A Penance for Species
Why would I travel 16,600 miles (roundtrip) to spend a vacation picking up elephant poo?
It's a fair question. Maybe it's not for everyone... but maybe you should do it anyway.
Firstly, if you are interested in Elephant Nature Park and you haven't seen "Love & Bananas", that's gonna be required viewing.
It's tough to watch in parts. It has an important message and ultimately, a positive message.
It's shows why we unfortunately have to have to have a place like Elephant Nature Park, and why what Lek has accomplished is all the more important. You'll learn what a crush box is. You'll learn about logging, street begging, why it's bad to ride an elephant, and why elephants don't paint. You'll learn how elephants are blinded and what a bull hook is. You'll have a better understanding of what most of these 80 or so Elephants have been through, and have endured with for more years than you've probably been alive. And when you actually get to ENP you'll see more stuff that wasn't in "Love and Bananas." Just fair warning. Personally I didn't watch. They didn't need to convince me further. I already flew halfway around the world to be there. But you have to go in knowing this to appreciate the giant, noble souls that await you there.
Elephants are phenomenal creatures (African or Asian flavored). They are incredibly intelligent, self aware, emotional; they mourn their dead, and travel in multi-generational families; they play, and they form strong emotional bonds. They remember. And there really is nothing cuter than a baby elephant.
If you want to measure the cruelty of man, look no further than how we've treated the elephant. If you want to measure the kindness of a woman, look no further than Elephant Nature Park.
|Got to meet Lek- it was an honor. Truly an amazing woman.|
What's it like to volunteer? If you want to see more about what it's like to volunteer for a week at Elephant Nature Park, I made a video of my time there that sort of cover all the details:
In short it was an amazing opportunity to get to work along side these magnificent animals. Worth the weight in poo. Humans being jerks to other humans is one thing. I'd argue that we bring that upon ourselves, so we deserve what we get and what we ultimately end up doing about it as a society is our own thing. Being jerks to each other is all on us. Not cool is when we are jerks to the other species that share the planet along side us. There are a lot of narratives going on at ENP. Elephant sanctuary and rescue is the obvious one, also dog and other animal rescue and adoption, is another. Education and awareness. Animal rights, sustainability, and veganism are strong narratives as well. I'm not vegan, but I'm sympathetic to those ideals.
Humans are jerks to other species. So I went; sort of in a way to apologize for my species. "Sorry elephants for us humans who were being jerks. Let me pick up your poo for you and here's some watermelons to eat." Let me support Elephant Nature Park and give them some money and a bit of my time. Humans are jerks to other animals here at home.. so why not give my time and money to a local dog shelter? I have. And maybe it's hard to understand...as we don't have wild elephants in the United States. Elephants are not domesticated. And humans have really been jerks to elephants.
There's more to this trip than just temples and elephant poo.
There's nothing wrong with taking a relaxing vacation that involves swim up pool bars, cruise ships or a giant mouse. I've done plenty of those, I will still do those. But allow me to compare for a sec, because I see a difference. Swim up pool bars and beach cabanas are fun.. and "safe". It's familiar. The difference I've noticed is... There's no feeling of accomplishment, I don't mean accomplishment by navigating through the pool and getting that fourth drink at the swim up pool bar.
So, I just did a solo trip to a totally foreign country on the other side of the world. There's probably many people out there that have done stuff like this and more., however, I've never done anything like it before. 20 hours on a plane, navigating through airports and cities. Figuring stuff out on the fly. Wandered around street markets and temples. Met amazing people from all over the world. I ate food that to be honest, I don't know what it was, but it was amazing. I researched it all and put it together on my own. I relied only on myself while I was there. I got the hell out of my comfort zone and I figured this shit out, I went and did it. And here's the thing... I think it's easy to read that and say that I'm bragging. I'm not... I am listing accomplishments. It grows you as a person. You level up. It's another piece or two to the puzzle of the life you spend a lifetime trying to figure out. I'm not talking the kind of growth you measure by how many pounds you gained eating on cruise. I'm talking the kind of growth your soul does when you come back a different person than when you left. Where you can say I've done that, and no one can take that away from me. It's one thing to say "I've stood online at the midnight all you can eat cruise buffet." or "I've been on the It's a Small World ride at Disney." It's another thing to say "I've stared down a great white shark while cage diving in Mexico", or "I've walked along side Elephants in Thailand" or "I learned to ride a horse across the Scottish highlands". There's a difference in experiences, but also in what those experiences do to you as a person. That's what's missing from the swim up pool bar type of vacation. Doing that sort of a work trip, and doing it solo can give you a greater sense of confidence and even a better understanding of yourself; that you accomplish much more that you think you can. Added to that is a sort of volunteer thing... i.e. shoveling elephant poo; you become part of a greater communal effort. The accommodations are not luxury and neither is the work you'll do.. but from that you'll gain a sense of humility. You'll grow. The work you do when you are there, begins to mean a bit more- you are giving rather than just taking. It's rewarding.
No matter what life throws at you afterwards, you'll always have that experience, that sense of accomplishment. No matter what happens, no one can take that from you.
Look, I'm not saying I'm better than anyone because I've done this stuff. All I'm saying is because I stepped out of my comfort zone and I have done these things...I am better than the "me" I used to be. I like that much more than just continuously doing the safe vacation thing.
All of that said, my next couple of trips this year are actually gonna be family cruises. Plenty of swim up pool bars and the like. It's gonna be time spent with parents and in-laws; those who are older and aren't able to travel to Thailand and shovel elephant poo. It'll be fun of course, and these family trips are important for other reasons too. You'll hear about those trips on this blog also.
Thanks for reading.