Friday, October 21, 2005

Drop back and punt

Well, I still can't get my laptop connected. So, I'm going to just retype my post from the 20th. I'll belch a bunch of pictures at once later.

October 20

Well, after what seems to have been a week's worth of transit, we've returned to Phnom Penh. Yesterday at 6:30 a.m. we left the TE'O Hotel in Battambang. Theara took our truck and some of our luggage back to Phnom Penh, and we took a taxi with Nera, our translator, and two days' worth of clothes and cameras in our backpacks to a ticketing station about a mile north of our hotel. When we arrived the agent told us that the water was too high, and that our boat could not clear the bridge oif we left from that location, so we packed ourselves into the back of a pickup truck along with three Khmers, two Italians, an Austrian, two Brits and an Irisman who turned out to be Liam Neeson's cousin.

Most of the passengers sat on the edge of the truck bed. A couple of people sat down at their feet. Nera and I stood, hanging onto a railing mounted to the back of the cab. Thankfully, the roads to the dock were pretty smooth. Even though they were unpaved, they were a heck of a lot better than the ones we had taken the day before, wehen we went to visit Theara's uncle, who lives just outside of Battambang. Those roads were, quite possibly, the worst roads in the world. As my dad remarked, "Even the potholes have potholes." You could have carpet-bombed the roads and improved their condition. In fact, we got our truck stuck in a rut and had to ask for help from a local peddler, who donated some empty sacks to put under the wheels for traction.

When we finally arrived at the launching point, we found that our boat was a little bigger than I expected, and it was actually covered to protect us from the showers that often pop up unannounced at this time of the year. Our group found seats in the back next to Paul, the Irishman, and a couple of Khmers. The seats were reasonably comfortable, and we were protected from the hot sun, and from the rains, which eventually did come. After things dried out a bit, I headed up to the top of the boat, where a number of other people had sprawled out. It was sunny, but since we were in motion, the winds cooled us down considerably. The countryside sights were amazing -- people living on houseboats and in stilted shanties much as they did hundreds of years ago (except for the fact that hundreds of years ago, they didn't have TVs hooked up to car batteries for entertainment).

It wasn't untill we arrived in Siem Reap seven hours after leaving Battambang that I realized just how sunny it had been. As the Cambodians say, I was 'red as a rooster.' I was so badly sunburned that my lips and the rest of my face were exactly the same color. Someone said later, "I think the Cipro you're taking might make you more susceptible to sunburn." Hmm...I do think I remember someone mentioning that before. Anyway, I looked like a lobster, and the tanline around my neck was so distinct, I looked like I'd been in a Maaco spraybooth.

Though I was pretty uncomfortable, I wasn't about to take much of a rest once we reached Siem Reap. We checked into the hotel, grabbed some lunch and hired two tuk-tuks to get us out to Angkor Wat, which is about 20 minutes outside of the city center. We were running late due to our prolonged river journey (it was supposed to take 5 hours), and the park closes at sunset.

This was my third trip to Angkor; it still amazes me. I still get chills when we approach the massive moat, and turn the corner toward the temple gates. I'm still dumbstruck by the shocking scale and beauty of the temple itself, a marvel of engineering and architecture in any age, a miracle for having been conceived and constructed in the 10th Century.

I had never been to Angkor near sundown, and was delighted to see the ancient complex in a new light. As the warm, yellow sun descended toward the horizon, the monks' long shadows and saffron robes lent a truly magical, otherworldly charm to the already fantastic, mythic vista. I haven't yet checked my photos; I'm sure they won't convey the breathtaking spectacle to even a small degree.

AS the sun began to set, Nera said, "Hurry! I know the best place to see the sunset." We practically sprinted back to our tuk-tuks and sped away to a hillside a mile or so down the road. Throngs of people had also had the same idea. Kate, John, Nera and I began the steep ascent. My dad decided to save his knees and wait at the bottom. I was so tired from the jouirney, the sickness, the sunburn and the hiking around Angkor that I almost didn't make it. When we got to the top, Nera said disappointedlhy, "Well, it is too cloudy. The view will not be as good." Yeah, it was cloudy, but the view was still spectacular.

The hill was an old temple mound, and we stood upon the ruins and peered out over the valleys below. On one side, the sun was setting over a wide plain of rice fields and palm trees. On the other, Angkor's towers rose above the forests, and could only be seen thruogh a veil of thickening hze. Not a pristine view, but definitely worth the climb.

We decided that we should descend before the crumbling, thousand-year-old steps below were completely obscured by darkness, and we found that the way down was perilous, but much easier than the way up. Our tuk-tuk drivers gave us a quick tour of the old city of Siem Reap before returning us to our hotel. After a quick dinner in a recently restored French colonial mansion, we all went to bed.

We got up this morning at 6:000 and boarded the bus to Phnom Penh. We were, thankfully smart enough to buy two 6-dollar tickets for each person. The seats on Cambodian buses are not designed to accomodate Americans' ample behinds. After an uneventful 5 hour trip, we made it back to the capital city. We've settled in at the guest house, and Kate and John are preparing to take off for a date -- it's their four year wedding anniversary. My dad and I are meeting a couple of friends for dinner. Tomorrow morning, we'll head out to Chiang Mai, Thailand. I don't know much about Chiang Mai. This is my first trip there, and I'm anxious to absorb a new setting, a new culture and a new language. I'm also excited about meeting a new group of kids at our recently opened Chiang Mai orphanage.

Please pray for our safety and our continued health. I'm back to about 90%, and my sunburn has subsided a bit. My biggest complaint at this point is that I miss my family terribly. Please check in on them if you have the chance.

Much love,

John

1 comment:

erica said...

OH NO!
When I was there you could ride an elephant up and down that hill. The view IS good. I have a painting of it. I'm glad you got there.

Erica