Friday, March 5, 2010
Cambodia Part 1
Flying into Cambodia we saw only swamps and rice paddies. And let’s be honest – rice paddies are just cultivated swamps.
Life in a hostel is a bit different than life on a sailboat. All the feral backpackers have kennel cough. We under packed our bags and over packed our itinerary and ran around like 2 week tourists, which was exactly what we had become. Ah – “weekers”: Those working stiffs who think they are going to “do” a country in 14 days. I’ve frowned at them for 4 years, and now I had become one of them. It’s the antithesis of what I signed up for when I bought a boat, sold my car, and graduated from my previous life. Don’t tell my fellow yachties.
I have always said that when I go to Vietnam I’m going to pick a fight with someone just so I can say, “I fought in Nam”. Well, we never made it out of Cambodia, but I did get beat up by a blind man. Now, before you think I’m a complete sissy, please note that it was an over aggressive massage and that I had volunteered. It’s charity, and the massage wasn’t all that bad. This country has more handicapped people than any other place I’ve ever been. We can blame the landmines for that.
And Now, For A Short History Of The Misery That Is Cambodia:
Before their protracted civil wars commenced, the French used to run the show. So just like Vanuatu – they have delicious baguettes and 2 hour lunches. It’s fun to hate the French, but everywhere they go they do improve the gastronomic abilities of a locale (that was for you Sabine).
And even though Cambodia expelled the French and spent years as a communist regime they are now, of course, a capitalistic society. One might even say “they have embraced capitalism with a vengeance”. If you ever doubt the power of capitalism, please note that there is a Diary Queen in the Phnom Penh airport. A Butterfinger Oreo Blizzard is going to trump Mao’s little red book every time.
I don’t know if we can contribute this next anecdote to the French. My hunch is it’s based on abject poverty: We saw a happy Chihuahua prancing around a parking lot as we drove past in the tuktuk and made a mental note to drop by on our way back to the hotel so that we could pet that little dog. When we arrived I approached the tallest man (almost always the decision maker), and said, “There was a nice little dog here earlier and we would like to pet it”. He leaned closer and in a hushed, but knowing tone said, “Oh, you want to eat that dog.” “NO! NO! Just pet. Only pet. Please mister, don’t cook that dog.”
I did eat crocodile and snake. Reptiles now fear me. When you see beef on the menu – just know that it’s water buffalo. I never saw a moo cow the whole time I was there. Their food is delicious. I am in love with their “dry” curry. We took a cooking class in Battambang and it was a very worthwhile affair. Our translator had only lost one sibling to Pol Pot’s murder factories. That was considered “very lucky”. The depressing stories of these people continually surface.
But It Wasn’t All Bad.
Remember, we’re tourists; we scratch the surface until it gets uncomfortable, and then we go for an ice cream. The first highlight of our trip were the temples of Angkor Wat. They look like giant sand drip castles. We bribed a crooked cop $5 and had the inner sanctum of the largest temple to ourselves for about 20 minutes. It’s impressive on a scale that rivals the pyramids of Egypt. Better get their fast though, because like the Galapagos Islands – this high level of tourism can’t continue unabated.
Most of the structures were built about 800+ years ago but some are over 1,000 years old. Every surface is carved. The amount of detail is just stunning. Angkor Wat was a city of over 1,000,000 people when London had 50,000.