The Call of the Wild

I really can’t think of a better way to see all of my favourite animals than bouncing around on the top of an old safari van while holding on for dear life, but still trying to take that millionth photo of a giraffe. I’m sore, sunburned, bruised, and bug-bitten but it was all worth it.

34701200_10156918548646874_2270789380224319488_n

Our four-day adventure started off at a rhino sanctuary. We were being briefed on what would happen when all of a sudden he ends the speech with the following, “and if one charges, hide behind a big tree.” UHHHHHH. What? At that point I had no idea that leaving our safari van in the sanctuary was even an option, nor that it could be required. We climbed back into the van, now with this new guide who claimed he knew everything that rhinos were about to do. Okay, bud.

We drove a short distance before stopping at an intersection on the dirt road. Our guide hopped out and off we went, trailing behind him. Many things ran through my mind, like snakes, ticks, other things that bite, and now finding a large tree within sprinting distance. We walked through the brush for a few minutes when he suddenly stopped and pointed at who knows what. For the life of me I could not see what our rhino whisperer was so insistent on. Then, I saw it. An actual living, breathing rhino no more than 50 feet in front of us, sleeping in the bush. “Let’s go.” He whispered. “You sure about that?” My survival instinct replied. Regardless, in we went.

We were now incredibly close to the sleeping rhino, and noticed she had a young baby with her. We watched them for a while, peacefully snoring away. Our guide informed us that they don’t move much in the heat and I respect that. However, the baby was hungry and made a few noises at the mom who obliged and started moving so the baby could feed. I took a step back when she rose and we could really see how big she was, but her adorable chubby unicorn-self did not concern herself with us. It was amazing to see the two interact, which is something I doubt I will get to experience again. After a short time, we left them in peace and made our way back to the safety of the van. Our rhino encounter was a small taste of what was to come in the next few days.

 

34963699_10156918589391874_4157716552289878016_nWe continued our journey out to where we would be staying for the next few days, when all of a sudden our driver said the most terrifying sentence for someone with a fear of primates, “Close your windows, the baboons are coming.” Oh god. We passed many, walking around on the road, hanging out in the trees, one tiny one was even riding a larger one like a horse. Which is definitely something you don’t see every day. Eventually we passed through baboon territory and made it to our new temporary home.

34791766_10156918554471874_2379967148240928768_n

The cabin was something that would be listed for rent as ‘cozy’ and ‘rustic’. And by that I mean it was tiny and the shower only kind of worked. But there was enough room for two tiny beds cloaked in bed nets, which we seem to think are way more protective than they actually are. Hear a weird noise at night? It’s fine, I’m under a net. While I don’t think it really works that way, it does offer some comfort at least.

The next day started early, with a morning game drive. My advice to anyone going to spend hours bouncing around on the top of a roof is for the love of god, bring cushions. During our travels we even acquired a new friend when a tiny gecko decided he should make our van his new home. We named him Gary and continued on our way. We drove past so many animals, I could hardly believe it. Elephants, giraffes, water buffalo, warthogs, hippos, antelopes, and the list goes on. However, like many safari goers I had my heart set on the big cats.

34906047_10156918548776874_6108997053302439936_nWe took a ferry across the Nile to another area where we were on the lookout for lions. After driving for a little while we stopped in a little parking lot area and were told to follow a path to a waterfall. Seeing as we were just looking for lions, I was a little suspicious of meandering through the jungle with my probably tasty-self exposed, but okay. The waterfall was stunning. It is the area where the Nile is the most powerful and you can hear it roaring for some distance.

After exploring that area for a bit we made our way back to the ferry but we had just missed it, and had to wait a while for the next one. I was peacefully napping in the car when I was woken up by the deep “ahh ahh ahh” of a nearby hippo. Oh, Africa. Our evening game drive was just as spectacular, but there we heard word there was a fresh kill by a nearby lion pride. Luckily, we were able to find them, and watch them briefly as they ate their prize, and even the babies joined in.

The next day was filled with more animals, excitement, and roof bruises. We took a river tour up the Nile, to see some more of the animals along the banks. I honestly had no idea so many hippos existed. My advice is maybe don’t go swimming in the Nile. Between the crocodiles and hippos, you would probably not make it back out. At this point we were starting to worry about Gary. We had not seen him since he first darted into the van. I am not sure what happened to Gary, but wherever he is, I hope he is happy.

34770821_10156918547771874_3599847128567906304_nAfter our boat tour, we took one last drive around the park in search of the big cats. All of a sudden we took off, holding on for dear life wondering where on earth our driver was going. Then there he was, in the distance – an absolutely gorgeous lion with a mane in all its Mufasa glory. We kept going, closer. I was now very aware of the fact that I was on the roof and nothing stood between me and this lion. We made eye contact. It was one of the most amazing and absolutely terrifying experiences I have had to date. Thankfully he was very relaxed and seemed to watch us like we were watching him. He was everything I hoped to see on this adventure, and more.

We continued the drive, and were lucky enough to see a leopard sleeping in a tree with its adorable limbs dangling down. We savoured the last drive out, passing still more elephants and giraffes as we went. It was truly an experience like no other.

34887995_10156918547711874_5603892380848619520_n

34962418_10156918548666874_3760593525230534656_nAt dinner that night, we asked our driver about the lion, both a little surprised we had gotten so close. He said that the lions don’t mind the people, it’s the cheetahs you have to look out for. He then told us a story of how a few years ago a cheetah ate a women on safari and finished the story with, and I quote, “Yeah, it probably ruined the trip”. YES, it probably did.

34849753_10156918548721874_5424266145471397888_nIn conclusion, safaris are amazing and if you are considering one I would absolutely recommend it. I have never seen so many incredible animals in my entire life and am unlikely to again. They are truly beautiful creatures. Just remember the sunscreen. Even SPF 100 could not protect me from the sun at the equator.

We are now back to work with the research, finishing up this coming week and flying back to London on Wednesday. I have since discovered a tiny gecko in my room. Gary, is that you? While this has been an adventure to say the least, I am ready to go back and finish out the summer in the UK. Africa will be an experience I never forget, and will never want to.

Advertisements

Sun Sprinkles

It is starting to seem like every day we either acquire a fan club of little kids following us around, or they are absolutely terrified of us. Apparently today we were mostly terrifying. Two little kids in particular, made a game of shoving each other closer to me then freaking out and running away. One time a little kid even touched my arm and made a run for it. I swear I don’t bite. However, for the most part the reaction is fairly positive and we make a lot of little friends wherever we go. One somewhat confused little girl screamed “Chinese!” when she saw me, but she seemed to excited about it I didn’t have the heart to tell her.

Today I made some very adorable friends while conducting an interview and got a workout in the process. Turns out, babies turn into the same approximate weight of lead the exact moment they fall asleep. Still cute though.

33835364_10156892290806874_3105533398236528640_n

Speaking of other small things that bite – I saw a snake. It was slithering into a bush, doing as snakes do. It just so happened to be about a foot and half away from my feet before I noticed it. So that’s fun. But thankfully it didn’t pull a Gandalf, and let me pass in peace with a mildly elevated heart rate.

During our fieldwork we foolishly don’t stop to eat, having a snack here and there if we are lucky. So we get pretty hungry by the end of the day. Which is why one day we decided to order pizza (yes, again) as a break from our regular veggies and rice we were able to acquire. Also, it was BOGO pizza so how could we pass that up? BUT. We did it wrong (or very right) and I didn’t even know there was a way to mess that up. We ordered two pizzas online and got confused when the price wouldn’t adjust for the sale and just figured we would order it anyway and sort it out when they arrived. HOWEVER. When they arrived it was two pizza boxes, and the price of two pizzas. We were still confused why it didn’t register the sale, when the pizza guy finally realized what had happened and told us to open one of the boxes. Inside each box was two pizzas stacked on top of each other. Now we had a total of 4 pizzas. Things had escalated.

I don’t know if you have ever stacked two hot pizzas on top of each other, but it sort of turns into a cheesy pizza sandwich. Which was still a welcome change.

During our very busy field days, we spend all of our time outside running between drug shops, so sunscreen is key. Today I made the mistake of telling myself I would put it on in the car, and of course I was wrong. I remembered by our second shop visit and luckily grabbed my backup sunscreen from my bag, which is 100% necessary to have. I started putting it on my arms when one of our field assistants asked me what it was for. I explained it was to protect me from the sun. Which confused him. I said that if I did not put it on every day, the sun would turn me the same colour as a tomato. He then touched some of the freckles on my arm and said “What causes these?”. I explained how the sun marks me. He thought about it for a second and held up his arm to my spotted one to compare and said “I think my skin is stronger than yours.” I think so too, friend. I have acquire many freckles over the years, or ‘sprinkles’ as I used to think they were called as a little kid.

You see some very interesting things walking around the streets of these little towns. For example, there are some very interesting business models. I have seen a few women walking around with about 50 bras hanging off their arms to sell. The roadside is not really a place I am prepared to make bra-related decisions. But I guess it’s probably because I’ve never had to before. There have also been people selling crickets to eat, car mats, world maps, and basically everything you can think of.

Speaking of the roadside, apparently they are also the place for matters of the heart. I was walking to another drug shops the other day and A random man shouted “I love you!” at me. Though, to be honest, I question his sincerity.

In other news, we leave on Friday for a 4 day safari. We have been very busy and I am looking forward to actually enjoying the scenery and seeing more of Uganda. Plus animals. I like those. I can’t wait to see what this next part of our adventure has waiting for us.

Not A Very Lazy River

Our time in Africa is now half over, with just a little more than three weeks to go. This past week continued with the same level of mishaps and confusion, so I can’t say I expect anything less from the next few. I will elaborate.

With things getting a bit exhausting in the field, we decided to take an adventure day and go with our driver (Patrick) to the source of the Nile river. Which, to be honest I had no idea was in Uganda. For someone who as a child read every age-appropriate book on ancient Egypt that the local library had to offer, I was pretty excited about it. The Nile flows from Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa, so that’s where we went. Patrick arranged for us to go on a boat tour of the lake, a little fishing village, and the physical source of the Nile.

33406946_10156880559896874_8339830503095926784_n

33579830_10156880395591874_8879176540324102144_n

You can feel the current of the Nile pulling you in as you get closer. The point where it officially changes from Lake Victoria to Nile is marked with a sign, and a small river cabin that serves Guinness. So that was unexpected.

33499312_10156880395641874_2347467710532681728_n

We puttered around for a little bit, catching glimpses of large monitor lizards waiting for roosting birds to make a mistake. On our way back, our transportation troubles struck again as our boat’s engine died. We both just laughed as it is becoming expected at this point. Although, thankfully we had left the current before it happened or we would probably be well on our way to Egypt by now. There was only one paddle and a strong enough current remained that we were getting nowhere fast. However, before too long another boat came to our rescue and we hitched a ride back. My hero. We had lunch overlooking the Nile and listening to it’s surprising power. It lived up to all expectations.

33507000_10156880511321874_2043116492463013888_n

As for the research, it is going well. We have completed 24 interviews and held three focus group discussions, so things are progressing. Part of our post-work routine has become to lay in the sun inside the compound and unwind after a busy day – with extremely high SPF on our side. However, today was rather amusing as we overheard a conversations between two kids discussing our actions.

Child 1: What are they doing?

Child 2: It’s called sunbathing.

Child 1: But…. Why.

Great question. It would probably have something to do with us trying to become a little less like a yeti sighting, and also a little bit of enjoying the sun like a cat.

So now it’s time for some real talk. While I can truly appreciate the beauty that Uganda has to offer, I am getting a little bit tired of the constant sexism. It is incredibly frustrating to be constantly ignored, and have anything I do say doubled check with a guy before it is accepted. It is to the point of being cut-off and asking John what he thinks instead, even though I just said the same exact thing. It wears on a person. John is very understanding, but being the only female on the team leaves me at the very bottom of the ranks, regardless of qualifications. Trying to find a balance of asserting myself and being respectful of culture leaves me feeling defeated and quietly eating my lunch in a feminist rage. In summary, I’m really glad it’s Friday.

Africa – Featuring Toto

I can’t say I’ve ever been quantified in cattle before, nor was it something I ever contemplated. Either way, I now know the answer – twelve. How do I know this? I was bartered for.

We enlist the help of local guides in the area we visit to bring us to different drug shops and introduce us to people. Our guide that day was the village chairman, who was incredibly helpful. During one of our shop visits a random guy came up to us and the chairman jokingly introduced me as his daughter. After speaking in Ugandan for a few minutes, the chairman said that he asked how many cattle it would take to marry me. He told him 12. I asked if that was a high price, and he informed me that it most definitely was. Uh, good? The man took my hand, claimed he only had five and asked me if that was enough. Sorry cow-suitor, better luck next time.

32627666_10156856919126874_5961115943412170752_n

In other news, getting places in Uganda seems to be mildly problematic. Reason 1: We downloaded Uber onto our new study phone and after booking, our journey magically changed from up the road to somewhere in Moscow, Russia. Which seems a bit far for a meeting if you ask me. Reason 2: Our van broke down on the way back from the field one day and we were temporarily stranded until they found someone to come rescue us. And finally, Reason 3: Another day on our way to the field we were rear-ended by a taxi, which banged up the back a bit (Don’t worry Mom, I’m fine). Thankfully we now have our original driver back, so things are looking up transport-wise.

Taxis aren’t the only dangerous things running around. We also had an encounter with a snake, or so we thought. One night we decided we (mostly me) definitely needed snacks, so we went for an adventure to the canteen in the compound. Our walk there is dimly lit, but very short. All of a sudden on the path there was a huge snake-shape thing that was way too close for comfort. After subsequently freezing, panicking, and then assessing the situation did we realize that it was just a piece of rope with a knot that looked suspiciously like a snake’s head. We escaped with our lives – this time.

32665335_10156856919171874_4863230763916591104_n

My favourite piece of news would definitely have to be that one night after I had climbed into bed, I heard music playing outside my window. I quickly realized that it was the exact song I wanted it to be. Yes, ‘Africa’ by Toto was playing mysteriously outside like a subtle theme song to our adventure. Before long, we were yelling “IT’S HAPPENING!” to each other through the walls. I jammed to it, wholeheartedly, sitting under my mosquito-net on a warm African night. Life is complete.

The Not-So-Secret Handshake

Settling in to a new country involves acceptance of a new normal. Our particular normal now includes trying not to blow up the kitchen with a rather sketchy propane stove, hand-washing clothes, and sitting through meetings with frequent power cuts while hearing monkey calls outside. For the most part, I think we are doing okay. Uganda is beautiful. The grass is a vibrant green, and the sky is incredibly blue. Which is quite an adjustment from the overall grey-ness of London in winter. So we really can’t complain.

We have managed to get our hands on some fantastic fruits and veggies. We have even found cheese and coffee grounds for a French press we discovered in the apartment. Ice coffee is now on the menu, which is ideal.

We have continued to make progress with our research. Today we went to a similar district to pilot some of our questions to make sure we are asking what we think we are asking. As it turns out, we have some changes to make. Our normal driver was away running a safari, so we had another guy who was also very nice. His name was Reagan. Our now good buddy ‘real Ronald’ sat up front next to him, which John (rather pleased with himself) pointed out was the U.S. president related pun that no one asked for. However, I still had to stifle a laugh.

Something we have learned is there seems to be a country-wide secret handshake that we have been stumbling through for the past week. However, today we both nailed it and gained instant respect from the people we encounter in the rural district when we could execute it properly. It seems to be a little signal that you are familiar with the area. Personally, I’m a fan.

31956529_10156837567646874_4405373871339864064_n

We enjoyed speaking with the people in the rural district, and they were incredibly helpful. Everywhere we went, we gathered a small crowd of children all whispering “Muzungu”, which is the local Ugandan word for “white person”. Some were visibly thrilled to see us, others were more hesitant but we figured out we could get a smile from them if we waved and said hello. They were very cute, and equally as friendly. I suspect we will attract further attention as we continue to work in the rural areas. Especially since in the harsh Ugandan sun our very pale skin is almost iridescent. Sunscreen is our friend on this trip.

31961906_10156837567251874_1369844823665672192_n

Overall, it was a great day, we learned a lot but somehow fieldwork seems to keep getting in the way of things like lunch. We were patiently waiting to return back to the apartment to make a stir-fry with all the amazing vegetables we now have in our possession. Once we finally arrived back, I got started chopping the fresh garlic, onions, etc… only to put them in the pan and have the flame go out. You know when you mentally prepare yourself for food? Well, our stove had different plans. I am beginning to think it is taunting us. Apparently our large propane tank is empty. Ugh.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. And by that I mean we ordered pizza online. It actually showed up and was decent. So now I have cold pizza and ice coffee planned for breakfast, which I am definitely not mad about. But when we finally do get to eat that stir-fry, oh boy, it’s going to be great.

Never a dull moment in research.

A Tale of Two Ronalds

The seven-week adventure in Uganda has begun. Together with another MSc student (John), I am here researching bacterial resistance to antibiotics, and various other things surrounding their sales in local human and animal drug shops. I am looking forward to the work, and learning what I can while we are here.

Uganda has been kind to us so far. We were fortunate enough to have a ride from the airport, and someone to let us in to the apartment we are renting from a fellow university researcher. Even though our first full day was a public holiday, someone from our team arranged for us to be taken around to do errands by a man named Patrick, who will be our research driver. We even made a few tourist stops along the way. I have already seen three monkeys, which was unexpected. For those who know I have an arguably irrational fear of monkeys, they will understand my audible gasps that followed the sightings.

31682524_10156821426791874_4626049819289321472_n

Grocery shopping was interesting. There is not much we recognize in the store right outside where we are staying. We managed to find pasta, bread, eggs, and peanut butter. Which is a solid start. Today we went back and found rice and a piece of red velvet cake. So, at least we won’t starve? Word on the street is our housekeeper can hook us up with fruits and veggies. This will be investigated further.

The place we are staying is nice. It’s in a gated compound area with a little canteen so we don’t have to go far. What I didn’t expect is for the grounds to be overrun with gigantic 4-foot tall storks. They are everywhere, especially by the playground. They seem nice enough, as in I have yet to see them fly off with a small child. But I will remain vigilant. A friend suggested that maybe they are just keeping an eye on the babies they brought, and I like that idea much better.

31732122_10156821425781874_5507880044803915776_n

Today was our first real project day. The guy we are sharing the apartment with, a medical doctor from Yale, walked us to the school today so we could have our first project team meeting. We walked about 20 minutes to the campus, trailing behind our rather tall friend, as his legs could carry him much faster than ours. It didn’t help that I was tripping over my far too large skirt that I panic bought on Amazon days before leaving after learning the dress code I would be held to here. The walk involved busy streets, dirt paths, and crumbling sidewalks. Many well-dressed people dodged mud puddles on their way to work, as people on motorcycle taxis shouted for them to jump on.

Our main supervisor here was unable to attend the meeting, so she arranged for a man named Ronald to meet us at the school. Luke (our Yale friend) took us to the school and ran into Ronald, and politely handed us off. We informed him that we had a meeting with Anthony and he took us up to the offices.

HOWEVER.

We were in the wrong place. We had met the wrong Ronald, who took us to the wrong Anthony. This other Ronald was just too nice to not try to take us where we needed to go. Eventually we figured it out, and found our Ronald, who proceeded to take us to the correct Anthony.

The meeting went well, progress was made, and we scheduled a trip for tomorrow to the rural district we will be working in. Friday we have another big meeting, and hopefully after that we can start piloting our research and go from there.

Well Uganda, this will definitely be an adventure.

 

 

Adulthood: The ‘Final’ Frontier

I am sure at one point or another, everyone has wondered if they have crossed that invisible line in life where you ‘level up’ into adulthood. Unfortunately it does not involve some identifying sound effects like Super Mario World, although I still maintain that it should. I think we can all agree that it is hard to tell without it.

Does it involve a single act like buying a house, getting married, or is it a career thing? Is it gradual, or maybe a point system? Who’s to say. I remember being a kid thinking of 26 and never questioned if that was adulthood or not. But now that I am here, the lines are a little more blurred. I am not sure where I stand in relation to this invisible line, but I do know what growing up feels like to this point.

The best way I can describe it is by using an airport travelator (yes, that is a real word – I googled it). You know those moving walkways in airport hallways? Yeah, those. When you step on you just glide down the hallway with no cares in the world; that’s childhood. Growing up is like that moment when you step off and you become acutely aware of how slow your own little legs can carry you. Then you are stuck there dragging your baggage, recognizing your limitations.

Suddenly your body decides that hangovers should punish you for your adventures, and naps become a hobby. The one thing that I do know for sure is that the first time you think “gosh, I’m so grown up”, you’re probably not. Like many, I was incredibly naïve in my early 20s, and probably still am. There seems to be a phase I have named the ‘youth blip’ that is quickly dashed when things like ‘planning for your future’ become real. I’ve created this helpful diagram to illustrate this.

Screen Shot 2018-03-03 at 12.13.09 PM

I don’t consider this to be a negative thing. Personally, I think figuring things out can be a lot of fun, sprinkled with an existential crisis here and there. One day you are dreaming of travelling the world, spending months exploring parts unknown; then all of a sudden working 9-5 and having a house with a yard sounds fantastic. It can be pretty funny to watch your once wild friends now raving about how much they love their new kitchen appliances.

We are at the age now where one day you can make huge career/life decisions, and the next day you have commitment issues with your new series on Netflix. Sometimes I think about the next few years like “I’ve totally got this”, then two seconds later it becomes, “I definitely don’t got this”.  To those people in the same situation, I salute you. We are doing our best (most days).

If I can be bold enough to offer some advice to my fellow almost-sort-of-adults, it would be the following:

  1. Surround yourself with people who care about you. Everyone needs a cheer squad to celebrate life’s little victories.
  2. It’s not going backwards, it’s changing directions. Change can be good, even if it doesn’t look that way at the start.
  3. Enjoy the ride. Don’t forget to appreciate where you are instead of focusing on where you’re going.
  4. It’s okay to not be okay. You don’t have to positive all the time, frankly it’s exhausting.

It’s understandable to miss the days when you would get a treat bag for just showing up to a birthday party, or not having to think about taxes. Life is still fun, just the definition of fun changes to things like dinner parties and new socks. Although age will never change how I feel about slumber-parties with my girls, just now they involve wine.

I believe that one day I will wake up and realize I levelled up. Whether that is weeks from now, months or years, I have no idea. But for now, I’ll try to keep enjoying the in-between and stumble my way through as countless people have before.

Love Letter to Canada

We have been living in the UK for just over 4 months now, and it is officially the longest I have ever been away. We have come a long way from when we first arrived, after booking a one-way flight and hoping for the best. Our first greeting to this country involved a confused guesthouse operator leaving us with no where to go. We sat on the grass near the house with all our bags propped up on a large tree, desperately trying to see if anyone who walked by was the person we were waiting for. They weren’t, and they probably thought we were homeless.

Cut to now, I have finished my first semester of school, Mark is bartending at a swanky spot in Kensington, and yes we do have an apartment. I like to think we are doing quite well here. We try to travel when we can, and have so far we have ventured to Rome, Pompeii, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Glasgow,  Paris, and Berlin. We love being able to see these fantastic places, but we rank our favourites based on which ones remind us of home. You can see the irony. So that is why I have decided to write this, my love letter to Canada.

Hello, Canada?

Uh hi, it’s been a while. I hope you’re doing well. I know I said I needed space, that maybe a year or more would be good for us, but you were right. I miss you. Don’t get me wrong, I love what being Canadian offers me in this great big world. I love the look on people’s faces when they ask what part of America I am from and then immediately apologizing when I say I’m from Canada (sorry American friends, but this happens). I have great pride when explaining just how bone-chattering cold it gets back home, even though I hate it while I’m there. I still laugh every time the conversation turns to Justin Trudeau’s butt (which is more frequent than you’d think). I love bonding with strangers when we discover we are both Canadian, and explaining to non-Canadians all the fantastic people who have come from our great land. You give me a lot as a traveller and I am forever grateful for that. 

Frankly, I miss parts of you that I didn’t expect. Tostitos for one. Those crunchy bits of joy are delicious and don’t exist here for whatever horrible reason. An honest-to-goodness plate a nachos would do a lot for my soul. Canadian beer and real maple syrup also, but that’s just obvious. Our delightful monopoly-like currency as well, although I do always enjoy explaining it’s called a toonie because it’s two loonies. That always seems to get people for some reason. Of course I miss friends and family, but quite honestly I miss your open space. THERE’S PEOPLE EVERYWHERE HERE. The tube (subway) is basically just an underground germ factory hellbent to take me down.  I will admit that it’s gotten me a few times already.

But my dear sweet Canada, you have always been there for me. You’ve always caught me when I fell, even though it was your icy sidewalks that made me slip in the first place. I promise to stop complaining about shovelling snow.. okay, we both know that is a lie. But I’ll be better, I swear! I can learn to love when my face freezes in February, if it means I don’t melt in the summer. I always seem to want to get away and travel to parts unknown, but now I’d just love a Tim Horton’s fix. I can’t promise I won’t have other desires, my passport will always be my second love, but you, you gorgeous maple leaf, will always be my first. 

There are a few more months standing between us, 8 until next September to be exact. But until then, I will dream of snow angels and hockey games until we can be reunited. I know it’s asking a lot to be welcomed back with open arms, but you are my home and you will always hold a special place in my heart, I can only hope the feeling is mutual. I am so sorry for leaving (eh), but know that no matter how far away I go, I will always come back to you and I will always love you.  

Sincerely,

Your ever apologetic Canadian

26655006_10156478427636874_450192217_o

Night Cobras

“Would you like to float down the river?” Well, yeah. That sounded like a great idea. River tubing in Thailand? Sign me up! However, their definition of ‘float’ was much different than mine. I kept saying ‘tubing’ and while they were saying ‘floating’. Another English difference I though. When will I learn?

We piled into the back of a truck, they grabbed a suspicious amount of lifejackets, and we were off. I assumed the tubes were already wherever we were going, and was rather confused when we stopped at a random point in the river. I watched the two young Mahouts who joined us grab a few of the lifejackets and start attaching them to their bodies in odd ways. Oh.

The Thai volunteer who was acting as the guide handed me a lifejacket and they headed into the river. When they said ‘floating’ they really meant it. The activity was waiting until the river was at it’s highest after the dam was opened upstream, and strapping lifejackets to you and essentially letting the river wash you away. I trusted them and fashioned myself a lifejacket seat and joined them on the riverside.

Now, I must explain that I am not afraid of snakes in normal situations. In Canada there is very little hiding in the grass that can hurt me and I take that for granted. In Thailand there are many species of large snakes, some of which are deadly. This includes king cobras and pit vipers, as well as large pythons. The entire trip has been spent avoiding tall grass and making cobra jokes. Which are not as funny when walking near the woods at night. We decided there were many varieties of cobras to be concerned about. Shoe cobras, tree cobras, night cobras, and wall cobras (which I will come back to) to name a few.

When I was standing at the river’s edge looking hesitantly at the fast moving water, ‘river cobras’ or pythons in particular came to mind. My new friend noticed my hesitation, and I informed him I was trying to be cautious about snakes since the edge had vegetation that obstructed my view. To which he responded, “There are no sna… okay that’s a lie. But there are none in the middle of the river.”

Splash. In I went.

The strength of the river surprised me. I was curious how we were going to get out, but for the time being I enjoyed bobbing along the river in my makeshift seat. It was a relaxing experience for the most part, except when fleeting thoughts of pythons came to mind.

We journeyed down the river for a while until we arrived back on the property of the sanctuary. They told me to grab the branches of the tree near the ‘beach’ area where we had bathed the elephants the day before. Although there was one problem with that. We had arrived at elephant bathing time.

There were about six or more elephants in the water. I grabbed the branch as instructed and had to aim myself at the beach and plan my route to avoid the elephants. The Mahouts were with the elephants in the water, so I felt relatively safe. It was just not a predicament I ever thought that I would be in. After some wrestling with the branches, I managed to make my way to shore, and successfully avoided colliding with an elephant. Though we did see what we are pretty confident was a python in the river the next day. Great.

The second snake encounter happened the very next day. We were finishing up with one of the elephants visiting the clinic when someone shouted, “Snake!”. I turned to watch an almost meter long skinny green pit viper slither around the dogs food bowl and maneuver itself into the bamboo wall of the clinic building. Which also happens to be the building where my room is. Oh no.

I was not initially afraid, I was far enough away from it (15 feet or so), that I did not feel like I was in danger. However, I then thought about the many places that snake could go. This snake appeared to be an expert in psychological warfare. I immediately remembered the people who live below me in the building talking about how just a few days ago they had another green snake poke it’s head out from the wall, flail around a little bit, then disappear. This was not a reality I was ready to be faced with.

The next two nights were spent with snakes on the mind, and eyes darting around in the dark. Luckily there were no further encounters. We were lucky and made it out alive. Though that may be a bit dramatic. Admittedly the thought of snakes in the walls or unexpected places stuck with me for a little while. Thankfully I am back in Canada now.

Even with some occasional danger, I had an incredible journey and will take what I learned with me as I continue both my career and my adventures throughout the world. Next stop? London, England for the year. I can’t wait.

 

The Elephant Keepers

A palace was the last stop before venturing to the elephant place. It was an extremely scenic spot, with a large water monitor cruising through the river like a crocodile guarding a castle. The area was full of history about the progression of Thailand, but the heat was unbearable. Apparently knees are too scandalous, so we had to rent floor length wrap skirts to cover ourselves. We later found out that they were not rentals and we purchased the heavy, brightly coloured wraps. Oh good.

19024513_10155785228261874_655108680_o

19047367_10155785228831874_1527049705_o

19074499_10155785228266874_1285594125_o

After packing and one last sleep in air conditioned glory, we were off. The university managed to set us up with an elephant retirement home. It uses visitor fees from people who want to come watch the elephants eat and frolic in the water to pay for their care. When we first arrived, we were told that the people who work and volunteer there were responsible for making sure all the elephants had to do was eat, sleep, and shit. Sounds like a decent life. They have to put up with people gawking at them for a portion of the day, but the majority of them had been removed from terrible logging work, or tourist camps where they were treated poorly. They work closely with the vet school, to treat the elephants when needed, and send them to the hospital for long term care.

People from all over the world come to see the elephants, or spend a month volunteering here to teach those who visit.

19022166_10155785238611874_80598108_n

The elephants are magnificent creatures, who are gentle for their size. Though, they are not always that way. When working with large animals you have to constantly be aware of what they are capable of. Elephants have complex social relationships, an amazing memory, and are the only other creature known to suffer from PTSD. Traumatic experiences can harm them psychologically, as with many other creatures. The elephants here that are more dangerous are marked with a red rope around their neck. There is one elephant here that pulled the arm off someone at the logging camp she was at before she was rescued. Never underestimate them.

There are signs here not to take selfies. Not for social shaming, but to ensure unsuspecting tourists don’t turn their back to them for long periods of time. Sure, they appear gentle, and they can move so silently you forget how much power they have behind those enchanting eyes. I am all for appreciating their beauty, but don’t expect them to want to cuddle. You have to approach them respectfully and slowly. Even then, you have to remain vigilant.

The park here does what they can to ensure people act appropriately around them, and they have rules in place to create distance between them. However, when treating them, you have to be up close and personal with theses massive creatures. I have a new-found respect for elephant vets.

Some of the activities here involve watching them frolic in a mud bathing area, which I really enjoy. The elephants just get to do what they want. Watching the youngest one play around in the water always makes me smile. The other activities involve feeding the elephants, which they seem to enjoy as well, and bathing them in the river. After their mud bath, the Mahouts or ‘elephant keepers’ take them to the river to scrub them clean. Sure, they can douse themselves in water, but it doesn’t quite do the same job and a good old scrub brush and bucket. It is quite fun. I always enjoy having a spa date with those beautiful ladies. They flap their ears and make their t-rex like grumbles to let their people know they enjoy it too.

19047743_10155785236166874_937787244_n

19073202_10155785232541874_310832530_o

We are here in a weird in-between context. We aren’t tourist, but we aren’t tour guide volunteers either. We get to enjoy the activities that the visitors do, but in our own time and also spend time learning about elephant care and what treatments the university has arranged. We help out by organizing the clinic area, discussing different aspects of medicine, assisting with the daily work of the clinic and care of the elephants. So basically, I love it here.

19021542_10155785292786874_1949699927_n