Bamboo train in Battambang!

Trip Start Jan 12, 2013
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Trip End Feb 27, 2013


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Flag of Cambodia  , Khétt Bătdâmbâng,
Sunday, January 27, 2013

Where to begin?! Whew. That's where. I'm beat. But, before I launch into today's activities, I want to make an addendum to the entry from yesterday. I forgot to include the phenomenal intermittent honking of the bus. Honks are used as a form of communication in most other undeveloped nations. Since there are no hard lines on how many lanes a road is or when a passing area is designated, the horn allows upcoming drivers to warn other, slower transports (I can' t say vehicles here because they are often pedestrians or bicycles) that they are passing them. For a bus, I feel they use the horn more as a train would since the bus is one of the biggest vehicles on the road. This whole system really works out pretty well--like runners yelling 'left' or 'right' to let other runners know they are approaching, passing, and to not do any sudden movements. However, when you are on a bus and have had the fleeting chance to fall asleep, the squakking of a bus horn jolts you awake. I liken it to the clown car horn---WONK! WOONNNKKK! You begin to feel as if the bus driver senses when you relax again and just close your eyes because he chooses just that moment to let 'er loose again. (Did I mention I'm heading to Siem Reap tomorrow morning on another lovely 5+ hr bus trip?--Why hasn't anyone taken me up on my offer to meet me here??!!).
Okay, on to the real fun stuff. Today, my friend Claude and I took a tuk-tuk tour for the whole day. One of the highlights was that we got to ride the fabled bamboo train! For those of you that don't know, I was at Grandma's house over Christmas and my mom came across a National Geographic article talking about this 'bamboo train' in Cambodia. We all thought it was interesting timing since I was headed to se Asia. However, the article was from spring 2011 and the bamboo train was slated to be dismantled in 2012. Well, I am happy to report that it's end is now scheduled for early 2013 and so I eeked in right at the end! The bamboo train is literally just that--a bamboo platform on two rail wheels run by a 6 hp engine set on the top. The trains were created by inventive Cambodians that wanted to move and carry goods from one city to the next. Obviously, that would be expensive. Right at their doorstep lay an unused, defunct rail line put in by the French way back when. Eureka!   They fashioned easy to assemble and disassemble 'car' or 'norry's' as they are called.  Since there is only one track, when they encounter another norry, the one with the most goods/passengers takes precedence and the other car is disassembled to allow passage.  The rails are incredibly misaligned and uneven (making for a most interesting and sacrum breaking ride). At various moments you are sure the entire contraption is going to snap apart like dry twigs, but it holds on through every bone-jarring uneven rail joint. The uneven rails bang with such force when you hit them that one of my flip-flops fell off! I think I'm going to have spine issues if nothing else after this trip. Nevertheless, it was really cool to get to see something in National Geographic and then experience it in real life!
Then, it was on to a Wat (temple). This particular one, Wat Banan, was built in the 11th century on top of a hill of course. Three hundred something steps lead to the top. I didn't know what 300+ steps was like, but after climbing them (which are not all a standard 8 in height let me tell you), 300+ steps in jungle heat is quite the little mid-afternoon workout. All I can think about is who in the flippin world hauled all those damn rocks up that damn hill??!!
After that temple, we went to Cambodia's only winery where they served alcoholic grape juice called wine and turpentine they called brandy. Man, oh man, was it strong. The wine was obviously very sweet. The actual grape juice they sold was quite yummy.
As we're visiting these places, I'm brushing up on my reading and learn some very disturbing things. The province I'm in, Battambang, is considered remote. Thus, there are still many unexploded land mines lurking. It is highly highly recommended to never stray from a worn path. The landmine situation in Cambodia is the worst in the world. I had no idea. Between the pull and tug among the Vietnamese, United States, Thailand, and the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia has been stuck in the middle as a line in the sand so to speak. In order to secure various borders and towns, all these coutries laid landmines. There are more than 4 million of them. In the mid-1990's around 300 people per month were injured or died from landmines. Cambodia has the highest amputee rate per capita than any other country in the world. Today, a mere 15 people are maimed or killed each month. Each MONTH! The things I was reading called landmines the worst kind of warfare because they recognize no ceasefire. They continue destroying lives for years and years. There are land mine detection teams working around these areas to find and detonate the remaining landmines. So far, they are neutralized around 900,000 of them.
We move from one sobering subject to another because after the winery, we went to the 'Killing Cave'. Swell, just swell. This is a cave where the Khmer Rouge would bash heads in or slit throats and then push the people over the edge into the cave. You guessed it. We got to go down into the cave and see where this happened along with the collection of skulls of the victims. All the while, you are navigating through the few beggars that are making their home/living on top of this mountain. It is incredibly difficult to think of what these people went through and then see the poverty sticken people nearby begging for money. Hell, at the bus station yesterday morning, I saw a blind man playing some hand made string instrument (appeared to be made from a long handled mallet). This man was elderly and was being led by a leash around his waist by a younger man who was only blind in one eye. Are you kidding me??!! I donated to these guys because despite the obvious handicap and inability to hold a normal job, they had used ingenuity to sell a skill. There is no social security safety net in Cambodia.
After that lovely stroll down hell's lane, we moved on look at the fruit bats' exit from their cave at dusk. Whoo hoo huh? Well, let me tell you, this was extraordinary. Millions and millions of fruit bats, as if on cue, began pouring out of this cave in a line swarm. They formed a line across the sky like an undulating black snake. They pour out in that stream for over 45 minutes!!   Forty-five minutes! They used to pour out for 2 hours, but were devastated by the bird flu a few years back. Today, they try to keep them safe for the tourists and for the guano. Twice a month, someone enters the cave at night and scoops all the excrement out and then sells it. This is a government job. Can you imagine what 'skill' you list on your resume for this? Oh wait, I think I have done similar jobs... 

My shower this evening was unparalled.  The sweat that flowed freely today allowed the dust, dirt, and grime to coat my body in a resistant paste.  I regret to inform everyone that I may have cave feet now.  I washed the bottoms and they remained black!  I refuse to accept this.  Clawing at my quickly callousing feet, I managed to scratch the grime from my skin.  I wire brush may not be such a crazy idea.  lol!  I am happy to report that after that shower, I could run my hand over my skin without it getting 'stuck' on the sticky residues.  Reminds me a lot of growing up and working in the dirt.  I am sure many of you can sympathize. 

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kim on

for god sakes don't get a crack in your feet!!! you will have bugs galore!

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