Following the collection of the laundry, which importantly includes 5 clean pairs of pants. We are brought to the pickup point by Tuk-Tuk, the minibus soon arrives. It’s heavily overloaded with all sorts of packages so our packs are piled in the aisle and with our feet squashed in between sacks of rice, we set off. It’s not the most comfortable, but it’s only for 5 hours or so. I thank the roads of the RoK for giving me the tolerance required for such a journey. It’s a breeze, I spend the time blogging.
The road condition is excellent with only a small section rutted. It must have been done in the last few years, as where we are heading to Mondulkuri, was one hell of a journey in the not so recent past. The reason why not so many tourists head out this way. The scenery soon changes, this is rural Cambodia.
We arrive in the small town of San Ramoen and need digs. It’s dark so we head to a place we spotted just up the road, a 5 minute pack laiden stroll. They have rooms, $12 with fan & $20 with air con, we take the fan for two nights. The room is a fair size with two 3/4 beds, which are big enough for two, but I go to check if they have a proper double, which they don’t. Upon returning to the room the KP is swatting flies, she’s already zapped 2 with one left to go. I join her but soon there are three buzzing around and they are big bastards, with a big buzz. Wait there a minute, they are not flies, they are bees, like a large version of the British wasp, and they’re growing in numbers. They must have a nest in the light fitting? The KP has now downed about 4 of them, which means it won’t be long before the whole nest is on attack mode. We quickly depart and by that time there’s about 12 to 15 buzzing about. Thankfully they have an alternative room which is on the lower levels, clean and nest free. Also it’s $10 and almost identical, maybe the $2 was for the insect’s home as travellers in these parts tend to visit for excitement.
The excitement that’s on offer in these parts, in addition to bee-keeping are extreme off road biking, trekking and climbing, and the wild life. Now I’d love to go off-road biking, I bet it’s banana’s but with my biking skills a millions miles from achieving that we settle for the Elephant Valley Project.
It’s an Eco-tourism project, which means it’s not solely driven by profit and helps do its bit for the environment and the local community. Providing jobs and education, sustaining the forest and also giving the chance for elephants to retire in peace, being just elephants, after a hard life of graft.
You can find out all about the project in more detail yourself, but briefly, they offer the chance for owners of elephants to sell or rent their mammals for a life in the sanctuary. Generally these are elephants that have been utilised in the construction, logging or tourism industry’s for the last 20-30 years. Animals that have been over worked and mentally over stressed. In addition the mahouts (glossary) are also offered employment at the project. They also do much work for the Bunong community, the indigenous people of Mondulkuri having lived there for over 2000 years, who are a minority in Cambodia. A special brand of people who are animistic, which means they believe that everything has a spirit, that’s me, you, trees, plants, rocks, everything! Check them out with the help of google, they are, in my opinion very unique. The project is also doing much work to help legally acquire the land for the Bunong people from the government. They are doing a great job and we were happy to be part of it, if it was only for a day. Please check the project out and visit if possible, it will be good for your karma. www.elephantvalleyproject.org
We are a group of eleven and when we are getting our briefing from the guide they are here again. It’s the KP who spots them and this time they’re in a swarm, it looks like a cloud, but in fact a tightly compacted collection of thousands of fucking bee’s.
She seen them, but they must have missed her as they didn’t attack in revenge of their four fallen friends. They were close enough to spook our guide tho’ she had obviously seen the mass aggravation they can cause. Once composed she delivers the spiel and interesting it is to, background info of the project, the plan for the future, elephants in general both captive and wild, finished with a brief safety run down.
Off we go for another bit of trekking, we getting good at this now, and then in the dense forest. There they are, the elephants, a group of four and they seem to stop everyone in their tracks.
We follow the guide to circle them to a better vantage point, it’s bath time. It’s the KPs first ever time to see one, we must have missed the ones that patrol the streets of Bangkok searching tourists. For me also apart from a visit to Billy Smarts circus when I was nine, It’s my first time to see them this close, especially in their own environment. It’s fanfuckingtastic! Magic, as a French member of our group exclaimed. This group are quite new to the foundation 3-4 years and have not yet fully learnt how to be elephants, so the mahouts help them to bathe.
We follow the group through the forest for the morning, at times they are less than 4 metres away it’s exhilarating, especially for the KP as the distance is cut to less than a metre, as her and two others of the group get split from the rest by an elephant who changed direction for more bamboo. The guide an English girl in her mid twenties is excellent, providing a wealth of elephant knowledge as well as each elephants individual story. All of which are extraordinary. Following a break for lunch and from the mid day heat, we set off again to locate another 2, these are bigger creatures who are more settled at the foundation. Bath time should be more interesting as they are able to do it for themselves, unfortunately today they are in lazy mode and don’t play game. We trek after them also, seeing them destroy much bamboo and parts of the forest, it’s great watching them in their natural environment. Then they get more interested in the group, coming closer and closer ignoring some tasty banana tree trunks, focusing on us. The guide asks us to retreat, then tells us, then again and again. Then the guide clicks, who’s got fruit she shouts. “Who’s got fruit in their bag?” Yes you’ve guessed it right, the KP.
Well done love, (ok I admit it, I put it there 🙂 it was part of our breakfast), after a frantic search she locates the banana’s and passes them to the mahout who throws them to the elephants and then they go off on their way, no longer interested in us what so ever. It’s always exciting with the KP, I love you honey!
We trek a bit more observing the two large females. During the day I take over 900 shots (obviously too excited) with the K7, the KP makes a few movies and we are back in town. Food & drinks which includes my first ever and second, Bunty’s Somerset cider for a very reasonable $2 a piece and it’s another relatively early night, the bus leaves at 8 in the morning.