the dogs are sending messages across the town because it begins in our shelter and all the dogs join in for the song, it then starts to spread across the shelter like a gentle wind eventually infecting the neighboring street dogs to join in as well.  Where the howl began turns silent as peace settles back into each dog and the echo of howls continues on away from the origin until finally silence descends all around.  The after howl silence is so serene.

Fights I’ve witnessed in person are often broken up by us throwing water on the animals just to get them snapped out of what they were doing for a split second.  It only works for that split second however and you have to get in between them before they jump right back into their fight.  They hold grudges for a while even when separated.  Though my instinct always works toward reaching for the nearest water bowl, I often wonder if instead I should simply start howling myself to see if it catches on to break up the fight peacefully.  Fights never restart after a good howl.

The community dog howl is a sound I’ve come to absolutely adore.  I must admit I’ve joined in myself on full moon nights just for the heck of it, probably freaking out passersby, but I’m not much of one to care what others think of me anyway:)  I will admit it is annoying when they break out in song at 3am, first thing in the morning, just before bed when you are trying your hardest to sleep, or any other random time when you are simply praying for silence, yet it’s still one of my favorite sounds.  Or maybe it’s just the peaceful silence that comes after the howl…

On to Modern Bangkok

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Sangkhlaburi New Year’s: Human Version

New Year’s Eve day started as it normally does as a volunteer at the Thai Animal Sanctuary: feed dogs, clean enclosures, medicate/change bandages, walks, play time, shuffle dogs around, lunch, finish whatever daily project that was scheduled, night feeding, workout, shower, dinner time!

Instead of having to prepare our own meal for dinner however, we were invited to Sai and Charlie’s place to dine for New Year’s.  Sai and Charlie, a Thai-British couple, are one of the many gems in Sangkhlaburi.  Just about every morning they drop off a dish of rice and chicken, with bits of egg in a chicken broth so we can mix a bit into the morning bowls for each dog.  For Christmas they made a huge vat of a similar soup with the added bonus of veggies for all 60 dogs in the shelter.  They made so much that each dog had their own large bowl of Christmas breakfast, instead of just a bit mixed in with their normal kibble.

Dinner With Sai and Charlie
Dinner With Sai and Charlie

We were all looking forward to the dinner and even planned to eat less during the day to save room for what we knew would be a feast.  But as we all know, getting there is half the battle!  In our defense, there were 7 of us and only one bathroom in the volunteer house, so needless to say trying to organize that part alone became a bit of a task.  We arrived about a half hour late with all 4 porch dogs (Noodles, Nipper, Balua and Piglet) who weren’t actually invited but just thought they were. 😉  The dinner spread was a delicious and impressive display of Thai cuisine.  From the soup, fresh baked WHEAT bread (if you’ve been to Thailand you know how hard it is to find anything other than plain white bread, especially in small towns!!) fried egg with veggies, and a spicy pork on rice dish to dessert.  We dined like Kings and Queens over great conversation and lots and lots of laughter.  We even learned how to say Happy New Year in Thai (Suk San Wan Be Man Ka) after about a hundred failed attempts, but finally got it down:)

We stayed a couple hours then headed into town to the school soccer stadium for the muay thai kickboxing competition.  All I had anticipated was just that: a ring set up for Muay Thai.  What we walked into was so much more!  It was seriously like a full on carnival or circus (minus the animals)!  Neon lights lit up the stadium in every direction along with tent after tent selling food, clothing, fried insects, flip-flops, underwear… You name it, they just about had it!

As we had arrived a bit late for the start of the muay thai kickboxing we were only able to see a couple of fight rounds.  The competition was going on for 5 nights (New Year’s Eve being the second night) and each night featured a different age group.  New Year’s Eve night was for the youngsters (they looked only about 6 years old!!) to the teens.  I can’t tell you how impressive the fights were!  First were the teen boys who wailed and kicked and punched eachother until a brow was split open and after only 2 rounds the fight was called.  Next up were the little kids whose heads didn’t even make it up to the top portion of the ring!!

Before each fight the competitors walk around the ring with a little hop in their step, kinda like a little dance, to each corner and bow.  Next they go to their corner and have their headdress removed and are rubbed down with deep heat oil, which is sort of a liniment oil to slick their skin making it harder for their opponent to get a good grip.  Then the fight is on!  Those little kids wailed and kicked and fought their little hearts out!  When the bell rang to signify the end of the round, their coaches would come in and sweep them up into a bear hug and gently shake them up and down.  It seriously looked like they were getting a nice cuddle after each round, but really what the “hug” was all about was to help stretch their spines.  Then they got a very thourough rub down with cold water, had their arms and legs stretched out a bit, then off again to fight.  The boys lasted through 5 full rounds until a winner was called.  So impressive!

The kids fight was the last for the night, so we wandered the rest of the field checking out the various tents and their goods for sale, then headed to the other stage set up on the field.  We hung out watching traditional lanterns light up and float into the sky, decorating the night with extra stars, and the various traditional Thai dancers up on stage.  The hours passed with drinks in hand, the company of good friends and the entertainment all around.  Then about 10 minutes to midnight the Mayor of the town got on stage to give a speech.  Of course it was lost on all of us, but it sounded like it could have been interesting.

About 7 minutes to midnight a bottle rocket from the stage shot straight over our heads directly to another stage area where it struck and lit up a huge firework display!  I’m not going to lie, I was kinda freaked out by the bottle rocket launching above us because at first I thought it was rogue.  But once I realized it was actually a planned launch, all was well.  The first firework display went on and on showering the earth with white sparks.  In the center glittered what I assume to be “Happy New Year” in Thai.

Once the first display started to peter out, the next display was shot off.  Hundreds of brilliant fireworks shot into the sky with every color possible!  I was mesmorized by the show of lights and the glitter of the lanterns still dotting the night sky behind them.  We were so close to where the action was that the ash from the fireworks rained down on us, sometimes even getting in our eyes and gawking mouths, lol!!  I was just in absolute awe.  It was one of the most impressive New Years displays I’ve seen in a while.  Especially considering how small this town really is, it was just awesome!

Knowing we had 60 dogs to feed the next day, I opted to head home to sleep (after a brief impromptu game of football using a balled up jacket as a football much to the amusement of the Thais) while the rest of the gang (minus one volunteer) proceeded to get hammered once we got back to the volunteer house.  Needless to say myself and the  volunteer who didn’t drink were up bright and early while the other 5 volunteers weren’t even able to get out of bed until about 3pm New Year’s Day, and even then were useless because of their hangovers, lol!!  For once I was actually glad I wasn’t the one who was drinking, lol!!

On to Sangkhlaburi New Years: Dog Version

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