A Homestay with the Davises, Maybe?

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Amelie doing maths with the magpie
Amelie doing maths with the magpie

I have had a bunch of posts milling around my mind for a long time. Never taking the time to write them down or never feeling the inspiration to get into the nitty gritty of writing. Finally trying again and hoping that I can develop a better habit of letting people know what is happening in our precious forest here.

We just had a guest depart. He rode here on his bicycle: our first biking-in guest. From Preah Vihear city, he was able to ride south to Preah Khan of Kompong Svay temple, visit the temple, get lost (not his fault! we needed better communications along the way! And maybe better signage), and still arrive at our house only a bit after dark but also after the rain had soaked us. We haven’t invested any time in great signage and perhaps maybe now is the time. The thing about signs is that we don’t always trust them to stay put. We do have a few … one arrow sign was twisted upside down and points the wrong way! Ahhhh maintenance. But I digress…

The topic of this post is actually, what one can experience when coming to visit us here. I have tried to brand BeTreed within the ecolodge type sector. But we are perhaps a little bit smaller than your typical ecolodge. And because we are so small, we are still doing much of the work of hosting our guests ourselves. We have helpers from our village, but still we are totally involved in every aspect of our guests’ stays here. Our guests usually get to see our house… often eat in our house, meet our family and other animals (borrowing from Gerald Durrell). And because of that I’m starting to acknowledge the fact that maybe we are not an ecolodge but more of a homestay. Homestays, I had the impression were living with the locals – in a village, eating the local foods and going and experiencing village life. I just never considered our family as a true Cambodian homestay. But, maybe we are just a homestay of a different shade. Our guests, who inevitably seem to end up friends, get to see how messy my house gets, see my kids not doing their schoolwork, visit our garden and see where the bananas and papayas, pineapples and limes come from (because this is all we seem to be able to grow lately)… and basically experience our very alternative lifestyle.

Here is an example (of this different life): We have this pet bird–a red-billed magpie. He was chosen to survive after some villagers had raided his nest and eaten about 3 of his siblings. They were kind of kind, and wanted to raise the remaining two as pets. Ben asked for them and told the guys they wouldn’t survive very long in the village so they gave them to us. We used to have two and we used to let them sleep out at night but one morning only one was left. Likely an owl took one during the night. So since then, we have caged Georgie up at night. He is such a people bird. He hangs around the house all day long poking his nose into everything. Stealing stuff and stashing these treasures around the house and anywhere really. I just this morning located the vegemite lid in my boot, for example. And yesterday, Ben found a toy plastic bird and a pen lid in his hat. I often find pieces of dry dogfood under my pillow. There are other unsavouries we find around the place too.

Yesterday Ben and our guest went on a 10 kilometre hike. We had locked Georgie up to make sure he didn’t follow. I let him out about 5 minutes after they had left and he immediately went tearing up the road after them. They had been sidetracked along the way and hadn’t got very far so he was soon happy to be hopping along with them. He followed them for the whole hike. Much like a dog. Flying up ahead. Or hopping along the ground. Catching himself a grasshopper or a beetle. Flying back to perch on someone’s shoulder and show the person his treat. The stink bug find was not particular welcomed. I was alerted to their return with Georgie arriving first, then the panting dogs and finally Ben and our friend.

[This is another annoying thing about Georgie.. I just wrote another paragraph and he came over to say hi, perching on my screen. Deciding to jump off, he landed on my keyboard somehow closing my document without saving the changes! Grrrr]

Badger and Georgie making friends
Badger and Georgie making friends

So, rewriting this paragraph – I was trying to tell you about Badger, the ferret badger. He is the smallest of the badger family. Our Badger we rescued from some village kids who again, had raided the nest. They had about 3 or 4 little guys whose eyes were still closed and were tossing them around like stuffed toys. Our friend took them off the kids and brought us two. One died on arrival but we were able to raise Badger successfully. He has been released and is completely free however he does visit us on average every second night. After his hunting escapades – mostly earthworms and bugs he digs up, he comes up to the house and climbs into someone’s bed. Usually the kids’ bed and will promptly fall asleep for the rest of the night and the following day. I am not sure if truly wild badgers can afford such a deep sleep but I would think they should remain on alert to a degree. And a small warning to future guests: Badger has been known to visit our guesthouses. He sometimes likes to play chase. And he has been known to follow our guests up to the treehouse, ascending the stairs in order to entertain them, as if they had nothing better to do!

Mikey the Dog
Mikey the Dog

Here would also be a good time to mention our friendly dogs. Mikey is our three-legged beautiful mutt who was rescued by the wonderful PPAWS in Phnom Penh from a temple where someone had dumped him, likely because of the missing leg. He is the most gorgeous dog with the deepest brown eyes which are very hard to resist. He isn’t the brightest of dogs, or at least we don’t know how to read his words. He tends to greet everyone with barking. Even us. Sometimes this develops into a howl joined in by Sippy, our other little dog’s yapping (she can’t howl). Quite a cacophony! We are not sure if he doesn’t recognise us or our visitors – most dogs don’t bark at people they know but ours bark at everyone. They will come running up to you barking with their tails wagging wanting to be petted and they are super friendly. So, it is just a little quirk. They might also come and guard your house at night.. sleeping on the steps. I do have a page on our website that gently advises people to evaluate whether BeTreed might or might not be the right place to visit for them. One of the items is that one must love animals or at least be able to tolerate them. Hopefully this will help you understand why!

I had envisioned BeTreed to operate as very professionally run ecolodge when we started this project but it seems to have degenerated into this homestay kind of experience with the Davises for the moment. We aren’t in a position to start big, splash out on advertising and full staffing awaiting a fast flow of guests. Besides, we have never been the type to be overly “loud,” preferring slow but steady progress and a subtle presence in the industry. And this is how it will be for now. You can come here. Be totally immersed in the forest. Hear our stories of what we are trying to do here and meet some of our family. It might not be your typical eco-retreat but we hope you can learn about some of the challenges and maybe get an understanding of why this place is special to us.

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