On Friday I ventured out again with a plan in mind to visit the local market a few streets away from where the guest house is. Despite it being only a simple walk away (turn left out of the guesthouse take the next turning on the left) I managed to get lost fairly quickly by not concentrating and going right of of the guesthouse! Anyway, a slightly longer walk later and I was at the market. Really a smaller version of the central market, selling the usual - However, this one was slightly more authentic as there were no other tourists about and the focus of the market was food. Women were sifting though massive piles of rice while others played cards. The meat stalls I am quite used to now but the fish stalls that I came across here were new to me in that the fish were still alive in about 2cm of water - flapping away waiting to be someone's dinner. I was not tempted to see one battered (to death - rather than the fish and chip shop variety of batter) for me despite the sellers delight that she would love to assist me.
Following the market I managed to walk to Tabitha which is an organisation that exists to assist women learn a craft so that they may earn a living by making the products and Tabitha then buys and sells them. Cambodian silk products are a specialty. Women undertake a six-week training course at which point they have usually made enough money to purchase a sewing machine to take home. Tabitha places orders with its home-based handicrafts teams, who receive a regular income. In the shop I was pleased to find items that will help me when I (hopefully get round to) teaching children English like big fabric dice, counting charts, ABC ....
I then took a long walk (Khmer people think walking is mad a) its boiling hot b) you are a rich westerner why would you walk anywhere) to try and find a Wat (temple) that appeared to be quite close - when I got there is was practically a shell as it was being renovated so instead I walked a little further but soon got fed up of the heat and hailed a moto to take me to a Wat in the centre of the city. My intention was to visit one of the city's original wats founded in 1422 which I had gone past on a few occasions (Wat Ounalom). However, I read the map wrong (!) and instructed the moto driver to take me to Wat Sarawan which is just behind Ounalom. I realised when I was dropped off that I was not in the right place but I looked around this wat first and was very pleased that I had made the mistake as the monastery was very peaceful and quite beautiful. The monks found it very funny when I could say hello in Khmer.
I then walked to Wat Ounalom which was, as it always seems to be, shut. The outside surroundings of the wat were nice enough but as it was nearly lunch it was obligatory to go to the FCC for a beer.
The afternoon was filled with the joy that its Cambodian bureaucracy. The bag that was had sent by cargo had arrived at the cargo terminal of the airport. A (second) trip to the airport was necessary today because we had now written to the customs minister (or something like that) and pleaded to have the bag (your excellency, humble servant etc etc) and his official had stamped the form earlier in the day.... Anyway, after being shifted from one official to the next (over 13 officials to be more precise in the whole process) and about eight official stamps later the bag was released and could go! Very amusing, but I started to get a little impatient (that's not like Michelle I hear you cry!!!) when we were told the bag leave only to be brought back to show any other man the papers again, so he could pass them to another man, so he could just say "ok"....!
On Saturday I had booked a tour with Betel Nut Jeep tours to go to Phnom Tamao Zoological Garden and Wildlife Rescue Centre (PTWRC) - a safari park/reserve/zoo about 40km from the city. Our guide, Barb was really great. She was accompanied by Dareen (not sure of the spelling) who was a young female Khmer who was learning to take over from Barb.
The PTWRC was set up by the Government as a much needed wildlife rescue centre. The animals at the centre have been rescued and if possible will be rehabilitated to be released. Many of the animals are endangered. I was concerned that visiting this centre would be a disappointment at the way the animals are kept but the animals were kept in good conditions - there was none of the polish that comes with a western zoo, but the enclosures were large and the animals seemed very happy. The great thing about it not having the airs and graces of a western zoo (with no health and safety laws!) is that interaction with the animals is greater! The Betel Nut tour has a special relationship with the centre (Barb is presently pioneering a project to make cards out of elephant poo at the centre!) so getting up close to the animals was a great experience.
The first close up experience was with a group of crazy otters all screaming for coconut! After drinking our green coconut juice the boys, who had been in intense negotiations with Dareen about the price of the coconut since our arrival, cut up the flesh of the coconut into manageable pieces (they had been waving a massive knife for quite sometime so it was pleasing to see it being used for this process rather than something else) and returned it to us. The otters would then grab the coconut piece from you with their webbed "hands" which were surprisingly strong and were just like a small child's hand but with webbing. As we moved on, one of the otters played with the coconut husk in the pool throwing it in the air and chasing it.
We got to meet a gibbon and her baby and scratch her leg and head which she loves and would follow you sticking her leg out of the enclosure waiting for a scratch...
We also met Lucky the elephant at a nearby bathing pool. She was rescued when she was 6 months old as poachers had killed her mother. Often small elephants do not survive (even if rescued) as they want their mother but the dedication of Lucky's keeper when she arrived, by spending 24 hours a day with her for months, ensured that Lucky survived and is a very pleasant elephant who responds to voice commands. Lucky soon was in the pool and so a wash was in order. I was able to go into the water with her which was amazing. Lucky's loves human kisses -this involved blowing down her trunk - so I got to "kiss" an elephant as well as be groped by her trunk which left a great deal of elephant snot on my trousers. Elephants do not understand inappropriate groping!
Later in the day we returned to Lucky and her 3 elephant mates (including one baby elephant) to feed them - but not before we were treated to a Lucky dance. Some Khmers had paid for the privilege - the centre accepts donations of this kind so that the elephants can have better enclosures/food etc over and above that which is presently given to them. Lucky is famous in Cambodia. She has appeared dancing with a famous Cambodian pop star, Preap Sovath - apparently everyone loves this pop star here, and she has shot to fame in his recent karaoke video which you can find on youtube (search: Preap Sovath - Domrei Tnom Sane - its worth a look)! Surprisingly, Lucky has a great sense of rhythm and was happy enough to dance of her own accord when the music (a CD player attached to a car battery - there is no electricity at the centre) started up. Lucky also clearly knows the smell of the American dollar, when the Khmer paid for the dance direct to Lucky instead of gulping it down (as she had just been doing with sugar cane) she handed (trunked?) it straight to her keeper.
We then fed the elephants the bananas we had brought with us. Taking them with their trunks the elephants would eat an entire bunch as fast as you could break the bananas off and given then to them.
We also got to meet the tigers face to face at their feeding time. It was amazing being less than a metre from tigers (one on each side of you) with only chicken wire separating you from an angry tiger. They were amazingly large and powerful creatures - They looked cuddly enough (!) but a few of the keepers had received scratches so a trip into the enclosure itself was not covered by my insurance!!!
By the time we had returned I was covered in elephant snot and was totally filthy but the close up encounter was amazing and well worth doing the trip with Betel Nut.