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30 December 2017 (taking a few days to post here!)

New Year’s Letters. I haven’t written an end of year letter for a long time. I have a few minutes here now to scribble something down to mark the end of this year and reflect upon what has been our life for 2017. I must write quick and get it finished and posted in one sitting else it will not get out there! So here goes.

We have been blessed this year with an abundance of good friends and supporters for our little project here in the forest. The award for the most frequent visitors goes to Piseth and his brother in law Phivorn. Piseth has come more than 12 times in the last 12 months… maybe 13 or 14. Each time, be introduces us to new friends whom he brings along, introducing them to the beauty of the forest here. Hopefully he can turn all the Phnom Penh-ites into nature lovers and fierce protectors! Phivorn has come along for many of the visits with Piseth. He also helped to facilitate a very fortuitous connection with the Ministry of Environment, paving the way for a visit by the Minister of Environment and subsequent Memorandum of Understanding signed between BeTreed and the MOE and the establishment of a new wildlife sanctuary around us! Huge accomplishments for which we are indebted to the help and very intimate involvement of both Phivorn and Piseth! So, thank you, kind friends!

Working with the MOE since mid-2017 has given us much encouragement and even some physical support in the work we are doing here. We have been assigned some government rangers to help us (kind of on call at the moment, but they are supposed to become permanent soon). We have people who will listen to our problems and understand what we are doing. That is good!

We’ve had visitors this year. Family. Friends. New Friends. Old Friends. We had the busiest week ever this last week, with all our rooms full (a rarity). Visitors were all old Cambodia hands. Mostly people whose circles have been intersecting with ours but never quite meeting in all our years here in Cambodia! So, it has been fun to finally meet and listen to all the stories, and tell our own of all the adventures that have been had over the years.

The funniest thing, in amongst this busyness, we also had a few tourists try to come visit at the last minute but for the various reasons, they didn’t make it. Two cyclists had a health issue on the road here (heat exhaustion which is bad enough, and hoping it is not more serious). Two people on a scooter got lost. And another visitor for next week lost her passport (on Pub Street, Siem Reap – lesson: don’t carry your passport on Pub Street), so she must schedule in a trip to Phnom Penh. These people didn’t make it. Sadly. However, we are encouraged that there are more people looking us up and seeking to visit! Hopefully the little spate of bad luck has had its run.

The beginning of the year, we had a massive group of my family – from Australia, Hong Kong and Myanmar. Four of them in their eighties! Quite a feat, coming all the way out here – if you know our roads. I was able to take the oldies in my luxury 97 Discovery. The rest had to travel in the hand tractor thingies.

We had fun. We cooked and ate all the yummy Burmese food. My sister and brother-in-law helped us with many projects – wiring, painting, door fixing, railing building—oh, and helped to fight massive forest fire that nearly got us. The time all went too fast.

And wildlife. We think our presence here has made a positive impact on the populations here. Or maybe the wildlife is getting friendlier. We haven’t had too much luck with our camera trapping projects. The cameras seem to have a self-destruct date on which they stop working. Our friend brought us six (used) cameras and set them up at strategic locations in January. We collected these up and reset them. We also had about three others. Now, it seems like only two of all of these are currently working. A little bit annoying. And the funny thing was, those two are the two which we left out the longest. Just two weeks ago we picked them both up and they had been in place since March and April. We were amused to find this guy a regular on one of them—a most handsome quite old Siamese Fireback Pheasant rooster. Of 594 pictures taken in this spot – 44 were of him.

We are not sure what he is going to do with his time now we have removed the camera. Poor guy has lost his entertainment source.

We also got a shot of the biggest and oldest banteng ever. This guy.

Other animals captured about a million wild pigs, green peafowl, sambar deer, munjac, long tailed macaques and porcupines. We are still waiting for the clouded leopard to walk through but he has not graced us yet!

A new species which our workers verified recently has been an otter. We are not sure exactly which species but likely the smooth coated otter which has been confirmed in Preah Vihear province. Apparently only 5 years ago, otters were plentiful along our river but were hunted out so quickly that we haven’t seen any evidence of any for a while. Our workers have heard and seen them on 3 occasions. So, we have put a camera trap up in the vicinity and hopefully soon we will have some photographic evidence!

Saddest events of the year. Nature’s fickleness has taken its toll here. August 22 was the storm of the year for us. Ben was in Phnom Penh and the girls and I were holding the fort up here. It was the middle of the wet season, so naturally it was raining. Some bigger than normal gusts of wind blew down maybe hundreds of trees near us. The storm started about 7pm and the girls and I just buried our heads under the blankets and went to sleep. In the morning, we woke up to trees all over the girls’ giant swing and trampoline and a big hole in the forest canopy near our house. We walked to the garden and my favourite stretch of canopy over the road was gone. Trees had fallen over the electric wires and our inverter had shorted from a lightning strike. So, so sad. But that is how live goes around in forests. Fires have taken a toll by injuring root structure, so perhaps damage is a little more than it should have been, but these events will always happen. We are thankful none of our buildings were seriously damaged (except for our wood shed which was, and still is buried under a huge tree). The tin on the corner of our rice barn got hit but that did not even cause a leak in the barn so we are fortunate.

Even sadder. We have had the pleasure of raising the funnest of pets this year. However, they don’t always hang around. And with freedom (which we try to give to any animals we raise here) comes its own challenges. From last year (August 2016), we had raised a Ferret Badger. His official name was Stripe, and I have written about him before. We ended up calling him Badger. He was received before his eyes were even open from a friend who had rescued him from village kids who were tossing him about with his siblings. His siblings didn’t make it but he grew up to be a fat and friendly badger who liked to play with Mikey the dog, sleep in our bed, and just kind of hung around. We eventually released him and he would disappear for a week or so, then reappear sometimes visiting at midnight for a snack of dogfood, a banana and then a cuddle in the bed quickly falling asleep. He was sometimes a little bit naughty. Visiting our guests and sometimes wanting to play with them and chasing them about in his enthusiasm. But sadly, we haven’t seen him since the beginning of November. We wistfully think he has a family and is busy raising them.

In about March of this year we ended up with a baby magpie, Georgie whom I wrote about in an earlier post I think. He was everyone’s favourite. Magpies have the biggest personality of any birds. Friendly, curious, brave, mischievous, clever, happy. He was completely free but chose to hang around here with us. He’d chosen a very safe tree to sleep in, right outside our window with big leaves to hide from the dangerous owls. He, and we did not foresee what would happen. We had also been given two civit cats who had stolen them from their nest, ended up in the village and then rescued by a friend who gave them to us. They were babies when we got them but had grown enough for release. We released them near the house. They are small carnivores but had not been bothering our chickens any. They were sweet. But one night – also early November, Ben heard Georgie squeal and the female civit had killed him just like that. Too, too sad. But, that is nature. We wished freedom for our pets and risks are part of that. Our house is a very empty place now for anyone who knew Georgie.

The ecotourism part of our project is still needing more “tourists.” We have had so many great guests come this year… and feel every time, that friends are visiting us (even though 2 days ago they were strangers). I just feel bad having to charge all our friends. It is December 30, and the count this year, including children, is 155 foreign visitors and 185 Cambodians. Not bad, but we do need more people to know about us, in order to support the conservation activities that we are trying to do here. We need to help people find us! Currently, word-of-mouth and TripAdvisor are our main marketing tools. We do like the slow and precise marketing that word-of-mouth affords however, I am a person who needs to be pushed and so maybe, while we enjoy the quiet here too much .. a little more visitors would be better for us. We are in the new Lonely Planet guide book. We’ll see what that will do for us! Bring on 2018 and let us see what happens.

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