I recently got back from Thailand where I was travelling and volunteering at a safari park in Bo Plhoi, Kanchanaburi.
I started work (if that’s what you call something you love) on the 23rd November and had paid to work a Month as part of the Big Cat team! Working with Big Cats had always been a big dream of mine! So when I found out about the volunteer programme I couldn’t wait to get started! However there was a few adjustments I had to come to terms with first…
My first day arriving at the park I pulled up on the back of a safari park open back taxi covered in tigers and lions (very subtle..) and was greeted by the lovely and very essentric head volunteer Tat! who greeted me with a 2 week old puppy in her arms and a simple question with only one answer ‘would you like to hold the puppy?…. erm YES!’ great start! Tat showed me around the volunteer house which honestly looked more like a long shed with many doors and a tin roof ‘you’ll get used to it!’ is what I got told by many other volunteers. My room was basic, dirty and a heat trap, I had a Fan, bed, holey mosquito net, wardrobe and dresser and a basic en suite bathroom, sink, toilet, yellow stained tiles, mirror and a shower head (the shower water came from the lake and was cold) but it was all I needed; It was spacious even when I ended up sharing (most rooms were 2-3 heads a room) but its not just the people you share with, you will find yourself in the company of frogs (they like to shower with you), cockroaches, geckos, mosquitoes (lots of flying things that I’ve never seen before, either way they all bite!) millipedes and sometimes even snakes, scorpions or centipedes! but I tell you something ‘You’ll get used to it!’
Water from the tap in Thailand will make you ill there for we had a water dispenser which the volunteers all used to fill up there water bottles for the day… sounds alright until the dispenser does not want to give you cold water and your drinking warm water with a twangy taste… but that’s alright ‘You get used to it!’. Down at the Big Cat garden we had an old little ice cream shack that we used as our shed to keep all the cats essentials in. In the fridge we kept the chicken we fed to the cats… raw chicken carcass and lots of it! It was kept in a plastic bag in the bottom of the fridge. To avoid drinking hot water with a twang we used the fridge to keep our water bottles cold during the day, so alternatively when you drank the water from the plastic top of the bottle, it would smell and taste of raw chicken, But guess what… ‘ You’ll get used to it!’
Having lots of western blood still in me I was a treat for all the little flying critters that liked to drink my blood. There was flying vampires everywhere and no escaping them! with in my first day I was covered in little purple lumps all over my body (ALL OVER!) and trying to resist scratching them was even more frustrating! Tiger balm soon became my new favourite thing in the world and also my most frequent purchase, it worked wonders! In the night it would get so hot the bites would feel irritated and itchy which sometimes meant sleepless nights. Living in the jungle most of the time you were completely covered in dirt! Buy whilst your convincing yourself you’ve caught a tan that strangely disappeared after every shower…your missing the state of your finger nails! With that many bites you itch, itch, itch! building your own safari park of bacteria under just one nail. By day 2 when I was fed up of the scratching and being covered in dirt I was telling another cat team member Tammi all about it, she showed me the scars on her legs chuckled a little and said… ‘You’ll get used to it’
Chicken. Well… I knew the cats had to eat and I was sure it wasn’t going to be pretty, but when I was told to put my bare hands into a carcass and rip the chicken in half with the guts still inside and then to rip its neck off… my face was probably a picture! Anyway I got on with it and fed all our adult Leopards in rescue a total of 10.5 carcasses. So I was feeling pretty chuffed with myself for getting so hands on, on my first day, until I was told… the younger cats can not eat the solid bone yet and therefor we have to smash the chicken to brake the bones, ‘erm ok well how do we do that?’. So what you do right…crouch down on the concrete ground, lay a carcass on the floor in front of you, hold a brick above your head and smash down on the chicken with the brick until its pretty much flat, the bones have been crushed and its guts are now a mushy mess sprayed up your feet, legs, t-shirt and if your unlucky, you face, hair and mouth! OH! and don’t forget to look like a caveman at the same time… no wait! that’s just how you look anyway. If the guts missed you the first time round I’m sure once you get to the chopping board to chop the now smashed chicken into small pieces, your bound to get the odd bit of bone or guts flying towards you then! So feeling squeamish and looking a bit pale after smashing my first chicken, Jonathon, Tammi and Gonzo (Cat team) were reminiscing on their first days and before they could even say it I turned to them and said… ‘Let me guess, You’ll get used to it!’
You’ll get used to… Driving an unreliable scooter that will break down on you every 2 days, a diet that consists of chicken, vegetables and rice, washing up outside in more cold water, sharing the table with the dogs that walk across it trying to eat out your bowl at the same time you are and there’s much, much more…
People reading this are probably thinking well why is she telling us all the bad bits about being a volunteer at this safari park?
Well the truth is… I’m not, you don’t get used to all these things you just learn to live with them. Every second at this place was worth the bites, dirt, bugs, guts and twangy water because I have never fallen in love with a place like I did here before.
‘You’ll get used to it’ is all I heard for my first week volunteering and its defiantly a part of the safari park welcoming and experience. For the less gory and unpleasant posts follow my upcoming blogs… I promise there is plenty more I can tell you!
Details about the Park can be found on my ‘Contacts and useful links’ page where there is also a donations connection. Simply by selecting ‘International Smile’ in the header which will lead you to my other blog posts.