I wake up at 7am to the sound of my phone's alarm and after fumbling around for my glasses I remember where I am - in the Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. I am on Imaginative Traveller's "Elephants & Adventure" volunteering trip, and am doing my week of volunteering.
Breakfast is at 7:30am, served buffet style in the dining room. You need to make sure you eat a good breakfast as you will be working hard! All the morning chores are pooh related... As you can probably guess, shovelling elephant dung is first on the list, although it tends to come out in firm round balls so you can just pick it up and put it in the pooh bags (don't worry, gloves are provided!). Other morning chores could be cleaning out the water buffalo pen, sorting out the recycling and cleaning the Cat Castle.
Once these essential jobs are done, there are always projects to be getting on with. The volunteer co-ordinators get everyone together and dish out the jobs. Some lucky people each day will go on the hour-long "elephant walk" when one of the senior park staff takes a group around the park talking about individual elephants, herbal medicines and (everyone's favourite) visiting the baby elephant.
The rest of us are given tasks to do, and today some of us are working on one of the elephant shelters, repairing some fencing, clearing waste wood and a few other jobs. It can be hot, dirty work and I must admit that any concerns about my personal appearance have been forgotten pretty early on in the day! With muddy clothes and red faces we certainly stand out from the very clean looking day visitors at the park.
One of the elephants wandering past starts to become inquisitive and approaches us a bit too close for comfort. Everyone has to get out of the way quickly. The mahout, always watching, appears from nowhere and calls the elephant away. Forcing us to take a moment's break from the work, it's a fantastic reminder of where we are and why we are here.
We carry on working until around 10:30, when then van arrives back from Chiang Mai loaded up with fruit. Each elephant can eat up to 200kg of fruit per day, so it is a big job keeping them fed. We help the mahouts to unload the sacks of watermelons, pineapples, cucumbers and bananas, and they distribute them into each elephant's basket.
Everyone at the park has a chance to participate in feeding time most days, so we head to the platforms where the hungry elephants have been eagerly waiting for lunch. No-one gets tired of the experience of passing the elephants pieces of fruit, which they accept either with their trunks or with wide open mouths.
After we have had our own lunch it is elephant bathtime. We get to do this every day at the park and it's always amazing to get so close to the elephants in the water and on the shore of the river. I have way too many photos of this! You could jump in and scrub the elephant, have photos taken with them on the shore (the mahout will show you how to tickle them behind the ears how they like it), or receive kisses from Aura, which she gives out with her trunk in return for treats.
All too soon it is back to work for the afternoon, possibly out on a truck to cut some corn or banana trees, or within the park planting trees, making repairs or general maintenance work. By 4:30-5pm everyone is ready to grab a coke or a beer and sit in the TV room for a talk or a DVD - there is something planned for most evenings. It's not compulsory though, so if you prefer you can get back to your room for a shower before dinner.
In the evening we unwind with a massage - only £2 for a hour's session! We can also play cards, have a Thai lesson, watch a DVD or just sit and chat with other volunteers. Everyone comes away from the Elephant Park with some wonderful memories - after all not everyone visiting Thailand will have such a chance to get close to and get to know these amazing creatures.
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