Tomb Raided

Written by Lily Newton, Kerry Snyder, Louis Staat, and Lauren Wilson

Today our group had the chance to explore not one, but multiple temples in the Angkor Complex. We woke up early to be the first ones at Ta Prohm, the site where the movie Tomb Raider was filmed. Trees can be found growing amongst the walls of this ancient site, giving it a very natural, peaceful feeling. It was a great experience to explore this beautiful and ancient treasure before it became crowded with other tourists. Our second temple visit was to Bayon, which is part of Ankor Thom, King Layavarman’s ancient capital. We felt as if we were constantly being watched because of the giant stone faces carved all over the many towers. Many of us enjoyed observing and photographing the macaques, which wander freely over the grounds. Despite their innocent appearance, these creatures can be vicious and are known to bite those who get too close. After avoiding one of these tricksters, Dr. Bowman realized that he had left his water bottle behind. The monkey picked it up, drank, and, deciding that it wasn’t to his liking, promptly threw it away!

We ventured to one more temple after lunch, Banteay Srei This site used to be home to women warriors. Pink sandstone was used to construct the beautiful walls of this structure, giving them a distinct color we had not yet seen. All of the temples were stunning, but it was sad to see that some of the carvings and statues gone from being stolen to be sold on the black market.

The last event of the day was visiting the Land Mine Museum started by Aki Ra, an ex Khmer-Rouge soldier who was once in charge of planting land mines. He regrets his contribution to the problems with landmines in Cambodia, so he now contributes to their removal and works to help land mine victims.

 

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Taking a break at Bayon to enjoy the view (Photo Cred: Kerry Snyder)

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Example of a stolen carving (Photo Cred: Lauren Wilson)G4_B2_P2

Inhabitants of the temple waiting to cause more trouble (Photo Cred: Lauren Wilson) G4_B2_P1

The faces were carved to be guardians of the temple (Photo Cred: Lauren Wilson)

Easier Said Than Not Done

 

 

Today, we visited the Hariharalaya Yoga and Meditation Retreat Centre, located on the ancient capitol of Cambodia by the same name.  On the way, we passed the oldest temples in the country, circa 800 A.D. We would be participating in a half-day meditation session at the center that offers people a place to develop a yoga or meditation practice by offering week or month stays and workshops on creative arts and music.  As soon as we arrived, we were asked to remain silent for the remainder of our day, as Saturday is the retreat’s day of silence. Quiet giggles could be heard as we adjusted to the silence while learning about mindful eating.  We were given free time to explore the property, look at books about Buddhism in their library, and relax as the residents do in the multitude of hammocks scattered throughout the area.

 

We began to learn about meditation from the calming voice of Joel, the founder of the center. Meditation is a way of life for many people here as it is an integral part of Buddhism, the most practiced religion here. A focal point of our meditation practice was learning to center our energy to our ‘third eye’, the gate that leads to inner realms and spaces of higher consciousness. Our two thirty-minute meditation sessions proved to be a lot for some of us to handle, as it is a completely new way of thinking and being (or not being).  We have been living by a fast-paced schedule for the past few weeks and this experience was the complete opposite of that, though a welcomed one. All can agree that this experience gave insight into this completely different world.

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Our leader Joel informs about the practice of meditation in the Hariharalaya’s yoga hut. Photo by Kimberly BlasnikG3_B2_P2

Tori Bonner relaxes in a hammock during free time. Photo by Erica FirestoneG3_B2_P3

Krista Adams and other students assume the meditation position in order to make our bodies ‘energy circuits.’ Photo by Erica FirestoneG3_B2_P4

Carly Costello admires some of the hand painted Buddhist artwork at the center. Erica Firestone

An Unexpected Detour

Katie Bonanno, Tori Bonner, Kevin Chang, Brittany Hazzard

 Much to our dismay, today began bright and early at 6:30am, and sadly this has recently become the norm. We enjoyed a quick breakfast and hit the road. Not an hour into our journey, we were stopped by the police and the bus fell silent. We were lucky to find out that we were only about 5km away from the village the Cambodian prime minister was visiting. As excited as we were to be within walking distance from a high-ranking government official, this meant we were camped out at a small, open-air restaurant for just over two hours. Here we enjoyed an early lunch and spent some time working on group projects. Once notified that the road ahead was clear, we loaded back onto the bus and continued on our journey to the small town of Kratie.

 

A couple of hours later we reached a temple known as the Sambok Meditation Center, which was elegantly placed at the peak of a hill. We spent about an hour exploring the temple, which involved climbing literally hundreds of stairs. We witnessed first hand the efforts of many artisans working to repair the damage caused by the Khmer Rouge. Being able to see the sculpture in progress was as amazing as viewing the surrounding landscape from high on the hilltop. On the road again, our final stop for the day was a small stretch of the Mekong River, where we boarded small riverboats in search of Irrawaddy river dolphins. While some members of our group expected the dolphins to actually fly out of the water, we only saw their dorsal fins breach the surface. The boat ride was pleasant nonetheless and we headed for our hotel at sunset. Tomorrow we are off to our final destination, Siem Reap, where we expect to have even more enthralling adventures.

The Treasures of Elephant Valley

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Today was one of the most memorable days of the trip so far! Upon arriving at Elephant Valley we were immediately greeted by Jack Highwood, the NGO’s founder. Here he explained a bit about the ecology and conservation of the elephants and their natural habitats. Heading down a steep, narrow path to “Elephant Heaven” lugging giant banana tree-trunks for the elephants to eat, we all managed to make it down with only a few stumbles.

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We got to interact with several different groups of elephants, bathing them, watching them swim, eat and socialize, while being sure not to get to close to the aggressive male, Bob. After spending all morning with the elephants we ventured out to see the rest of Elephant Valley.

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Through our journeys exploring the land we all started out a bit hesitant. On the first river crossing we carefully hopped rock to rock trying to stay dry. However, as we trekked deeper into the preserve the rocks became fewer and we were forced to trudge through the water. By the time we made it to our lunch spot by the waterfalls, some people were feeling adventurous enough to go for a swim.

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Stopping by to see the elephants one last time before the days end we were all sad to goodbye, but definitely learned a lot and were exhausted by the time we finished our hike back out of the valley.

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Getting to see the work of The Elephant Valley Project in action was a really awesome experience. Jack told us about all the ways using elephants for tourism and logging deformed their spines and deprived them of proper nutrition. However, nothing he said was as vivid as the remnants of this abuse that we could see both physically on the elephants and through their extremely domesticated behaviors. The goals of Elephant Valley is to rescue captive elephants and use very passive training methods to get them to return to their natural behaviors. Already having made huge strides forward in the 5 shorts years since its founding, The Elephant Valley Project eventually hopes to extend this program even further to also protect the land and habitats for the wild population of elephants in Asia.

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UD students help to give a few of the elephants their morning bath. (Kimberly Blasnik)

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A group of UD students watch the elephants as they interact with their natural habitat. (Krista Adams)

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One of the female elephants helping herself to an afternoon snack. (Jillian Behrens)

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The group on their long uphill hike back out of the valley. (Kimberly Blasnik)

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VIDEO:

Female elephant, Easy Rider as she goes in for her afternoon dip in the river. (Kimberly Blasnik)

http://www.elephantvalleyproject.org

Lions, Tigers and Bears…Oh My!

Matthew Wiltshire, Carly Costello, Cady Zuvich, Mattthew Levendosky

Our day started with an hour and a half bus ride out of the city to a wildlife preserve called Free the Bears, an organization that rehabilitates Asiatic Black Bears and Sun Bears, among other animals. After a quick introduction, we went to the bear cages to clean and prepare for their days. We raked leaves and put out treats while an unlucky few picked up poop. Lunch was next, but not for us. Preparing lunch for the bears, we stuffed bamboo and medicine balls with morning glory, jam and bananas.

We set off to see the rest of the reserve, which held more animals then we had anticipated, such as tigers and elephants. We were able to go into an interactive exhibit where we pet Elds deer, observed birds and had monkeys running past our feet. When we saw the pythons, they were accompanied by chickens – their lunch. We then were able to eat our lunch barefoot while sitting Indian style in a bamboo hut surrounded by netted hammocks tied together by volunteers at Free the Bears.

Following our lunch, it was lunchtime for the bears. We filled their bags with the lunch we prepared and watched as they ripped apart the bamboo. After the feeding we were able to see Sun Bear cubs, only a few months old. Around 1600 hours, feet dirty and bodies tired, so we made our way back to Phnom Penh.

While the wildlife group was at the reserve, the photo group started its day out with class time followed by an exploration of Phnom Penh. We first ventured to the National Museum of Cambodia located near our hotel. This museum houses and preserves the historic aspects of Cambodia and the Angkorian period, featuring artifacts dating back to the 6th century. The museum was constructed in 1917 and opened in 1920. With the museum housing all of these artifacts, there has been a reduction in looting of Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. Following the National Museum, we visited Wat Phnom, a local Buddhist temple built in 1373. Wat Phnom was a short tuk-tuk ride from our hotel.

At night we traveled to a Buddhist temple to assist with English classes. Delaware students split into pairs and interacted with students of all ages and all English speaking ability. One group with primarily younger and inexperienced students taught the “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” song to help the students in learning parts of their body.

The following day, the wildlife students started at 8am by watching a documentary on Angkor Wat while the photography students visited Free the Bears. While little is known of the history, archeologists are discovering new information everyday.  After our lesson, we thought class was over, but we had one more assignment from Dr. Bowman: we were required to have fun on our last day in Phnom Penh.

We ventured out in order to fulfill our assignment. We went to the Central Market, where two brave students ate crunchy tarantulas. For lunch, we ate at a small Cambodian restaurant. Afterwards, some went to the hotel pool while others explored the city. Needless to say, we all got an A+ that day.G6P1

An Indochinese tiger paces around its cage at the Free the Bears Fund. (Matthew Wiltshire)

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Matthew Wiltshire and a Cambodian English student after class.  (Lily Newton)

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A sun bear waiting in anticipation for feeding time. (Carly Costello)

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A hungry monkey snacks on a banana at the Free the Bears preservation. (Cady Zuvich)

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UD students Rhiannon Hare and Stephanie Wirth stuff bamboo shoots with morning glory for the bears dinner. (Cady Zuvich)

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Carly Costello bravely eats a spider at Phnom Penh’s Central Market (Kim Blasnik)

Eating Spiders

On our way to Kampong Cham we stopped at a local market to pick up some regional delicacies. A bunch of our students tasted spiders and one of our professors, Dr. Bowman, had several hesitant bites and we captured the moment.

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Dr. Bowman says, “I ate the spider for my son Lee, and it wasn’t too bad.”

A Keyhole to the Past

Today we were fortunate enough to visit the largest war prison, turned museum, in Cambodia.  It was our most emotional day by far. The prison/museum, called S-21, was used by the Khmer Rouge regime (the communist party that gained control in the mid 1970’s) to hold Cambodians which were suspected to have ties with the CIA, KGB, or other parties against communism. S-21 was originally a schoolhouse in 1965, turned into a prison in 1975, and finally became a museum in 1980.  Our program had the privilege to meet one of the seven survivors, out of 20,000+ prisoners, named Chum Mey. After being held for four months of torturing, not being able to talk freely to others, and being chained to the floor for nearly 24 hours a day, he described the first moment of freedom as a feeling of rebirth.  S-21 is a unique prison in that it photographed every victim upon entry and after they were killed; the halls of the museum were lined with hundreds of photographs of the deceased Cambodian citizens, most all of which had done nothing wrong.

 

The next stop was the Killing Fields, the area where prisoners were executed. Skulls and mass graves (the largest being a 400+ mass grave) were an all-too-common sight. A 5-story tower of skulls was placed in the middle of the gravesite, giving respects to those unfortunate citizens.

 

On a happier note, our lunch took place in a school that housed underprivileged children who received free education. These students learned vocational practices such as cooking, mechanics, beauty, and hospitality.  We finished up the day with a traditional Khmer dinner at a nice hotel.  We will head out early in the morning tomorrow to visit a bear sanctuary, so check in soon!

 

Written by Mark Bacchetta, Courtney Dressler, Cristian Vitale, Stephanie WirthImage

Portrait of Mr Chan Muy after sharing his story of imprisonment and torture with us. (Cristian Vitale)

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Skulls of victims in the killing fields (Cristian Vitale)

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Local school for underprivileged children, that we visited after lunch to brightened up the day after the killing fields (Stephanie Wirth)