Frog in my toilet!

Hello all!

Long time, no talk. I know. But before you go declaring my procrastination, you should know I’ve been keeping very busy here in Cambodia. In fact, just last week we left for a two week trip around the countryside of Cambodia, which I am midway through right now. Currently, we are staying at Indigenous Peoples Lodge in Senmonorom, which is a small town in Eastern Cambodia.

I’ve had an incredible last few weeks and could probably blabber a few thousand words at you about some of the amazing experiences I’ve had, but instead I’ll give you an overview of our travels and focus on one moment that was particularly special (and funny).

We started our travels last Tuesday from Siem Reap heading towards a small ecotourism project in Northern Cambodia called BeTreed. It was so remote that at one point we had to get off our giant buses and ride these wacky mechanical cow tractor thingamajigs! We rode these tractors for about an hour through the dusty countryside to the camp, which was really scenic (and unfortunately really brutal on my butt bones).

riding on the Gow-Oun (mechanical cow) into BeTreed


After two nights exploring the fires ecology and learning about camera trapping at BeTreed, we headed out for the city of Kratie, which is a city on the famous Mekong River. Kratie is also famous for its proximity to a pool of Irrawaddy Dolphins. For those of you who aren’t too informed on endangered species in Cambodia, the Irrawaddy Dolphin is critically endangered with an estimated population of 85 individuals left. We had the wonderful opportunity to see some of these dolphins, as well as meet with WWF officials who fund a lot of the conservation efforts to save the dolphin while we were there.

After a few jam-packed days in Kratie, we set out in two different groups to Mondulkiri Province (where we are now). Our group spent the night here at IPL (Indigenous Peoples Lodge) and the other group spent the night at the nearby Jahoo Gibbon Camp. After spending one night here, we set out to the Elephant Valley Project (EVP) to spend the day with semi-captive wild elephants 🐘 ! To say that was an awesome experience would be an understatement. These animals are truly amazing and stunning to watch. Also, they eat for about 18 hours of the day which is kind of awesome.

semi-captive wild elephants getting their daily bath!! rub a dub dub 

the semi-captive elephant named Easy Rider!

After a day with elephants, we drove on over to the Jahoo Gibbon Camp to spend a night in hopes of hearing and seeing gibbons. We woke up at the bright and early hour of 4:30 AM to begin our trek into the forest listening for these elusive creatures. I should stop at this point and tell you that the sound of a Gibbon calling to its fellow Gibbon buddies is like nothing else I have experienced. They sound like these crazy songbird/robot combos, so you know you’ve heard them once they start. They called for a while and then when the sun rose, we actually had the opportunity to watch a group of six of them swing energetically from branch to branch. Again, quite an unwritable experience, especially in 100 words, so please use your creative wits to imagine the sounds and experience.

mangosteen at the local market in Kratie! I had to buy some using only Khmer haha.

And that adventure leads me to where I am now, sitting on the porch of my indigenous hut at IPL with my roommate, frantically typing this post in the twenty minute period between our language class and our ethics & development course. We are spending two more nights here interviewing indigenous communities and learning about highland farming techniques before zooming off to Phnom Penh for a few days to learn about some more of the recent history of Cambodia. After that, we will head back to Siem Reap and lead the country’s first organized World Wildlife Day event with local university students.

At this point you’re probably wondering where the inspiration for this blog post’s title came from. The story begins this morning, February 28, at 5:30 AM. Here I am, laying peacefully in bed when I get startled awake by my roommate’s concern over our new bathroom guests– two giant tree frogs.

She yelped somewhat worriedly “There are frogs in our bathroom” followed by “Oh well, I’m going pee anyway.”

I think to myself ‘Alright cool, problem solved, no biggy’,  but before I can even respond to her,  I hear “Holy crap they’re coming for me”,  followed by “They’re on the toilet seat” and finally, “They’re in the toilet, Help!”

At this point, my curiosity got the better of my comfortable sleeping position, so I slumbered into the bathroom. What do I find but the hilarious sight of my roommate frantically freaking out and a pair of frogs, one clambering around the rim of the toilet seat and one hiding inside of the toilet bowl. As you can probably imagine, the situation got funnier and funnier as we made various wimpy attempts to ethically remove them out the toilet and toilet bowl. In case anyone was curious, we recruited another classmate and were finally successful (Thanks Nate!).

This story is one of thousands that I’ve had the pleasure to help create this semester. As I reflect back on my experiences and write this, I keep thinking of more instances in which laughter got the better of me or instances in which my comfort zone was stretched in strange or mysterious ways. I cannot wait until the next blog-title worthy moment presents itself and I hope you look forward to reading (and hopefully giggling) it as well.

There are Mosquitoes in my Coffee.

Welcome to my second blog post! Thanks for the positive comments and encouragement on the first one. One of my first assignments here at school was to write a blog for the SFS (School For Field Studies) website. In this assignment, I  had to answer questions about my initial reactions to Cambodia, the center, and our classes. Of course, being the ingenuous person that I am, I decided to sneak that post into this post. As our Angkor tour guide famously said last week in broken English, “Two stones one bird”.

Below are the questions they asked me and my answers! Enjoy.

Why did you choose to study abroad with SFS?

There is something magical about the way experience transforms into education. There is also something intriguing to me about Southeast Asia and the conservation issues here. For those two reasons, SFS stuck out to me. School For Field Studies is also a nifty program because it bridges the gap between experiential learning, cultural immersion, and environmental science. To be completely fair about why I chose SFS, several good friends and fellow students at my college also told me that their SFS experience was quote-on-quote “the best experience of my life”, which is a pretty hard claim to ignore.

What are your first impressions of the country?

My first impression of Cambodia is that it is a beautiful and vibrant country rich with culture. The red dirt here swirls around my feet and the blue sky expands infinitely above me. This is a place where roosters crow and songbirds chirp in delightful choruses. Green plants of all shapes and sizes sprawl across the dusty landscape, reminding me of the tropical landscape in which Cambodia is placed. At the same time, the atmosphere here feels simultaneously feels gentle and harsh. The people and weather feel calm and gentle, but the landscape coloration and the noises here are loud, both in volume and in variety.  I have only been here one week and I can already tell I’ve grown an attachment to this place and the people who live in it.

What are your first impressions of the Center?

Based on my first week here, it seems to me that the center here in Siem Reap goes the whole nine yards in providing us with the best resources and facilities needed to excel in the classroom. It is not unusual for us to splash in the pool in between classes to cool off or to toss a volleyball around during the lunch break. Speaking of food, the dishes here are unparalleled (sorry to my home dining hall). Our cook (Moli?) works ceaselessly to provide us with fresh fruits, vegetables, and local cuisine and her hard work is one of the reasons this center feels like such a home to me. The center has everything we need and more, and I look forward to spending my next three months here.

What do you think the biggest challenge will be for you this semester both academically and culturally?

I think something I struggle with academically is knowing when I need self-care time. Here at the center, students are constantly together laughing, studying, chatting, swimming, painting toenails (you name it!) and I have a hard time saying no to participating in everything. Hopefully, I can strike a balance between my social activities and my personal “recharge” time. Culturally speaking, I think the language barrier will be the hardest roadblock to overcome. We take a short language class but I know that it will not be enough to communicate all that I want to say, which might become frustrating at times.

What are you looking forward to the most about the semester?

I can’t wait to see how my classmates and I grow in our understanding of conservation issues along the Mekong. I am also looking forward to being able to form a coherent sentence in Khmer (the local language) and to doing field work on an issue I am really passionate about. I also can’t wait to try more of the local food and learn more about the intricacies of Cambodian culture.

Give three words that best describe how you are feeling right now.

Hot, Eager, Immersed.

I’m eager because I am excited for what the rest of the semester will hold for me and I cannot wait to take part in all the activities and field work that our classes provide for us. I chose the word hot because it’s literally hot outside and I am not used to having summer temperatures in February (which is a pretty good problem to have ).  The word immersed stuck out to me because I feel like here at the Center, academics follow you everywhere and it’s easy to find yourself engaged in class work outside of the classroom. We all live, eat, laugh and learn together which creates quite an interconnected learning environment.

On a closing note, I wrote this blog while slowly sipping on a large cup of black burned coffee. Upon further inspection into my coffee, I found several mosquitoes bobbing around in it like small lifeless ice cubes. I laughed and rolled my eyes. “Classic Cambodia” I whispered to myself with a smirk.

PS- The internet here is too fragile to upload photos, so I’m sorry but you’ll have to use your imagination on this one.