Landing in Phnom Penh was a bit hectic with the traffic here being much crazier than Chiang Mai. There doesn’t seem to be any laws and there are loads of motorbikes. It’s a true free for all. For some reason we didn’t believe it when people said you’d meet friends that you just click with and begin traveling with when you are overseas. To our delight, here we are two weeks later in Cambodia meeting up with Malina, the volunteer coordinator from Baan Dada, and Becca, one of the volunteers from Baan Dada. We met for a meal and a drink before Malina had to head on a bus back to Thailand. Becca is joining the gypsies for the next two weeks for our travels in Cambodia, including our next volunteer job at the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary.
We felt it was important to understand the country’s history so we started our adventures touring the S21 Genocide Museum and Killing Fields. It was a very sad morning, a scary reality that this can happen anywhere, at any time. We left Phnom Penh with a somber feeling for a five hour bus ride to Sinoukville and then off to Koh Rong Sanleom for a little relaxation before volunteering.
Two speed boats later, grasping on one another for dear life, a shuttle bus that broke down three times in 10 minutes, and another overnight bus ride with a stow away underneath our bed, we finally made it to Siem Reap.
Where were they from? New Jersey! It was fun to discuss Sparta, Sunrise Mountain and Stokes States Forest so far from home. It’s moments like these that help us to wave any feelings of homesickness.
Jen, from the sanctuary, and the other volunteers who would be joining us for the week, picked us up the next morning. Much to our surprise it was all women! We arrived by 10:30 a.m. at the sanctuary near the border of Thailand. Becca, Mel, and I will be sharing a bungalow for the week. We felt like we were back in the fifth grade at camp again (Crocs included). The bungalow was equipped with four single beds, bug nets, and electricity only in the evenings.
The volunteer coordinator, Chan, gave us a tour of the grounds. There are swans, ducks, roosters, seven dogs, four elephants and over a dozen monkeys here at the sanctuary that have been rescued. There are security guards, rangers, cooks, and a lot other people living on the grounds that we aren’t quite sure what they do.
We were split into two groups for afternoon activities. Mel and I joined the group who would be putting on rain boots and cleaning three cement ponds that the birds use for swimming and drinking.
After that we helped the other group build a sand pile that had to be up to the nose of the shortest person (me).
The sand would be used for a leaning post for the older elephant, Khamlin, that is not well and can’t fall over or she won’t be able to get up. She is about 60 years old and blind. Elephants have the same life expectancy as humans and some are more lucky than others.
My favorite part of the day was preparing the meals and feeding them. We cut sugar cane, watermelon, and bananas. We also made rice and banana balls. Mel and I got to feed Khamlin and it’s a good thing because it took us a little bit to get comfortable. Khamlin is the most gentle elephant and the one who has been at the sanctuary the longest. We were told to say her name and talk to her while we fed her.
We put a fruit in her trunk and she rolled it right into her mouth. It was so remarkable. I had never been so close to an elephant. She was so amazing to watch with her long hairs and wrinkly skin. She took water and gave us a jump when she sprayed herself. We finished the day with a quick beer run on a tractor, a cold bucket shower, and a delicious vegan meal.
We watched a documentary after we finished dinner, Spirit of the Asian Elephant, before heading back to our bungalow. It was 8 pm and we were still sweating but managed to fall fast asleep after an exhausting first day at CWS.