Friday, July 30, 2010

Finally, after three weeks, my first post and quick summary of whats been going down here in the adventure that is Cambodia

Here are some pics. They took a long time to download, so unfortunately I dont have the time to write any text at the moment. Hopefully I can write a brief summary of my experience and adventure thus far in Cambodia tomorrow, but for now enjoy the pics...

So finally after being here in Cambodia for over three weeks, Im going to attempt a quick overview/summary of my adventures so far. Ive met some interesting characters, seen ancient structures, and have experienced Cambodia's glorious natural beauty.

First off, like an earlier blog entry refered to, the travel over to Cambodia was quite brutal. Im not a huge fan of being couped up in a tiny place for a long extended time. I think overall with the flight and lay overs we spent roughly 30hours traveling to get to Cambodia ( not including the 5 hr drive to Chicago). On our last layover we landed in Taipei Taiwan. That seemed to be a very interesting place and I was hoping thats what Cambodia had in store for us. This first picture was taken in the airplane right before we landed in Cambodia

Once we landed in Phenom Phen, I noticed the humidity right away. I had known it was going to be hot and sticky, so I psyched myself out and the weather hasnt really affected me all that bad, but even the slightest physical activity causes one to sweat buckets. We didnt have much time to explore our surroundings, as we quickly were loaded onto a van by Deb's coleauge and friend, Kolap. We were off to Kampon Thom, where we would stay the majority of the time while in Cambodia. During this van ride, I was exposed to my first experience with Cambodia's traffic, and the lack of any traffic laws... pretty intense. Basically the only rule is make way for the biggest vehicle.

Our first week was sort of used as an adjustment phase. We basically did what we wanted, and had free reigns to go and explore the town. I did just that. I wondered around the town and had a bunch of random people stop me to talk to me. Sometimes it was to try and take me to a nearby temple sight and that I should hire these guys as a guide, but most of the time it was just people who were curious about me and where I was from and they often like to practice their English with me. The people here are very friendly and my first week, I felt like a celeb or rock star walking around. The coolest part is when tiny school children randomly stop you, practice their few phrases of English they know, and then bid you adieu. Here are a couple photos I had taken durring this first week.

si This first one was of a wedding set up I randomly walked by.
The second photo is of these little girls who are hired as the "street sweepers" I kind of feel bad for these girls because they are working out in the heat with these jacket/uniform things on. It cant be very pleasent and they probably get paid very little. But to be positive at least they have a job and can earn some money. These too were giggling at me as they watched me attempting to catch butterflies (and appearently making a fool of myself) by a nearby park where they were working.

And This last photo is of the river that is near the hotel we are staying at. I thought it was an interesting pic, and seeing how we have just arrive durring the rainy season, Im curious to see what the river will look like (how deep it has gotten) since the time we have been here..
So Ill take another pic at the same spot before I leave. I can tell already that it has risen considerably

As Chris's last blog entry has reffered to, him and I seem to be encouraging one another to try some of Cambodia's unique delicacy's, but Im sure most of you wouldn't call this stuff that. We first tackled crickets, and we were both surprised how good they tasted (mostly because they were deep fried and had a deep fried taste). I called them french fries with eyes, here are a few of the pics. We have already tried a few other of these, how can I say, wierd food choices, which include frog, eel, chicken ovary and undeveloped egg. The durian fruit (which suprisingly was the only thing that I hated, and I hear this fruit drive the people in this region crazy, uck!) and a few other things I cant think of off the top of my head.
But we still must take on the tarantula, which Im sure there will be a good vid soon. But for now check out the recent vid Chris just posted of him eating an under developed duck egg! I still must try this.

Also durring this week, I decided to get a little adventurous and kicked it into outback mode. Before I left the states, I picked up a very handy guid from Nat Geo on Cambodia. This guide has given me alot of valuable tips and ideas to explore here in Cambodia. So I read up on a few of the temple sights that were around the area and found that they were in a tuk tuk range of time to go and explore.

Here are a few pics of the "creepy crawlys" all of us are more than ethusiastically chasing around here in Cambodia. We have started up a bug collection to bring back to the university and so far we have caught some very fascinating things. There are also alot of lizards running around this place. Oten a gecko will accompany us at dinner. Some of these lizards are very elusive and seem to escape both the catch of my hand and of my camera. I found the praying mantis outside of a school in a garden and the milliped was scurrying around an ancient temple.

Again Ive ran out of time so this story must be concluded another day...




















Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Back in KT

Well, we're back in Kompong Thom to accomplish our stated goal of measuring rice paddy biodiversity! I'm not sure if it's because we've been here for...18 days, or simply because it's not as hot, but the weather isn't so all-encompasing and oppresive. We set out at about 6:15 am to meet our first farmer, who is generously allowing us to tromp all over 3 of her paddies. What a great lady!

Here are some photos from the first paddy:

The first paddy is to the right, the second and third to the left.

See the pounding fists? Those are our fish traps...

Our faithful tuk-tuk waiting as we sample the paddy.

Cows making their way home. No moooooo.

-C 7/28/10

Now that we've spent over two weeks in Cambodia, we've been exposed to the country's common and not-so-common animals. Here are some thoughts on a few of them:

Dogs: Dogs are perhaps the most common animal here. Most of them are small and lean , with intelligent brown eyes and long tails held curled over their backs. Others are small and fluffy. One dog we saw resembled nothing so much as an adorable but disgruntled rag mop sitting on top of a motorcycle. One can often find dogs riding around on top of motorcycles like this, or curled up in the shade in avoidance of Cambodia's intense afternoon heat.
Cats: Cats are most commonly found prowling around the tables of outdoor restaurants. Without exaggeration, every single cat here as a kink in its tail, a chunk of its tail missing, or
-occasionally- the tail is absent entirely. This is due to a terrible disease called necrotizing tailremovablitis. This is the same disease responsible for the human species' own disappointing lack of awesome prehensile tails.
Chickens: Chickens here are about as free-range as they can get. It's not uncommon to see them wandering around people's yards, tied upside-down to motorcycles, or taking a stroll around a gas station. Attempting to catch one of these wandering chickens is frowned upon.

Cows: Most cows here are quite exotic-looking, sporting humped backs and narrow, sloping faces. And while it may seem that Cambodian cows are just as slow and dim-witted as American cows, our friends Samnang and Vireak insist that the cows here speak English, constantly repeating the phrases "one moooore!" and "no moooore!" Cambodian cows are also delicious and much less fatty than their American counterparts.

Lizards: Lizards are primarily active at night, and it's not uncommon to see a dozen or so crawling around near ceiling lights and lamps, waiting to pounce upon insects who stray too near. The lizards will also pounce upon people's faces if approached from underneath with a camera (I learned this the hard way).

Monkeys: Monkeys are most commonly seen at temples. Here, they spend their time stealing and eating the food offerings left at Buddhist shrines, grooming each other, and intimidating visitors. We also saw some monkeys at the volcanic lake we visited in Rattanakiri province, though none of them appeared to enjoy swimming.

Irrawaddy dolphins: These freshwater dolphins are rare in Cambodia, and only live in certain parts of the Mekong river. The dolphins have round faces and very small dorsal fins. They have a habit of taunting camera-wielding tourists by only offering brief glimpses of their backs and dorsal fins. This only seems fair, however, since the tourists insist upon chasing them around in loud motor boats while the dolphins are trying to finish their morning fishing.

-Kat Prince

Research: Day 1

We woke up bright and early at 5:30 am, gathered our gear, and headed out to the first site. It rained hard last night and the occasional sprinkle still came down, leaving the air nice and cool (a generally un-Cambodian concept). We started out by measuring the perimeter of the paddy, which was much larger than we expected. Our two Cambodian bio students jumped right in, so to speak, and we all worked together well.

For a first day it didn't have as many mistakes as was possible and we actually seemed to divide and conquer quickly. Some of the mistakes made were easy to counter and others, such as my taking eleven more soil cores than was necessary, have to be remedied when some of us go back to the paddy this evening.

Other than that, we came back, showered off all of the muck that had chosen to jump ship, and ate large lunch. After that, we each went off to do our own thing, whether is was to prepare for round two, take a nap, or go off to the market.

That's all for now folks :)

- Kat J

Sunday, July 25, 2010

More photos: check photobucket.


Friday, July 23, 2010

And a few more semi-random photos...

From Deb: By the way, for those of you following the "Andy-causes-vehicles-to-break-down"saga, today was a breakthrough. We visited a very pretty waterfall near Ban Lung and some of us decided to try out a ride on the local Asian elephants. Andy was the first aboard. He rode along pleasantly for nearly an hour and neither his, nor any other elephant, broke down at any time. Unlike the other vehicles, though, these made frequent stops for water siphoning and grass snatching. Photos on another day!

Chris contributes to the local economy.

Carved faces of Bayon Temple.

Brian, Kat, Andy, and Chris compare notes at the
Elephant Terrace in the Angkor Wat complex.

After a long day boating on Tonle Sap Lake... the
fifty year old woman was the only one left standing,
or sitting upright anyway.

Kat scans the water for the elusive (and nearly extinct)
Irrawaddy dolphins.

Photos from recent adventures

From Deb: We are now in Ban Lung Town in Rattanakiri Provence, in the far northwest corner of Cambodia, near the borders with Vietnam and Laos. Here are some photos from recent days, not necessarily in order. Click if you want to see them in a larger size. It is very difficult to load photos here. It takes a LONG time to upload them! Our lodge only has electricity three hours per day and the nearest "internet cafe" is a couple miles away. More to follow as we are able!

An elderly woman tends to one of the shrines in Bayon
Temple in the Angkor Wat complex.

Brian surveys Angkor Wat.

Cambodian man playing traditional music at Phnom Sontuk in
Kampong Thom Province.

Brian and one of the caretakers at Phnom Sontuk
exchanging hair styling tips.

The famous recling Buddha of Phnom Sontuk. His entire
length is carved into the side of the mountain. Very atmospheric.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Angkor What?

Yo Everybody!
Here's some radness we saw while in Siem Riep.

Angkor Thom is the name of the Capital city of King Jayavarman the 7th, the last of the Khmer Empire, established in the 12th century. In it's center is the temple complex known as "Bayon". This was established as a Buddhist temple, with huge face carvings of Avalokitesvra donning its towers (more than 200 in all). Since its construction, it was converted to Hinduism, and then back to Buddhism.

Angkor Wat is definitely the most well known temple in all of Cambodia. It was completely swollen with tourists, even for sunrise at 5:00 am! Fortunately for us, tourists are lazy, and thus do not venture forth into the internal cloisters for some time. This gave me plenty of time to enjoy the massive stone carvings of Hindu Epics such as the Ramayana. Well worth checking out, especially if you can avoid the droves of tourists.
That's all for now, we're off to Virachey National Park to swim in some extinct volcanoes!

Trip to the Great Lake, Tonle Sap

Well, my first attempt to add to the blog! During our first week here I was too fully occupied with my Teachers Across Borders duties. Teaching difficult concepts using a translator for almost every word is exhausting, especially when combined with temperature and humidity levels in the 90+ ranges.
Yesterday, the 19th, we woke up early for the second day in a row. We were in the van by 4:30 am and headed toward a boat landing on the edge of Tonle Sap Lake. The Tonle Sap is the largest lake in Southeast Asia and one of the most productive fisheries in the world. We hoped to see the sunrise peek out from the lake’s horizon, but instead we saw it peek up from a canal bank thanks to 30 minutes of futile attempts by our boat crew to get our boat restarted after it conked out mere seconds after starting out towards the lake. After another larger boat brought out a new battery (which was to no effect), we jumped ship and took our chances with our would-be rescuers.
You might think that our mechanical difficulties were due to the fact that Cambodians have to make do with very old equipment, or possibly because replacement parts are difficult to find and expensive, so that crews use string, random bits of wire, and parts of totally different machines to fix the engines. In our particular case, though, we have empirically tested the hypotheses that our own Andy Ludvik is to blame. While the other students and I had used tuk tuks (little wagons pulled by small motorcycles) qu…
(Note: As I write this, we were just interrupted in our van travels by a tire blow-out, requiring a brief interlude at the side of the road, watching and being watched by water buffalos and small children. Andy was, of course, aboard…)
…ite successfully, as soon as Andy joined in on a trip to a distant temple ruin, the tuk tuk broke down three times. The next trip, a tuk tuk ride to Phnom Sontuk (very interesting wat up on a hill, requiring some 803 steps to reach the top), became a caravan of four or five tuk tuks because of the combined interest of TAB teachers and students. Only one (the one carrying Andy) broke down, first needing gas, then refusing to re-start. “Many hands make light the work”, so we all got out and pushed the tuk tuk to get it started. Another adventure. Anyway, to finish up this side-bar, Andy was also on the ill-fated first boat mentioned above. He claims that the effect only extends to the first vehicle of whatever sort. The replacement vehicle, whether tuk tuk, boat, van, or pony cart, always works just fine.
Back to the lake… Our goal was Prek Toal, a bird sanctuary along the lakeshore (or sometimes not, keep reading). The most difficult part was threading our way through the many fishing nets strung across our path. The lake is very shallow in some areas, barely allowing the hull and propeller to clear the bottom. People in small canoes are out in pre-dawn hours to stretch weighted nets across lines of upright sticks; they stay nearby to tend the nets and, apparently, shout out instructions to larger boats that come too close to messing with their livelihood. By noon the fishing folk are all gone, along with their nets, and boats can proceed quite smoothly.
This time of year is not the best time to visit the sanctuary for bird watching, for that you need to come when the lake is really flooded and birds come in droves to nest in the tree tops that are tall enough to stick out above the flood. We missed the birds, but we had great views of villages built on platforms and floating on rafts of massive bamboo poles. They rise and fall with the season. Children, pigs, and crocodiles are all raised on these floating homesteads. Vegetables, meat, and house wares can be purchased from door-to-door (boat–to-boat?) salesmen in dugout canoes. Even the schools float! Some of the houses are built on cement or wooden pillars, permanently above the high-water mark. It’s a very long walk up every time you go home!
So, the reason for all this float-ability? Tonle Sap is probably one of the most variable water habitats in the world. In the drier season, from October to June, its water flows south and empties into the Mekong River via the Tonle Sap River. The water level in the lake decreases into an area of about 2,700 sq. km from a rainy season high of 16,000 sq. km. Sometime in June, as the rainy season progresses, the Mekong floods and pools where the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers meet, around Phnom Penh. At some point, the Tonle Sap River will actually reverse its flow, sending Mekong water north into the Tonle Sap Lake. At the peak of the flooding period, the “shoreline” may move 20 miles. One month, you own prime lakeshore property; six months later, you have to ride your little motorcycle 20 miles to take a dip in the quirky Tonle Sap. Part of the year, you are surrounded by pleasant meadows and forests, the other part of the year you are surrounded by water and tree-top islands. This odd, twice-yearly change of current has earned the lake the nickname of “The Heart of Cambodia”.
If you ever visit Cambodia, visit the floating villages near Siem Reap. Skip the over-touristed village of Chong Kneas that is very nearby (if it has display fish tanks and farm-raised crocodiles, pass it right by!) and visit the smaller villages of Kampong Kleang and others near Prek Toal. It’s a whole new world and worth the early wakeup call and the boat break-downs and the fishing net snafus. If you want to avoid the boat breakdowns altogether, don’t bring Andy with you.