Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Mondulkiri is a beautiful, mountainous region with a dramatically different than anywhere else we had been so far. I saw expanses of rolling hills draped in vivid green with patches of brick red exposed earth. It is also, apparently, one of the most jungle-covered regions. The road to Sen Monorom was only finished recently (in the last year or so), before that it was a muddy dirt track filled with truck-swallowing pot holes.
We stayed at the Nature Lodge, two kilometers outside of Sen Monorom. The Nature Lodge is a collection of cabins and A-frames on the side of a hill. The main lodge houses a restaurant/bar and a tree-top platform filled with hammocks. It is an ideal place for relaxing. That first night them temperature was low enough I changed into my jeans for the first time since we flew out of the US. Walking back to our A-frame, Cale and I were shocked to see lightening bugs. I literally have not seen those in years.
Friday morning I was up around 7am. Lying on the path between me and the lodge were the family's four cows. I side tracked around them. As I approached the lodge, I discovered the family's three horses inside the entry way where I assumed they had taken refuge from the rain during the night. It was a surreal experience. Cale walked into town and spent the day wandering in the hot sun. Having learned my lesson, I chose not to join him and spent the day toning pictures and reading. That night we played Scrabble while wearing long pants and sleeves.
Saturday I walked into town with Cale to see some of the sights he had discovered and do a little interneting at an "internet cafe." I meant to use the ironic quotes. One of the restaurants on what I assume is the main road has a collection of three mix-and-match computers set up on the porch. Everything about it reminded my of my computer lab in Samoa when I first encountered it or the computer set up in the school office, right down to the cluttered desktop and warning on the screen indicating that you might be using an illegal copy of windows and might be a victim of copyright infringement (or something to that nature). I know all the computer teachers in Samoa have seen the "this is not a genuine copy of windows" screen before.
Cale introduced me to the proprietor of Middle of Somewhere. Lonely Planet accurately describes it as an "NGO-run 'drop-in center' for Phnong people" and as "the best source of information on sustainable tourism, village homestays and elephant rides." Bill is something straight out of a John Waters' film, missing one eye and cuddling an orphaned, baby monkey. Cale was interested in doing an elephant trek, but we were really concerned about the treatment of the elephants. Bill told us we were right in our concern. Even the local tours that claimed humane elephant treatment are still not what we were looking for. The elephants still have to carry passengers in baskets in the middle of their back, which is bad for them and painful. They are still kept from normal elephant behavior, like throwing dust and water on their backs (and therefore on the tourists), by way of clubs. He couldn't in good conscious recommend a single elephant trek. There is an elephant sanctuary in the area, but it had just closed to tourists for the rainy season.
Cale also introduced me to an expat who runs a restaurant of sorts called Bananas and has lived in Cambodia for over a decade. A John Waters' character herself, she seems to subsist entirely on cigarettes and red wine. She has been in Sen Monorom a relatively short period of time after having left Sihanoukville. According to Tania things have gotten quite dangerous in Sihanoukville, especially in the expat community where people are in the habit of killing each other quite often. As she explained her motivations to move, "You don't go around killing other people. It's just not done." She also explained that murder is rude.
We spent four nights at the Nature Lodge doing just about nothing. We read books, lounged in the hammocks and enjoyed the cooler temperatures. When it was time to go we spent some time debating when to leave. Did we want to stay an extra day and have our anniversary here? Did we spend our anniversary on a bus so that we could keep from having my birthday on a bus? In the end we decided to leave Sen Monorom on the 31st, which meant spending most of our anniversary on a bus. We did this under the impression it meant that we would not spend my birthday on a bus. As you will learn later, things do not always work out as planned.
The share toilet at the Nature Lodge was very nature indeed. At times a little too nature, what with the shower head attached to a tree crawling with ants and termites.
Posted by Cale