Saturday, March 23, 2013

Ben's week at the Game Reserve - by Ben

Well,  another week down with only 5 weeks to go until the monsoon rains hit in full force (could be a lot sooner but hopefully this year will be “ average”.   Work on the bridge has been taking up all of my time and energy.  We are making progress, have the cables up ready for boards but no boards.  They have to be cut with a chainsaw but getting that has been taking longer than I thought it would.  All the chainsaw people seem to have a million other things to do.  We also finally finished the blasting for the foundation in the river bed without any accidents.  Now we have to get the two, 24 foot posts up and that has proven to be harder than I had thought.  Spent most of Friday trying to do that with about 15 villager volunteers but it didn’t happen.  Will try again Monday.    Still trying to eliminate poaching and logging in my free time as well.   Have been trying to coordinate with the forestry Administration to raid the camps scattered around the community forest.  They made some arrests last month but there are still plenty operating.  Also poachers shooting the banteng and deer.  Also heard that a gaur was shot this week but haven’t confirmed that.  Hopefully we can get the bridge and road done in time to save at least a remnant of the wildlife.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Preah Khan Temple

It is late and I won't write now but here is

a link

to an article about the nearby Preah Khan (or Bakhan) temple complex. We visited here in 2002 for the first time and then the first time since then last year.

Photos coming later.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Ta Boh and the bridge

The girls and I decided to go visit Ben and Savuth on Monday.  Amelie was dying to see and help out on the bridge building.  So with Ben having left home at 6am on the motorbike, we packed up the car and headed out a little bit later.  The road there from our house is mostly pretty good.  There is about 40 km (40 minutes for me) of good road (sealed).  Then 15 km (30 minutes) of bad dirt road to get to the district town of Songkum Thmey.  From there, is a brand new dirt road that goes all the way to the Preah Khan temple complex, and the village of Ta Boh is about 20 km down that road.  We get to a red painted house and turn left and then drive into the village – about 7 km in off that good road.  This is mostly oxcart looking road.  There are two bridges – one that we saw being built last year with very interesting construction methods and another that they just built, yet to be opened.  The first bridge is pretty long and only just wide enough for a car.  It creaks as you drive along it.  When they were building it this is how they cemented the posts into the ground:  1. Place the post;  2. Dump big rocks into the hole; 3. Mix the sand and cement dry; 4. Dump that mix into the hole;  5. Pour water on top;  6. Cross your fingers in hope that it works.  They told us they were just trying this out to see how it would work.  Innovation and experimentation!  That is what we are always trying to teach people in development.

So, you can imagine I was somewhat wary driving over the bridge.  Had the girls get out of the car and run across first.  Then followed creakingly along.  There is a very steep part at the beginning which needed me to put the car into 4WD.  I managed to do that without having to look at the manual.  Made it across. 

Got to the village after about 20 minutes of leaving the good road.  Stopped at the Commune Chief’s house where Ben is staying and said hello.  Tried to call Ben and tell him that we had arrived – he was out at the bridge and not answering his phone.  So started along on the way.  Went along fine till I got a call from Ben, “Stop! You can’t drive out here.. I need to come meet you so you don’t tear up the car!”  I had already passed the first bit he was worried about – a little stretch with a big rock and a very narrow bit.  He normally goes on top of the rock!  I didn't.  But I didn't scrape anything.

So we stopped and waited for him to arrive – then had to drive back to the big rock where he took the bike to the village and walked back to the car and became our driver.  Finally made it out to the bridge construction site.  We quickly ate watermelon and sardines and rice for lunch.  Ben was out with the chainsaw supervising them cutting up dead trees.  They were wanting to sabotage his project and cut down green trees!  Meanwhile back at the bridge, the team washed rocks, placed a pole, mixed up cement, sand and water, put rocks in around the pole and dumped in the cement mixture. Hmmm.  Slightly better method - maybe.  Gravel is hard to find.  Amelie was given a school project to document the steps to building a swinging bridge which she did, eventually.

The day quickly finished.  Everyone had a swim or splash in the river – their bath for the day.  Loaded up and went home.

So we drove back to the village.  Ben managed to tear the running board off the side of the car.  Luckily he was driving.  The girls had gone first with the truck and we met them playing at the water pump.  Everyone else watching them.  Eventually had a bath.  I had to work out how to cook a curry on a fire stove.  I tried to teach the lady of the house how to cook potatoes in a kind of curry.  She wasn’t really paying attention.  Ben wanted her to learn how to cook Black Eyed peas for him – kind of pinto bean style.  But we’ll see.  I left a kilo or so there for her.  I cooked a potato, green bean curry with a handful of black eyed peas in it using Indian curry powder.  No one really knew how to eat it.  The Commune chief said he “ot jeh” which means “don’t know how.”  A very handy phrase if you can’t or won’t eat something new.  Also applies to alcohol, cigarettes, meat, and anything pretty much.  “I ot jeh eat vegetables!” is what Jarrah has been saying lately.  

At night time, a DVD goes on, a Khmer dubbed Thai soap opera.  Miscellaneous people who don’t have their own DVD wander in to watch also.  Our kids wanted to watch “Man Versus Wild” so they went outside and watched that on Ben’s computer.  Soon had an audience there too.  Both the girls love watching this show for some unknown reason.  I guess it is good for them to learn survival skills - may just need them sooner than we think.

Movies over.  Beds laid out.  Mosquito nets hung.  Under the net, it is very hot.  And it is not even April.  Went to sleep fanning Jarrah and Amelie with a clipboard.  Actually Jarrah said we took turns.  She did fan me some.

The next morning, Ben went off to work again and the girls and I packed up to go home.  We took six other ladies who were all going to the police station to fix up their Family Books.  The would walk home – just seven kilometres, before lunch.  That is one thing about this place, people just walk everywhere.  The grown up daughter of the house we were staying in was going to work in their fields for the day.  She cooked her lunch and took it.  She was going to walk to her field,  about an hour away.  She then works hard all day and walks home.  She even had a good lunch of fried deer meat with wintermelon.  A pretty healthy day for her I would say. 

So we dropped off those ladies.  Drove to the District town and bought some steering oil (apparently I had driven from Rovieng with no steering fluid which is apparently not very good for the car).  Bought some snacks for the ever hungry one.  And drove home stopping at Rovieng market to buy 20 eggs and the last 3 baguettes of bread for lunch.  It was nice to be home.  The girls cooked pizza for dinner too – pretty much all by themselves!
Swinging bridge posts

Placing the post
Cement mixing Posing for picture

Cementing the post

Washing rocks


Washing more rocks

Happy faces

Did you ever see such a dirty face?

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Gallery

Here are some photos from our first family visit to the forest in January 2012.

The stream fed by the spring on the mountain

Models on rocks
Big spoung Tree (from the silk cotton family)

Another big tree

Sralau tree cut down to gather stingless bee wax which ended up not being there

Tratael tree tapping for sap

Access road



Thursday, March 7, 2013

Our week

Our life at present is not kind.  Every Monday, Ben has been packing up his tools and equipment and heading out to “the game reserve” as we have been calling the forest where this is all happening.  So the girls and I get to hang out at home on our lonesome.  We are trying to catch up on schoolwork and normality after a crazy 2012.

Ben stays at the Commune Chief's house and his wife kindly cooks for him.  He is eating a lot of “pounded salt” and rice.  Unless he plans ahead and takes some food.  There isn’t much to eat there.  The market is a good hour away.  There are no vegetable gardens and little fish.

So, we talk on the phone and I get updates that way.  Nice that Cambodia has such great phone range.  Even in the forest, there is phone service.

He has been coming home on Thursdays.  This week he is coming home tomorrow (Friday).  Right now, he is building a bridge.  Last Thursday, our good friend and old work colleague, Savuth, from New Zealand came to help Ben for the next 3 months or so.  He will be a big help.  Especially with the bridge building.  They are building a swinging bridge over a river (or is it a creek) that mostly flows in the wet season – so nice to work at the moment.  There is bedrock in the bottom of the creek bed.  So Ben and his dynamite blasted away some of the rock so they could put posts into the bottom of the creek bed.  I know nothing about construction so this should be explained better later by a professional. 

This afternoon, they went out with about 10 or so forestry administration people and caught two woodcutters from Kompong Thom.  They come a long way to get wood.  I won’t put too many details here as I don’t know them but they arrested the two me and confiscated their chainsaws.  We’ll see what this means.

So, that is the news of the week.  Still another day, but so far an exciting week in Ben’s forest. 

PS.  Really need to think of a better name there.  It definitely isn’t  Ben’s forest.  In our house, we have been calling it the “Game Reserve”.  There isn’t much game really.  Deer.  Banteng apparently (a type of wild cow).  A couple of years ago someone spotted a serrow.  A bird survey needs to be done.   But there have been some promising reports of Giant Ibis and some sort of duck!  (I’m not a birder obviously).  Digressing too much from ending.  So this is the end.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

In the Beginning

This blog is for the purposes of documentation, updating, describing and informing, about the status of Ben's Forest Project.  Documentation, so that we can remember what we have done and when.  Updating  and informing you on what Ben has been up to (and what we are doing also I suppose).  And describing the whole concept so you can understand what Ben is up to.

The Purpose
To protect a forest.  
To educate a community.  To help them value their natural resources.  To help them know what they can do so that there will still be forest, a useful, productive and beautiful forest for their children and grandchildren.
To preserve the wildlife.
To not be stuck in an office all day.

The Concept
A forest destination for the traveler who is willing to visit another day or two in order to venture beyond the Siem Reap temples.  A traveler who doesn't mind a little bit of dirt and dust.  A little bit of heat.  And a little bit of distance from the busyness of the usual tourist destinations.
This destination would have some tree-houses, or near tree houses.
There would be some activities of various kinds for the more adventurous.
There would be trails for exploring.
This destination would have in it some ancient ruins.  So you can feel like a real explorer.
There would be birds for birdwatchers.
And, there would be a healthy growth in the presence of other wildlife.

Income from the enterprise would help to pay for the protection of the forest.  Rangers would be needed to patrol.
Income would also contribute to development activities in the community.
The enterprise would employ the local community so that they are profiting from the protection of the forest and not its destruction.

This destination is located in a zoned Community Forest.  The Core Zone of the CF would be fully protected and preserved.  The Sustainable Use Zone of the CF would be for the local village to manage and use in a sustainable manner.  They will create a usage plan that will allow the local resource needs to be met in a way that is sustainable in the long term.

The How
Step one.  Find the destination.  Done.  Phnom Tnout (Sugar Palm Mountain).  In Songkum Thmey District of Preah Vihear Province.  This mountain is in the vicinity of Ta Bos Village in Sdau Commune.  The forest is primarily dryland forest.  There is a mountain that has a spring coming out at the top.  There are some ancient structures (walls, roofs) on the east and west, north and south sides of the mountain and many ancient quarries where they dug up rock for their buildings.  There used to be a dragon head at the spring where the water but that was stolen a couple of years ago.  There are still odd carvings around the place - lion's feet.  People's feet.  It is also about 10 kilometers from the Preah Khan temple complex.

Step two.  Engage the local community.  Ongoing and always should be.  The community are supportive of the idea.  Mostly.  They recognise the importance of having the forest zoned as Community Forest.  If not, it will most likely be sold off to companies for economic land concessions.  The community lose all rights to it, to its access and use, and its present and future benefits.  So, yes, they want the Community Forest.  Do they want  to protect it intact?  This is a bit more difficult.  They won't be able to hunt.  They won't be able to cut trees down.  They won't be able to slash and burn the forest for agriculture.  So, that is why there is the idea for two zones - the core and the sustainable use zone.  Most CFs that we are familiar with - the ones around our area, are around 1500 hectares.  Total.  The Forestry Administration has recommended that we request 6,000 hectares!  Huge.  Enabling the Core Zone to be 5,000 hectares.  Protected.  The community can use the 1,500 hectares after developing a usage plan.

Step three.  Get the Community Forest approved.  Hmmmm.  This one is in progress.  Ben spent most of last year doing the rounds and trying to tick all the boxes in the application process.  It is a good time to be applying for a CF.  The government has made a goal of three million hectares to be zoned as CF before July 2013 (which also happens to be the election - no relation I'm sure).  And also they have suspended the granting of Economic Land Concessions for a while.  So, it is a good time to be working on this.  It has been challenging for Ben to work out what everyone wants.  Trying to get signatures in the right place.  Apparently there is a very right and a very wrong way to write letters.  Right now, the application is completed and is with the RECROFT (sp???) who will be submitting the application with all the other CFs that are being requested for Preah Vihear.  Very soon we hope.

Step four.  Make a use contract with the community for the Core Zone.  Probably for the life of the CF contract of 15 years.

Step five.  Construction.  Build the roads, bridges, accommodations, activities, trails, swimming pools, move our house!  That is enough to make me tired.

Step six.  Find and train a team from the local community.  Rangers. Housekeepers.  Guides.  An activity team. A kitchen team.  Maintenance and grounds staff.

Step seven.  Marketing.

Step seven.  Open.

Step eight.  Operate.
Simple.  Maybe not.  These steps are not necessary chronological nor in order.  Some will be done consecutively.  But this is generally what we want to do.  In the next 12 months.  Scary!

Marking the boundary