Friday, August 14, 2015

What's Up

WARNING: Very long post. Do not proceed if easily bored by details of our life.


Each of these blog posts seem to start with something to the effect of, "it has been a long time... ." And yes, it has been a long time and I really do want to keep this more updated. Facebook has been an easier instant short update method, but doesn't allow for setting out the whole story. Which I want to document just for me.


So here we are however many months later. My internet connection is bad so I have trouble checking what the last post is that I wrote even.


I'm not going try to recount all our goings on in the last 6 months or so.. just a summary.


The Treehouse

We set up the treehouse in the Damn Cha-reh (or Monkey Pod Tree in English) We think we will call this the "Monkey Pod." It was actually mostly finished at the end of January but as with so much of our life, things stalled. The main structure, roofing and steps were complete. Leaking around the trunk has not been able to be contained too well and we are STILL working on the bathrooms - a toilet and sink upstairs and an showerhouse downstairs on ground level. Ben makes progress on one thing and then something happens to halt the progress... for example, he was installing the toilet and needed a jig saw to cut a hole in the floor. The blade broke on the jig saw. The special spanner (or wrench if you are American) to change the blade had hidden itself. And here we are 3 months later with no toilet yet. The spanner was found but then the generator was no longer up at the treehouse. This last week, Ben has been working on all the fittings for the showerhouse. A fun job! So maybe we will have it finished one day. Lack of a toilet has not stopped some guests staying there. We have had quite a few brave friends through testing it out, sans toilet. I myself have not becuase of that very reason and not fancying night time negotiation of the very impressive steps.


It has been great having kind friends visit as they are great for us to help us know what kind of issues we will have to deal with when real guests come. The delayed rainy season this year finally started just a little. One night, with our last visitors, it rained. Not terribly. But enough to cause the bark eating termites to start their march up the tree looking for food. They found the treehouse, got waylaid in a mattress and mossie net. They aren't bitey at least but not a pleasant experience to be woken up by. Now we now at least to warn our guests (an maybe we will put a bed up there. With some kind of powder on the legs). I will definately write up a page on our website of 20 reasons why you should not visit us starting with: Possible night night visits by ants.sf 

So that is the treehouse. Next...


The Stilt House

We were all set to build a second, taller treehouse but our treeclimbing carpenter from Rovieng kept delaying and the last message was that his wife didn't want him to come out because lightening might hit the tree while he was up there. So we thought best, maybe to put off that project till the dry season at least. So we started on a ground level cabin type house. Ben had collected a bit of wood.


Digress: on wood, we are not using any live trees (or rather cuttning down any live trees) for use in any of our buildings or furniture here. All the buildings have been built using either standing dead trees, uprooted dead trees, and leftovers from the loggers. There is so much here that can be used without having to cut down any trees. It just takes a little more effort and maybe more chain sharpening as old timber is harder to cut - something that the loggers generally don't like and so can't be bothered. So there you go. A more challenging part will be finding furniture and forcing myself not to buy wooden chairs from town. Siem Reap is full of rosewood furniture much of which might just have been cut down in our forest. 


So, Ben had collected some wood for the treehouse now postponed. We engaged a carpenter from our village here and the building has gone up fast. Then it rained. So for the last two weeks, no progress has been made. They laid half the floor in a day and there is stopped. The sun is out now so just maybe they will come back tomorrow or the day after as Sunday is boxing day and boxing day is sacred here to the head carpenter. 


The Cars

Our big headache lately has been our cars, trucks whatever you want to call them. My Landrover Discovery has been having electrical issues and decides not to start sometimes. We finally got mechanics out who started it in 5 minutes. Patched it up. Then I got it to Phnom Penh when it was further fixed up. Drove it home and it broke down on the road about 15km from home. A kind Military Police guy (who in the past has had chainsaws which he owned confiscated here - complicated relationships here), towed us to his house and then drove us home. 

Ben's beloved Landcruiser pick up was having issues going up hills (or down hills maybe? stalling). Our mechanic friend came out from Australia and looked at it for 10 mintues and it worked that day.. he didn't do anything much. He rigged up the Land Rover so that it would also start - something about the electrical connection to the glow plug not working.. same as before. Funny thing is that that problem has not happened again. So Ben's pick up was kind of working for a while.. then completely conked out. So, again we called out our Mechanics from Rovieng. This wonderful guy who sells ice in Rovieng. He has a bunged up arm (from birth) but incredibly can manage as a mechnic. He trained up he kids as mechanics, instructing them to do the fiddly stuff I guess. One of his sons just returned from 3 years in Phnom Penh studying to be a mechanic. So we are really blessed to have them willing to come and help us out. They came out again, and in 5 minutes had Ben's truck going again. It was electrical.. a wire was only partially connected which makes sense why it would stall going downhill as the connection lost contact and also why it worked when our Aussie friend was out.. just having a good day... so with that fixed.. we were set again.  My this is getting long. Stop if you are bored. I'm going to keep going here... We read the weather report that there was going to be flooding in parts of Cambodia and so we though maybe the time had come to take the Land Rover out and park it in the village. Last year we did that and so when it rains a lot, we bike or walk out to the village (7km) and can drive our car onwards. So the time had come. I drove it out without any issues. Then a couple of days later, Ben needed to go to town. He drove his pick up out. Took the Land Rover to town. Came back. Moved supplies back to the truck and then started home. About 10 minutes out of the village the car stops. And won't go. Something about a wheel being locked. He called a friend out to guard for the night. Went back to the village, picked up the Land Rover and came home, collecting all the stuff on the way. The next day a mechanic (different mechanic) comes out. Find out it is something to do with the universal and bearings (i am not technical). The truck needs towing to town (2 hours away). They proceed to tow the truck to town with the Land Rover. About 20km away, the engine of the Land Rover starts knocking. Good thing I wasn't driving as I wouldn't recognise the sounds of what happens when the oil runs out. The oil ran out. They drained the oil from the pick up and put it in the Land Rover. Then topped it up when they found some at a shop on the way. Then the Land Rover really stopped. So now, they engage two other cars to tow both our cars to the big town (actually the provincial capital). The pick up was fixed the next day but my Land Rover is still in the hospital. And that is the drama of our vehicles. My mum thinks we need a new car for some reason!


Ben Gets Sick

We are usually a very healthy family. I never ever get sick. The kids rarely get sick. Ben is probably most prone to anything. Mostly because he works himself to death. If you know anything about us, you know that a couple of years ago, Ben found himself in ICU in Bangkok Hospital with a life threatening case of scrub typhus. So now we know not to take fevers lightly. Jarrah was sick a few times early in the year with Malaria. We had the medication but not the test kit so when she wasn't getting better after a couple of days, I had to drive 1.5 hours to the health centre where they quickly got a positive reading for Falcipirum (sp!??) Malaria. Three days and three pills later, she was well again. So we got ourselves a bunch of test kits. She got a fever again soon after and Malaria was still in her blood (although that kind does not recur normally) so another course and she got better again.  Then last week Ben ended the day with 40 degree fevers and we almost went to hospital. It wasn't Malaria and we gave him the treatment for Typhus (just in case).  We thought maybe it was Dengue Fever in which case fevers should abate after 3 days. Which they did. My mother had advised papaya leaf extract which I made and administered. He dutifully took the horrid green stuff although I think he thought I was trying to kill him. Not sure if that helped. We didn't follow it through after he started to get better.  But there are some studies showing that it might be helpful for Dengue and in raising platelet count.. if you can stomach the bitterness. So Ben is mostly better now... just residual headaches to make us feel sorry for him.


Loggers and Poachers and Rubber Companies

Sadly, we have not been able to keep these guys under control. It is better than last year, mostly because the exporter of rosewood to China has (temporily?) stopped collecting wood here and that mostly because most of the rosewood is gone. But there are other guys, getting Chur Teal (beautiful big trees that lined the river banks), and any other stuff. We hear hums of chainsaws in the distance. They know that the patrol team is now busy with their rice so very little chance of being caught. Hunting is similar. The rains bring out the animals - the deer go kind of silly and just stand around to get shot. That then brings out the hunters. The other day, our patrollers caught a real gun (they usually use home made guns). It was in the hands of a security guard from the nearby rubber company. I won't go into ALL the details but the end of it ws the rubber company fired the guard and another guy who was with him. We are actually kind of lucky to have this particular rubber company next to us. They built a road from Siem Reap to about 10km from our house. It is almost done and should make out trip to Siem Reap about 2 hours shorter (2.5 hours maybe). As rubber companies go, they are better than most. They are European owned (we think) and are fairly strict on their staff and hopefully will make sure that they won't be poaching and logging in the Community Forest. We need to do some more networking with them to ensure that they all know what is expected. The road itself while maybe making our life easier will also make access to the forest and all the forest resources much easier for all. Not good. There will also be a town of 1000 workers build right on the border of the CF. So just the firewood needed for all this will be incredible. Worrying times ahead. The Forestry Admin (government) have kindly offered the CF 125 boundary markers... they just need to be installed and wet season is not a good time to walk the boundary with a bunch of big heavy concrete marking stones.


I need to end here I believe. If there is anyone still left reading this to the end, you deserve an award. I have more update material I am sure and a ton of photos. Next time. I will add some photos here when I get a chance.


Thanks for bearing with me!


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Poachers and Police

So, the other day, the police came out to help on a patrol. We were a bit pessimistic since it was daytime and poachers usually work in the night. But somehow, the day worked and they came across a hunting camp and took possession of this little stash here. The air rifles are home made using bicycle pumps.. ingenious eh?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Snapshot of March

Playing here with photos. Here is a compilation of our March life.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Zipping Up Khmer New Year

So, we've been working on this zipline thing for a while.

About a year ago I posted a grizzly Ben taking a maiden run on the first zipline.  We didn't complete that little project until just now, and in time for Khmer New Year. He installed another, and there is now a pair of ziplines that run from one hillside to another over a small valley. There are some spectacular views if you get yourself comfortable enough to look out while travelling about fifty metres above the forest floor. Here is a taste, but you should really come for yourself and try it out! Sorry about the wobbly camera and all the bits I should edit out if I knew how.. maybe one day I'll work it out.

And if you aren't too dizzy, here it he return trip

And more of the same.. just with a guy (our worker Nyep) in the picture.

Oh, and I need to tell about Khmer New Year.. next post.

Surviving Khmer New Year

We decided that we should host an open house for Khmer New Year. In Rovieng where we lived before, Khmer New Year was always an open house whether we wanted it to be, or not. Perhaps a thousand people would pass through our house to see our animals and how the strange foreigners lived. We were on the road to the local creek where everyone liked to “da-laing” (play-walking) so it was natural to stop by.
Living out in the middle of nowhere now, and wanting to show the locals what we are doing, we thought it would be a good idea to invite the people out to see and experience a little of what we mean by “ecotourism.” Ben worked hard to get two ziplines up and running and we figured we could charge a small fee to cover some of the operating expenses.
Well, the crowds came. Not quite as many as in Rovieng.  But being thirty minutes from the closest village and about one and a half hours to the district town, it is a quite a journey and plenty of people made the trip out: thankfully not a thousand, but more than enough and manageable. Many tried the ziplines (just over thirty people each day). More chose to watch!

We were prepared this time. I made some signs up with my rudimentary Khmer writing skills and we posted rubbish bags all over the place. Most were very kind and used the rubbish bags. I am still astounded at the lack of litter. So our lesson learned is that preparation pays.

In front of our house

Names, Definitions and Details

I started up this blog before we had a name for our enterprise. So I went to the most obvious and titled the blog, "Ben's Forest Project." Having been working in the development industry forever, our whole lives revolved around "projects" and this was Ben's latest!
Then later,in one of our brainstorming sessions, we came up with the idea of being treed: as in stuck up a tree; as in filling a place with trees.  Pretty much what we want to accomplish here.
So today, I have re-titled the blog (but not the address): Adventures in Being Treed.
And we decided on beTreed or beTreed adventures as our official name. Hope it works and doesn't confuse.
We are still working on getting a proper website going. Working with less than edge speed internet and far from my designer has meant things like that go very very slow. Meshes with everything else in our life at least.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Community and Conservation

Our whole family is introverted: Amelie perhaps the least so.  So when we hear that a group of people are coming to visit, we get a little apprehensive. Khmers, on the other hand, are probably the most sanguine, extroverted people in the world.  None can imagine living out in the middle of nowhere. Don’t we get bored?
Last month, someone called Ben and told him that they wanted to bring a bunch of students from the district town to visit the forest. This is good (despite our preference for solitude):  an opportunity to show the locals what we are doing and hopefully to encourage the little part of “conservation” that should be in all of us. Wel,l the bunch of students turned out to be about two hundred miscellaneous people coming out for a day of “dar-laing.” A popular Khmer word literally translated as “play-walking” and meaning to go on an outing. And when Khmer people go dar-laing they ALL go dar-laing. They mostly arrived in small groups on motorbikes, trickling in.
Sitting everyone down at the outset was a little difficult – impossible. We had wanted to let everyone know the rules (what to do with garbage mostly) but it was too hard. We were not prepared! By the end of the day all four of us were exhausted. Amelie was a great host showing the kids how to play on her swing and monitoring the trampoline. Jarrah pretty much hid all day! The rest of the week, we spent clearing up litter, which our visitors had not been impressed upon, to place in the bins. Failure!
So yesterday, when we heard that our village’s primary school was coming out, it was with a mix of trepidation and delight that we welcomed them. We were so very encouraged that the teachers had initiated this outing with the goal of helping the fourth through six graders to understand what a community forest is. Trepidation caused by our past experience. We were pleasantly surprised. The kids were polite. The teachers organised. Each child had to contribute money for their lunch and the teachers cooked them their picnic lunch. The kids came prepared with questions about the community forest: What was the purpose of the community forest? What the goals were? What the benefits of keeping a community forest were? How big was the community forest? They sat and listened as Ben explained that this forest was for them. That soon, all around there will be no other forest as people develop agriculture and the land is sold off. That soon, if we don’t conserve just a little bit, there will be no people who know the names of the trees, or the animals who make this forest their home, and that so many resources that they get from the forest will no longer be available. We hope that these children will be able to take home just a bit of what they learned. And maybe there will be a little spark in them that can smoulder, allowing them to understand and value our conservation efforts, and contribute themselves. It will take more than just a single outing though. It seems that this generation, before they get old enough to be cynical and stuck doing just what will benefit them now only, that they need to be exposed to different ideas that will maybe help them to think they can conserve rather than destroy.  Just need to operationalise a program!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Porcupines and more porcupines

2 Feb 2015
We have an old porcupine which we had from a baby and brought here from Rovieng.  He has been penned up with the two remaining deer and we would see him (or her) daily when we feed them. Then we didn’t see him for a few days and a porcupine showed up in the camera trap one night, about a kilometre from the pen. Ben was thinking that just maybe our Porky had escaped since villagers have not seen any porcupines in the area for a while. We weren’t sure. Then one night Soon after, Ben was feeding the deer in the pen and who should be there but Porky and running off into the grass was another porcupine, rattling his pines as he trotted away. We had just read a story on CNN about a lone porcupine in the zoo in Israel. Every night, they found porcupine droppings outside the porcupine enclosure and they were baffled.  When they put a camera trap up, they discovered that there was another porcupine who would come to visit the one in the cage—every night. How sweet. They couldn’t work out where he came from as they zoo is in the middle of town. But apparently, porcupines like friends, and ours now has a friend.  We put our camera trap up and didn’t get a shot with the two porcupines together, but separate shots of two, we think, different individuals. Not totally sure, but they seem to have different “hairstyles.”

We have been typing up while offline and waiting for our connection to improve.  Hence these postscripts! Ben was in the garden last night.  While there one of these guys goes scurrying off into the bushes, turning around and rattling his spines. He wasn’t acting very scared. Soon another goes rattling off. One of them must have been our captive one (escaped into the garden).  However two minutes later while walking by the cage, there sits our Porky. Now, who is who? That makes three individuals. And the cage must be compromised.  And worse, the garden fence also useless!

On the Trail

January 26, 2015
By Ben
Our efforts at protecting the immediate area, around our house here, at Phnom Tnout are finally starting to pay off.  Currently we have about 1 sq km. that I would consider 95 percent protected with an additional 5-10 sq. km. being 75 percent protected.  Basically the further one goes from our central hub here the less secure animals are but it’s way better of a situation than last year.
A couple days ago I took an excursion up the mountain to check on a marsh that animals use for drinking.  The number of animals I encountered on my two hour hike, was the most of any walk I’ve taken here to date.  Within a few hundred meters of the house I had already seen silver langurs.  A little further I ran into two peacocks and could hear a third one calling nearby.  I walked under a big tree that had upwards of fifty hornbills feeding on ripe fruit.  A little further the dogs chased a mouse deer although I didn’t get much of a look at it.  Finally I got to the marsh and was surprised to see four woolly necked storks (there is normally only two).  There was also a little pig playing in the mud with the dog immediately chased away.  As I stood near the shoreline of the marsh inspecting the multitude of animal tracks, I saw a very big boar with nasty looking tusks sticking his head out of the brush not far from me. I held perfectly still and he didn’t immediately realize what I was.  When Sippy (the dog) saw him she tore across the grass to have a go at him.  Her enthusiasm was short lived though when he charged out of the brush straight at her.  With tail tucked tight she made a bee line back to me.  Luckily the   pig wasn’t too upset as he soon stopped and tried again to work out what I was.  Finally he must have got wind of me because he turned and high tailed back to the forest’s edge.  Anyway, it was the best look I’ve had of a wild pig in a long time—especially one that big!  On the way back home I saw several Siamese fireback pheasants including a nice rooster who was right in the trail in front of me.  I also passed another troop of langurs who were not too worried about my presence.  I came home feeling optimistic about the prospect of being able to lead tourists in the forest and actually see animals in their natural habitat.

Postscript, Sharyn
2 February
A couple of days later Ben was out checking one of the camera traps. It had been placed at a water hole and we had previously got shots of sambar deer and banteng there.  It was about six in the evening and just on dusk. He had removed the camera trap to take it to another location and on walking away noticed a noise from behind in the water hole.  A female sambar deer called out and in the distance this crashing sound came – right towards Ben.  It was the doe’s baby who was coming to his momma. Ben didn’t move and he just ran right up to his mum, right past Ben.

My Eight Peacocks

By Amelie, Age 10
To start with, the peafowls are not really mine, they are my Dad’s. When I try to chase them out of the house, Dad tells me to stop. Since they chase me too, why can’t I chase them back? I am just trying to protect my territory, the house. I don’t appreciate peacocks! It was really me who started the chasing, not for fun, but chasing them out of my room, which I now share with my sister. Unfortunately peafowl are very curious birds and are particularly interested in shiny things. If they find their way into my usually messy bedroom, I will find them pecking my stuff and occasionally swallowing an extra small object believing it to something to eat. Our peacocks show unusual braveness. Often I see them all staring at our gigantic python, since he is not able to reach them.
The peacocks I know also have a lot of perseverance when they attack. I learned this one time when my sister and I were taking the scraps to Faline, our tame deer. We were hurrying because of Little-Pea, who had been chasing us and it was Mom who had saved us initially from destruction. Rounding the bend, we suddenly heard …… “Caw-caw-caw-caw-caw-caw-caw-caw-caw-caw-caw-caw-caw-caw” (You can make the sound if you say it very fast). Of course I looked up and Little-Pea (or Sir Pea, his most recent title) was flying right for me looking as if his intention was to follow me to the ends of the earth which might have happened had Mikey, our three legged puppy, not been there, for he excitedly chased my Dad’s  attacking peahen away. 

Green peafowls are beautiful birds and unlike their blue cousins, the females are much like the males, just without any long tail. Recently, a wild male peacock moved in after chasing our smaller male away. Because he has just been introduced to people who don’t kill animals, he is very timid. He has become tamer but still flees when any one approaches. He is a gorgeous bird with a huge train of long green feathers that can spread to form a massive fan having eyes on the ends of the lengthy tail feathers, and on his head sits a proud top-knot of long, thin feathers. He is a very persistent courter. If I go to change the water nearby and he is displaying his feathers, he will shy away. But when I reach the house, he will be back there again, trying hard to draw the attention of the females with his fan. Peafowl, in general look sort of like enormous green chickens with an extra long tail and neck. After watching the peacocks trotting off to try to spot the eagle just after it dived at some chickens, I decided to call them knights. Providing Little-Pea the title, “Sir Pea,” and to Lolly and the peahen I gave the identities of, “Sir Lolly” and “Lady-Queen” (she didn’t have a name before). Actually Sir Lolly and Sir Pea are both females but we still refer to them as males since we had the idea they were males until Lolly laid an egg and Sir Pea did not develop any male features! We couldn’t stop calling them both “he” because we had called them “he” for such a long time. The four young identical peafowl, who I call “the four squires” (knight in training) will share the title until I can tell them apart. Green peafowl are such beautiful birds.    

There are many problems about peacocks in the house. Since peacocks are relatives of chickens, they poo regularly (about ever two minutes.). Some times it is horrid black poo, which Dad says is because they have eaten chicken feed. It can also be dry poo which easier to pick up, however this is Dad’s job and not mine, luckily. Inside the house I sometimes find three peahens at one time! You can imagine how much poo that would make. They are also very nosy, or should I say beaky. Pulling spoons out of the dish drainer, removing pegs out of the peg basket and also pecking our food: that’s what they do! There are many other annoying things that they do such as pooing on my trampoline, sleeping in the shower and chasing me out of my own house! It would be fine if they would stay where they are supposed to. I would be satisfied. Impolitely invading my territory, they insist on flying upstairs into my house! They come into the house because Dad let them believe they’re people, and they still believe that right now, although I’ve tried to make it clear to them that they’re not!  HUMPH! This is one of the biggest problems I have to cope with: peacocks in the house

Editor’s Comments (the Mum!)         
Anyone reading this far may have a few questions about how we can possibly live with seven or eight peacocks in the house. I think Amelie wrote a pretty good piece here however many of the problems she mentioned may have been stretched little! I will endeavour to explain the situation as it stands! And provide some history as to how we ended up with eight peacocks. We were given our first baby peacocks by a monk who had been breeding peacocks at his temple in Siem Reap province. We raised another few from chicks which villagers had stolen from wild nests (tsk! tsk!) It is just something they do and a very big educational challenge for us, trying to stop people from raiding nests, or gathering any wildlife which they come across on their hunting and gathering expeditions. Villagers are very much still in hunter-gatherer mode here (and where we were in Rovieng, before), looking for protein to supplement their usual diet of fermented fish paste, salt and rice.  Well, the babies raised from chicks are incredibly tame and behave more like puppies than fowls. Our first pair from the monk grew up and had eggs which we hatched under chickens (peafowl aren’t the best at setting). We had some challenges and in the first year ended up with only one baby chick who has grown up to be “Little Pea I.” This last year (2014) we were a bit more successful and the four babies are now juveniles. Because we were pretty busy this year, we didn’t “baby” this batch too much and they weren’t so tame. However when they were little, one was left out in a rainstorm and when Ben nursed him back to health, he did become pretty tame, coming into the house when we were there (while we were staying in our temporary house).  He, Little Pea II (we have original names here) also saw fit to invite this three siblings in with him. They spent a lot of time in the house and we spent a lot of time shooing them out. Being babies, they did “poo” rather a lot and it was a very trying period for us all!! However, the situation improved dramatically on moving to our final home, and these juveniles (or Squires as Amelie calls them) have not tried to come in the house at all and spend their time bugging around in the grass. The other two tame females, and the original female from the monk were locked in a chicken pen for the first two months. When the wild male chased away our male , we released the females so that they could have eggs and these two, Lolly and Little Pea do occasionally come in the house but are quickly shown the door (or window). Hence the black poo situation is pretty much rectified.