On New Year’s Day I Met Wild Elephants and had A BBQ!

After the short and quick minivan ride to Hua Hin from Bangkok, I arrived in Hua Hin and set straight for Dtor and Peter’s shop, The Family Tree (this place is so amazing it deserves it’s own blog! Next!!). The only problem was I didn’t know exactly where it was, so it gave me a chance to sit in ‘The Shed‘ guest house bar and order another shake, and check out the directions on my iPhone.

It was on a parrallel road, I’d just gone one road up, so I knew where to go and texted Peter that I’d arrived in town. I had the wrong number of course, didn’t add the +66 in front, so some poor so and so has got a text saying “The driver reckons we’ll be there for 2:30” ha!

Hua Hin is a beautiful place, full of ex-pats and English speakers, it’s the type of place – near the beach – that people come for a two week holiday, not really a stop on their travels. A bit more up-market than most of the other cities in Thailand.

Finishing my shake and heading over to the shop I was greeted by a huge smiling Dtor, Peter’s wife. We had a quick chat about my travels so far and she suggested a good place to wait for Peter, next door, with a nice shake.

There’s loads of gastro, Italian, English and Spanish restaurants, owned by ex-pats so the food is authentic, not like the fakes you see in most other places. Peter walked past and I hailed him, as usual he beamed his huge smile and went quickly to chat to Dtor, then joined me for a coffee.

Talking with Peter is an extraordinary affair, full of good vibes, and positivity, a dreamer and head in the clouds much as me. We talked about my travels, and about his – whereupon he said we should grab some cold beers and sit and talk about how he came to be 12 years in Thailand.

We had to get back to his kids, as he said he’d be out for 5 minutes at 11am, and it was now 3:30, so we headed back to his via a local and super friendly fish seller for Peter’s dinner. When we arrived at his – rather beautiful, secluded and pretty idyllic – home, his kids were at the window greeting me with “Hello Uncle Matt!” Rosie is 3 and Louie is 6, they’d all been ill recently, but very smiley faces greeted me all the way.

I settled for a moment, grabbed a shower, and we all went out to the local park in Cha Am for some kickaround and to have a walk and a play.. Peter is a father with a very subtle but effective discipline, always showing his kids what’s what and where’s where.. Louie being the oldest can speak more English, but both can speak great Thai.

After the park we headed to a local pizza place because Louie was after pizza (even though when it arrived he hardly touched it.. kids!) and Rosie will eat or try just about anything.. Finishing up we headed home, it was New Year’s Eve so we stopped for some beers, some snacks and then got back.

The kids had long since fallen asleep in the car so they were straight to bed, and me and Peter watched Hanna and before we knew it Dtor had arrived back home and we could plan what we were all going to do to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

Jenga!

THE best game you can play with multiple people, you win some, you lose some, the beer had been finished so me and Peter went to the shop again for a small bottle of Jack and a bottle of wine, plus more snacks.. We sat and chatted for a while until around 11:30 when the 7/11 was nearly stopping selling alcohol, the Jack had been finished as had the wine, so we went to get some more.

Jenga tower falling

Jenga tower falling!!

When I say small, it’s not the half size like you get in the UK, it’s the half again size, maybe 20cl so it only went round 5 people once.. I have to say this was the least alcohol I’ve drunk on a New Year’s Eve since I found out about alcohol.. But the company was great, the Jenga was ongoing, and we saw in the New Year with good company, hot weather, and Chinese lanterns floating up in the air!

New Year good luck flower

New Year good luck flower

We’d discussed what we’d do the next day, go and try and see elephants at Kui Buri national park. Peter was raving about what a massive experience it was when he went and saw 20 elephants, so I was very excited about the prospect.

Breakfast was typical full-English! Followed by a long period of sitting on the couch groaning that we’d all eaten too much! Around 2:00 Peter called the Kui Buri national park warden and he was told it’s likely the elephants would be around and visible at 3:30.. so he called Dtor back home and we readied the kids, then set off when she arrived on the wild elephant journey!

The family playing Jenga

The family playing Jenga

I fell asleep most of the way there thanks to breakfast, but we came close and I perked up and readied my camera. We reached the national park station and paid the 200 Baht each to go and see the elephants. I moved into the back seat so the warden could take up the front seat and we set off across dusty rocky roads to the viewing point.

En-route to Kui Buri National Park

En-route to Kui Buri National Park

Along the way we saw an elephant’s bum, but we didn’t stop long enough to wait for him to turn around.. we carried on in anticipation. The warden explained that they’d set up artificial watering holes and feeding spots to keep the elephants in the park and away from the town, to stop them bothering farmers..

We finally arrived to the viewing spot.. this place is so breathtaking, a massive, vast area of space both forested and plains that is home not just to elephants, but birds and mammals of all kinds.

Beautiful white bird in Kui Buri national park

Beautiful white bird in Kui Buri national park

Amazing!

We got out and reached the crest of the hill.. so, so beautiful.. there were binoculars already set up to watch out for elephants in the distance, and we waited, and waited, and waited… All of a sudden there was a cry from someone to the left that there was a chang (elephant) in the distance.. Thank god I brought my 70-300 because my 35, or 50mm wouldn’t have got anywhere near to seeing it.. sadly it was pretty shaky at far zoom, so as you can see the photo isn’t amazing.

The beautiful vista at Kui Buri national park

The beautiful vista at Kui Buri national park

Elephant at Kui Buri National Park

Elephant at Kui Buri National Park

Me holding Rosie so she can look through and see the elephant

Me holding Rosie so she can look through and see the elephant

Peter's family in Kui Buri National Park

Peter’s family in Kui Buri National Park

Me and Peter at Kui Buri National Park

Me and Peter at Kui Buri National Park

Then another cropped up to the right, which was a bit closer and I was able to get a shot which was a bit less shaky. I was in awe.. wild elephants, not 80km from civilisation, and I’ve seen 3 so far! My heart sang to see such a beautiful, natural sight. The one on the right soon moved away but the other was still there, showing her bum to the camera and binoculars..

Elephant at Kui Buri National Park

Elephant at Kui Buri National Park

After a couple of hours we decided to get back into the 4×4 to return home.. we’d seen 3 elephants, mission accomplished. A shame not to see them closer up but hey – this is nature we’re working with, not some zoo enclosure!

On the way back we went past the intermediate ranger spot, and asked if there were any nearby.. they said no, and we headed home.

Fantastic!

Not far from there is a deer enclosure with some cute baby and adult deers, which I snapped while the kids were trying to feed them some grass.. The ranger nearby was explaining what they did when an elephant charged.. climb a tree! He pointed to a nearby tree which – and lets be fair – only the most skilled would be able to climb at short notice.. it was vertical with no branches and a smooth trunk!

Baby Deer at Kui Buri National Park

Baby Deer at Kui Buri National Park

Deer at Kui Buri National Park

Deer at Kui Buri National Park

The brief chat was over so we headed back to the main ranger station.. about 50 metres down the road we were told by the ranger to stop, there were elephants there in the trees! OMFG.. three, hidden to my camera sadly, but very visible on and off – I was just very unlucky not to shoot any. Peter’s request to get back in the car was very adamantly adhered to incase we were charged by the elephants, so we set off again. And then another 20 metres and there were two more!!

This was the closest I’d ever been to a wild elephant in my life, and here were two, just grazing and going about their business.. this time they were on my side of the car so I managed to get some shots.

Elephant at Kui Buri National Park

Elephant at Kui Buri National Park

Elephant at Kui Buri National Park

Elephant at Kui Buri National Park

Finally satisfied that I’d seen a wild elephant up close we left, enlightened, uplifted and happy – seeing an elephant on New Year’s day is very good luck.. the only thing that could have made it luckier is if they were the extremely rare white elephant.

Driving past the artificial watering hole and once again!! A baby elephant drinking water from the hole. We stopped long enough for me to get around 20-30 good photos of him! So cute, and apparently happy!

Elephant at Kui Buri National Park

Elephant at Kui Buri National Park

After getting out, and dropping the ranger off and giving him a tip to express our gratitude, we headed home for a BBQ – The oddest, and most satisfying New Year’s Day I’ve had ever..

After pigging out on BBQ I fell asleep very happy, to be given this opportunity, to spend it with such amazing and welcoming people.. definitely the highlight of my trip so far, not sure it can be beaten, but I’ll give it a go!

When You Make a Spontaneous Decision to go Travelling, You Don’t Think of All the Problems

What an eye-opener..

Since deciding on one of the largest life decision ever in the last few weeks, I’ve come to a realisation:

If you want to travel anywhere for longer than a day, you’re gonna need a fat stack of cash and some supportive friends and family!

I’ve now booked my flights to and from Bangkok.. not at all as expensive as I’d been led to believe tickets could be (screw you Thomas Cook – go to Sta Travel instead, thanks Crowable!) £780 all-in, and I can change my tickets for a small fee to return when I like.

Please Doctor, stab me in the arm, give me horrendous side effects and charge me for the privilege

What annoyed me most was that if I want to leave the safety, security and insect-free city centres during my travels then my vaccinations are going to cost me £450 plus!! That’s not a mistype.. that’s a month’s rent, a 40″ HDTV, or a badly timed “The beers are on me” in a busy London pub.

Now, don’t get me wrong.. there’s a load of nasty diseases out there I’d rather not catch.. Japanese Encephalitis, which you can be vaccinated against, is most common in rural areas where there’s pig farms and rice paddies.. Now I want to see rice paddies.. I find them interesting and beautiful.. so the £180 I’m going to spend on it may save my life.

Hepatitis B.. in no way am I interested in having sex during my travels, such isn’t my reason for going – if that’s for you, then great, and get protection.. but I’m not about to get my camera and laptop nicked because some Thai lady of leisure drugs me, infects me and leaves me for broke.. BUT.. what if – for example – You want to go and get some treatment in a hospital or clinic. Their medical equipment over there isn’t exactly the cleanest, they re-use it.. and without proper sterilisation you could potentially catch it whilst trying to be saved from something else nasty. Soooo.. that’s another to the list I’m getting.

Rabies! I LOVE DOGS, but damn, I’m staying at least 50 foot from any dog on my travels. Basically if you’re bitten by a rabid dog, you’re screwed – as soon as symptoms show then you’re dead not long after. Oh you can take measures to avoid this, but I seriously think I could avoid this cost.. that’s not being blasé – but if I’m bitten by a dog with rabies then I reckon I’ll die anyway, so what’s the point in vaccinating against it??

Typhoid is also something I now have to pay for, because my local GP has run out of stock and only travel clinics have it.. As much as I’d like to take a chemical analysis system with me to check the food I’m buying hasn’t got traces of shit in it, that’s not very feasible, at least I won’t be eating any egg/dairy/etc.. which will minimise my risk of general food poisoning.

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s stuff you can’t vaccinate against.. Dengue fever, Malaria (F*CK YOU MOSQUITOES) and more.. but mostly mosquito transmitted.. and mosquitoes LOVE me, perhaps because my blood is 90 proof!

Sooo as much as I’m griping about it, they’ve got me over a barrel here, I don’t want to get ill or die, so I’m going to pay the ridiculous amount to ensure my safe and healthy travel.

While I’m typing this, I also realise what a trap it can be to read about diseases online (or for you old-schoolers, looking through your mum’s ‘death book’ of medical illnesses and matching up your non-symptoms with the black plague) I’m worrying over nothing, being sensible and taking the right precautions I’ll be fine. I’ve made sure my insurance is top-notch.. don’t misguidedly go for the cheaper option, better safe than sorry!

What’s the worst thing you can hear before you make your plans to go travelling?

After deciding to travel.. making a split second decision to up and leave your comfortable life to see the world.. You want to tell people.. You also want to seek approval from your family and close friends.

My dad and I have a unique relationship, we love each other very much and are very similar in many ways.. but we don’t talk very much. For me it’s enough to know that he’s there when I need him, but we’re both as bad as each other at keeping in touch. It’s a Goldsmith thing, me and my brother are the same.. love each other very much but speak infrequently – I have a very real-life connection to my brother in many ways that wouldn’t make sense if I discussed here. Though when we see each other we have a lot to talk about.

Matt, Dave, Jay, Sam

My family: Me, my dad Dave, my brother Justin, my sister Samantha

So on the list of people to speak to: My mum, dad, sister, brother, daughter et al.. I called my dad one night and went through the usual “How’s work, how’s life, how’s the love life, how’s X and Y”.. Got onto the subject of travelling and explained my plans.. He was the first of the lot I spoke to about it (even though I’d papered it all over Facebook for a couple weeks or so) and he was very supportive. Couldn’t offer advice for that area of the world as he’d never been there, but recommended a few people to speak to as well as some general fatherly advice.

Thing is though, he’d recently been diagnosed with cancer.. he’d had surgery to remove his kidney because of a tumour and later they discovered it’s spread. He’s very like me, probably scared shit-less and glazes over bad news with attempts at comedy and humour, and an ‘ignorance is bliss’ attitude.. This was about a month before I’d spoken to him.. I hadn’t, as yet, heard about the spread, only that he’d had his kidney removed and there was an issue with his lung.. but I know he’d been to an appointment at the oncologist.

He told me “Whatever happens, just don’t cancel your plans” and I was a little thrown.. What aren’t you telling me Dad? (I thought) and he reinforced it a few times. Looking back now I can see that he maybe thought the worst and I put myself in his position, questioning whether I would say the same to Olivia.. which of course I would! I’m of little use waiting by the phone while I have this opportunity, so to get this blessing meant a lot to me..

My sister is generally the best to be the point person in any crisis, and she’s not going anywhere with 3 kids still in school.. my sister (don’t tell her this) is awesome, as much as I berate her and put her down in Facebook comments, is sound minded, strong and reliable and she’s constantly on the phone to him, trying to join his appointments etc.. I did say that I would come and see him, my brother and sister later in November, because regardless of what happens.. before I go I wanted to say goodbye.

“Oh I think it’s great, just don’t expect us to fund your trip!”

Thanks Mum, that wasn’t my intention in coming to visit.. though she clearly knows me well! I came up in mid-November to Lincolnshire to see my mum, step-dad (Trevor), sister and Olivia because I thought I’d be leaving early December, and I’d just finished working at ActionAid so I had nothing to do with my time.

My intention was to get my sister, mum and Trevor in the same room together and tell them.. Planned my journey to perfection so that they’d all be at the house waiting for me when I arrived.. a little Dutch courage (as is my want) and thinking in my head of all the possible reasons they could give for me not going.

Well that all turned to dust.. my sister had plans and my train got cancelled part way, so my mum and Trevor came to pick me up 30 miles from their house.. so I had to tell them in the car. Seems they already knew about my plans from Facebook and themselves had thought of many questions to ask in the 35 minute journey home..

I was pleasantly surprised! My mum is the most practical person I know, and I half expected “You’re not going.. there’s X and Y you have to think about” but, turns out they were just worried I was about to ask them for £3,000 to do the travel! Of course there was a lot of “Stay away from prostitutes and drugs” (damn! that would have been my first stop!) and then proceeded to look into the health risks in the countries I was planning on visiting.

All-in-all I was stunned that they were okay with it.. so that was two sets of parents out the way.

Then the bombshell dropped

The next day I went to see my sister, she shoved her kids upstairs to play and we sat and talked about my plans.. my sister is a mish-mash of the nagging-ness and realism of my mum, and the strong personality of my dad, mixed with a joint understanding that comes from putting up with a crazy “little brother” for 34 years. If you take away the constant moaning about all things life, then she’s actually a very sound adviser.

We talked about dad, she said it wasn’t looking good, and she made plans to go see him at the end of November and I should come along – she’d be driving and could pick me up halfway in Bristol.. (getting to Bristol for 8 in the morning is not my bag, so I said I’d come up to Lincolnshire the night before and we travel together at 5 in the morning.)

Tears were shed, and her prognosis hit home hard (she’s a nurse) enough to know that this may be the last time I see my dad alive.. it’s not an easy thing to decide to stick to your plans knowing this but I had my dad’s words in my mind still.

That day, me and Sam talked at length about all things for about 4 hours.. I don’t normally have that opportunity, usually someone else is there and I shy away from talking deep. She was also very supportive of my plans, a little jealous that life has led her down a certain path, but not in a way that she’d choose to put me off my current goal.

Breaking down in BHS

After telling my sister and mum, the largest scare was Olivia, and that I’d be away in a foreign country for three months and over Christmas too.. it’ll be the first Christmas I haven’t spent with her. I’d made plans to meet with Olivia and Emma, Olivia’s mum. We met in BHS, Lincoln for coffee and Emma knew already that I had the plans..

I had two bits of news for them both, that my dad was ill, and that I was off for a few months.. we sat down and broached the subject. I said I had two bits of news, the first being my dad, and the rest was me talking through tear-filled eyes (if I start crying, my voice becomes some sort of staccato-didgeridoo type affair) trying to explain to my daughter who doesn’t really know my dad very much that I’ve made plans to go travelling and that I’ll be away for a few months. Emma’s dad died from cancer at a similar age, so she understood immediately and was very supportive.. Olivia was scared that I’d be gone for a long time, but we soon cleared up that I’d not be away forever, so there’s no worry, and there’s Skype, email etc.. to keep in touch with.

Visiting my dad

Expecting the worst, I travelled with my sister early on Wednesday (up at 3:15!) to Barnstaple, a 5 hour journey.. we got there around 10am-ish and my dad looked a lot better than I’d already seen in my mind.. he’s lost weight of course.. he’s going through chemotherapy at the moment, but all-in-all I was glad to see he wasn’t vastly dissimilar to the last time I saw him.. It cheered me up to hear him berating my sister comedically for various things.

I’m annoyed at myself for not asking the deep questions that I had brewing.. “What’s it like” “Are you scared” “What’s really wrong” “Can I do anything to help” even when we were alone together, but for me.. selfishly.. I enjoyed just spending time with my dad, with both of us trying to act normal while both of us are going through some major life events. I hope one day that my dad can understand how difficult it is for me to face actual situations, much the same as he.

Long lost brother

On Thursday my brother Justin came over to Barnstaple from Ilfracombe, all four of us have only been together twice in the last 10 years or so, so it was good to be in the same room together.. lunch at the golf club where my dad is the captain. Then me, my brother and sister went into town (also rare for us three to be together) before going to pick up his daughter and see his new flat.

Justin's new flat in Ilfracombe

The awesome view from my brother’s flat in Ilfracombe

The view from his flat is amazing, sea view.. all for way lower than London prices!

Me and my sister left the next day, saying our goodbyes, I really don’t know what’s going to happen with dad, you never do know with cancer such is the nature of the beast. Hopefully when I return in a few months it won’t be to a heavy heart, it will be to a worry over what the hell I’m going to do having been so irresponsible in the eyes of the British public for a few months!

“Pissed off, upset now and disappointed” 

So, after the emotional mindfield that was the trip down to Devon, I return to a rather horrendous and ill-thought-out email from someone who shall remain nameless, and incidentally has removed me from Facebook as they didn’t like my response to their ridiculous email… They’ve done it before for an unknown reason, and stupidly I tried to add them again.. this time though: Blocked. I’m not going to play games with people like this..

It was all about what I’m going to do with my cat.

See I have a cat, Kitsy, as you probably know if you know me from my Facebook, spamming pictures of her.. One of the first things I worried about after my daughter was what to do with Kitsy.. I asked my housemate if he’d look after her and he couldn’t promise he’d be there all the time to do so – fair enough – I didn’t expect anyone to take on an old cat like that without some difficulty. I do find it a tad odd that everyone is asking me “What are you going to do with Kitsy?” rather than “WTF about your daughter??”

My close friends and family are extremely supportive, yet this person is all of a sudden changing their excitement to putting obstacles in my way and calling me out for being irresponsible.. I’m claiming jealousy on this front.

I do have to rehome my cat, and I’m sorry for it, but there are people who have met her and know her and will happily take her on – call me an arsehole if you wish, but that’s how it is..

So if you know of a home for a 15 year old house cat, or want to donate to my travels, or just want to say goodbye, or piss off! Then let me know. Until next time….

Matt