Saturday, December 29, 2007

Cambodia (part 16)

Our arrival in Cambodia was fairly shocking. It was 1997 (was that really 10 years ago?), so it was pre 9/11 and tight airport security.

Soldiers walking around the airport carrying large automatic weapons was a strange sight. I was told they were ak-47's. There were also soldiers posted on several streetcorners, and guarding a few compounds.

My fear was gone by this point, and the soldiers added to the feeling of adventure. We all crammed into a few tiny vans, and immediately thanked the person who had invented deodorant.

It was really hot, and we were really crammed. And a few people's deodorant had unfortunately failed them.

The streets were terrible, unpaved and potted so badly that we would bounce up and hit our heads on the top of the van. Plus, the drivers seemed a bit crazy. They relied more on their horns than on any laws we could figure out. And we all were shocked at the motorcycles and mopeds zipping around carrying entire families, loads of chickens, even baskets upon baskets of fresh bread.

And one of the American workers who lived in Cambodia zoomed by on the back of one that was used as a taxi.

And she was riding sidesaddle.

Holding onto nothing with her hands calmly folded in her lap.

Two years later, I would find myself in the same position, sitting two or three people on a moped, hoping the driver didn't hit a pothole and bounce me right off the back. But at that point we had so many people on the team that we traveled in vans and SUV's.

The first few days of our trip were set aside for sightseeing. We visited outdoor markets, where women squatted on tables and hacked the heads off chickens to give you fresh meat.

And they sold some sort of cockroach-looking bugs in large baskets as snacks.

About three or four days into the trip we took a tour of the Royal Palace. The wealth of it was staggering after the poverty outside the gates.

The rainy season was beginning, and being from California, I hadn't ever experienced the huge thunderstorms that could happen in Cambodia. Even inside the palace and the temples we could feel the thunder shaking the walls.

And then, one of the older men who was with the team turned to his wife and murmured in her ear, "I was in Vietnam. And that wasn't thunder." I looked around, but I was the only person who had heard them, and we all continued with the tour, until we were greeted by a strange sight.

A group of Japanese business men, all in their staid black suits were leaving the temple. But they didn't stop to put their shoes on.

They ran barefoot for the exit.


A Stone Gatherer said...

O.K. this is exciting! Can't wait for the next installment!

Frazzmom said...

Another cliff hanger ending- you're killing me!

;-) LeeAnn

Heather said...

I was scheduled to go to Cambodia the next year but it got pushed back because of the death of Pol Pot and I couldn't make the later date because of an internship. I can't wait to hear what comes next!