So with these inspiring words of wisdom floating around in my 'not-so trustworthy-after-all' brainpan, we set off on our jungle adventure..Did I mention I'm becoming increasingly suspicious of the reliability and motives of my Logical Brain? 'LB' has become a great disappointment in recent times.
Creative Brain, on the other hand, was really enthusiastic about this trip; elephants, jungle, waterfalls, rivers, elephants, spectacular scenery, no weddings for miles and miles in any direction, elephants.. Clearly, 'CB' can become overly focused on 1 or 2 points and, just as clearly, doesn't worry about petty details, like the name of the elephant sanctuary we were going to - The Elephant VALLEY Project.
Yep, that SHOULD have been a significant Clue, that should've been where 'LB' stepped up to the plate, with flailing synapses, shouting: "Warning Warning!!"
It's a VALLEY and, generally speaking, for those of you who skipped too many geography classes, valleys occur between MOUNTAINS and here we go again...
You know, if I wasn't so sure of Tara's affection, I might suspect these trips had an alternate objective..
After a reasonably relaxing, 6 hr bus trip to Phnom Penh, we jumped into a couple of tuk-tuks for the 5 minute trip to our hotel.
Being such 'old hands' at this by now, we're all familiar with the habit tuk-tuk drivers have of ALWAYS saying they understand where you want to go AND they know where it is but, since both Nat & Kyra have lived in PP and know their way around, and also being armed with Tara's fluent Khmae, we weren't at all concerned about this cultural quirk - and it really was an entertaining Cook's Tour of all the streets around where our hotel was...
We did, eventually, find it, booked into our comfortable rooms, enjoyed the novelty of a long & luxurious HOT shower and set off for a quiet meal at 'Friends' - remember that one Jassie girl?
The only problem was that Tara & Nat first had to find some medications to send back to Battambang on the evening bus and Kyra had to go home to drop her bags off, so Kate and I had to keep ourselves amused for an hour or so and, as luck would have it, Friends serves some amazingly wonderful cocktails...in REALLY big cocktail glasses...we were definitely amused.
We did enjoy a lovely meal, I think, 'cause when the bill came a few hours later and there were 25 cocktails on it, I realised the whole food-thing cold have been imaginary and I may not have actually eaten at all...
Up at 5.30am and back into tuk-tuks. I know, I know, we should have walked but we did have some heavy luggage, mostly of the kind that 'clinks' while you walk, so we took the plunge again. We'd left early so we'd have time for breakfast and, more importantly, coffee, before our scheduled 6.30am departure, this time in a minibus. So there we were, in the 2 slowest tuk-tuks in Cambodia, stopping every so often so the drivers could confer with each other, until we were starting to wonder if we were actually going to miss the damned bus altogether! So, no coffee & no breaky..
No Coffee makes Di something something...
As it turned out, departure was actually meant to be 7am (we would've had time to grab coffee..ggrrr), by 7.10 Tara decided to run to the servo across the road to fetch munchies & cans of super caffeinated iced coffees for the now suffering troops.
|Tara & Kyra watching movies..|
Calm down girls..With the bus totally "stuffed" with people and baggage so that there was little if any, leg room, no access to the door and one poor man sitting on a little wooden stool in the aisle, we set off on the next leg - 6 hrs to Sen Monorom.
|The Green House Hotel....|
Never mind about the hotel here, looked good...
on the outside...inside?
Well, we just won't talk about it.
Sen Monorom is the capital of the province of Mondulkiri, the largest yet most sparsely populated province in Cambodia, which lies on the Vietnamese border. It's a sleepy town of around 7000 people, perched on a hillside overlooking the rolling hills of the surrounding countryside.
Over 80% of Mondulkiri's population is made up of 10 tribal minorities, primarily the Pnong Tribe who live in villages in the forest as well as in Sen Monorom itself. They practice Animism, live in self sufficient farming communities and although more and more of them are learning the Khmer language, there is no written form of their own language.
|The roundabout @ the top of the hill - Sen Monorom|
|I'm thinking this might come as a bit of a surprise to the Khmer...|
Wonder when they have to give it back...
|Jack - courtesy of Tara's artistic expertise.|
One more minibus & a half hour trip to the relaxing splendour of our rainforest accommodation at the Elephant Valley Project...
Nat, very fittingly, christened this place of beauty & wonder - so welcome to Nat's
"Elephant Boot Camp"
So Logical Brain, is there anything you'd like to say in your own defence?
I mean ANYTHING.
'Cause really, what good is an inattentive, part-time, masochistic left hemisphere! I've already mentioned missing the "Valley" reference. Well there were a few other 'oversights' as well.
Note to self: ALWAYS read the fine print...
How did I miss the bit that says "this is a volunteer project and ALL visitors can choose between full days with the elephants (for an extra $60/day..) or 1/2 day with elephants and 1/2 day as slave labour (for an extra $30/day..)."
Yes, that's right WE pay THEM to be allowed to cart the new, 2 metre long roofing panels of itchy, dry elephant grass down the hill to the kitchen hut and drag the old ant-filled ones back up..
We swept and we scrubbed and we watered.
We carted loads of chopped, sappy, heavy, ant-ridden lengths of banana trees UP the hill to a clearing in the jungle for the elephants afternoon tea.
Admittedly I was only doing the easier, horizontal leg by this stage, but there was a reason for that, which I'll get to soon...
Also seem to have missed the bit that says "we only have electricity from 6pm-9pm courtesy of a prehistoric & temperamental generator."
The jungle is REALLY dark...in the dark.
And the bit that says "While the kitchen & lounge huts are near the top of the mountain, your cabins are built down the steep slope of the mountain side." Watch your step on the meandering, uneven, rock steps IN THE DARK....
All of this notwithstanding, it was nevertheless a truly wonderful experience.
The pictures say it better than my poor literary skills could, so here you are:
SUNSETS AND JUNGLE VIEWS
|Kyra & Stevi at the top of the "Hill'...|
|Sunset from the Lounge Hut - Day 1...|
|Hey guys, is this sunset REALLY red or is it just my eyes - Day 2...|
|and Day 3 - we're still alive...|
|The roof of our hut - Ning Wan's Nest|
|Dear Nat in the hut's Lilliputian Doorway..|
And these are my slightly less impressive efforts...
|Ning Wan, Mainet and Ruby reapplying their mudpacks...|
|Kyra & Nat splashing buckets of water over Ning Wan to help her wash off the old mud|
|Bob-the-Bastard scratching an itch...|
|and this is Bob's girlfriend, Onion..|
THEN THERE WAS THE RIVER:
Yes, more of Tara's work...
Yes, more of Tara's work...
AND THE WATERFALL:
|Three Brilliant & Beautiful Babes...|
|Stevi, Nat & Kate....|
And Yours truly...Fortunately you can't really see the busted nose I'm sporting after an altercation with a strong and well placed vine that was laying, like a trip-wire across the path..
There I was walking along, minding my own business, watching an elephant dining on jungle take-away, when my foot was snared by this treacherous booby-trap and, since one hand was firmly in a pocket, did a magnificent face-plant with only 1 hand to break my fall. Needless to say it didn't stop my nose from smacking full force into the forest floor and only succeeded in adding a bruised wrist to the 2nd bloody nose I've ever had..a trail of blood was not what I had in mind when I said to "leave a trail" at the beginning of this adventure..
Five days later, the swelling's gone down, sneezing caused by the ever-present Cambodian dust is no longer taking me to new worlds of pain and I can, once again, breathe through both nostrils. Albeit through a slightly crooked nose.
Next Installment, we make it out of the jungle alive and land at Nature Lodge..