Posts Tagged With: Waterfalls

Walking with Elephants

Happy February! Please forgive me for not posting in the past month. We’ve been absolutely crazy busy with visitors and traveling. My aunt and her friends flew over from Wisconsin for two weeks, and my dad and sister are here with us now. I love having guests visit—when else do I get an excuse to show off one of my favorite countries, visit my favorite restaurants, and play tourist on a school night?

In terms of the blog, the Go Pro is a blessing and a curse. It’s a curse in the sense that we take a lot less photos now, so have less to work with when writing a blog. On the other hand, it’s a total blessing when you have so many hours of absolutely perfect film footage that you don’t even know where to start.

That’s a bit how our photos of Mondulkiri were. Sean took great photos, but even more video. This weekend he took the best of the best and made a stellar film about our trip. I hope you enjoy. I fell in love with the elephants all over again, and groaned at the sight of our poor car being towed by a tree limb behind a van. (Our timing belt broke, and how else do you tow a car 200 miles in Cambodia? Hail a passing van, find a stick and some rope, and cross your fingers.) Take a look, and if you can, watch it in HD.

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Mondulkiri

Happy Thanksgiving! Or, if you don’t live in America, happy winter! Or, if you live in the Southern hemisphere, happy summer!

The weather here in Phnom Penh is moving along predictably as usual. The Water Festival, Pchum Ben, marked the end of the rainy season. Unbelievably perfect timing, it rained every day up until Water Festival, and once the festival arrived, the daily rains stopped and it hasn’t rained since. Now we enter the cool season, where the temperature drops just enough to justify a long-sleeved shirt or a pair of pants. The Cambodians, on the other hand, get out their winter jackets and hats and gloves. None of it makes any sense, though, when you look at the monthly averages and see that July is normally 90 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas December drops just one degree to 89. It’s pool and smoothie time all year long!

That is, however, unless you go to Mondulkiri.

mondulkiri-mapLocated in the Northeastern corner of Cambodia, Mondulkiri is the most sparsely populated region of the country. It is also the highest, with elevations ranging from 600-3,000 feet! That makes for a beautiful, Swiss-like land with rolling hills, pine trees, and chilly temperatures!

 

We had a five-day weekend holiday for Water Festival, and we had friends visiting from out of town. Together we drove the 240 miles from Phnom Penh into the hill country.

DCIM102GOPRO

Our first stop was Sen Monorom waterfall. A small falls, but with a crazy swimming pool at the bottom. There was just enough current to force you to kick your feet to stay in one place, but not enough to pull you down stream. Sean wanted to jump so badly, but all the logs in the water made it pretty obvious that he shouldn’t.

We had heard the sunsets were beautiful in Mondulkiri, so our first night we went sunset hunting.
DCIM102GOPROLook how empty the background is! There is nothing but rolling hills and beautiful nature.
DCIM102GOPROOur car was loving the smooth, red dirt roads. And we loved our car.
4Not only did we find the sunset, but we found the most beautiful hill to set up a small camp for the night.

DCIM102GOPROWe didn’t sleep there, but built a small fire and watched the moon rise.There was no one around for miles! It was one of my favorite moments of the trip.

But the main reason everyone heads to Mondulkiri, is the elephants. DCIM102GOPRONative to the area, there are still wild elephants roaming the forest. However, due to reasons such as logging, poaching, and even tribal traditions, there are less than 50 wild elephants left.

 

DCIM102GOPRONow you can visit Mondulkiri’s elephants through a bunch of tour companies. I booked with Mondulkiri Project, which provides a sanctuary for overworked elephants. Instead of riding them, we trekked with the elephants through the forest, fed them bananas, and hugged them every chance we got.

DCIM102GOPROI really loved this style of elephant interaction as opposed to riding them. When you ride elephants, you are on a different visual plane; you don’t get up close and personal with them. When you can interact with them at eye level, you really get a feel for their individual personality. They were the world’s happiest elephants!

DCIM102GOPROThis is Sophie, and she was my favorite. Sophie was 33 years old—mind you that they can live to 100.
10The goal of Mondulkiri Project is to help these elephants live a peaceful, healthy life. They are not overworked like some of the tourist camps you see. You could tell by their demeanor that they were happier than most elephants you see with a chain around their legs and a basket on their back. These elephants could walk wherever they wanted, and we just followed them!

DCIM102GOPROWe had so much fun feeding them bananas and getting up close and personal!

12Like I said it was trekking, so we then left the elephants in the forest and hiked to a swimming hole. The bridge we had to cross was pretty precarious…

13When we got to the swimming hole after lunch,  we found the mahout and the male elephant waiting.  That mahout was born in a local village, and his father was also a mahout. He has spent his entire life around elephants.

DCIM102GOPROAnd then we swam. Swimming with an elephant is the most indescribable feeling… you are in water that is waaaaay over your head, with a beast that could easily crush you. What do you do? You tread water and hang on to his scruffy hide, giving him a back rub.

14 After our swim, we had another couple hours to hang out one-on-one with the ellies in their natural habitat.

15It was amazing, the sun slowly setting, and us all alone walking slowly behind Sophie as she searched for snacks.

16When it was time to leave, they loaded us into the back of their trusty Toyota HiLux and carted us out of the jungle.

17The elephants are rivaled by the spectacular scenery in which they live.
DCIM102GOPROOn our next day, we headed to Bou Sra Falls. It is the tallest waterfall in Cambodia, and to our frustration, also the busiest.

So what did we do? Search for our own, secret waterfall.

19Here we are, preparing to cross the top of the waterfall, then hike down the other side to the second tier of the falls, which is rumored to be even more beautiful than the popular tier. We just had to figure out how to cross the river. Notice how close some of those people are to the edge of the falls…

DCIM102GOPROAnd our waterfall hunt was a success. When we got to the lower tier of the falls, we were the only people there.

21It was absolutely stunning. The waterfall was absolutely giant, and we had it all to ourselves.

The day we had to leave, we packed up our car and headed down out of the hills back into the flood plains of the Mekong.

Until… we had car troubles.

As Sean was driving, the engine just stopped being responsive. Our car slowly and silently decelerated, and we drifted over to the side of the road.

Turns out, our timing belt broke.

200 miles outside of Phnom Penh. In the middle of nowhere.

So, we did what any sensible Cambodian would do.

Found a branch, flagged down a bus, and towed our 1999 CRV back to Phnom Penh.

22It was unlike anything I’ve ever done before. By the time we got back to the city, eight hours had passed, we were now being pulled by a Toyota Camry, the Camry had overheated five times, the stick broke twice, we replaced the stick once, and we celebrated our return with pizza and a hot shower.

23But in terms of an experience, the weekend was unbeatable.

 

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Sri Lanka: Ella, Part 1

To resume my photo exhibition of all that is beautiful in Sri Lanka, I bring you to my favorite place on the entire island, Ella. Ella is a small town in the hill country, known for it’s idyllic waterfalls, cascading cliffs, peaceful lifestyle, wildlife, and flowers. I had died and gone to heaven.

First, Sean put together an amazing video that he took on his pocket camera. He’s got a small camera that is about the size of a credit card. The quality isn’t the most amazing, but he is able to take video everywhere we go. I hope you enjoy the video as much as I do : )

To continue, let us begin the documentary on my dream village, Ella…

As the train rolls into Ella the tea plantations become more sparse as the jungle becomes wilder and the hills grow hillier.

The Buddha temple in front of the train station. I love how colorful this religion is!

After riding the rails all afternoon, Sean and I went on a hike to stretch our legs. Unfortunately, everywhere in the hill country clouds up around 3pm. Even though our views were cut short, we had fun playing in the fog!

Take note of this photograph for the moment. In the pictures below, we returned to this waterfall the next day. Instead of a wall of swirling mist, you will be pleasantly surprised!

The bed and breakfast we stayed at in Ella was called “Waterfalls Homestay”. It was run by an Australian couple that got tired of their 9-5’s back in Australia, so they moved to Sri Lanka and opened up the most dreamy B&B on the face of the earth.

We spent quite a bit of time with the other people at the B&B, along with the owners Marty and Karen. They had the most beautiful property and open-air patio imaginable. They cooked dinner and breakfast for you, run by their personal Sri Lankan chef Kalam.

Their place only has three rooms, as it is more of a homestay than a B&B. Sean is standing at the door of our room. I wish I had gotten a photo of the inside; it was just as beautiful as the exterior!

In the morning, we awoke to breakfast on the patio across from the waterfall. Monkeys were doing backflips through the trees as I sipped coffee out of a french press. (Did I mention it was $50 a night?)

The first morning of our stay, we had “hoppers” for breakfast. Hoppers are a Sri Lankan favorite, which I had for breakfast and lunch a few times, but not enough! I really loved them; you have a special skillet for them, which is a metal bowl that is held over the stove by a handle. Inside the bowl you pour a coconut-crepe-thing, swirling it around to create your outside. then you lightly fry an egg in the center. Heavenly!

We set back on the hiking trail in the morning, following the railroad tracks we took into Ella the day before.

Due to the hills and heavy rains, there is a lot of terrace farming in Sri Lanka.

Our first hike was to the top of Ella Rock, which you can see as the highest peak in this picture. It was the same hike we naively set out on in the fog the day before. We are so glad we attempted a round two!

At the top of Ella Rock. (Dad, aren’t you proud of my sun protection? 😉 )

At the top of Ella Rock, where we ran into two Canadian female teachers from the American International School in Guangzhou, China. We met up with them later in the village for a few drinks and quality educator conversation!

Can you spy where I am?

Here is the same photo as the above picture that was clouded out by mist. What a difference a clear day makes!

Swimming in the waterfall was a real treat after we hiked all the way up to the top of Ella Rock.

Monkeys were spying on us!

We found two snakes mating on our hike! It was the wildest thing; they would rapidly intertwine with one another in a frantic dance.

They were incredibly large snakes – we made sure to keep our distance!

After making it to the top of Ella Rock, we treated ourselves to a piña colada and cribbage over lunch. (Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure I won the game…)

I would like to close this post with one of my favorite things about Sri Lanka: the curry! If you order “curry”, what you get is a large plate of rice with all of the above side bowls. Starting at the very top we have a coconut sambol (the orange mix). In the lower right-hand corner is a dal (lentil) stew. The rest, I honestly have no idea. All I know is that they are the most delectable curried vegetables I have ever tasted.

Next time I will finish our trip in Ella, our tuk tuk adventure, and our mysterious journey to the ends of the earth! (Or should I say… “World’s End”…)

I hope the sun shines in your corner of the world this afternoon. Love and miss you all!

Categories: Sri Lanka | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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