I’m going Home

2014-03-21

Phnom Pheyn, Cambodia

Well this is it. In another few hours I will be in the air for the marathon journey back to Pipe Creek, TX. Unfortunately, I will be alone, having to leave my lovely wife behind in Cambodia. I know that she is doing what her passion tells her she needs to do, but still I will miss her.

We had some great times on my visit to her. In some ways it was a perfect way for me to travel. Go off, have a little adventure, and them come back to a familiar face and place for some rest and reflection. Even though it seemed relaxing, there was nothing ordinary in the weekends that we spent together. Sure we were eating breakfast out, having fried chicken and glasses of wine for dinner, but after all we were doing all that in Kampong Cham, Cambodia! How cool is that!

I guess that it might be time for a little reflection on how my time in Cambodia went. It was easier and harder than I thought. The people here are more sophisticated and primitive than I thought. It had all of the look and feel of a third world county, but yet many people spoke English, making it easy to get around. The transportation was plentiful and a few steps above a so called “chicken bus”. It was only when you got to the more remote spots that the quality of the transportation started to fall apart.

But probably the best part of Cambodia was something I was not expecting. These are just “good” people. No mater where I was I never felt threatened or intimidated in any way. I never felt that I had to watch my things very closely. In fact, there was one time when my tuk-tuk driver stopped for gas, and there were piles of loose money on the makeship desk that was outside next to the pump. After the lady filled his motorcycle she took the money, laid it on the desk and walked away. I asked, wasn't she worried about somebody taking the money. He said, no, because no one steals here.

The only places anyone begged or hustled was in the ultra touristy spots. And that was another revelation. I was not expecting that amount of tourists. Siem Reip was filled with thousands of tourists. And it wasn't cheap there either. My entry pass cost $40 for 3 days. I wondered what they did with all that money. They certainly didn't spend it on the roads, or signs, which were almost alway in the Khmer language. Perfect for the thousands og Europeans. They didn't spend it on the poor, which littered the streets or their schools.

I had a fabulous time in cambodia. I don't think I will ever come back, but it will always be a memory that I cherish. Now if I could just get my wife home!

 

 

 

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I’m going Home

2014-03-21

Phnom Pheyn, Cambodia

Well this is it. In another few hours I will be in the air for the marathon journey back to Pipe Creek, TX. Unfortunately, I will be alone, having to leave my lovely wife behind in Cambodia. I know that she is doing what her passion tells her she needs to do, but still I will miss her.

We had some great times on my visit to her. In some ways it was a perfect way for me to travel. Go off, have a little adventure, and them come back to a familiar face and place for some rest and reflection. Even though it seemed relaxing, there was nothing ordinary in the weekends that we spent together. Sure we were eating breakfast out, having fried chicken and glasses of wine for dinner, but after all we were doing all that in Kampong Cham, Cambodia! How cool is that!

I guess that it might be time for a little reflection on how my time in Cambodia went. It was easier and harder than I thought. The people here are more sophisticated and primitive than I thought. It had all of the look and feel of a third world county, but yet many people spoke English, making it easy to get around. The transportation was plentiful and a few steps above a so called “chicken bus”. It was only when you got to the more remote spots that the quality of the transportation started to fall apart.

But probably the best part of Cambodia was something I was not expecting. These are just “good” people. No mater where I was I never felt threatened or intimidated in any way. I never felt that I had to watch my things very closely. In fact, there was one time when my tuk-tuk driver stopped for gas, and there were piles of loose money on the makeship desk that was outside next to the pump. After the lady filled his motorcycle she took the money, laid it on the desk and walked away. I asked, wasn't she worried about somebody taking the money. He said, no, because no one steals here.

The only places anyone begged or hustled was in the ultra touristy spots. And that was another revelation. I was not expecting that amount of tourists. Siem Reip was filled with thousands of tourists. And it wasn't cheap there either. My entry pass cost $40 for 3 days. I wondered what they did with all that money. They certainly didn't spend it on the roads, or signs, which were almost alway in the Khmer language. Perfect for the thousands og Europeans. They didn't spend it on the poor, which littered the streets or their schools.

I had a fabulous time in cambodia. I don't think I will ever come back, but it will always be a memory that I cherish. Now if I could just get my wife home!

 

 

Elephants?

2014-03-15

Natures Lodge

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.

 

 

2014-03-16

Natures Lodge

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.

View from the top

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.

Great place for a message

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?

Even though I was sore, I had to do it.

 

Mekong Island Adventure

2014-03-13

Arun Mekong Guesthouse

Kratie, Koh Trong Island, Cambodia

This was another surreal trip. I never seem to quite know what is happening. Even buying my tickets for the town of Kratie, turned out to be an experience, when I was sold two tickets for the same bus. Why? Confusion! It's perfectly understandable considering that I don't even know how to say “hello” in Kamur.

I asked my tuk-tuk driver to try to give away my extra ticket to some needy soul, but he returned and said that it could use it for the return trip to Kampong Cham. We shall see how that goes?

The bus ride was very uneventful. I guessed that 3 1/2 hours was not long enough for a bathroom break, since we didn't stop. We arrived in Kratie right in the middle of the day. I had booked a hotel on the island, and in fact had gotten several phone calls from somebody connected with the hotel–I guess?–but, I was not able to understand a word he said. I walked along the shore and couldn't see anything resembling a boat dock, but there were a zillion steep stairs leading down to a platform where there were a few rickety old boats. I reasoned that that might be the spot as there was nothing else in the immediate vicinity.

Tiny French fries with meat, oh my!

I called back the number that had called me. I plugged one ear and tried to understand what the broken English was saying, but it sounded something like I will come and get you in one hour. “Ok,” I shouted, as if the volume would make a difference. I walked back up the zillion stairs and looked for something to eat. I found a restaurant right across the street and ordered beef with potatos. What I got was barbecued beef chunks on a bed of tiny tiny French fries. I wasn't too disappointed.

Back down to the dock I went, but still no boat. I called and all I could hear was wait for me at the dock, so even though there was a very funky boat getting ready to go to the island I decided to wait. The woman taking money from the passengers was dressed in wool stocking, plastic clogs, leggings, a winter coat, a fleece hat, and a full face wrap, tried to get me to come, but I shook my head no, that I had someone coming for me. She seemed exasperated, but left without me.

One and a half hour later, ten phone calls, and there was still no boat. So when the well winterized lady arrived back with the old wooden boat, I shrugged my shoulders, smiled and said,” “tourist.”” At that point a French bicyclist was also trying to go across. He asked her how much. She said 2000, which is 50 cents, he replied don't try to rip me off lady I know it is 500! I thought, “Are you kidding me?,” but said nothing.

Arriving on the other side there were a sea of faces waiting on the sandy shore lines waiting on the sandy shore. One was smiling a little more than the others. “Arun Mekong Hotel,” I asked. He nodded and grabbed my bag. I tried to apologize for the whole lot of phone calls, but he didn't speak a word of English. He motioned for me to get on the back of a motorbike. Now that was an interesting quandary, because I had been making an unofficial study of passengers riding on the back of motorcycles and bicycles. Up to now I had only riden in tuk-tuk's. Even if the were three, or four or more on one bike, not one of them held onto the person in front of them. That didn't look safe, but I reasoned it was a cultural thing. I'll be damned if I was going to break tradition.

There was about a quarter of a mile of soft beach sand to cross before we hit the main island. There was a makeshift road of three 2×6 planks laid on the sand end to end. It was precarious and very narrow. The boards were not secured and they followed the ups and downs of the dune. He put my large suitcase on the tank, and I got on the back gripping as tightly as I could onto the seat. I could not believe how he was able to control this thing. We made it three quarters of the way, until we hit a particularly steep stretch. Now there was only one 2×8, and the bike slipped off into the soft sand. He struggled to get it back on to the plank, and thenpatting his sides, he motioned that I was to grip him around the waist. I guessed that I was either too heavy or just didn't have the balance.

When we got to dry land there was a concrete sidewalk that ran for probably 2 or 3 miles. It was just wide enough for two bike to pass. When we got to the hotel it was, let's say, more rustic than I thought it would be for $25. My room was on the second floor, and didn't have a private bath, even though I knew that I had in fact booked it that way. I tried to explain to the staff, two very meek teenage girls, but they didn't understand what I was saying. I asked them to call the manager; they dialed and gave the phone to me. Stranglely the manager understood me and I was moved to a downstairs room with bath. I actually preferred the room upstairs, but I said nothing.

2014-03-14

Arun Mekong Guesthouse

Kratie, mainland, Cambodia

1. Meeting with teachers and tuk-tuk driver, complete with spreadsheet comparing USA prices with Cambodia prices. A real learning experience for all.

2. Dolphin viewing

3. Palm milk and tiny dried frogs with tuk-tuk drivers friend

4. Visit with tuk-tuk drivers mother and father. Sorry, no picture.

5. Tea with uncle and family of tuk-tuk driver

6. Dinner, cheese and bacon on a baguette.

7. Back on the island, motorcycle driver stops at managers brothers house for drunken party.

8. Boy am I tired!