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

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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.

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In fact…

with a view like this…

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and a new friend like this…

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and a weird friend like this…

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

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

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A Fijian Love Affair

I often dream about whales and dolphins. Maybe my subconscious reminiscing on the days when my family used to drive along the Hawaiian coastlines and I’d ride with my 7 year old face pressed up against the glass, eyes glued to the water just watching for the inevitable water spout to blow. I think maybe there begins my love affair with water, as Mr. Paisley would surmise.

I love water. I love being near the water watching the waves. I love being on the water in a kayak or paddle board or sail boat or speed boat. I love being in the water jumping waves or hand-standing into the tide. It just brings such peace and a simple love for God’s bluest creation. My heart smiles when I sit at my favorite Kirkland park watching the sun set over Lake Washington. It smiles when I drive over those Clearwater bridges, beach-day bound. And now I know for certain, it smiles when I sway in a hammock, with a book in tow basking in the sparkly Fijian sun looking out over the crystal clear blue water. It just does a heart good.

Fiji was what I hoped it would be. It was relaxing for my body, calming for my soul and refreshing for my water-lust-ways.

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We didn’t do a whole lot at the Beach House, but what we did we did well. A jaunt down to Sigatoka, lots of reading, lots of hammocking and kayaking and makeshift snorkeling.

IMG_4081We ate beautiful local fruits and toast and jam at breakfast time, homemade banana scones at tea time and the freshest fish burgers at dinner time, encored with a bowl full of kava for ‘dessert’—it’s as disgusting as my fellow backpackers warned—but an obligatory chug, nonetheless.

IMG_4104We made jewelry from coconuts that daring local hands pushed out of the palm trees from 50 feet up. We watched the tides roll in and out, made new friends from countries near and far and sipped bottled water out of—wait for it—Fiji Water bottles.

It rained most days, but I found those quiet moments of pitter patter on the woven palm roofs soothing in a way I’d never let rain sooth. It is water afterall; just the type of water that typically annoys me. But when you’re sprawled out on a hand carved bench under an open-air bungalo-type structure with nowhere to be, no concern for how you look or ruining your shoes, the water falling from the sky actually feels as wonderful as the bucketed-land-water I adore.

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Yep. Fiji water bottles, a good steady afternoon rain and some bobbing in the teal blue waves really helped wash away departure week. Here’s to hoping for more affairs with the wet stuff that does a mending heart good.

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Sweet Like Sugar Cane

Like I said before, I miss people hard. That said, reunions are one of my purest joys. Waking up at 4:45am bright eyed and bushy tailed can only mean one thing in my world–it’s a sweet reunion day [[the near 20 hours of shut eye I snagged between plane naps and my own version of de-jet-lagging surely helped]].

Kara

Kara looks tan and strong and the most care-free, peaceful version of Kara I’ve ever seen [[you should prob check out her blog too!]]. Praying it rubs off on me sooner than later. She’s basically Fijian, now that I think about it, as that’s how I’d describe these beautiful locals too. Big toothy smiles, hearty laughs and a ‘slow down, it’s Fijian time’ attitude screams Fiji island life.

A two hour bus ride later, we landed at The Beach House…this place is where I’ll finish up my departure-week-detox, that I’m sure of. Hammocks galore swing from those palm trees I’ve missed. People–all kinds of people–British people and German people and Boston people are barefoot and happy. The beach is right there. I mean RIGHT there. ‘No Woman No Cry’ is blaring while those people are huddled up making coconut jewelry, waiting for the rains to pass, shooting pool and shooting the shit. It’s kind of heaven on earth–on a traveler’s budget.

This kind of living must do a soul good. I know for certain, actually, as a 90 year old man, born in the neighboring town took us on a jungle trek this morning. We stomped through orange mud for 2 hours, stopped for pictures with the pineapple crops and sucked on sweet, juicy sugar cane, tripping our way through lush greens just for a dip in the waterfalls. God must have known we were lovin it, cause he opened up the heavens for a second waterfall on the trek back home.

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Soaked to the bone and not a care in the world…we are definitely not in Woodinville anymore.

Yep, this was a particularly sweet reunion… Sweet like sugar cane, even.

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