Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mundulkiri (meaning: meeting of the hills)

So we got up bright an early and hopped on a bus to mundulkiri. We were told the ride would take 8 hours, which is 10 in cambodian bus time. The bus came late, stopped immediately for breakfast and than again for lunch 2 hours later. We thought we would end up on the bus for at least 11 hours. Surprisingly the trip went really quickly and we arrived in sen monoram in the beautiful sunshine of the afternoon.
We hopped on the back of a couple of motorbikes and made our way to the nature lodge, our hostel. The common area/bar/ front desk area looks like a huge tree house and we felt at home immediately. we checked into our $12 room which was beautiful, made a few friends, and went for a drink at a local bar (which was a bamboo hut with 2 tables and 75c beers). we called it an early night after having a nice conversation with an ex navy soldier, some czechs, and a brit... quite a crowd.
The next day we got up and decided to take it easy after spending almost an entire day on the bus. we slept late and woke up to walk to a coffee plantation. we sampled their delicious blend, walked around to pick fresh fruit, and got to play with a monkey they found that was 1 yr old. from their we hopped on a motorbike that took us to town so we could walk around the market. the smell of half rotten fish filled the air and it was definitely an experience as i had to bend halfway over most of the way as to not knock my head on the tarps over the walkways. We came back to our hostel for dinner and booked a 3 day trek with our new friend amanda that we met here. We went to bed early because we had to get up at leave the hostel at 9.
We got up, checked out, met our guide and got a ride in the back of a pickup to a pnong village (the pnong people, commonly called the minority, are similar to the native americans of the US. the only difference is that when the khmer people came to cambodia they didnt shove them into reservations but they let them live off the land. no land in the countryside is owned and the pnong can farm wherever they want). in the village our elephant and its mahoot (elephant guide) met us and we headed into the jungle... me, lila, amanda, cham (our english speaking guide), our elephant and the mahoot (who only spoke pnong... only cham could communicate with him). We hiked through the countryside which was mostly hills with scattered forest. we got drizzled on a few times but nothing serious and got to our camping spot around 4. the camping spot had huts to put hammocks in (to guard from rain) and was next to a beautiful waterfall we swam in. We swam, made some dinner, ate early and stayed up for a while talking with cham about all sorts of things... we all became close friends and we were really lucky to have such a great guide.
after dinner i was craving something sweet and we had some extra rice. first i made rice and sugar and everyone tried it... it was pretty mediocre.. i thought it tasted like rice pudding and asked if we had yogurt jokingly... we didnt but we did have sweetened condensed milk which i mixed with the rice. cham thought it was really gross and weird but after trying it admitted he loved it, along with the rest of us.
The next day we got up and started on the elephant because we were crossing deep water (side note: elephants never slip and fall... ever). we continued our trek in and out of jungle and hillsides. we stopped for lunch and as soon as we stopped eating it poured. really, it was pouring and we were totally soaked for about 2 hours of hiking. nothing miserable but the most rain we had to walk through since our trip started. we finally arrived at a village of 27 people (living in maybe 5 huts) and stayed with a wonderful family. the family had 9 children, from 9 months to 19, and farmed to make a living. It was probably the poorest household i have ever stayed in yet the family was extremely happy, hospitable, and wonderful to be with. lila, of course went straight for the babies and played with them all night. When we first got there one of the little girls grabbed lilas hand and guided, without talking, all around the village and showed us one of their gardens where they grew green onions. it was an interesting site, it was cut down and burned forest with veggies growing all over but they left most of the burnt trees there to rot as fertilizer. the family made their traditional food and fed us. it was delicious... if you like the taste of fish sauce which made me and lila and little queezy. after dinner we dad busted out some rice wine and we all sat in a circle drinking and trying to learn each others language. the rice wine was somewhere in the middle of wine and spirits and was plentiful. we had lots of extra potatoes and made french fries for the family, something they had never had before but the kids lovvvved them. lila learned how to say french fries in pnong "ta poom barang" and taught them how to say it in english and proceeded to sing songs with them about it all night. we went to bed after laughing and joking in our hammocks, and surely keeping the family awake for a bit. I woke up in the middle of the night sick from the rice wine and maybe the super spicy chiles i decided to eat with dinner... even though i didnt drink excessively, it just made me twist and turn all night... probably my first and last experience with that..
We got up today and walked about 2-3 miles in dense jungle before our guide said we should get on the elephant due to the fact we were walking through "the land of 1000 leeches" we hopped aboard and started off... immediately this is what we heard from our guide every 5 minutes, who was wearing shoes and high socks ..."oh, theres the first one... got it off" "oooh theres 2 on my feet, hold on..ok got em" "yep theres another"... to which we responded "how many have your counted on the ground?" and after 20 minutes the count was about 11. the elephant ride was fun until the forest roof started getting lower and lower. we spent the better part of the day ducking and diving and pushing away branches and vines, most of which dropped all sorts of bug varieties on our laps and faces... that was fun for the first 10 minutes... and just a challange after that. we made it to our lunch spot, waited like hungry wolves for our ramen and veggies to cook, downed it in about 2 seconds, and packed up for the last 2 hours of the hike. we were tired, exausted, and hungry because we had pretty much only had rice and white bread for the last couple of days... we made it back to the pnong village where we took our bags off the elephant and went into a mans house that offered us more rice wine. i politely declined by smiling, nodding "no" and rubbing my belly. maybe he understood me... who knows..
the truck picked us up and brought us back to nature lodge where we took the most amazing shower ever and chowed down on falafel, noodle soup, bananas, and an avocado sandwich.
me and lila booked cham for tomorrow and hes going to pick us up on his motorbike and take us to 'the sea of trees' and multiple waterfalls around the outside of town.
we just played pool and are looking forward to our much needed rest.
the adventure was absolutely amazing. challenging at times but always fun. we learned a great deal about the khmer people from our guide, and friend, cham, and are really looking forward to hanging out with him tomorrow.
oh yea, the first day lila and i both got leeches on our feet and i also got another one today. nothing too bad, we flicked them off immediately, but still gross nonetheless.

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