Cambodia – Elephant Valley Project

Blog posts written by students.

Thursday, July 2nd/Friday, July 3rd
Cambodia - Elephant Valley Project - Dragonfly TransitionsOur adventure to Cambodia started a 5 am at the Medford, Oregon airport. With the excitement of the trip ahead fueling many of us, and coffee fueling the others, we boarded our first flight to Seattle, Washington. Upon arriving in Seattle, we had a 6 hour layover, which I appreciated—it gave us all time to organize music playlists for the plane, have a dirty chai latte and do final calls/FaceTime with family. Others enjoyed napping, grabbing lunch, or browsing luxurious beauty products and expensive perfume at the duty-free shops. When the time came to board our longest flight from Seattle to Seouul, South Korea (11 hours!), I was content to settle in for a nap and some complimentary movies. Aside for the lack of electrical outlets, the flight was fantastic. Asiana Airlines impressed me—the flight attendants were warm and attentive, we were provided with blankets, pillows and slippers, as well as fed 2.5 hearty meals. It was a quick transition to our final leg from Seoul to Phnom Penh—we made it to the gate just as they were calling last call for the flight! After that 5 hour flight, we rode in tuk tuk’s to our hotel, the Billabong. Most of us fell asleep as soon as we got into our rooms, exhausted from an awesome day’s worth of travel.

Sunday, July 5th
Cambodia - Elephant Valley Project - Dragonfly TransitionsToday we started our trek to the EVP (Elephant Valley Project) and boy, was it a journey!!!! Since there are so many of us (fourteen!), we took a private taxi-van and a small car from the Billabong Hotel in Phnom Penh at 8:30am and started our 6-7 hour travel day to the outskirts of the town of San Monerom, in the province of Mondulkiri. The small car took the lead and was quite ahead for most of the trip. In the van, there were 10 of us and a driver, with little to no AC. We stopped for lunch about 11:30 am, and ate at a place called “Restaurant”. Our driver dropped us off, then as we walked into the restaurant, he drove off with all of our stuff to eat his own food. Talk about scary! Additionally, the restaurant staff spoke NO English, so ordering and paying was quite the experience. After our driver returned (with all of our bags and personal gear in tow), we finished our lunch and continued on our trek. We finally arrived at the EVP at 4pm and met up with the owner, Jack. He showed us around where we would be staying and gave us an orientation about EVP and how it all works. After settling in, we ate dinner, met some new friends from the UK and Australia, and played some games. Then it was off to bed to rest up for the week ahead with elephants, service work, and exploring the beauty of the Cambodian jungle.

Monday, July 6th

Cambodia - Elephant Valley Project - Dragonfly TransitionsToday was our first day at the Elephant Valley Project. In spite of being in the humid jungle with no air conditioning, most of our group slept well and were up before 6 am, ready for breakfast and an exciting day of meeting the elephants. In the morning, we met our first two elephants—Easy Rider and Gee Nowl. Both seemed happy as we watched them eat. We learned from Jack, the owner of EVP and our guide, about the social structure of elephants. Typically in a pair, there is one younger elephant, who is a potential mother, and a second older elephant, called an “auntie”, who looks after and protects the mother. After lunch, we trekked back into the jungle to meet two additional elephants, Sambo and Milot. Sambo is known as the most famous elephant in Cambodia, because she was used a street and entertainment elephant for decades. She had a tragic past, seemingly destined to a life of being chained up, ridden and unable to roam until she was rescued by the staff at EVP. Hearing her story and knowing more fully what had to be done in order to rescue her makes me really excited and appreciative of the opportunity to contribute to this project and give back. Milot, who is the one of the older elephants at EVP (52!), greeted us in the jungle as well. We enjoyed watching her eat her special soft diet of pumpkin vines and soft grass. I am excited for the opportunity to continue working with the elephants, as well as working on the bridge we will be constructing. I’m also looking forward to continuing the awesome hikes into and out of the jungle.

Tuesday, July 7th

Cambodia - Elephant Valley Project - Dragonfly TransitionsHowdy! Today I’m here to tell you about a little place called Heaven…..have you heard of it? After being met this morning by steaming plates of crêpes and fresh fruit, it sure felt like we were livin’ in it. Here at the EVP though, Heaven is a large valley where their largest group of elephants, four females, live and indulge in whatever kind of elephanting they feel like doing.  While it may be appropriately named for our wrinkly friends though, Heaven was about the furthest thing from accurate when we saw the trek required to get there! So we set off, descending deeper and deeper into the jungle (with the Talking Heads on repeat in my mind, of course), crossing “bridges” over rivers made from tree limbs until we found the elephants. As I said before, Heaven is home to four elephants: Ruby, Pearl, and two others who would probably not be very pleased if they saw my attempt at recalling and much less attempting to spell their traditional Cambodian names  (if elephants could read, of course).  What’s particularly neat about these four is that they perfectly emulate the natural matriarchal structure found in wild elephants, with the “boss mother” being protected and cared for at all times by “aunties,” resulting in some interesting behaviors. We watched as the Mahoots (elephant caretakers) ushered them into the river for their daily bath, resulting in the disappearance of one or two into the deep water except for their trunks serving as snorkels above the water.  Once they were thoroughly washed, we followed them deeper into the jungle, learning from Jack until it was time to turn around and face the intense uphill battle that led back to base camp, and of course, lunch.

Cambodia - Elephant Valley Project - Dragonfly TransitionsAfter feasting on fresh fried fish (say that three times fast), we assembled and set off into the jungle to commence our service part of our stay: building a bridge.  We split into two teams; one felling trees and another gathering wood slats leftover from abandoned illegal logging sites throughout the forest.  After about two hours, we had managed to cut down and place two large trees over the ravine and collect enough wood to create the bridge boards, while slapping away fire ants that liked to bite and avoiding scorpions along the way. A few of us took a dip in the river, and we left feeling accomplished and excited to finish the project this week. After being covered from head to toe in mud, I even managed to brave the spider trap some call the shower, before relaxing in the hammocks and chatting with our new Aussie and British friends, Dee, Beth and Cerise before dinner (Dee being a fellow victim of the horrible feet biting ants that plague the property, stay strong, Dee…).  It’s hard to beat times like these! Well, I believe I just heard the dinner gong so that’s all for now, y’all.

Cheers! (I think I’m slowly turning Aussie! ),


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