|The days are certainly flying by and we are all acclimatising to the heat, dust and food remarkably well. We had a wonderful time in Ratanakiri province treating ourselves to a night of luxury on the last night by staying in a French run hotel which was converted from the ex-Governor’s home into a hotel with a pool. We braced ourselves for big day of travel the next day, proving to be a longer one than the 10 hours on the way up from Phnom Penh. This time we had the van all to ourselves travelling with two of Jeremy’s friends as well, Dave a fellow NGO worker and Sal a restaurant owner in Banlung which is a favourite haunt among the expats. Sal has a wee boy called Rob who is 18 months old and quite the sweetie but with no car seats or seat belts an 18 month old boy can be quite the handful on a 10 hour car journey!! Rob never seemed to get tired and walked around the van the whole journey!! Luke seemed to love a child smaller than him and stuck to him like glue. It was a bit tricky telling Luke he couldn’t do something a younger boy was allowed to do but there were some things I was just not happy watching!! At one stage cellphones kept them quiet for a while though!
They are in the process of building a new road to Banlung and so there is a 2 hour stretch of road which is so potholed and cut up that the traffic travels incredibly slowly and the bumps are nothing short of bone shaking! Funnily enough this stretch of road seemed quicker on the way back (why is that?) and before we know it we arrived at Krache which is on the Mekong for lunch. I particularly love the market stall you see in every town in Cambodia. Everything is sold, clothes, shoes, food, meat, fish, pots, pans, you name it they sell it and this market had more charm being right next to the mighty Mekong. It’s a particularly wide river and appears to have a very fast flowing current but there is also a fair bit of life along it’s shores, shame about the horrid rubbish though – plastic has a lot to answer for! We bought 3 pairs of flip flops / jandles, some hair clips and some new looking snack things during the lunch break. After lunch a completely new van turned up to take us down to Phnom Penh. Apparently this happens frequently, the driver strikes up a deal with some illegal logger and transports some freshly milled part of the rainforest into the capital for some ill gotten gain so along with our new van and new driver (complete with assistant) we also had a few planks of wood under our feet. We would have made more of a complaint about this new arrangement but 1) Dave had already paid the previous driver in full so if we objected we might have to pay again, 2) the new van was bigger and more comfortable than the last and 3) we wanted to keep moving, we had 6 more hours to go! What we didn’t realize was that our new driver was a driver with an attitude and neither Jem, Jeremy nor myself could relax one little bit as this driver took chances which had less than a 40/60 chance of getting through. He didn’t like being told to slow down repeatedly, or turn his music down so when he started lighting up a cigarette (which no one else has done since we’ve been here) we decided to let it go so we could keep our complaints to his driving. His side kick took a shine to Lukie boy and at one stage when they took on extra passengers (bearing in mind we had paid for the whole van) he jumped in the back and sat next to Luke. This man was all smiles and Luke could see he was trying to be friendly so he suddenly asked to borrow our Khmer phrase book to try to communicate with the guy. He had found New Zealand in the book so wanted to show him where he was from. Despite the driver being crazy, his side kick was kind and even wrote some English words on his hands for Luke to read. You know 8 hours or was it 9 hours in a van can go quite quickly and before too long and after we had taken on many more passengers we found ourselves at the bus stop (Cambodian style) where we had to get out and wait for the next bus to Kampong Thom otherwise we’d find ourselves in Phnom Penh. Unfortunately we had to wait an hour and a half at this bus stop for the bus which meant we arrived into Kampong Thom quite late at about 11pm, I think that made it a 14 hour travel day!! I have to say the kids were amazing, so accepting of the day, no complaints and not even too tired. They watched a video on the last bus which made them laugh which was nice to hear and I was relieved the hotel we were staying at was clean and good, I had been worried, at only $7US I didn’t hope for much!!
The next morning we were up early as we had to meet some World Vision staff as we had arranged to meet up with our Cambodian sponsor child, Leak Hai. We had all been very excited to meet her, thinking our letters would have more meaning having met her, we just hadn’t anticipated that it would be tough on her. Leak came to meet us at the World Vision office with a friend of the family.
Her mother was out in the rice fields and her father was at home unwell as he had been lifting heavy weights at the nearby mine and was feeling sick from overwork. Leak’s nature was incredibly shy anyway, so her ‘aunty’ said and was always the quiet one at home anyway. I asked her if she had any friends who had sponsor families but she said no, I felt for her, not only is she the only one in her class with a sponsor family, but they actually turn up to meet her! Not only that, her Aunty said she had never even met a foreigner before!! Her family was exactly the kind of family who will benefit from World Vision involvement in their community so we are pleased we are still sponsors but I couldn’t help feel a wee bit sorry for Leak, the day was quite overwhelming for her.
We all went for lunch after we gave her some gifts for her and her family members, then she was taken back to her village and I think went to school. Her ‘aunty’ told us she went to school mostly but there were times she had to stay back and help look after the animals and siblings while her parents worked.
After lunch we said goodbye to Leak and the World Vision driver drove us to Siem Reap, where we planned to stay for a few days relaxing after our travel days, visiting the Ankor Wat temples and generally chilling out. As it turned out Siem Reap was the perfect place to ‘chill out’, but that is another blog!