Tag Archives: volunteering

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

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Sangkhlaburi

Once again I opted for the ‘bit more expensive but will get you there faster’ mini-bus from Kanchanaburi to Sangkhlaburi.  It took about 4 harrowing hours to get there, and boy, I’d never been so happy to finally get anywhere before!!  Reason being was because of our absolutely lunatic mini-bus driver!!  It was one of those times I just had to breathe and trust that he knew what he was doing.  Why you may ask?  Well, basically because every car or truck or motorbike we came behind was swiftly passed at a very rapid speed.  And for a good percentage of these passes, we were doing so while going around blind corners!!  Interestingly I later heard from a fellow traveler that there is an accident involving a mini-bus every day because of how crazy they drive!  And even more scary, one of the volunteers said her driver FELL ASLEEP at the wheel in the mini-bus she took!!  Lovely…

I must admit though that through much of the driving (that is while we weren’t driving like a bat out of hell around blind corners in the WRONG LANE) I was thankfully distracted by the absolutely stunning national parks around us.  I tried so many different times to take some decent pictures, but failed each time.  Again because of the warp speed we were driving, it was just impossible to take a picture that wasn’t blurry!

The road to Sangkhlaburi is one to take your time on.  And if you are able to rent a car and don’t mind driving on the “wrong” side of the road (in Thailand they drive on the left like in the UK) then do it!  Between the Erawan National Park, Sai Yok National Park and the Khao Laem National Park, just about the entire trip was breathtaking!  The last half hour or so was a bit rough because the road turned unkempt with lots of sharp uphill turns, but other than that (and the crazy driving) it was beautiful.

I arrived mid-afternoon and started wandering the little town.  It was boiling hot and I had no idea where I was really going.  All I knew was that the gentlemen I’d spoken to in Kanchanaburi who turned my mind around about going to Sangkhlaburi told me of a lovely hostel called J’s Family Homestay that he’d really enjoyed.  So in my mind, I was set on finding that place to stay as well.  There were a couple hostels in town but no one wanted to help me find J’s place, they were only set on getting me to stay there.  So I wandered town aimlessly for a bit and spotted a little place to eat on the corner.  As it was mid-afternoon, I was starving and sweating profusely and my bag was really starting to bother me, so I figured I’d stop for lunch and maybe Google where the J’s place was.

Across the street there was a spa that advertised WiFi, so I thought maybe they had it everywhere.  I asked the woman at the eatery whether they had WiFi (basically I just said WiFi?? as she didn’t speak any English) and she immediately busted out laughing.  She said something to the ladies behind her with the word ‘WiFi’ in there and they too suddenly busted out laughing.  I’m talking full on hearty belly laughs as if I’d told a hilarious joke!  So well, yea, I figured the several minutes of laughter meant that no, they didn’t have any WiFi there, lol!!

After filling up on some fried rice, I headed on down the road leading away from the main town.  I walked for what felt like forever in the heat, just feeling the sweat drip down my back and moisture soak into my backpack.  My instincts were not on my side on that day because every side road I took “feeling” like it may be down that way was in fact not correct.  I backtracked so many times that I almost just gave up and went back to town for a hostel there.  Thankfully I came across a place where the woman knew where the J’s place was!  YAY!!!  Sad news was I was going the wrong way and had to turn back up the street, make a right and walk about a kilometer down the main road… BOO!!!

The heat of the day was really wearing on me and the several glasses of water I had with lunch were just being sweat out faster than I’d absorbed them.  I was once again just about to give up when I spotted a little sign across from the Temple grounds that said “J’s Family Homestay”… HOORAY!!!!

A left turn and a block later I found the place and just as I walked up the drive, a woman stood at the top.  Her face went from a smile to neutral.  She shook her head left to right solemnly and lifted her right hand out to her side pointing to a wee tent on the grass.  “That’s all I have” she said.  Sold!!  At that point I couldn’t have cared less what kind of accommodation I actually had, I only cared that I no longer had to carry my bag around!!  I paid for a few nights and settled into my tent, happy as a clam:)

As the sun set, I went for a stroll to see the famous Mon Bridge.  Sangkhlaburi is a richly diverse area consisting of several ethnic groups to include Mon, Burmese, and of course Thai people.  Several decades ago the valley of Sangkhlaburi was home to the Mon community.  However the village was destroyed after a flood following the construction of the Khao Laem Dam.  Now a lake separates the area with the Mon village on one side and Thai/Burmese people on the other.  The two sides are connected by the famous Mon Bridge which is a very tall wooden bridge that from afar looks to be constructed in a VERY sketchy way, but walking across it feels completely secure!  Believe it or not, children actually jump off this bridge!!  Brave souls!!  There is even a second bridge made of bamboo that parallels the Mon Bridge.  Walking across it however feels completely sketchy as the bamboo is basically floating on the surface of the water and sways left and right like a slithering snake as you walk across.  Definitely NOT recommended to walk after a few drinks, lol!!!

The lake is dotted with several homes constructed out of bamboo that also simply float on the lake.  It was so lovely to see such impressive simplicity.  I must admit I’m curious as to whether the homes have bathrooms… Do they use the lake as their toilet or go elsewhere?  I’ve been harassed by my fellow volunteers as to why I don’t go swimming in the lake like the locals and they do… Let’s just say that just in case those floating house residents DO use the lake as their bathroom, well that’s why I’m choosing not to swim in the lake, lol!

That evening I went to town for the Saturday market.  Streets normally open to car traffic were completely blocked off and lined with hundreds of street food and shop vendors selling again every imaginable food or physical item one might need.  I dined on street food and wandered the shops listening to local boys jamming on guitars and drum sets then wandered back to my hostel for rest.

The next day I wandered the neighborhood, back to the bridge for another viewing then over to a little animal sanctuary I had spotted earlier in the day.  I spoke to a guy hanging out there who turned out to be the vet and inquired about volunteering there.  Unlike volunteering in the States and even in Costa Rica, they didn’t require copious amounts of information, insurance, etc, etc to vounteer.  Simply show up and work.  My kinda place!  The next day I arrived there at 9am ready to work.  I planned to only stay a few days and help out where needed.  That was almost a month ago…

I’m still here loving each day with the animals and learning something new.  I stayed in J’s Homestay for about 2 weeks, then moved into the volunteer house with the rest of the gang.  Honestly, how can I possibly leave a face like this???

 

Elvis
Elvis

One for the Dogs

Back to Thailand

Gone to the Dogs

After ferociously posting, catching up on all my travels, once again the silence (i.e. lack of posting) has begun… I figured I should tell you all why exactly.  See, I’ve literally gone to the dogs!

I’m in Sangkhlaburi, Thailand near the border with Burma (Myanmar) volunteering at the Baan Unrak Animal Sanctuary.  I may have mentioned before that my ultimate goal in life is to start an animal sanctuary of my own, and well, in order to get there I first have to actually see what its really like…

Most days are good, just the basics: feed, water, play, change blankets/mats, laundry, give meds, play more, walk the dogs with paralyzed back legs in the doggie “wheel chair”, more play, night feed, rest.  There are approximately 40 plus dogs and puppies, most are regular dogs, several are 3-legged and 3 other precious dogs are only able to use their front legs.  Well, Gizmo technically CAN use his back legs, he just chooses not to:)

Dogs rule the streets here (which I adore) but on occasion or rather more than ever necessary that means hit and runs.  While many people love their animals and actually take care of their dogs and other pets, far many more don’t.  Animals are purposely poisoned, cuts and gashes are ignored leading to very serious maggot infestations (we had to put one down because it was literally infested with THOUSANDS of maggots from his mouth to his tail, which was acutally missing, nothing more than a hole filled with squirming maggots) while others are simply abandoned or starved.  Vet care is free (donations are welcome) yet some people simply prefer to choose a grisly life for them instead of seeking help.

But, while there is that heartbreaking side to volunteering here, there are so many joys to it too.  They bring such an unconditional and pure love to my heart that is hard to match.  Unfortunately, the nature of caring for any life (human or animal) includes having to deal with every aspect of it, the good and the bad.  We help where we can, do what we can, but of course not all can be saved. Just the nature of the beast.

So you see, it’s not just for any random reason I’ve been M.I.A. on my blog, I’ve just been busy loving and caring for dogs:)  I do of course plan to catch up on about 5 other posts I have in mind, but the other excuse I have for not posting is I’ve been dealing with a super crazy virus on my tablet that kept rerouting me to a website called adfoc.us (do NOT click that!!) and some other thing called mobo market kept trying to download on my computer.  But after 4 factory resets, I think it’s finally gone:)

On to The Death Railway

Back to Thailand