The Elephant Diary!
Trip Start May 06, 2006
81Trip End Mar 23, 2009
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Next I want to thank everyone for the gifts they gave me before I came away on this trip. Everything's been used so far - the inflatable pillow from Rod (stopped my bed bug paranoia!), the maglites from Rory and Nan and Grandad (even though I managed to leave one in my trouser pocket after Adam's Peak and left it to soak for over 4 days, it magically still works! Such amazing little things!), the hand spray and toilet paper from Auntie Carol (especially in Sri Lanka with the "eat with your right, wipe with your left" motto!), the little bottles from Sarah and Kieron so I don't have to lug massive ones around, my waterproof from mum and dad (again, especially in Sri Lanka, even if it has been covered in mud, lion poo and leaches and got a little rip from Lilo the lion!), my paper journal for my more personal thoughts and really just about everything I was given
Okay, onto the adventures! Week two at the elephant orphanage saw a sad start. On Monday we arrived to find that our already sick elephant, Karuna, had collapsed in the night and we went with the vet team to try and help her. She had IV drips (about 20 of them!) and we had to inject them with Glucose and Vitamin B to try and keep her going. We were there all morning (I have to say looking slightly dangerous with needles and syringes in our hands!) and then the vets continued with the afternoon shift. We got up Tuesday morning to find she had passed away during the night. It was a sad day for all and her owners came to take her away and bury her.
I don't know how much I've explained about why the elephants are here but their owners basically send them here when they are old and cannot work any more or just for a break 'cos they've been working so hard. If you go to this website www.eureka.lk/elefound then you can find out almost all you need to know!
The rest of week two followed the pattern of week one but with less rain and we still didn't really get to do anything all week. On Thursday we took lunch to a local home for physically and mentally disabled people which was so far up in the hills it was ridiculous. We later found out that for a long time Sri Lankans did not consider them part of society and infact these people were often 'disposed of' if they did not fit the 'norm'
Week 3 began with rain again but we just threw ourselves into it anyway. As much as we didn't want the other volunteers to leave, it did free up 6 elephants so we could take our pick of which one we wanted. I asked for Gune (said like the Goonies!) and his mahout Kalu (not sure of that spelling!). It did mean I have to be at work for 6:30am but it's not such a problem when I'm in bed by 10 every night anyway. Gune is one of two males here and is absolutely massive (including unbelievably large front feet!). He's the one who carries a lot of the trees etc for the other elephants who are too old and can't manage. The other male, Raja, is a tusker and none of us are allowed to work with him 'cos he's far too boisterous and temperamental so we all love Gune more! Gina, who I get on with pretty well, got Rani as her elephant who is a lovely and very friendly female who is love with Gune (as are almost all of the females!). Her mahout and mine are very good friends so we do everything with our elephants together which makes it even more fun
Along with washing our elephants every morning we also get to help with the vet checks and nurse their wounds - another opportunity for us to look slightly scary to onlookers - and then feed them their dough balls and bread containing their medicine. After that we've been helping with gardening every morning which we all now hate with a passion and no longer get fruit treats (I think our hatred may show!).
At the end of week 3 we decided to head down to the beach and decided on the slightly more lively place of Unawatuna. We had initially been planning to go down there this past weekend so we could party in style for my birthday but when the vet's opportunity came up we changed our plans. It was a bit of a mission to get there and we ended up traveling two hours for no reason but we put it down to experience and got a taxi to our destination - slightly more expensive than our usual bus trips but not so bad between 6 of us and so much more convenient
Unawatuna was a beautiful beach and not too crowded with tourists. There were definitely more foreigners there than on any trip I've been on so far but there were also a fair few Sri Lankans enjoying their sea! Less stares here than usual and you can walk around in your shorts and vest tops without feeling completely out of place!
We partied hard on Friday night and went to a club night called "Happy Banana" with some English, German and rasta Sri Lankans (more rastas!) which was a lot of fun and we got to dance! Yey! Something that's seriously lacked on this trip so far! We just chilled out on the beach on Saturday and Sunday night and then headed back to MEF on Monday night Disaster with the bus with it being a "Poya Day" (full moon day I think - they have so many random holidays on Mondays here you never really know what they're for!) and there was a 3 hour que for the bus to Colombo so we got another slightly more expensive taxi (although we'd gained 3 people so it was even cheaper!).
All in all a good weekend - even if I did totally burn my stomach leading to blisters a few days later. The craziest part about it? I was in the shade the whole day
This past week has been good too. We went to visit Pinnawela which is the bigger elephant orphanage down the road from us. None of us really liked it there as the elephants weren't treated all that nicely - they were pushed to the side of the river just so the tourists could see them instead of being allowed to play in the mud where they looked like they were having so much fun. Poor things. I have to say I'm seeing a distinct lack of respect for the elephants here considering they're supposed be treated as gods by Sri Lankan people
Something I have been meaning to do is introduce the dogs who live on our property with us. I think I mentioned before that stray dogs are a huge problem in Sri Lanka. They are quite literally everywhere you go and because no-one can afford to neuter them or keep them away from other dogs they are rapidly reproducing and spreading a lot of disease. Rebecca, a previous volunteer, is a veterinary nurse and is looking into setting up a neutering program working with MEF which I would definitely come back for. The ones we have here have been neutered to avoid reproducing - they stick around thanks to old volunteers who kept feeding them so they came back! There are loads more around - especially at night - but we try not to encourage those ones!
Anyway, introductions (god I can ramble can't I?!)
I don't know if any of you managed to catch the program on ITV about the place I'm working but we got to see it last week and it was really quite good! Brian Blessed was a slight embarrassment and apparently a complete liar with some of the stuff he was rambling on about but it did wonders for the publicity here
On an random note I learnt how to make a roof out of coconut palms this week. I'm not sure what use it'll have anywhere - especially not in England where we don't even have them but it's a skill I quite like knowing! On an even more random note I've observed some more things about Sri Lanka;
1) Their steps are very uneven which Gina just found hilarious when I came out with it - and not just the ones going up Adam's Peak - all over! I find this annoying when you're trying to judge how far you should step!
2) They have constant power cuts here - we found out why in the paper yesterday. It's apparently an energy saving technique!! The power plants tried to make more power available in the hope that people would use less (logic?!) but it hasn't been happening so they'll be creating more power cuts to save energy. We all found this quite amusing and also very odd. Who decides a specific place is using too much power and then how do they cut out that place? And if you're paying your bill then does it make a difference?
3) Just down the road from us is about a mile of stalls which sell inflatable toys. Firstly, we're nowhere near the sea up here so we have no idea why they sell them and secondly they sell really random inflatable toys like snowmen... half of Sri Lanka quite literally wouldn't even know what a snowman was! In addition, all the shops are about 10 metres apart from each other all selling the exact same thing. This seems to be very common in Sri Lanka - they haven't quite grasped the fact that even distribution will create more profit than everything being in the same place selling the same thing!
4) Sri Lankan people seem to like starting building things - walls, houses, etc - and then don't seem to finish it. The amount of half houses around that look like they've been like that for some time is quite astonishing!
5) They have this weird headshake thing that we still haven't completely worked out the meaning of. Sara informed us that 'no' is easy to detect, the shaking of the head with a smile means yes and without means okay...
Right, I think this is quite long enough and should update you all on my elephant adventures! Still doesn't really compare to the lions but am glad things have improved dramatically! (speaking of the lions please go to Gemma and Jimmy's website - www.roughguidesintouch.com/jimmygemma to see some more amazing photos!). It's my last day here on Wednesday and I leave very early on Thursday morning to fly to my next destination, Singapore (if you know anywhere good to go or stay then PLEASE email me!). I'll be sad to leave my boy Gune and to have to live out of my backpack properly but I'm also looking forward to exploring more of the world and meeting more people! Thank you again for all your cards and emails for my birthday and I hope to find somewhere to email you all properly soon! Take care!