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Cambodia's Tallest Tree

Mr Tree

AUSTRALIA | Wednesday, 27 May 2015 | Views [311] | Scholarship Entry

I expected him to be bigger, physically.

Last February was fading as yet another six-hour bus trip came to a thankful end in Sen Monorom. We stepped off the overcrowded sweatbox into a throng of hungry hostel promoters. Our pockets were light and the sky was getting darker. A single female voice floated above the rest. She yelled confidently, "Two dollars a night! Best views in town!". Swallowing the bait, we swam through the crowd and dived straight into her rusty car. Her ramblings chimed in with each spluttering car engine rev like a chorus of caution. Soon the bus station burned behind us in a cloud of red dirt as she sped dangerously towards the cheap mystery.

The views didn’t disappoint. We stared out sleepily over a jungle drenched in moonlight. Climbing down ladders and jumping precariously between tree stumps, we found our rooms and collapsed onto surprisingly comfortable mosquito-silhouetted beds.

The thatched bargain bungalow walls did nothing to drown out the morning echoes of an army of obnoxious insects. To escape the incessant racket we hopped and scaled our way back toward the towering deck where infamous Mondulkiri Project Leader, Mr. Tree, greeted us. His Khmer accent slapped thickly against his English as he educated us on the exploitation and mistreatment of his land, people and wildlife. He easily convinced us to join him on a daylong trek into the forest that surrounded us.

Armed with handfuls of banana bribes, we met the gargantuan creatures that played instrumental roles in the war against the illegal logging that plagued this land. Mr Tree had fought a long battle with the indigenous Bunong people to retire two of their elephant tractors to a life of luxurious liberty, offering his rented land as their personal stomping ground. An elephant hadn’t been born in over five decades. A successful breeding program could provide food, education and health care for his community.

One of the giant wrinkled saviours rolled her trunk toward me, pecking my hand for food like an inquisitive beak. I was instantly enamoured by her beauty. Long eyelashes framed her sombre eyes, scrutinising me as I sadly inspected the harsh red abuse engraved into her skin. I was thankful her freedom was fresher than her scars.

Later as we bathed her whilst the inspirational Mr. Tree stood over us; he was a short, scrawny man in budgie smugglers with bushy eyebrows that hid big dreams.

His stature was small, but his heart was nothing short of mammoth

Tags: 2015 Writing Scholarship

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