Seven Dragonfly students traveled to Cambodia last week for the start of a very special journey with three experienced Dragonfly staff and an alumni assistant. Over the course of the next few weeks, this trip will combining service work, international travel, and cultural immersion. The group has spent the last several days in Mondulkiri, Cambodia volunteering with the Elephant Valley Project where they are working with elephants, planting fruit, and helping with small building projects.
Here is a map with a location link from from our trip leaders along with some photos of the experience and highlights from the past week’s adventures in Cambodia written by Cory Campbell. Cory is the Dragonfly Recovery Specialist and one of the trip leads for the Cambodia trip.
7/15 First full day in Cambodia
After a decent night of sleep, we started our first full day in Cambodia with a breakfast buffet and hot coffee at the Billabong Hotel. Some students sat and talked about their excitement while a few others jumped in the pool before we left for a leisurely day. The plan called for stopping at the central market where our students could test their bartering skills, followed by a tour around the city with our Tuk Tuk drivers. Dan shared that one of his favorite moments of the first day was when we were driving around and the Tuk Tuk driver suddenly stopped and bought us a sugar cane drink. A sugar cane drink is as simple as it sounds: it is a full length of sugar cane crushed and juiced over ice. It tastes sweet and a bit earthy. Dan noted that for him the moment of driving without aim and suddenly stopping on a busy street was chaotic and crazy but also perfect.
Rachel then shared that she was “filled with gratitude the whole day,” from her travels to the crowded market to driving around the city and seeing all of the different aspects of Phnom Penh. The trip leaders Sean and Cory decided that night to take the group to Pop Café, which is a little Italian restaurant in Phnom Penh that seems quite out of context but serves some of the best most authentic Italian food either of us have ever found. The next day we planned to leave at 7:30 in the morning for a long drive to the Elephant Valley Project.
On Sunday we left the hotel in Phonm Penh and took a 5 hour van ride northwest to the Elephant Valley Project (EVP). This nonprofit organization works with the ideals of what is best for the elephants, the land, and the people. The EVP is an elephant sanctuary and takes in elephants from people who are losing the ability to properly care for them.
Dragonfly arrived to the Elephant Valley Project under the cover of clouds and with sporadic rainstorms. Our first challenge was getting down the hill from the top. The ground is a red clay, which makes it especially slippery and challenging to get solid footing. Once on site, we settled into our bungalow style accommodations and as we would not see elephants until the next day, we entertained each other with stories and jokes. All the meals at the EVP are prepared by locals, and at the sound of a gong we all lined up with the other guests to sit down for dinner. It is truly an immersive experience without internet or electricity. And except for the few hours at night the organization runs a generator, we talk and interact with the staff and other guests.
The following morning we had breakfast and got ready and head out to “Heaven Valley” to have our first look at the elephants. We wound down a slippery path and through the Cambodian jungle to a spot by a bathing hole that the elephants frequent. Our guide Chris answered our questions and told us about the backgrounds of the elephants that we were about to see. As we saw some trees shake, the group got quiet in anticipation. The elephants walked surprisingly quietly through the jungle, and then they walked right past us sometimes as close as 5 feet away. They are gentle giants and amazing to see in person. Some of us jumped up and down and pointed in excitement, trying to take in all the details of the moment.
The elephants made all sorts of noises that intrigued us: from low rumbles, to squeals, to the iconic elephant trumpet sound. In total we saw 5 elephants during our first full day at the EVP. We walked and followed them throughout their day of eating, bathing, eating, and eating some more. We ask questions, heard stories, and observed their fascinating behavior. Tonight we will sit together and share thoughts and appreciation for this almost surreal experience.