Nature Lodge and the Elephant Valley Project
After a long day, but comfortable day of travel, thanks to D and the Mitsubishi we arrives in Sen Monorom and were off to the Nature Lodge. A very cool spot that was 15 minute hike on a dirt road and we arrived to a hilltop filled with bungalows and a free house. The registration/bar/restaurant was built in and around a giant tree. Open air with wood slat floors and tree vines and trunks all over. As Swiss Family Robinson as you can imagine. A bit of western food and we all jumped at the chance for a burger and fries - quite delicious.
It was cold and the wind was howling... We settled into our cozy beds with mozzy netting and soon were off to sleep.
Onto the elephant valley project. After breakfast $10 at the Greenhouse for 3 coffees, 3 large omlettes with baguette and fruit plate we were off and running. 12 of us, all white - 3 Canadians, 2 French, 2 Dutch, 2 not sure... But all spoke english and it was nice to converse with others.
20 min later down a really bumpy road we found ourselves on a hilltop where we were briefed. A true Eco-Tourism establishment where they rent the land, supply jobs to 35 locals, give the village 1 ton of rice / year and provide free healthcare for all of the village... The goal - keep them from selling the land to the Chinese who will cut the forest.
We spent the am walking to the valley where we soon saw 5 elephants come and splash in the water and the throw mud about. 3 of them came so close we could touch them.. It was amazing- they are so patient and gentle. Most show signs of major abuse which makes it all the better to see them "being elephants" in the wild. We followed them all morning - while it was amazing it did get a tad boring - sitting and watching. Just when I had enough of standing we hiked back up to base camp for a delicious lunch and bit of RnR before the afternoon adventures.
We walked to the river and met 4 new elephants who frolicked in the mud. Simply amazing to watch them play and be so happy. We learned a lot about elephant abuse and what signs to look for. When you can see the spine they have hauled too much weight which causes the rib cage to compress. Many have holes in their ears which owners put rope or chains through, indentions in their head from the hook and scars along their body from beating. Elephants can only safely carry 10% of their body weight yet when working they are carrying much more.
There's is a big open air lounge with Papasan chairs overlooking the first where everyone relaxes before and after meals. After seeing 0 Americans for a week and few English speakers we are soon amongst 14 Aussies, English and a few from the US - - who works in RB. It is fun to share travel stories and meet other adventurers. Our trip of 14 days is by far the shortest.. Many are 6mos- 1 year.
Our accommodations " the bunk room" open slatted floors and 4 singles with mossy nets. Simulations hard mattress. We were exhausted and were in bed by 8... Up at 6:30 for coffee and breakfast. When coming to the project you pay for "elephant time" AM and PM or you can volunteer and pay less. We opted to volunteer this AM and JD, RM and I opted for macheting - sounds fun NOT. Hot, hilly , biting ants and itchy plants. We trekked to the banana trees and cleared the vines and growth with machetes. It was fun for about 10 min a then lost its fun. But we sucked it up and did our labor. John opted to move bricks - which I wish is what we had done. Once again more unexpected adventures in Cambodia.
Afternoon of washing elephants was amazing... Buckets, hoses and brushes to clean them up. Since they were in a captivity they don't know how to properly bathe... Poor elephants.
Please don't ride elephants when you see them- they are not working animals!!