Cambodia - Heaven and Hell - PART TWO: HEAVEN

Trip Start Aug 05, 2009
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Trip End May 29, 2010


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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Sunday, February 28, 2010

“Do you trust me?? OK – hang on!!”

Thank god I couldn't actually see ahead of us as we swerved head first into oncoming traffic. I was sitting side saddle on the back rack of a petal bike, circa 1963, as Sergio fearlessly dodged and swerved his way through another of Phnom Penn's crazy intersections. The thin medal bars were relentless digging into my butt as I grabbed ahold, held my breath, and grimaced my closed-eyed face into the back of his shirt. It reminded me of the last set of instructions before the kayaking accident... “Stay right, hold on, and hope for the best!!” Great – that's soooo comforting!!

The traffic system in Cambodia is organized chaos. Centre lines are more decorative than functional and traffic lights are few and far between. Pedal bikes, scooters, taxis, tuk-tuks, buses and ox-driven carts all weave together in a surprisingly effective, if not completely daunting, roadway system. If you didn't know better you'd think each vehicle was destined for disaster with head-on collisions at every turn. But somehow it all seems to work.

Making a left turn (they drive on the right) is simply executed by veering into oncoming traffic in a slow steady pace in relatively straight line. As long as you don't deviate or make any sudden moves, they “should” go around you.

We let out a little cheer of victory and relief after we successfully navigated our way across 4+ lanes of traffic, fully intact and smiling! Finally I could breath again... for at least a few minutes more!

Thankfully Cambodia wasn't all about wretched suffering and gut wrenching emotion as described in my last entry. The transition to happier times can often be as simple as meeting a new friend.

The travel-companion courting rituals is a funny process but, perfecting this ritual means the difference between finding yourself feeling very alone in a big foreign country – or often having the time of your life. The decision to becoming friends can happen in as quickly as a couple minutes, to a couple hours, to maybe a day. Travel relationships are unique and intense, and although inevitably transient, capable of developing lifelong bonds. You quickly become – best friends – (or RBF – random [new] best friends) meaning, for your time together, you're each others' sole confidant and companion, watching each others' back, being their extra eyes, and providing each other a shoulder. In some ways, you're responsible for each others lives.

I met my RBF, the wonderful fellow traveler, Sergio, after the killing-field-hell of Phenom Penn. We soon traded in his pedal bike for one with a motor and cushioned seats and headed to south to Sianookville, Kampot, and Kit for one of my favorite parts of traveling – touring the countryside on a scooter. It is an unbeatable sense of freedom. Those times with the wind in your hair, breathing in the sights and smells, passing water buffalo and palm tree groves, finding random beaches, waving at smiling children who running just to see the “ferongs” (foreigners), you feel totally open and totally free.

Traversing through rural fishing villages introduced me to the beautiful side of Cambodia. The simplicity and innocence of its people is epitomized through the womens' garbs. Picture classic Christmas morning pajamas. Matching flannel tops and bottoms of flowers or teddybear patterns. I first arrived in Cambodia in the morning and wondered if the women just hadn't changed yet. But alas, this is the fashion. The only thing missing is the sleeper feet!

We offered “tribal” face paintings to village children, were welcomed with incredible enthusiasm into the homes of the locals, and ate fresh fruit from the stands on the side of the road. Each evening was a $3 seafood BBQ feast along the beautiful sandy coastline. Life was good! I soon found out however, through the randomly festering sores in the corner of my mouth, that the roadside fresh fruit was kept “fresh” by spraying chemicals and preservatives directly on the meat! No more streetside pineapple meant no more sores on my mouth. An acceptable trade I suppose.

Sergio and I said goodbye, and I headed solo up to Ankor Wat. That place is deserved of an entire entry – but suffice now to say it was awe inspiring!! One of the most remarkable wonders in the world. I was glad to see that humanity, although capable of unspeakable evil, is also capable of breathtaking wonder.

...and now the adventure continues, once again, in Thailand.
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