Archive | March, 2014

hermosos elefantes

23 Mar

“They say that somewhere in Africa the elephants have a secret grave where they go to lie down, unburden their wrinkled gray bodies, and soar away, light spirits at the end.” -McCammon 

Hey! This is going to be controversial, so let’s get to it, shall we?

I was in Chitwan National Park at the end of November. It’s now the end of March. That should tell you how much it has bothered me.

When Lucas and I landed in Chitwan National Park, I saw elephants for the first time, in the same context as I see cars in Canada. They were walking down the street with their owners on their backs like it was no big deal. Oh my goodness, how I wanted to ride one, how I wanted to pet one! Elephants! Elephants! I love elephants!

I got my first close up of an elephant this day. She was old and was standing in a shack, tied up with a thick, heavy chain around two of her ankles and her neck. My tummy turned. Surely this must be a once over. Maybe this guy doesn’t know how to take care of  animals but I am certain that there are elephants here that are very well taken care of. As time passed and I walked through the town, I soon realized that every elephant here was kept in the same manner.

Once we found a place to stay, Lucas and I giddily looked at what to do in the National Park. Elephant riding come up a couple of times so I knew this was going to be fantastic time.… until my gut started to talk.

It was talking but it was only in a whisper, so I asked some questions: what kind of seats are used for the people on the elephants? My gut cleared its throat. Wait, elephants are extremely intelligent, what’s the training process for them to be able to do this? Why are they kept in the back yard of these houses like dogs? My gut was now talking.  We did some research.

We read an article written by someone who compared elephants to work horses. The author’s point was this: you have horses and they’re used for work, you have elephants and they’re used for work so it’s the same idea.  At this point, I still really wanted to ride an elephant but having grown up riding and caring for horses, this wasn’t logical to me. Work horses are given acres and acres to roam every day after working the farm. Horses are given love and care. Horses don’t need electric prods in order to “behave.” Non of the elephants I observed while coming in to town had such luxury. We did some more research. Elephants, because of their level of intelligence, would never give in to humans naturally. The relationship between elephants and owner is most likely formed on the foundation of abuse. To make an elephant obey, they are often first isolated from their families (which depresses them and so they search out other forms of companionship as they are highly social beings), given little to stimulate their minds and of course go through “training” that includes bullhooks and electric prods. After a certain amount of time, the elephant will feel like it doesn’t have another choice (does it?) and up goes elephant riding on the tourist pamphlet.

Lucas and I went to the Elephant Breeding Ground of Chitwan Nation Park and I walked out of there in tears. Picture this: you have maybe 20 elephants all chained up under a small wooden roof that barely shades them. Both of the elephant’s front legs and neck are chained. The environment is absent of the toys or tools that elephants need in order to stay engaged and stimulated. Half of the elephants have a calfs. Every single one of these babies are chained up just out of reach of their mother. The mama elephants stand there, swaying side to side repeatedly, never stopping as their baby tires to reach them, even for a moment, with their trunks.  This is a sign of psychosis which is brought on by not having their needs met and a lack of stimuli and space to roam freely.

We saw mamas and babies try to reach each other with their trunks within inches away but to no avail. I couldn’t bring myself to take a picture of this horror.

In one of my post about the Himalayans, I briefly touched on the subject of tourist education and how we, as travellers, need to educate ourselves on what’s really happening so we can help change these things. In regards to elephants, the brutality they face in “training” is for tourist purposes only.  When every single person who visits Chitwan asked for an elephant ride, you’re damn right there is going to be a market for elephants. It is our demand that is driving this.

I truly believe that people ride elephants because of a lack of awareness and a love of something mystical. Who doesn’t want to saunter down a pathway surrounded by jungle and animals, slowly swaying to and fro on a giant, mystical-like beast? I did. Shit, I still do. But I won’t.

If people knew that the elephant rides cause spinal damage, that they miss their families, that the only reason they are carrying people is because they were tortured into it, and that they get to go home to a small, concrete cage, I truly believe that the majority of people wouldn’t do it.

There’s a bright side to all of this. You can get up close to elephants without doing harm (which is really great news because I fucking love these creatures). You can go to sanctuaries to help out in other ways such as cleaning, feeding and bathing. How amazing is that?

I understand that some readers will be concerned with the livelihoods of locals if no one wants to ride elephants. My answer to this is that humans are pretty remarkable and can come up with things to create income for themselves without abusing animals.

I love opinions so if you have one, I would love to hear it (especially if you are pro elephant rides). However, please understand that I want to keep this space respectful, so keep it clean.

these are not my photographs. they were taken from google. a couple of them are from chitwan but i do not take credit for them. the day i was there, i was too upset to pull the camera out.

i do not take credit for these photos. they are not mine. some are of chitwan and some are what i witnessed.

what does a cave, a bus, and an ass grab have in common? two canadians.

23 Mar

“The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” – Candless

Lucas and I went to a cave just outside of Ipoh, Malaysia. It was beautiful . When we got there, there was a large group of Muslim university students taking a tour so Lucas and I tagged along, listening to the guide who would kindly go between Malay and English. As he pointed out different shapes and rocks throughout the cave, he would tell jokes, making the students laugh as it echoed throughout the dark space. I quickly became very aware of the fact that out of 40 students, we were the only white people and I was wearing shorts and a tank top. I hadn’t planned on walking with a large group of young Muslim people but I did bring a sarong so I threw that on over my shoulders to try and seem at least slightly “descent” to the group.

As the group of us walked through the cave, up the stairs and so on, I noticed how all of the boys and girls segregated themselves from each other, walking in two smaller groups. So, as I tried to pass a group of young men to get to where the ladies were, my hand accidentally touched a young man’s butt. Yup, I was just swinin’ my hand, trying to be all respectful and shit and get in with the young ladies when this dude’s ass just got in my way. You want to know how to make a situation like this even more memorable? And by memorable I mean completely awkward? And by awkward I mean (as I later learned) a sin? My first reaction was to state the obvious in front of everyone “Oh! I just touched your bum. I’m sorry.” I knew I had done something horrible because I was avoided like the plague for most of it. They smiled and were lovely, but oh boy, did they do it from afar.

It was going really well so far, right? Soon after the guide stopped us to point out a natural draft that was coming through the cave. As we all stood there, somehow, Lucas and I were standing with the tour guide and the students were standing in front of us, well away from any chance of a sweet ass grab, of course. It was here that the tour turned into a Q&A.

With every question, our answers would solicit a group “ohhhhh” or “ahhhhhh…” One young woman asked us if we were married. Lucas started to answer that we were because we had been telling people we were; there is no concept of boyfriend/girlfriend and definitely no concept of living together before marriage in many of the places we have been. I didn’t want to say yes. We are not married and they were asking because they were curious. How can we learn about the world if the world lies about its ways? So I said “no, we’re not married.” The boys all looked at each other, “what?” and the girls put their hands over their mouths and smiled, “oh!” The crowd hushed and we went on.  “In Canada, it is acceptable for people to live together and fall in love without getting married. We are married to each other in different ways like in trust and love. We are committed to each other because we say we are. We don’t see the need for a piece of paper.” More questions. “So you live together?”  More answers. “Yes, very much so. We own a house together.” More minds blown.

a walking dichotomy

a walking dichotomy

We had questions for them as well. I wanted to know why they were on a school trip on a Saturday. Turns out, all extra curricular activities take place on the weekends because they have school Monday to Friday. It seemed like a silly question. I told them how Canadians look at field trips as an integrative part of the classroom learning which is why we go on the weekdays. They couldn’t believe that one. Canadian school system be mad cray, cray.

We left our group with a resounding “Bye!” with waves and smiles from all 40 of them. It was in a cave so it was resounding in the literal sense, not the emotional sense.

As we waited for a taxi outside the gates we saw a bus waiting in the parking lot. It was an exceptionally hot day and we didn’t know when the cab would show up so Lucas got all “go ask them if we can get a ride with them” and I was all like, “what? It looks like another school trip. No way-José.” Here we were, clearly travelling, so sweaty and showing enough skin to be considered indecent. There is no way anyone is letting us on the bus.

Then that thing happened. You know, when you have nothing to lose so why the hell not? Regretting only the things that you didn’t do? I thought, “fuck it, José” and walked over to the bus.

“Uh, hello. Is this a school bus?”

“Yes, it is. We’re on a school trip.” The woman, with her hijab smiled down on me. She spoke excellent English.

“Ah, ok, Thank you. May we get a ride with you to the end of the street where the local bus is?”

“Yes, you can come with us.”

Say what?

I called Lucas over and they made room for us in the very front seat. It turns out the woman was a teacher at an all girls private school and today was a field trip for grade 7 and 8. She apologized that we needed to wait for the girls to gather up and come back to the bus. Uh, what are you, Canadian? No need to say sorry, this was already really cool.

One by one young girls started boarding the bus. The teacher kept telling them to say hello to us. They smiled and said hello only to rush to their seats to whisper and giggle with each other. Girls and women, all over the world, really aren’t that different from one another.

As the conversation with the teacher continued, we learned that men and woman of the Muslim faith do not touch. This is, of course, after Lucas shook the teacher’s hand. We were so happy to to have learned this because it wasn’t the first time he shook a woman’s hand and it always felt really awkward but we weren’t sure why.  Also, flashback to my grabby little hand on that young man’s ass. Whoops!

We had time for this conversation because the teacher asked us if we wanted to go to the mall they were going to. Here is where traveling becomes adventuring. We said yes and abandoned the other plans we had that day. They could not have been better than going on a short road trip with a bunch of Muslim students and teachers. They just couldn’t.

I was confused about the mall though. Why a mall as part of their field trip?

“The mall? What will you do there?”

She looked surprised at first but then smiled, “Pray.”

“Ohhhhh, right. You guys pray, we’ll eat.”

Lucas shook his head and started to chuckle. Right, probably not the finest thing to say. All I meant was that eating and food is like a spiritual ceremony for me. No? Not the same? Shit.

It was so strange, this day. I sat there, on this bus, surrounded by young girls in hijabs, speaking with a teacher as if we had already known each other. Our worlds are so, so far a part and yet so closely linked together. I find inspiration in our differences and comfort in our similarities. We all got off the bus and went our separate ways, never to be seen again. That’s what travelling does; it connects people so closely through these colourful, beautiful and random experiences and then it pulls you away. It’s ok because there’s always a promise that you will connect with another soon. Or connect with yourself. It’s different for everyone.

i may have to save up for therapy

4 Mar

“God bless America. God save the Queen. God defend New Zealand and thank Christ for Australia.” – Crowe 

I have tried to write this post for many weeks now and I can’t seem to pin point it. Writing about our Australian adventuring is difficult, damn difficult. You see, there were so many characters along the way that made our stay incredible and so many beautiful meals with so many good people. I’m just going to jump in. (You know when I did not jump in? In Australia where the Great Whites swim. Unless I really had to pee and there was no other choice. Please,  you’ve been there, hold that judgement.)

When we arrived in Australia on December 22, we intended to stay for a week or so over the holidays with Lucas’ aunt and uncle. What a joke! We ended up exploring Australia for 8 weeks to the day. We hadn’t planned on his uncle giving us a Honda ST-1100 to explore the west coast with so we changed what little plans we had and we geared up and set out after the holidays.

1554505_10152095208085339_1481792695_n

Our first stop was in Bunbury and I was excited to get there because Lucas had lived there for almost a year and worked as a bar manager, (only some of you will know how fun Lucas is as a bar manager.. amiright or amiright?). It was here that I learned just how expensive it is to eat in Western Australia. As I walked up the street with Lucas, reading the menus, I silently cursed under my breath trying to find justification to spend 30 dollars on one Indian dish, 30 dollars on pad thai, or even 13 dollars on a ramekin of olives.  You can say it’s the “poor girl” in me, Lucas calls it being “cheap” and I call it being “fiscally responsible.” Finally, we found a turkish bakery that made falafels -18 dollars for two. Done.

The following days were glorious. We stayed at Lucas’ uncle’s neighbour’s farm house, (um, hello and THANK YOU generous, kind people who gave us a home to stay without really knowing us!), we went to my first horse race and went for a 15km walk during a heat warning without enough water. It wasn’t our smartest move by far as we underestimated how much water we would need but for the 6 hours it took us, we got to see some beautiful landscape, discussed our families and future plans, listened to birds that sound just like monkeys and we saw a handful of kangaroos. At one point, we stopped on the trail as three kangaroos passed in front of us. I always laugh when I see them because it’s so silly to see large mammals hop in the forest! Every time I see them I hear “boooing” in my head. You know, the cartoon sound? Literally, in my head, every time.

Farmhouse lovin'.

Farmhouse lovin’.

From the farm house, we made it to Margret River which is where we really wanted to go as it’s the place for wine and for those of you who know, know that I love me some wine! Of course the whole experience couldn’t have been made without the people. The people are what make traveling worth it for me which brings us to L. L allowed Lucas and I to stay at his home while he and his children went on a week’s vacation. We spent the first night together getting to know each other over dinner as he and his children showed us what we would have to do while they were gone; how to feed the chooks, don’t let the dogs eat the baby chooks, how to water the massive gardens and where the river to swim in is.

We learned a shit ton from L. His ability to grow organic vegetables, herbs, use animals like the chooks to heighten the quality of his gardens and how to do it without chemicals blew us away. The bonus was that he looked a bit like Jason Stathem. Can I get a hells yeah from my ladies?

Now Toby, no more eating the baby chooks, got it?

Now Toby, no more eating the baby chooks, got it?

I booked Lucas and I into a wine tour. We were doing our own but it wasn’t as fun for Lucas because he drove the bike so he had to spit some of the tastings out… and ain’t no man of mine is going to waste wine like that. So I booked with Wine for Dudes which was unpretentious, fun, laid back and just a good time. The tour was amazing but that’s not why I’m writing about this; while we were on the tour, we found out that Fat Freddy’s Drop was playing in Pemburton. What an experience. The venue was outside in a small space with trees and a river behind the stage, a little grassy knoll and lots of happy, hippy, beautiful Australians. Right before FFD took the stage I made my way to the front and danced my ass off because you can’t help but move. Fat Freddy’s is the perfect mix between an array of genres. Don’t believe me? You want a taste? Tell me you want a taste.. say it: “Tana, give me a taste of that Fat Freddy’s Drop.” Why didn’t you just say so? Click here, sugar-pants.

From Margaret River we made it down to Albany where we met the one and only P. Interesting, he was. A single man living in a single story farm house that could very well have been in some sort of magazine, I’m sure of it.

Raise your hand, now raise it higher.. now stand up. That was P’s energy all. of. the. time. I was mesmerized by how much energy he had; everything was a party with bubbly wine,  poppers, popping the bubbly, sparkles, loud dance music (“dance party time!” as he liked to call it.) He was happy, welcoming, kind and every girls’ best friend. We loved him. We loved him so much in fact that we stayed with him twice; once on the way to Esperance and again on the way back to Perth. One particular thing: he loves the worms in the Tequila bottles. So much so that he had purchased a bottle that came with extra. He put some on his salad, he put some in shots, he put some right in his mouth. My favourite quote from P? Holding the bottle of Tequila with 29 worms in it: “It’s like a fucking lollipop when you get to my age.” He had me at lollipop.

From P’s we made it to our last stop along the coast to Esperance. We stayed with N and J who are around our age. They just bought this brand new house and in just under a year, N will be travelling the world for about a year. J, her partner doesn’t want to travel at all and so they will go their own ways for that year and see what happens. I think N will be blown away by how different men are around the world. I think the world will pounce on her like a sexy,  cross-cultural tiger, smothering her with knowledge, culture, languages, foods, and a lust for travelling that she will never be able to shake off. I think that she is the perfect person to do a trip like this and I am so excited for her.

They referred to themselves as “bogans” which is the Australian equivalent to my family who are Hillbillies. If you can’t point them out they’re the swearing’-drinkin’-quadin’-shoe wearin’- don’t-you-hug-me-just-pass-over-a-beer-and-my-truck-keys Australian. And it was with them that we went camping for Australian Day.

You know how we, in Canada have Canada day? Everyone has a polite BBQ in the backyard with neighbours and family and we all go home at night? Hm, yeah, not here. We camped for two nights on the beach which was incredible but for the actual holiday,  we four wheeled our asses over sand dunes to a camping ground as they had friends there. When we left our campsite to go to their friends to celebrate Australian Day, everyone was wasted (it was about 3pm so, obviously), but when we arrived, the alcohol consumption grew exponentially and I started to get nervous. I wasn’t drinking. No seriously, I wasn’t. The music was blaring, everyone was swearing and some of the men had drool and drinks running down their chin. One in particular actually, and he was the one who punched a smaller, younger guy in the head and took him by his neck and threw him into the door. Fun, right? I felt so sick to my stomach. What I found most interesting is that, even though the younger guy didn’t do a thing to provoke the bigger guy everyone made the younger guy apologize to the one who punched him. No one told the bigger one that his actions we not ok, that it was unacceptable, that he needed to apologize; not even the next day. It was like everyone looked the other way. Any guy who picks fight with a smaller, younger guy is just a loser. You don’t do that.

Our campsite. No filter. Right?!

Our campsite. No filter. Right?!

I was ready to leave at this point and tried to get things into place but rounding up a bunch of drunk Australian’s is not the easiest thing to organize. People were yelling, the dog went missing, two people went to go get it in different directions. When the dog was finally back in the car, our host came back half an hour later from looking for it and realized that we had it in the car. He looked at me, trying to focus on my face, slowly swaying back and forth. I looked at him, standing in the open door of the driver’s seat and said “I’m just a little nervous because you’re so inebriated.” “Inebriated? What’s that?” “I mean, you’re really, really, really drunk.” “No I’m not. I drive better when I’m like this anyway.”

I would never, in my life, get into a car with a drunk driver and here I was, doing just that. The saving grace is that we had to get back to our camp site over sand dunes which means we have to move slowly most of the time.

Drinking and driving in Australia is accepted in a way it is not in Canada. In Canada, it is an embarrassment to drink and drive and have your family and friends know about it. It’s a social shame. Here, it’s odd not to drink and drive. Earlier, after saying that I was a bit nervous to get in the truck with J, I had one of the girlfriends talk her way through the justification of driving drunk to me. I let her go on, without saying a word and just listened:

“Well, he does seem to drive better after drinking. I know it’s bad, I’ mean it’s not good  to drink and drive but I mean, nothing has ever happened before. I have been with my partner for 10 years who does it and I’m still here. I know it’s bad, but it’s just what they do here. It’s, you know, just the way it is. It’s bad but, it could be worse. You’ll be ok.”

Oh, thank you for that reassurance.

At one point in the night, a man told me that he would like to “ride my quad” and proceeded to bump his groin up against my back side. To give you a picture, he had a mullet (they all did, really), a tank top with multiple stains on it, a drink splashing from his hand, and some food stuck in the corner of his mouth. He had been doing this to pretty much every woman there (except his wife who wasn’t there because she was home with the kids) and Lucas and I looked at each other and smiled with raised eye brows, the “hey!” look. Lucas didn’t have to react in some manner of male dominance, he knows if I was really in trouble or felt uncomfortable, I would let him know but I can handle my shit, ya dig? I took this man’s arms and removed them from the side of my face and stepped aside out of the way of his groin. I smiled and said “If you keep that up there will be a second head going through the door.” The guy followed me and continued to shake his hips at me and with one look he stopped and said “Aw, no, I”m just joking with ya.” I said “that’s fine, just make the joke funny next time.” I didn’t hear from him again. Aw, shucks.

Everything was a bit of a mess from that point, people were yelling at each other, others were trying to leave, others were trying to stay. I got in the truck with Lucas in the hopes that this would be a sign that it’s time to go. I must admit, the group of them were trying to leave, for as drunk as they were. Finally we started going and almost hit a tree before we even left the camp park. Then into the sandy dunes we went. I felt ok when we were going slow; the rocks slowed us down but then I realized that we could flip the car going over them – a slow rollover is still better than hitting something at speed in my books, (funny how your standards change from situation to situation). At one point we were on such an angle that I had to put my foot on the door because I could have stood up.  We had another truck with us driving the rest of the group and J would cut them off, racing them, almost hitting them. I told him that I could be dropped off and that he could come back driving, just drop me off. He wasn’t having any of it – he was having fun.

After a time, we made it  back to our campsite on the beach. Before he had stopped the car, I opened the door and jumped out. He wasn’t going as fast and I wasn’t going to let him kill me… I would do it myself, thank. you. very. much.

Tomorrow Lucas and I fly to Singapore. My time here has flashed before my eyes. You know, it’s all flashing before my eyes very quickly and it makes me a bit sad. I love travelling and will never stop doing it.  I suppose that’s the way it goes though; each moment has to pass by to get to the next moment. Nothing is stagnant, life is always moving forward with time, even if you are not.

IMG_9949

‘stralia!