It’s amazing how quickly something can go by. As I write, I am mid-flight en route to Bangkok. I have a short layover there, leave to Hong Kong at 1 in the morning and will head to Chicago around 11 or 12 the next morning. The long journey has started and I’m feeling oddly nostalgic. But I’ll get there eventually..
So Thursday has finally rolled around. Our final full day at the Elephant Sanctuary. At this point, no matter how much fun we were all having, we were tired and ready to head back to the city. Who knew we would all miss Siem Reap so bad? The morning was a balmy 100 degrees and humid. This naturally means that we are going to go weed the sugar cane fields. If you don’t know anything about sugar cane, you should know this one vital piece of information. The leaves are sharp. Like…sharper than any other plant I’ve come across. You walk through the fields and the plants go above my head (not a whole lot, but enough so the leaves run across my face) and if you have any exposed skin that hits the leaves you’ll end up with tiny cuts on. The first group that did it, didn’t know that it would be an issue so they look like they were attacked by angry cats. We knew so most of us wore long sleeves or pants but that created a secondary problem. The sun was beating down and with no respite from the shade, we all faded rapidly. I ended up sitting in the field, trying not to pass out for the majority of the hour and a half we worked. The guy in charge even called it quits because it was so awful. With a nice long break before lunch, we headed back to our huts to read and nap.
The afternoon brought an interesting experience,too. Not as grueling that is for sure. We were going to walk through the jungle with the elephant, Arun Rai, and help save some trees. We bathed her and then set off into the jungle. Buddhist Monks in the area bless these orange cloths that are then tied around trees in order to discourage illegal logging. The idea is that because the monks blessed them, the people in the area (who are primarily Buddhist) will be discouraged from cutting them down because it is sacrilege. There were already a lot of cloths hung, but as we got farther into the jungle, we found a lot that still needed our help. The night ended as all the others did, with dinner (lots of rice) and a documentary. We all spent the rest of the night hanging out, packing, discovering bats in our huts or reading. It was pretty hot that night, so there was a lot of bucket showers going on as well.
Friday was really only a travel day so we woke up at 8 to say goodbye to the elephants, take the last few pictures and feed them one last time. However, once that was over…we had nothing to do. We weren’t leaving until after lunch. So back to our huts we went to read and nap more. The time seemed to crawl. We all were aching for the AC and Wifi that waited for us in Siem Reap.
After what seemed like an eternity, the bus finally came and we were off. We picked up the driver’s mom on the way (which was so weird and poorly communicated to us) and arrived about an hour and a half later at our new hotel. The first order of business? Make sure the AC works. Jess and I didn’t have AC in the first hotel or at the elephant sanctuary so we were so excited to find that it worked perfectly. Rachel also joined us and the three musketeers were at it for one final night together. Because everyone was soaking up the wifi, a group of us decided to leave and seek out a better connection elsewhere. We were all able to reconnect with the other side of the world, check instagram and let our parents know that we had survived.
Eight of us went back to Il Forno, our favorite Italian restaurant for dinner. It is amazing how fast you get sick of rice. I need like a month respite from anything rice based because it is so unappetizing to think about after having it for 3 meals a day. We all met up with the group for a final dinner and most of the group decided to head out to this huge pub crawl. Thankfully for me, who is so not into sweating in bars and getting trashed in foreign countries, Rachel didn’t want to go either. We had made a list of the things we wanted to get at the night markets since it was our last night in town: artwork, replacement pants (cause mine ripped), a tank top, maybe fabric for my mom, snacks, etc.. We crossed the river and went to town. Rachel was looking for a specific pattern of happy pants and we scoured the market until we finally found them. I was also looking for a specific pattern because mine (that I loved) had ripped. At the last stand, right before we were about to give up, I found them. Exactly the same, if not better. As the Cambodians say, “Same same, but different.” It was like a Christmas miracle, just in June. Maybe it was because Rachel and I are both Christmas babies… who knows. All I know is that I am so glad I could find them. It was clearly the most productive trip we had and when we got back to the hotel we milked the wifi and air conditioning.
What is funny is that the wifi in our hotel, even though the entire rest of the group was at the pub crawl, wouldn’t really work. We had noticed that in our room we could get wifi from the neighboring hotel, only it was locked. So we came up with a story to tell the front desk so we could get wifi. We were lost and needed to contact our team leader to find out the name of the hotel. The guy gave it up almost immediately and for the rest of the evening, we had perfect wifi. Rachel downloaded books, I repacked my backpack and duffel bag, and we waited for Jess to come home. We stayed up until about 12 until she finally showed. That is quite the feat too since we had been going to bed at like 9 the past two weeks.
Today is Saturday and everyone was traveling. I didn’t fly out until 8:30 pm, so I had the entire day to figure out what to do. It was hot and we got kicked out of our hotel at 12 soo we sought out wifi and AC after lunch. We sat at this cute cupcake place for about four hours. We had no where else to go. It was kind of pathetic if you ask me. Especially since nobody at home was awake, so none of us could talk to anybody anyway… I left the hotel at 5 with two other people and said goodbye to the remainder of the volunteers who were left. I will (and already do) miss a lot of them. We all bonded very quickly. I honestly think being so far from home, working our asses off and seeing each other at our very worst helped push our relationships forward. Jess and Rachel were heaven sent and I wouldn’t have survived the trip without them. It’s too bad they live all the way over on the west coast (Vancouver and Boise) but they already have tentative plans to come to DC to visit me and I would love to figure out a way to go that way.
Reach Out Volunteers was an incredible group, especially since they were only started 5 years ago. Everything went very smoothly and I very much enjoyed myself. I was able to integrate into the Cambodian culture more than I ever imagined. And I made a real difference. I can’t believe it’s over. Each individual day went by so slow, especially at the elephant sanctuary but looking back on it, I feel like it went by in the blink of an eye. I know I’ll come back to Cambodia someday (hopefully in the winter) and I can’t wait to share my experiences with those I meet when I get home. But for now, it is time for me to transition into post-grad life. I am moving to DC 10 days after I get back and need to find a full time job.
If anyone has any suggestions, please send them my way 🙂 Thanks for keeping up with me! Be on the look out for pictures!