Arguably what makes us human Is humanity itself- the ability to differentiate between right and wrong and use our conscience to guide us. Unfortunately it seems that lots of people have developed the ability to push guilt, awareness and responsibility to their subconscious, and so they are not making conscious decisions to preserve the fragile ecosystem here. Wildlife is exploited in some cases almost to the point of extinction for tourists pleasure, yet most people visiting western zoos, when asked if animal preservation is a good cause will appear supportive and sometimes donate. Habitats are being destroyed and animals are becoming homeless, hunted or enslaved and false naivety is a westerners pitiful excuse. What's most disturbing is that abuse is barely below the surface at the best of times, if not completely out in the open. I saw a monkey today of only 6 months old in a cage barely big enough for nitro take two steps, no water, no toys and no stimulation. I asked when the monkey is let out to play and my guide was reluctant to ask the owner (who purchased the creature at a market for 1000 baht). She said never or he will run away. She claimed he was her pet. When I asked about the monkey's mother she told me that both her mother and father were hunted for meat, and the baby was taken and sold when it was even younger. This monkey struggled to eat mushy banana and will remain confined to a tiny cage either until it is big enough to eat, or for the rest of its miserable life.This is my account of the past two days trekking throughout he jungle. There have been incredible ups and heartbreaking downs, and now my mind is made up. Wild animals should be I. The wild
We were picked up from our hotel at 9.30 by our guide 'Bobo' who took us in a songtaew which is sort of like a truck with seats in the back and an open end with no seatbelts. We were driven first to an orchid farm where we spent twenty minutes. Orchids hung in multicoloured rows mainly in shades of pink and purple. There was an on-site butterfly enclosure where we saw lots of tiny butterflies in all different shades and shapes. One was lime green when flying, but when it landed it looked like a leaf! Shortly after that, we were driven for an hour to visit the Karen 'Long neck' tribe. We were told that these women add a ring around their neck every year on their birthday, and the aim is for them to stretch their necks as long as possible. Apparently this makes them more attractive to men and is desirable. This visit to the tribe was not as authentic as advertised, and we were led to believe we were meeting people native to this place from this tribe, however many came over around ten years ago when they heard about the tourist's interest in the people who were already there. Now they stay in the day in this small village where 500 baht is he admission price for visitors. We saw nothing traditional apart from one man using a wooden machine to take the husks off of rice. The rest of this village was simply Karen women sitting in market stalls trying to sell their goods. Each stall was almost identical to the next and it really was an unnatural setting for these people. Obviously tourism has had a huge impact here but what I think when I see this (as this sort of thing was common in Peru), is why do these people rely so heavily on tourism? I know they have little money, but before tourists started visiting so regularly they must have been surviving some way, and they would have been content surely? We came to see people from a tribe in their home, not just a market with people wearing strange necklaces so we did feel quite disappointed in that respect.
From there, we were driven another hour to our lunch spot, where we ate egg and vegetable fried rice which was nice tasting with fresh pineapple after. The itinerary stated that next up would be elephant trekking, but we were disappointed to find that in fact it was just trekking through the jungle for three hours. No elephants. The jungle itself was beautiful, full of lush greenery and tropical butterflies, and we had a sunny blue sky. The heat was intense, but thought he walk was really difficult (all uphill) it was absolutely worth it and still enjoyable. On the way up we saw a giant black spider in a hole with a thick white web surrounding it. The webs here are different to back home- they look like the ones we put up on Halloween. Our guide poked a leaf in to demonstrate how quick they are when something enters their burrow and it moves forward quickly with its front legs in the air. The ground here is very dusty and red. My favourite part on the way was a small waterfall, where we were able to slide down a rock slide into the murky cool water. Obviously it was murky with sediment so we were a bit reluctant to go straight for it without being able to see the depth, but once I saw a couple of people go, and Brad was cheering me on, I just went for it. I was really invigorating and lots of fun.
I had a shower when we reached camp in a little bamboo hut where there was around a 2ft gap at the top so the sun was shining on me and I could see all the mountains. The water came out of a pipe hanging at the top and came out cold; that was one of the best showers I have ever had. I took a little nap after that, then got up for dinner. In Thailand it is acceptable to smoke while eating meals even with a big group of people and we were lucky enough to be sitting with ten chain smoking French people! who literally through the whole trip just smoked and talked in French. I had vegetables and rice for dinner and a potato curry which was all delicious and I'm always excited to get some fresh veggies so I had two bowls! From there we sat around a bamboo fire (a bit awkwardly considering that everyone else bar one person was chain smoking and talking in French) until our guide came and said "ok so some children will come and sing for you and you pay them 40 baht each donation yes." Clearly that wasn't a question and he was not expecting for us to tell him no which we did. For one thing, it was eight o'clock at night and while this parade of young children was being dragged up to perform for us they should be asleep. Along with that, I have a big problem with people surprising me on tours with random things like this and charging us for it. It wasn't on the itinerary, we had paid already for the entire mis sold tour and it is incredibly rude to demand donations. So that was a very uncomfortable twenty minutes of children half heatedly singing, and the ones at the back were just having a chat, while the little ones at the front were shielding their faces and rubbing their eyes from the roaring fire in front of them. After that the dish was our in the middle and they stood expectantly like they had all done this a thousand times before. Is it just me or is this not natural? Why are parents exploiting their children like they are an attraction when they should be at home sleeping?
We felt really uncomfortable and tired so we went to bed in our bamboo hut which we shared with the entire group. The mattress was about two inches thick and made of something really hard wrapped in plastic but in fairness we had the best, as they were all doubles (bit weird for the people travelling alone) but ours was raised well off the floor and we were right by the door so we could leave for the toilet easily. We had big mosquito nets over the bed which served their purpose well and I slept through everyone coming in and out . I was dead to the world until 4 am when the cockerels started crowing right outside the hut really loudly, and dogs were barking. I fought the urge to pee and lost so I had to wander out with a head torch on and I didn't make it to the toilet before I was getting warning barks and growls from the local dogs (which we were told are vicious) so I stopped where I was, turned my torch off and peed next to the hut before getting really barked at and sprinting back inside.
The next day we woke at 7, got dressed and had breakfast. The coffee was good and it felt like luxury to have breakfast since we have barely eaten since being here. We set off on foot for half an hour downhill to a big waterfall. Only four of the group including Brad and I went in the water which was very cold but really refreshing and beautiful. We got dried off and the group leader had already taken off with all the French people without us, so we were rushing left behind. It was another half hour before we reached the elephant camp and had lunch. Once lunch was over, we went to ride our elephants. We were told before we booked that it would be two people to an elephant, but our guide insisted on this other guy coming on ours, so we were at the back on the basket with him directly in front, blocking our view. We told the guide before that we only wanted us two, but all of the group bar us had two people to an elephant. To be honest I could have been in a car and it would have been similar because I couldn't see the elephant, and the 45 minute trek was actually 15 minutes, with the elephant walking down this clear path, stopping for a minute at some water and then back with the elephant trainer shouting demands at him the whole time. I tried to make the most of it and smiled for pictures but I was pissed off. I tried to feed it a banana and the guy in front took it off me to feed him and I told him like no, I want to do it! I feel like our experience was non existent and it occurred to me that the only walk this elephant does is this same small circle every day. I assumed that it must be able to wander the camp in that case but when we got back I realised that is not the case at all.
I was horrified upon dismounting our elephant that it was pulled with a stick with a sharp hook by its eat over to a spot in the shade, then chained up around its foot next to another elephant. This chain was around two meters long if that, and that's where the elephants stay unless they are carrying tourists along that same path every day for the rest of its life. This made me suspicious about how well the elephants are treated behind the scenes so I left the group and went up close to see, and what I saw broke my heart an made me furious.
The elephant was scarred behind its ears from the bull hook. Along with that, it was scarred with tiny stab marks where it had been beaten with a bull hook either as punishment or during training. I felt disgusted that I had paid into this horrific abuse and in a sense encouraged it, as this one elephant would have been beaten, confined and worked on rotation every moment of its life, and it is such an impressive and beautiful creature. I cannot fathom how anyone could be so cruel and twisted as to do this to an endangered creature with no guilt, and sell the whole experience to tourists! We were so easily sold that we would be trekking through the jungle WITH the elephants, that they were treated well and we would get an up close and personal experience. Obviously these heartless people have no respect for their own nature and they are exploiting it unnecessarily. I would much rather not ride an elephant and just see it quite close in the wild, content and living naturally after seeing this, than the zoo type experience. What bothered me most is that nobody else in our group seemed to mind- all they were interested in was getting the perfect picture. At times I really do question mankind when so much focus is ticking the tourist boxes and not having your eyes open to what to are really seeing. Please if you are reading this- DONT DO THE TREK! It isn't even elephant trekking as you only get fifteen minutes, and you can easily get more of an enjoyable experience with a reputable company or elephant sanctuary. I have booked a day with elephants for us tomorrow where we get to bathe them and learn about them (I booked before this Trek) and researched the company quite well. I paid a bit more but the emphasis seems to be more on how well treated the elephants are so I really hope that is the case tomorrow.
I also watched as staff at the camp used slingshots to shoot and kill tiny birds. These birds were about half the size of my hand so there can be barely any meat on them. Over here in south East Asia it seems very common to need to either kill or confine absolutely anything that breathes and I can't make sense of it! We left after this for our hour's white water rafting, which was fifteen minutes rafting over only three rapids. The view from the water was amazing and the forest looked dense and green, and we were lucky enough to see lots of dragonflies and butterflies. The guide tried to make it more fun by steering us into a big rock, but the raft was barely inflated and with my feet in the position he told me to out them, I hit my foot really hard and was in agony as my big toenail spilt in half and started to bleed. Next was a twenty minute gentle bamboo raft to the end of the river which was supposed to be forty, but I was glad this was shorter as one side of my nail was flapping back in the water. We got out, and I got showered while Brad complained about false advertising to a guide who wasn't interested, and we left to come back here to our hostel.
So the decision is yours- do you want to pay blindly into the continuation of this abuse of the very animals you are apparently so amazed to see? Or will you listen to your conscience and cut the demand, stopping this from going any further? I choose responsible travel.