Sunday, March 30, 2008

Dolphins in the provinces

On Wednesday a dawn start for a 7 hour bus trip to Kratie.  

The journey was stunning.  When I say the journey took 7 hours this is true - however I did not realise that at least 2 1/2 hours of this time was due to stops for people to have a snack and to load things - e.g old women, sacks of rice, small kids, post.... - into and off the bus at unscheduled stops.   The journey passed through villages and other large towns.  Banana trees, rubber trees, palm trees and other expansive greenery was breath taking.   What was also breath taking was the driving "skills" of everyone on the road.  I had the joy of sitting at the front so saw all of the near misses as the driver overtook and was overtaken.  The polite thing to do here when overtaking is to beep the horn.  The bus overtook lots and had a very loud horn.  Not so great.  This was combined with Khmer culture - a showing of video of Johnny English (the one with Mr Bean as a 007 character...) dubbed in Khmer.  I hate this type of film at the best of times but the other Khmer passengers (the rest of the bus) loved it.  It may have been the most hilarious thing they had ever seen given their howls of joy... At least I thought it was their favourite comedy until the journey back when a showing of a stand up comedy type show (think the Crankies on crack) was shown.  Now it seems that really was funny!! 

Anyway, the journey finally ended and Kratie awaited.  A small town in the provinces.  The hotel, the guidebook said, was the best in town.  It is run by the wife of a local government official.  Basically a large concrete mansion with lots of wood and "marble" and paintings in garish colours.  Still, the view of the mekong river from the balcony was impressive and for $17 a night it was a good choice.
The next day was spent searching for the famous dolphin that had prompted the entire trip....
The Irrawaddy dolphins are known to only inhabit 3 rivers - all in SE asia.  The Mekong is one of them and is the most important area for the endangered dolphin which can be seen every day in Kampi pool a 40 minute moto ride from Kratie.   The drive to the "pool" (part of the river) was great on a narrow road through villages where wooden huts stand on stilts and where much of the people can be seen outside working on the land or taking a break from the heat (or trying to persuade a monkey to come out of a tree).   

Seeing the dolphins was possible by watching from dry land but seeing them by boat really gave a chance to get a lot closer.  The dolphins are shy and are not like "flipper" and other dolphins of that variety (I don;t just mean performing ones and ones that can identify burning barns and ship wrecked boats... just the ones that live in the sea and have a bottle nose) and so do not come up to the boat itself.  The gently come up to the surface to breathe and then they are gone again.... During the hour boat ride plenty of beautiful dolphins came to the surface, sometimes not too far from the boat.  As the guide book said its practically impossible to take a decent photograph of them - I got a lot of shots with just fins!!!  The experience was very relaxing and the dolphins very beautiful.  There are only 170 of them in the Mekong river so seeing about 10 on this trip was great.   

On the return to Kratie the moto driver stopped at a meditation centre nearby - Sombok Mountain.  Not exactly a mountain but there was about 500 steps to climb in temperature over 30 degrees.    The view at the Wat at the top of the climb was really worth the climb though as you could really get an idea of the landscape of this part of Cambodia.  
The morning after - an early start for the bus journey home.  You have to really love dolphins to endure this trip! 
On Monday, you workers will be pleased to know that I am starting a TEFL course.  The course involves working with children who work/used to work on the infamous dump here in Phnom Penh.  I am really looking forward to that but have spent the day revising grammar by a pool at a 5 star hotel here.  The pool was great, my grammar not so hot.  Thankfully I think these children are just on basics at the moment! 

Pictures: Dolphins, nagas at meditation centre, snack of fried whole chick (beak and all) at "service station" and sunset over Mekong...

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