Good Energy

The guys at Good Energy have been really supportive and excited about the expedition, so much so that they have made a contribution which allows me to keep the blog regularly updated during the expedition, so they and everyone else can follow the journey. Good Energy supplies 100% renewable electricity sourced from wind, water, sun and sustainable biomass. CO2 from coal-fired electricity generation is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Switch your electricity supply to Good Energy using this link and not only will you be supporting the pioneering community of independent green generators, but for every sign up they get they’ll make another donation to help get the bus around the world. It helps you cut your personal CO2 emissions, helps them grow a great business, and helps me get round the world.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

This Blog Is Moving

I've migrated the whole website and blog over to Wordpress so if you follow this blog, get yourself over to

The new RSS feed is;

The new site is live now, so go and check it out, there are lots of photos and I spent an age on it so I really hope you like it. Let me know what you think.

The domain name is just registering this morning with the new server so for the time being you can't yet use "www." with the url, but that should sort itself out shortly. (right?)

Thanks for following on blogger, please continue reading on WP. There are 4 new blogs on there as a special introductory offer. (and two of them are pretty good).


Friday, 8 April 2011

Believe in me

I’ve met a few “citizens of the world” on this trip. Guys (invariably the are men) who have been backpacking for so long they either take offence at being asked where there from, or answer it with a treatise about socialisation to backpacker hostels and pancake breakfasts.

“Well I’m not really from anywhere any more.” The word ‘from’ spat out with total disdain at the concept of being owned by geography.

It doesn’t take long to confirm that they are pretty lonely characters who disguise their roots in the hope that it will either make them more interesting, or at least less pigeonhole-able. Drilling them with questions serves to both find their pigeonhole, and annoy them enough to entertain me. A fused Israeli ex-army soldier dealing pot to fund self medication, a dull Brit who bought a flat in London at a good time and pretends he survives off the crappy jewellery he makes in Nepal, an alcoholic Dutchman with questionable sexual peccadilloes living cheap in Goa... none of them were from anywhere.

I take pride in answering that I’m from ‘The London Borough of Croydon’ with a gentile cockney accent, knowing that that answer would cause eyes to roll anywhere in England, but that the full title can make it sound chic to a foreigners ears.

I always assumed that my shared love of travel with these global citizens came in part from the anonymity of being away from home. Gone is the defining insight your friend project on to you. No longer am I lazy Andy who gets really dull when he’s drunk, falls asleep at parties, and only gets comes to life when he’s talking technical about Toyota Landcruisers. Now I can be intrepid Andy, with a thought provoking blog, and a cool looking truck, rugged and mysterious; at least for the first few minutes of meeting people, before I have a drink and start winning on that the coil springs from an HJ80 can be fitted on a Pajero, usually followed by me dozing off.

But now I’ve come to another conclusion about why I like being away from home in this way, formed in part by watching the Wire, a cop show that I downloaded and got into watching over Christmas. (It’s taken a while for the penny to drop.) All the characters in the Wire, the policemen, the politicians, the drug dealers, the journalists, give their loyalty to their organisations for better or worse, and have to take compromised actions because they are bound by their allegiances. Good intentions and idealism gets sidelined for a greater good that generally doesn’t really materialise. Plans are thwarted by rival plans that dissect through the storylines. The organisations are the character’s failing.

In London not only am I bound by my friend’s preconceptions of me, which are hard to escape, but by the organisations I belong to and that govern me. My job, my home, my social circle, the local chain supermarket, the train station, the newspapers I read, the libertarian politics I share with my friends, the capitalist system, the rule of law, my nationality. They are all organisations, identities that I subscribe to, and in return demand that I make compromises for them.

Tom, my Nepali guru, told me his aim was to free himself of his belief systems, and the preconceptions they bound him to. He admitted it was impossible, but still worth striving for. Beliefs; religions, political leanings even attitudes, are also organisations and identities that support you when you join them, but demand your loyalty and compromised actions of you.

Living in the truck instead of a home, and living pretty frugally makes it easier to shed a lot of belief systems and shun organisation memberships. It’s hard to be without the stability and support of these organisations in life, but it’s liberating too. And this, more than the anonymity of travel, is really what I’m enjoying about this life on the road.

As you head inland from the SoCal coast to the desert life becomes more alternative, less regulated, more hippy. At the gates of Death Valley I’ve entered a realm of eco-statues, communal skinny dipping in at night in hot pools, and live Bluegrass echoing around the desert mountains. It’s about as far from the organisations of the London Borough of Croydon as I’ve been on this trip.

But if I’m asked what I think about something, I guess I’ll be answering, “Well, I don’t really think anything any more.”

The Rules

I’ve always been involved in the loading and unloading of my truck at ports. In less authoritarian countries you can get proactively involved. Usually I’ve been able to see how it was lashed and what potential damage might be done.

This time, for safety reasons I wasn’t allowed into the port to unlash it, but by an accidental oversight of security I was ushered into the port for a coffee and ended up being driven out to the truck where they were struggling to get it started.

They’d unlashed the bindings and set up a ramp, but despite various attempts couldn’t get it running. I’d disconnected the battery before it shipped and they hadn’t been able to find the battery box. Once reconnected, it started it up first time and they insisted that for security and insurance purposes they had to drive it off the ramp. The final section of the ramp was a high kerb and the driver went too fast off it, crunching the side of the skirt as it bounced down. [Had he gone slower there might have been less or even no damage, similarly had they built a better ramp or consulted with me it would have been fine] A bent support which no one could humanly bend back and a cracked glass fibre panel were the results. No one said sorry. To say sorry would be an admission of fault, and therefore imply liability.

These guys are the professional descendants of gruff burly Longshoremen. A Google search for the words Neanderthal and Longshoremen returns 18,900 results. The care and diligence these men have done their job with over the years is one of the reasons why containerisation took off so fast, and perhaps why they chose to make containers out of rugged corrugated steel. There’s no choice when you ship a container. No matter how great your shipping company is (and mine was fantastic), your cargo ends up in the hands of someone working at a random terminal you’ll probably never see or meet. The truck survived the Tsunami at sea only to be damaged by yellow jacketed, crow-bar wielding muppets. It gets worse.

Two miles out of the port the engine stopped on a precarious hill. I opened the engine cover to see that one of the longshoremen had disassembled part of the fuel line, presumably in an attempt to start it, although if there is no electrical power to the dashboard lights, and the starter motor won’t turn it’s pretty clear the battery is not connected, and there is no reason why disassembling the fuel line would help. Anyone who knows the slightest thing about engines knows that, and anyone that doesn’t know the slightest thing about engines shouldn’t be disassembling fuel lines. Much less the return fuel line, which does nothing more than allow air into the system and cause the engine to stall.

Worse, the missing bolt was missing, nowhere to be seen. Thankfully with the help of a stranger I managed to bypass it and seal the fuel line from air leaks. It didn’t help that there was a fuel starvation problem caused by the fuel setting solid in the relative cold of the shady container port, but I was able to get the truck going and put off the drudgery of searching for a replacement bolt until we were in San Diego and had some local contacts that could help source it.

To me breakdowns are stressful, but not because I don’t know if the truck will ever work again, they are stressful because I don’t know where to find the parts or tools that I’ll need. That’s the thing that keeps me from fixing a lot of the minor problems with the bus, like the worsening cracked windshield, and fills me with dread when I feel a problem developing. After a day of looking for this fucking $2 bolt, a mechanic I stopped at found one at the bottom of his draw and gave it to me for free along with a couple of washers.

All was now well. And then in my routine daily inspection I noticed that the brake fluid level looked a little low. In a year and a half it’s never needed topping up. The only fluid the truck has never leaked is brake fluid. I like it that way. I knew immediately where to look; the cables used to lash the truck down had been wrapped around the axles close to where the brake line meets the wheel hub, but there was no leak there. Instead the leak was in the middle of the axle, where the line splits to go to each wheel. Nudging the line, while working under there to lash or unlash the truck, someone had caused the seal at the join to break and fluid was seeping out in generous globs.

I’m convinced this happened in the US [but for legal reasons I should state that it is impossible to know for sure]. The care and patience employed by the Thai dock workers was astoundingly diligent. I worked with them to lash it, and explicitly discussed the risk of damaging the brake lines with the team that did the work. If it had happened when the truck was loaded it would have been leaking for a month while on the ship and [it could be argued that] there would have been no fluid remaining in the reservoir and more staining on the brake line. Where it was unloaded I saw the charred end of a lashing cable, implying the longshoremen used a grinder or a torch to cut the cables off, instead of unbolting them. Unbolting steel cable ties is hard physical work, but wielding either kind of cutting tool in the confined space under the bus is a lazy option that invites a greater risk of damaging it than a spanner would.

The same garage where I found the bolt lent me a flaring tool. I was secretively quite excited and nervous about using it. Before I opened the box, I didn’t even know what it looked like or how to use it. I only knew that’s what I needed to ask for because I had a brake line failure on the chocolate powered lorry in 2007 and a friend told me I’d need a flaring tool to repair it, but in the end we found a spare brake line.

I carefully cut an inch off the brake line and re-flared the end, creating the bell shape ending to the tube that deforms when you tighten the line up into its housing and creates the high pressure seal. It was really hard steel, original Mercedes parts, and the first attempt didn’t quite work. But I’m proud to say, in the end I did quite a nice job on it.

The reason for ranting on about this is that I care about my truck. Since arriving in SoCal (Southern California dude) I’ve really felt the oppressive weight of rules created because there is a expectation that people won’t care.

After the freedom of South East Asia it feels stiflingly dictatorial. You can’t park your car on the side of the road facing the wrong way. The cops tell me it’s for safety reason because they point out that I’d have to have driven on the wrong side of the road to get to the space. So assuming I don’t care about oncoming traffic and was about to hurl myself into the path of other road users, the SDPD have kindly invented a rule to supersede the need for anyone giving a shit about head on collisions in the search for parking spaces. Phew, that’s lucky.

And it’s all pervasive. Fast food staff wear gloves, not because they care about the quality and cleanliness of the food, but because there is a rule that says they must. Minimum wage earners are dictated to by endless litany of rules to make up for the lack of enthusiasm their dull and disconnecting jobs instil.

Even amongst paragliders I noticed the mindset of rules and laws that outweigh caring. While flying in Torrey Pines, a coastal soaring site, I flew over some of the luxury houses along the cliff edge to get a closer look. Another pilot shouted over that it’s illegal to do that. Actually Air Law states it’s illegal to be within 1000ft [or 500ft depending where you are] vertically and 1km horizontally from a populated area, so under the only law that applies the whole cliff edge, the whole flying site, and indeed most paragliding sites are arguably ‘illegal’ and he was also breaking the law from where he was shouting his friendly warning to me.

He had a valid point, but elsewhere it might have been phrased as a reminder not to intrude, or to show respect for privacy, to act as a caring person, rather than the menace of some inapplicable rule of law. Incidentally it was a Monday and the houses were all empty because they are $50m weekend getaways that only get used for a few days in the summer so I don’t think anyone was left feeling invaded by my Maveric flyby (“I’m going to buzz the tower Goose”).

To fly at Torrey Pines I had to sign about 15 times over 6 pages of liability waivers. Maybe in that document there was a rule about flying over the houses. But I didn’t care to read the whole thing.

It’s hard to care when you’re in an uncaring environment. But nonetheless when co-opted into our story, people do care. The mechanic gave us the bolt and the flaring tool because he liked the truck. The biodiesel producers we’ve visited gave us fuel because they cared about our trip. John the shipping agent worked a load of hours on helping me get the truck out of the port (and still hasn’t sent me an invoice), he cares. Carlos who stopped to help me when the truck was broken down just outside the port also cared. Mike and Marie cared about our trip and loaned us the keys for the shower block at the Long Beach Marina.

The mechanisms of interactions disconnect people. The burger guy in MacDonald’s is making 100 patties an hour and never sees any of the people that will eat them. The call centre operative at T-mobile needs your account number and pin code before the rules allow them to speak to you. The police officer has a law book of rules to refer to. How can any of them care?

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

That's life.

“If you’re so clever, why aren’t’ you rich?” This is a question that has troubled me since my mother read it out of the newspaper sometime in the 90s. I think it was the name of a play or a book in the review section.

It’s a question that resonated with me as I reached adulthood. I’ve always thought I was clever, so I was naturally disappointed when I grew up and didn’t become rich. But lately the question has become “If you are so clever, why are you so skint all the time?” (Skint, for American readers can be translated to penniless).

This journey is amazing and I’m so grateful to be able to travel the world almost at will, but one drawback is that when I get places I feel inhibited to do anything that costs money because the more I spend, the more I shorten the life of the journey.

In my attempts at frugality I may have gone too far. Several times I have had ugly realisations that I am no longer living out an exciting adventure in which hardship is jovially endured, but I find myself drowned by the demoralising realisation that “This is my life.”

We dragged glider bags and suitcases on the Los Angeles MRT lines because we didn’t want to pay for a cab, stayed in the grimmest part of town risking drive-bys, strolled Compton’s streets for some cheap sightseeing, and the lowest moment recently was when we caught ourselves arranging our day around the free french-fries and champagne that the hostel doled out at 7pm each evening. That’s my life.

My beard trimmer has packed up after I overcharged it with the solar panels so I have a full on unruly beard. My jeans are stained from crawling under the bus fixing a leaking brake line yesterday, and to fight off the morning cold I pulled on the closest thing I could find, Chris’ paragliding sweatshirt, a size too small and wondered into a cafe for breakfast. In the glass door I saw a homeless guy in sandals and socks and for a second I steeled myself ready to fend off the request for a quarter from him, before realising it was my own reflection. That’s my life.

Chris is in the same boat, she was offered a free breakfast by volunteers at a homeless shelter on her way through town yesterday. Aside from our own, I’ve seen a lot of homelessness here. On a small piece of cardboard pithy pitches give you a life story and a reason to care. “Need money for dog food and a bigger piece of cardboard” says one. “I’m Michael, I served in Iraq. Every dollar you give reminds me why.” says another. Even the homeless, with all their woes, know the benefit of self promotion and effective sales communication. “Since 2009 [I’ve] been driving around the world in a truck that is made from and runs trash” begins the press release I type out in the cafe.

Next to me half a dozen beautician franchisees gather round the company founder for their annual meeting. It starts of cringingly enough as they dutifully laugh at inane stories the owner tells of the funny things her children said and did this week, but briskly moves into overdrive. For an hour she rattles through sales figures and targets like a machine gun. She refers to her underlings not by their names, but by the name of their franchise. “Santa Fe Ranchero, you’re up $10,000 on last year but a proportion of that has come from retail, none the less that’s good work, you can be pleased with that.” “San Diego South, your are only 51cents away from averaging $40 a sale, that’s amazing, but total volumes are down and you need to work hard to get back into the $2million turnover club. More focus on ORTs next quarter” There’s little time for any genuine emotion in her interactions. Every phrase is calculated to motivate and direct. Individual’s personalities are de-personalised by the sales-speak.

It’s exhausting to hear, even from 4 tables away. I head to the toilets where a sign says “Associates must wash their hands after using the toilet” Associates? What a lovely way to refer to a low paid coffee shop Mac-jobbers. Partners, Stakeholders, Franchisees. Sure enough a uniformed barista walks from the cubicle straight past me and the sink on his way back to work. As I return to the table the beauty queen is leaving in a sports car. She is clearly very rich. And from the complicated target driven way she knows how to motivate her franchisees, I’d guess she is also clever. I’m so glad that is not my life.

The beautician mogul has left me with an answer to my mother’s question. You not only have to be clever to be rich, you also have to be driven by money. All the corn in Nebraska couldn’t motivate me to be like that. At the risk of sounding all Buddhist, my truck has everything I need (apart from running water at the moment – the pump is still playing up) and while I wish I had €2000 for a tandem paragliding wing so I could fly with Chris and other people we meet on the journey, I’m happy to make do without it. That’s my life.

Monday, 14 March 2011

West Century Boulevard

“LA is a great big freeway” sang Dionne Warwick in the 1968 classic Do You Know the Way to San Jose.

The lyric has stood the test of time. Outside the motel/hostel is an 8 lane highway. It’s as long to cross as my street at home is to walk down. The planes lining up for the northern runway use West Century Boulevard to line up their approach, and from 6am there’s the regular rumble of 737 spraying the ground with atomised unburnt fuel and melting droplets of blue ice melting from the frozen leaks of their toilet plumbing.

Along West Century Blvd, a series of low rise retail outlets enliven the concrete express way and the cube units on either side with a plink of colourful signs, sized for the speeding motorist, advertising cheap motel rooms, muffler repairs and a range of food for under a dollar.

Nothing ever costs what the price tag says here. If it’s not the service charge it’s the sales tax. Everywhere else in the world has sales tax and it’s included in the price. It’s not such a difficult concept to grasp. Everywhere else you tip if the service is OK, not because you know the waitress is hardly being paid.

I saw a man on the sidewalk of West Century Blvd who was holding a sign to advertise a mobile phone shop. It had a curved bottom edge and his job was to rock it around in an unpredictable way that catches driver’s attention. How much can that job be worth? He’s wearing shades on a cold but sunny day and plugged into some headphones that no doubt the music helps with his sign gyrations, but prevents me from asking him about his wages.

The 117 bus runs down W. Century Blvd. The driver is chirpy, chatting incessantly to the passengers, making terrible jokes that the ladies in the front seats politely honour with a smiling groan or giggle. He wears surgical gloves and tells me if I don’t have enough change he won’t be mad at me. I get off at the Mall where I can print some documents I need at Staples. It’s an open air mall with units surrounding a big car park. Not like the enclosed air conditioned marble palaces of Asia, reverently attended for special occasions and visited with guests and family. You have to work hard to pick up the waft of corn starch food here. But sure enough it’s there, just outside the In-N-Out fast food restaurant. I’m hungry but I don’t go In-or-out. I’m craving a meal but the universal rule seems to be if it is advertised with a picture and the price, then it will be inedible and leave me feeling depressed.

I get excited when I see Radio Shack. I’ve never seen one before and bound in expecting it to be full of quirky cables and nerdy gadgets, CB radios and SWR meters. It’s not. Digital cameras and mobile phones with 2 year contracts line the shelves. Bland Mallism. A mirrored bottomed American Airlines plane flies overhead. Next door is Jumla’s Juices. There are no big pictures of their freshly squeezed orange juices or bold posters showing you what you can get for a dollar (“plus tax” in small print). They have real oranges piled up behind the counter. They look dirty and inappropriate for the mall setting. A machine turns them into juice.

Having taken the bus to the Mall I now realise its close enough to walk back. My sandals are not the mode of transport LA invites. The occasional other pedestrians glance over their shoulders suspiciously at each other if the separation gets too close. I accidentally creep back up behind a man that’s overtaken me earlier. He looks like he’s about to grab me and throw me over his shoulders in self defence. Another lady gives me a cheery “Well hello?” as I overtake her. Friendly as she sounds her body language is tottering sideways braced in case I’m minded to punch her and steal her bag.

The endless straightness of W. Century Blvd is disaffecting, dehumanising, grim, soulless, washed up and washed out but it’s also compelling exotic Americana at it’s best and most modern. It's ripe for romanticising. Cars turn right on a red, I almost get run over stepping out while looking the wrong way at the enormous pickups. Traffic grinds to a halt around my J-walking while neon signs invite me to cash checks or buy cheap pizza. I’m so excited about driving here I'd planned to hire a car tomorrow to use for the trip to the customs office. Except that when you add in the tax and insurance in it comes to over $90.

Today Dionne would sing “Put a hundred down and rent a car”. I’ll take the 232 bus down town to Long Beach instead. Things will be great when I’m down town.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Call of the Wild

A little out of date now but:

Surely I wasn’t the only one that was thinking it would be fun to go for a ride on the back of one of these massive Elephants. At the Elephant Nature Park, an hours drive from Chang Mai such thoughts can never be spoken. The park differs wildly from the other Elephant Tourist attractions in the neighbourhood, of which there are many, in that it is a retirement home for Elephants that have been used in the logging trade. Here the Elephants come first, and the visitors willingly take second place.

The focus is less about entertainment and more about how elephants, an animal that features on the Thai National Emblem, are treated in Thailand. Not well it turns out. Illegal loggers dope them with amphetamine, and work them to the point of injury, blindness, and in some cases literally til their bones break. Others are used as street entertainment, under fed and separated from their families. Traditional methods of training involve trapping young elephants in a wooden cage and torturing them into submission over a period of days, with metal hooks. It’s disturbing to watch, and it’s inevitably part of the process that makes an elephant rideable. As I learn all this, the desire to jump on their backs wanes.

Lek, the founder of the park, has a mouse like stature but an elephantine presence. She came from a family that worked elephants. Disturbed from an early age by the way they were treated, she embarked on a different path to provide a haven for the animals, which resulted in her being ostracised, beaten, receiving death threats, but eventually recognised, supported and now lauded. She is almost a household name in Thailand and the mention of the Elephant Nature Park brings nods of approval throughout the country. She’s developed a working relationships with loggers in Thailand and in Burma where poverty drives the dependence on animals and the problem of animal cruelty more acute and more violent. Instead of confronting she co-opted them into changing their behaviour. It’s a mammoth task but where she has been able to make inroads they have been impactful.

Just a few hours watching a herd coalesced around their youngest offspring is enough to convince that these animals are familial, affectionate and need to be in company. All the elephants introduced into the park have paired up, not as mating couples (only 3 of the 32 adults are males) but as spinster friends, promenading freely like retired sisters in their 50s majestically taking in the air. It’s hard not to anthropomorphise their outward demeanour, but their need for camaraderie is unmistakeable.

It’s impossible to know the exact age an elephant, often paperwork the previous owners provide is faked, or they have been rung like a second hand car after their predecessor meets an untimely end, but these trunked cut-and-shuts look like they’ve had a pretty hard life. One hobbles on an impossibly arduous broken hip, rocking up then down with each step, another’s eye is scratched out, and one limps on the stub of its leg blown off by a mine.

Their keepers (Kwan, in Thai) escort the elephants around the park, using only their body language and a bag of bananas to encourage the elephants. There are no hooked sticks here, the usual tool of the Kwan in Thailand. But there’s a hint that the Kwan are wrestling with this non-traditional approach. They aren’t the only ones. The idea of letting the elephants make the rules has to be balanced with the resources of the park, and the management of a herd of 34. In the evening they are penned, and the males are chained when they are in Musk to prevent the old boys doing themselves and injury. These animals have lived all their lives as domesticated animals. While the intention is to give them back their freedom, the elephants aren’t fully able to deal with it. It took one elephant two weeks to get used to not carrying a chain around its foot and had to be slowly weaned off it.

Lek is aware of this, and her goal is to provide a totally wild environment where human visitors don’t even get the chance to come second, and aren’t allowed at all. No habituation. It’s a model pioneered by Carol Buckley who is coincidentally also visiting the park while we are there. Carol bought an enormous plot of land in Tennessee, where the climate is similar to the subtropical environments that is a home for elephants in Asia and Africa, and then set free a load of rescue elephants from zoos and circus's in it. People, however, are not welcome.

It’s an uncompromising attitude that hasn’t won her many friends. In fact it’s probably at the heart of a spat with the directors of the Elephant Sanctuary charity she co-founded, which have now sacked her. The dismissal is an emotionally devastating wrench and she’s coy to discuss it, in part because it’s the subject of legal proceedings and maybe in part she’s a little indignant about her removal from her own project after a lifetime spent on it, despite her outward stoicism.

As a result of Carol’s Elephants-first approach, the charity received more donations than it could imagine spending and not allowing visitors became a position that was harder to justify. Being in such a unique position to fund an education programme through a visitors centre, it could be seen as remiss not to use those funds to create an infrastructure where visitors can learn about elephants in a “wild” environment. But the remit has always been about the elephants, and allowing people in removes the very wildness that makes the Elephant Sanctuary unique. Ironically as the pioneering site in Tennessee is being held up in Thailand as the gold standard, it may be on the verge of performing an about face.

Carol’s story is as fascinating and serpentine as Lek’s, the Elephant Nature Park and of the all the elephants that inhabit it. She bought an elephant from a tire store in California, the 1970’s when you could have an elephant in the parking lot just to get customers’ attention. For over a decade she toured with the circus and even developed an act where Tarra became the world’s only roller-skating elephant, something she is adamant Tarra loved to do.

There might have been an epiphany or perhaps just a seven-year-itch that made Carol want to hang up Tamara’s roller skates and leave the performing life. She talks animatedly about the whole story, but that part is a little vaguer than the rest. Nonetheless she has no shame about her circus days. As long as an elephant has room to roam, compatible friends and enough live vegetation Carol says it’s happy, even if it’s performing.

Her life has been tied to Tarra for over 30 years. At the start Tarra was her livelihood, but then as she looked for a suitable place to retire the elephant in 1996, she sank all her savings into a plot of land, which through her force of character and persistence with the neighbours grew to 2700 acres, big enough for the 14 elephants that now live there to roam and with a buffer big enough to keep visitors out.

Carol is touring Asia, funded by donations through paypal on her personal website (, visiting elephant conservation projects like the Elephant Nature Park, training the staff in elephant pedicures and the new born elephants with a positive reinforcement techniques, a rival to the savage caging method, which takes only a few minutes a day and doesn’t leave the elephant’s spirit crushed. The elephant is rewarded with treats when it lifts its leg or flaps its ears on command. The purpose is to teach elephants moves that vets will need them to perform during examinations.

Carol also wafts into new-age extremes, and hints at be able to communicate with Tarra through a kind of meditative telepathy. Yet she's so grounded in the reality of elephant care that none of this comes across as at all strange. In fact it would be odd if spending almost 40 years in the presence of an elephant didn't build bond of the senses.

There are two new born elephants in the park, and I’m confused why they encourage breeding when the little ones take up the resources which could be used to rescue another adult. Offspring draw the herd together, and several females will adopt the role of motherhood, not just the natural parent, but the real answer is less considered. Spading an elephant is a big impractical operation and keeping the males in check when driven by six tonnes of darwinian urges is an endless battle that the Kwan don't always win. On our final day at the Elephant Nature Park, a male that is segregated while he’s on Musk breaks his chain and rampages over to the females, sticking his trunk where a gentleman never would. On this occasion the Kwan manoeuvre the giants apart with deft skills without call to sticks or hooks, and this time the ladies honour is preserved.

Every animal, including humans has to work for a living, even elephants in the wild, and in the search for a fair way to treat elephants, Carol and Lek provide a master-class in managing the compromises that we all face in search for our utopias.