Tuesday February 5, 2013
Day 27 of G
We are bleary eyed and sleepy but all accounted for in the lobby by 5 a.m. Everyone but Ray that is. He is only a few minutes late but pretty consistent with it. Our resident cynic Chris, will snidely say that it is the Diva in him. Of course he and Jon do have the heaviest suitcases of the group by a longshot
Having said that, Ray is well worth waiting a few extra minutes for.
We drive out to Angkor Wat with one short stop to get Greg a new ticket. It is pitch black out and we need torches to see our way over the uneven blocks of stone. We are at this lovely place with only a thousand or so of our not so close "friends." It is mayhem. There are lots of torches being aimed at people's eyes because their owners are oblivious to anything but themselves. The nationality of the most obnoxious of the tourists shall remain nameless in this journal but since I am a veterinarian I confess that I am politically incorrect frequently and do believe in breed (talking dogs and cats here) profiling at times. It has helped me many times at work both with personality traits and medical issues. I will admit that it is not always correct or helpful but often enough it is.
We settle ourselves on the stairs and ledges of a small temple in front of Angkor Wat to wait. And wait. We have about an hour. Of waiting in the dark. Very dark. Except for the frequent bursts of light that get flashed in your eyes and totally take away any night vision you might have been achieving. One bloody fool was wearing her sunglasses as she tried to use her torch to see.
There are many vendors selling tea, coffee, and hot chocolate. You place an order and they bring it to you. There are also a number of vendors selling books on Angkor Wat. I ask our guide and he tells me that the $5 book is a good one. A woman (western) sitting in front of me begins to smoke and I say very loudly, "Great, now I have cigerette smoke in my face." She was nice enough to respond by asking me if I would like her to go elsewhere. I said yes and she jumped down to finish her cigerette. I don't think that smoking is allowed there anyway.
The sky begins to brighten a little and people start shifting. Unfortunately the temple is being renovated and a huge swath in the front of it is covered in a large green tarp. It kind of defeats the photo op experience.
In a pasture type area to our right is an untethered white horse that apparently had some fun chasing Jon around. At least it made him run. I don't know what he was doing to the horse to evoke that response but he was a little bit breathless when he came over to show us a photo of the horse curling its lip at him. I thought I would check it out so I walked over to where the horse was. It was being manhandled by a woman who was showing off how stupid, e-r-r-r, I meant macho she was. She had the horse by a short rope that was dangling from its halter. It was a small horse but it let her know that it was very unhappy by head butting her and trying to rear up but the stupid, macho woman was determined to show off to the crowd that was gathering. Finally I couldn't stand it any longer and I started to stride down to stop her but Jeff stopped me. Luckily she let go off the rope soon after that.
The sun finally peaked above part of the temple. It was all very anti-climactic. The guide badly wanted to go back to the hotel for the free breakfast buffet but we vetoed him. What a waste of time that would be! Besides missing a meal wasn't going to hurt any of us, except maybe him, but he was getting paid to show us around. It was so much cooler early on that none of us wanted to come back when it was hotter. Then he wanted to eat breakfast at the temple. Again we vetoed that idea. So we got our tour of Angkor.
The temple is spectacular. Of course there are many, many steps. In one or two years they are going to cover up the stone floors with wood. That will make it much safer but I think it will totally ruin the temple.
Angkor Wat was built about 1150 by Suryavarman II. It was a Hindu temple commemorating Vishnu. It is the most popular temple though I personally like Bayon and Ta Prohm better. It is visually, architecturally and artistically magnificent. It is thought to have been constructed as a funeral temple. It faces the west, into the sunset which is symbolic of the passing into the next life for the King. The complex is 1500 meters square. It is reached by an impressive causeway across a 200 meter perimeter moat. There are five towers on top of a three tiered pyramid that is symbolic of Mount Meru. There is an 800m colonnade with immense bas-reliefs that depict historical battles and scenes from Hindu epics.
There are many small squares and rectangles that have been chiseled out of the reliefs by looters looking for gold.
Inside the temple there is a queue that takes you up some very steep (sound familiar?) stairs into a main area of the temple. When we were here the other night a policeman tried to charge us $5 to go up. It is supposed to be free of charge. We didn't pay but also didn't get to go up. The views from the top are spectacular. It is very extensive up there but there are always more stairs. Every 10 feet or so there are about 5 stairs up, go across a few feet, then down. Continue and repeat all the way around the inner area.
After we finished here the guide tried to talk us into breakfast again or just calling it quits. He said that we have seen all of the important temples and the rest would be anti-climactic. We voted him down and elected to visit one more temple.
First we took a short trek the back way to the van. We went past a very pretty lake. The guide warned us that there might be "cheeky monkeys" there. Sure enough we see our first monkey and act like aliens has invaded. It became a major photo op especially after we spied the baby. After being convinced to walk on we saw more and more monkeys. They could have cared less about us and let us get quite close. I saw one sitting on a very low piece of wood and as I was walking away another monkey started walking toward me. As I tried to avoid that monkey I stopped watching where I was walking and literally came within a foot of stepping on another monkey. Apparently she wasn't about to move so thankfully I spotted her in time before we made contact.
The last temple was by simple but nice. I'm glad we went. I think that the guide was starving by then. On the way in a bookseller tried to sell me the $5 book for $10. The printed list price is $27.95. I told him that I could have bought it for $5 but he was adamant. I declined and went to climb the temple. On the way back he was waiting for me and ambushed me. We went through the whole thing again and I kept saying no. Finally with great disgust he said I could have it for $5. By this time I was tired of him so I said that I wasn't interested anymore. He really got disgusted and told me I must be Chinese. I'm not sure why but it was definately meant to be an insult. I had read somewhere not to negotiate unless you were planning on buying and I did so kind of want the book so in the end I did buy it.
We were back in town by 10:30.. The tour was supposed to go until 1. I guess the guide got a pretty good deal. Maybe breakfast and transport time was supposed to last that extra 2 1/2 hours.
Chris, Jeff and I had Mexican food for lunch. It was only mediocre but the company was good and Chris treated. Thank you Chris. We shopped a bit and then went back to the hotel where I had a well needed shower and nap. I worked on my journaling a bit and then met up with the group minus Greg who had a bit of a GI thing going on and Chris and Jeff who were just being curmudgeons. They didn't want to go see the charity that G adventures supports and have dinner there.
The rest of us divided into three tuk tuks. They took us to one of the slums outside of Siem Riep where the old school and restaurant for the New Hope charities were located. Now the space is used as a shelter. These people are incredibly poor. The housing, roads and garbage were the worst that I have seen yet on this trip. The area used to have many sex workers and the brothels are called karaoke of all things!
The physical plant of the charity was/is horrible. It consisted of a couple of 1 story ramshackle buildings that seemed to be on the verge of collapse. It is hard to imagine how they could have functioned but it was all they could afford at the time. They had one toilet for all of the children, volunteers and staff and it consisted of a bucket and a ladle. They provided food for the families, schooling for the children and some minimal health care.Our guide was a former student and he was quite a good teacher. There were many small children running about and they were very friendly and seemed energetic and happy.
Now this space is used for abused women and children and shelter for some families. We saw one small room that serves as housing for a family of five.
After a short tour we reboarded the tuk tuks to go to the new location of the charity. What a difference. One donor donated enough to build a brand new three story schoolhouse. There is a small bu very clean medical clinic with one doctor and three nurses. Health care here is provided here free of charge. They see approximately400 patients a week.
The average family here lives on $25/month so the government run clinics that charge $1.20 a visit are out of reach and if you don't have the money you will be turned away even if you are dying. Hospitalization costs $2/day if you bring your own mat and $6/day if you bring your own mat but get a bed frame. You must bring someone with you to be your nurse. Amputations and tumor removals are common and if you lack the money for pain killers you don't get any.
With the right connections you can "buy" a child from this neighborhood for $50. Of course the parents are told that you are going to give the child a good home with employment but the kids are trafficked as sex slaves or bought to work the fishing season. More children are bought for the sex industry in Cambodia than from sny other country. many are shipped over the border never to be heard from again. Many of the fisherman just throw the kids overboard when the season ends so that they don't have to pay them. They can always buy new kids for the next season.
We sat in an English class with some upper level students. They were quite good. They have less than 1 work book per two students. I did not see any computers for use by the students.
We then toured the facilities. Again, basic but clean and nice.
We got a short history of Cambodia, the neighborhood and the charity by the PR director who came out from Australia several years ago for a several week stay and who quit his life back there and moved here permanently to help out. He is very passionate about this cause. G adventures and Planeterra are major spinsters of this group.
Cambodia is the poorest of the SE Asian countries. The malnutrition here is the worst in the world. The people here have the worst stunting of their growth because of it. One of three babies dies before they reach 6 weeks of age because the mothers can't breast feed because of their own lack of nutrition. The infants are feed rice milk which can't support them and they die. The children that do survive are required to work to help support the family so many parents won't let them go to school. The cycle of poverty just continues. To combat this New Hope gives the families food but only if the children are allowed to go to school. It is amazing what they have accomplished.
Dinner is at the charity. They have an excellent restaurant that also raises money for the charity. The food and the presentation were probably the best I have had in Asia. The service could use a little tweaking but was still better than we have seen in this country by far. We had real cloth napkins and two, count them, two paper napkins each!
We started with a plate of crickets and yam and banana chips. Clive, Ray, Jon and Kelly all tried the crickets this time. We watches our guide eat one and though the back legs are edible he pulls them off because he says that the little hairs on them get stuck in his teeth.
Next we had excellent fried springrolls and a delightful mango salad. There was amok, rice, stir fried morning glories and coconut tapioca bananas for desert. The evening cost $8 for dinner and transportation and they still made money for the charity while training some kids with marketable skills as well.
We took a tuk tuk to the Red Piano Bar on Pub Street to meet Jeff and Chris who had, wait for it, pizza for dinner. It was incredibly busy and crazy and full of people, scooters and tuk tuks on Pub street but weirdly quiet because there still isn't any music being played because of the kings death. We had one drink, got sandwiches to go for the long bus ride tomorrow and went back to the hotel to call it a night and a good bye to Cambodia.