Wish you were here, from Chiang Mai

If there was one person in the world I could have had with us in Chiang Mai this week, it’d be the girl with the elephant tattoo on the back of her neck…

I always think of my little Lucia when I see elephants. She loves the things. Like LOVES them, loves them. Almost as much as I love her. So if you account for sleeping time, Loosh was on my mind for approximately 70 hours this week. Everywhere I turned, an elephant shirt, an elephant necklace, an elephant satchel. Four days of colorful elephant everything.

Then yesterday, there was a real elephant. Three big elephants and one baby elephant, to be exact. And if anyone could have smiled harder than I did, it would have been Lucia.

I struggled at first, as I’m sure Lucia would have, to wrap my head around the ethics of the whole thing…is this animal cruelty? Are the elephants treated nicely? Is this just a glorified zoo? If I visit a park or sanctuary, do I want to ride one as well? If so, which one?

Hours upon hours of research turned up a particular gem—Elephant Discovery Chiang Mai—and from what I could tell, it was a total haven for these big beauties. Their mahouts revered them. There were no chains, no hooks, no pens, no riding rickshaws. Just elephants and their human friends living harmoniously in the dense bush about 2 hours outside of Chiang Mai. If Lucia could have seen the way the people and elephants alike smiled, I think she would have approved too.

This is how you do a day at Elephant Discovery Chiang Mai. This is how you make an elephant lover like Loosh smile so dang hard…

First you hop in the back of a 4 wheel drive with the A-team [[hello fellow Americans!]], windows down, Paw, our guide, singing lead to every Bob Marley, Maroon 5 and Shakira song from the last decade. Drive for two hours through the northern Thai switchbacks, with a coffee bubble tea in hand, and swoon over Paw’s incessant giggle.

When you arrive at the humble park, the small family of elephants will greet you like an old friend. You’ll be overwhelmed and slightly timid at first, but as the gentle beings sway back and forth and bat their pretty brown eyes at you, it all just melts… And you start to realize that this day is going to leave an elephant sized stamp on your life’s memory book.

You’ll learn about the village’s tradition of raising elephants. And the sad truths about some of the more circus-like attractions closer to the city [[#CountryGirlForLife]].

You’ll get buddied up with an elephant like our 37-year-old Campot and you’ll become her new bestie with a little banana-lovin.

CampotThen, oh my gosh, Lucia, you get.to.bathe.the.elephants… Not like you grab a hose and spray them down in some superficial line-up…but you walk them down to the river and they lay down in the warm water for a good scrub. It is probably the coolest thing you’ll ever do…

Until the babe squirts water on you and you feel like you’re in some Nat-Geo-Jungle-Book medley of a dream…then THAT’S the coolest

squirts

The trek through the winding, tree-draped river and alongside the rice paddies and up steep jungle banks is only made more amazing by the fact that a multi-ton beast is gliding along underneath your groin-straining-straddle.

Lunch is served in a hut. We aren’t convinced that it wasn’t KFC Original Recipe tied up in banana leaves. But when the baby comes to clear the dishes, you don’t give a flying crap about the authenticity of lunch.

Babe

In fact…

with a view like this…

view

and a new friend like this…

friends

and a weird friend like this…

weird

…nobody cares what the lunch recipe was, cause the whole thing was the perfect recipe for a perfect smile-inducing kind of day.

smiling

One that I so desperately wish I could have shared with little Lucia baby.

perfect

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Wish you were here, from Hoi An

The pretty little blue eyed blonde waved me over to the seat she saved for me at the Dulles Town Center food court. I stripped my winter jacket, but kept my hat on—reluctant to reveal my nearly bald and pretty pudgy, sick gnome-ish self.

I don’t remember exactly what we talked about that afternoon, but I do remember the card she handed me at the end of our visit. Well wishes from my All Girl crew covered the spread, but the one signature that really stood out was Vals.

‘Can’t wait to live together next semester!’ it read. That tiny sentence made me cry all the way home in my tiny little cabrio convertible. But for once, it was not because I felt like a wad of cancer, but rather because I knew without a doubt, that I would make up for lost time with Valerie Voorhies.

We spent the next three years doing just that…We drove our matching Cabrios to the beach for hand stand contests and tan-soakin. We hosted family dinners with our sisters from other misters and brothers from other mothers. We poured diet V8 and rum into our bubba kegs and set up shop at the pool for hours on end. We went to Chicago to visit boys we met on spring break. We line-danced our boots off at the Bull most Thursday nights. We drove to Key West and bought matching seashell rings. She picked me up from my check-ups at Moffitt Cancer Center and I drove her drunk ass home from Tias. Yes, for all of that and more, Val helped me make up for a cancer-ridden-lost-semester, tenfold.

While Val and I haven’t shared an apartment number, let alone a zip code, in years, our friendship continues to stand the test of time and distance. As I type this, it’s still yesterday in Richmond, Virginia and Val is literally on the other side of the world. But today, I longed for Val to be here with me in Hoi An, Vietnam.

Hoi An is full of life and color and easy livin—just like Val Val. There’s a beautiful beach up the road where cabanas and drinks flow abundantly. There are lanterns draped across every street that light up the night in a soft glow, just like the lanterns have on every balcony Val’s ever furnished. And there are tailors that will hand create any piece of clothing you can dream up.

Today, I dreamed up a pretty special piece of clothing and that, more than anything else, is why I longed for Val today. This morning, while I stood in the little tailor shop getting measured, sifting through hundreds of fabric swatches and sketching a Pinterest-mock-up with the designer, it sunk in… we’re not in college anymore and my little ValVal is growing up and getting married.

Val’s probably sleeping right now. But if I could genie up any dream today, it would be to bang down her door, throw her pillows on the floor and push her out of bed [[as she did to me on many-a-night when she needed a wingman at the hottest baseball party]] and I’d make that girl be right here by my side today…

We’d have rented bicycles, grabbed a token iced coffee to-go and pedaled over to Violet where–my fave tailor in town–where we’d design that special dress together. We’d have celebrated toes in the water, ass in the sand-style with a tequila sunrise in hand, [[because celebrating Val is the only reason on the planet that I would voluntarily drink tequila]]. I’d have laughed at her vomit-esque reaction to the slaughtered pigs hanging from bamboo at the corner shop. We’d have showered off the sand and thrown on dresses that show off our tan lines and found a sweet little café that overlooks the lantern-lit riverwalk.

We’d spend the evening reminiscing on our true loves and our losers who taught us what true love is not; on the Corey Smith concerts [[in both a real venue and our kitchen]]; on T-Flatts addictions and the time she threw my sandwich out the sun roof on I75.

So many memories from yesterday, so many dreams for tomorrow all wrapped up in one little dress in a little World Heritage protected town on the Vietnam coast.

One little dress that I’ll wear on the special night that my pretty little blue-eyed blonde friend again waves me over to the seat she saved for me at her table.

Raising a tequila sunrise to you tonight, ValVal, and so wishing you were here. I’ll save you a seat.

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