Sen Monorom, Mondulkiri Province, Cambodia
When I stepped into the minibus every seat was filled. I stood and looked around for someplace to sit. There was no way that I was going to stand for 6 hours. The driver started yelling at one of the passengers that had a single seat next to the window. After a few minutes the guy reluctantly moved across the aisle to where there were already 4 people crammed into a seat made for 3. He motioned for me to set down. I could feel everyone's eyes on me, but all I could do is shrug and smile like an idiot. I shouldn't have worried, because another seat magically appeared in the aisle and 2 more people were made to sit in it. Then the children were goaded into sitting on the sacks of food that littered the floor. Just to get the image straight, the children sat between the legs of the already jammed passengers, and the seat in front. There was some grumbling. I wished I could have understand it, but again when anyone looked at me I just grinned.
I knew that I should have worn my zip-on legs, because no one in this country except tourists exposes there knees, so mine stuck out like a sore thumb. The old man in the aisle seat in front of me reached around and started rubbing and squeezing my bare leg. Not meanly, but with real curiosity. After a while I had to gently slap his hand away and said, “Hey, don't mess with the tourists!” He stopped and everyone had a good laugh– I guess.
When we finally arrived 6 long hours later in Sen Monorom it seemed to be a bustling city, but no one was interested in me, so I picked up my bag and just began to walk. When I reached the busy street a young man on a brand new bright green motorcycle, asked me me in broken English where I was going. I told him Natures Resort. He said, $3. Now I knew it was only supposed to cost $1, but I simply replied, OK.
As soon as I mounted the rear seat I knew he was a brand new driver. Why, because first he dropped my bag, and then rolled over it. I secretly was happy that I had put all my camera gear in my backpack. As he was profusely apologizing, the bike fell over on its side. Once righted, we were on our way until he killed the engine, and we almost fell over again, but this time I was ready and put out my legs to steady us.
“So sorry, so sorry, so sorry,” he kept repeating as we lurched forward. A short while later we stopped while he called the hotel to find out where they were. Yes, yes I was ready again to catch us from falling. Eventually after terrorizing the passenger and maybe the driver too, we reached Natures Resort. As I was paying him the inflated rate, the bike fell over again. Helping him lift it up, I asked, “New bike?” “Yesterday,” he beamed proudly.
Sen Monorom, Mondulkiri Province, Cambodia
You know that you are old when…….
I was frantically trying to hook up a tour to the waterfalls that I had been hearing so much about. Everyone seemed to want me to do an overnight trek, but I had made this mistake before, so I knew that it would just be constant marching for hours on end. All you could do was watch your feet. If you stopped to take a photo, everyone was exasperated waiting for you. So, I thought a one day tour might be better. At first the desk clerk said I was the only one signing up, so we would have to see. Later he told me that another couple had signed up to visit the elephants. That was my second choice. I reasoned the following day I could rent a motorcycle and visit the waterfalls myself.
We left at 8:30. Even at this altitude it was already warm. After a short minivan ride we got out and walked through a village with just three houses. There were no people around. I guessed everyone had already gone to work? We continued down a path for about an hour and a half. I wished I had worn my hiking shoes, instead of my Tevas, as the terrain was more than I was expecting–both time wise and rockyness. Still I did pretty good even cutting a walking stick for myself to make things safer and steadier.
Reaching the two elephants, there were four of us. It was decided that the young girl and I would take the first ride. Her boyfriend and our guide, Cham would walk behind us. It was terrifying to say the least to mount this huge animal, but the worst part was, once on top, how far you had to spread your legs to stay on. That coupled with no padded seat made it in short order a very painful experience. I immediately wished I could get off, but that did not seem possible until we reached the next stopping place where there would, hopefully, be a ladder for us to safely climb down.
One hour later I knew that I would be sore for a good long time. Aside from being spread eagled, the exposed backbone of the elephant had ground a sore spot into my poor ass. I had managed to snap a few quick photos while riding, but I later I discovered that my setting was way too dark. The only real comfort that I had, was hearing that the young and thin girl riding in front of me was having an equally difficult time of it. Holding onto a chain that ran around the elephants middle, juggling a plantain banana that the owner had proudly given to me, and my camera was just not the best way to try to make an artful photo. Still, I was never so happy for anything to be over, except maybe the one night I had spent in jail in my youth!
A half an hour later of walking, and we arrived a nice small waterfall where we were to swim and have lunch. I gratefully climbed down the hill, entered the water and tried to use the waterfall as a makeshift massage on my now aching and wobbly legs. I guess it worked as I did feel a little better.
A hour later the elephants showed back up and got into the water. We were free to get in with them while their owners bathed them. That was indeed the best part of the whole trip. What a treat sitting on these big beautiful ladies. I playfully splashed them and they splashed me in return.
All too soon we were back on the trail. We were give the chance to ride back up the hill, but we all quickly declined. Probably for similar reasons. It was a long two hour trek back to the waiting minivan. By then it was after 5pm. Back at the lodge, all I wanted was a beer and a shower. I was truely happy with myself that I had survived with no major injury. That's when I tripped on the stairs to my bungalow spilling most of my beer, and putting a pretty nice gash in my foot. Karma? I think not!
Safely at home I could feel the golf ball sized knot starting to rise on my ass and I thought to myself that there was no way in hell that I was going to rent, and then sit on a motorbike the next day. Still I reasoned, smiling to myself, no pain, no gain. After all I had ridden on and bathed an elephant. How often does that happen?