December 2011

Day 121 – Elephants, originally uploaded by bexadler.

I’ve been an elephant fanatic since I was a very little girl. I slept with a stuffed elephant and was fascinated by these amazing creatures for many years. I’ve stopped wearing elephant t-shirts and do not own a collection of elly figurines, but I still have big love for them in my heart so when I learned that there was an opportunity to volunteer with rescued elephants in Thailand I knew I’d have to do it some day. Well, that time has finally come, and it was all I’d hoped it would be.

I spent the past week volunteering at the Elephant Nature Foundation‘s sanctuary for rescued elephants in northern Thailand, where I shoveled elephant poo, washed and prepared elephant food, bathed elephants, and learned the basics of elephant vet care. I also learned the stories of these rescued elephants, many of which would break even the meanest of hearts.

There are orphans whose mothers were killed by abusive owners and were saved by the Elephant Nature Foundation from having the same fate as their mothers. There are elephants who were abused in the logging industry, and others who were brought here after having their feet blown off by landmines in Burma. We watched videos documentaries of the systematic abuse elephants endure in this part of the world and were all cringing in our chairs.

For me, it was an eye-opening experience about how the tourism industry directly effects the welfare of these animals here. Many tourist pictures from Thailand will show trekking trips that involve riding the back of an elephant through the rainforest. The unfortunate, and unseen by tourists, side to this is the years of abuse these animals endure to be tamed for tourist consumption. I don’t mean to preach here, but I am grateful for places like the Elephant Nature Foundation that are finding positive ways for tourists to interact with elephants and I hope that their example will encourage other tourist operations to seek more animal friendly ways to allow people to interact with elephants here. Because, let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to hang out with elephants?

Living the Good Life, originally uploaded by bexadler.

On my 30th birthday I was surrounded by people, but I don’t think I’d ever felt so alone. I was incredibly unhappy about my life and felt like I hadn’t accomplished much in my 30 years. I complained constantly about the fact that I didn’t own a home, was still in school and didn’t even have a boyfriend, much less a family. Turning 30 made me feel like a failure and despite everyone’s reassurances that their 30’s were way better than their 20’s had been, I couldn’t get out of the sour mood that persisted throughout most of the year before I turned 30.

Turning 31 has been quite different and has left me reflecting on the differences between this birthday and the last. Today I am alone, but I don’t feel lonely. I have done so much and seen so much in this past year – I’ve run five half marathons (number six is on Sunday), saved up more money than I ever thought I’d be capable of saving, traveled halfway around the world, finished my master’s degree, climbed mountains, was reminded what it feels like to be loved, and so much more. I’ve also grown a lot as a person this year. I’ve mended friendships and become better at being a friend. I’ve become closer to some of my family. And I’ve learned that I’m capable of so much more than I thought possible. I’m sure you’re all sick of me talking about how happy I am these days so I’ll leave it at that, except to add that I’m looking forward to what the next year may bring.

Mitre Peak in the Distance, originally uploaded by bexadler.

Today I could have been climbing Mitre Peak (pictured above) with a woman who once climbed Mt. Everest, but instead I was on a flight back up to Auckland so I can catch my flight out of here to Thailand. It was the first great opportunity I’ve had to turn down in the past four months of traveling and I so wish I could have stayed to do the climb. With that and so many other things left unseen here in New Zealand I know I’ll make it back here one day, which is the only thing making it possible for me to leave now.

I have lived so much in the past three months that I’ve spent here and I’m more than a little heartbroken to be leaving. I’m sad to think that this will all have seemed just a dream in a few weeks’ time. Worse still is knowing that I’ll likely fall just as deeply in love with Thailand as I have fallen for New Zealand. Or maybe that’s a blessing because it will help ease the pain of leaving these lovely islands. Either way, I’m on to a new land in a couple of days to play with elephants and climb stone walls along the ocean. I’d love to linger here for the rest of my days but adventure awaits, no?

Day 95 – Copland Track, originally uploaded by bexadler.

I just spent the last month working as a volunteer hut warden up at Welcome Flat Hut in New Zealand’s Copland Valley. it was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had and left me with a vastly enhanced appreciation for wild places.

I spent the month hanging out with two Kiwi guys who were doing maintenance work on the Copland Track, which is the trail leading up to my hut. In the beginning I was afraid of near everything. I didn’t like leaving the trail for any reason, I didn’t feel comfortable crossing the numerous swinging bridges, and I was on the constant lookout for ankle twisters. But toward the end I started to feel like the Copland Vally was my very own forest. My Kiwi friends taught me how to bush bash, how to hop stones and climb boulders, and how to feel at home in the wild. I bathed under waterfalls, slept on boulders naked in the sunshine, drank straight from passing streams, walked through the forest at night with no light but for the moon and the soft light of glow worms all around me, and felt more free and alive than I can ever remember having felt. I hope I can carry this feeling of pure contentedness with me for a very long time and always remember my adventures in the forest.

Note: The skinny dipping and naked sunbathing were done on solo trips, not with the boys. When they were around I was the picture of modesty, wearing my bathing suit or sports bra and undies. One of them was only 22; I didn’t want to scar him for life.