Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A change...

I am presently having a holiday in Australia - Which unsurprisingly is remarkably different to home in Cambodia! My main focus has been keeping warm in the freezing (22 degrees -ish) weather!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The end of Third Grade

After the exhibition launch and the visit to the King came the excitement of my last 2 days at School. On Monday my mum accompanied me on 2 school trips with the children. We went to the photo exhibition and to the National Museum. The children seemed to enjoy the photos taken by the CCH children and understood what the CCH children had been through. They had mini questionnaires to fill in and some of the responses were fairly amusing!

My school kids at Gasolina filling in their questionnaires
Miss Michelle's corner of respect

Excited kids wait for the bus to get ready

I now understand why teachers do not see day trips as a fun experience! Try taking 20 excited kids to a museum where many ancient sculptures are finely balanced on plinths with no glass surroundings! ... You need a large drink afterwards. We therefore headed to Friends for dinner. Friends is one of my favourite places. A restaurant run by a NGO that takes street kids and trains them in various vocational skills including how to make the best frozen Margarita in town (below)!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Kep and Kampot

Wednesday was a holiday in Cambodia - Constitution Day. I started to show Mum some of the Cambodian countryside. I had already promised Sambo and Ravuth, 2 of my photo students, I would take them in our taxi to their village as it was on the way to Kep, our first seaside stop. I had been to their village before with the photo project. It is amazing how the people in rural Cambodia live. We dropped off a thank you letter to the palace and were on our way - after a quick 1 and a half hour journey through busy roads crawling with motorbikes stacked with people and goods and over bumpy open roads through rice fields, lotus fields and orchards we arrived.

I had printed out pictures from the last time the "barang was in town" and gave them out to the villagers. What was particularly moving was the small child who could not have been more than 3 who looked at her pictures with complete amazement and laugh lots at her own image!

Ravuth and his mum

We bought cakes as a gift for Sambo and Ravuth's mothers. The children wolfed them down! Here is Sambo and her brother and sister.

Sambo's little brother

The little girl, her father and the dog looking at the pictures I bought back to the village

And they made us a chicken lunch as well....

Mum at the village
We were then on our way to Kep where we stayed at the Kep Lodge - my favourite place to stay. Kep Lodge has great individual bungalows, stunning sea views and a new addition: a swimming pool!!
We checked in and much to everyone's reluctance I insisted we get on a bike and cycle around the coastal road. After some persuasion off we went in the baking humidity to see the derelict mansions and the variety of concrete sculptures that are dotted over the small town. Mum with the bike.. (although not riding it) on the journey back!
Me and mum take a break to pose for a photo and watch a kid collecting rocks (?!) from the bottom of the sea and collect them in a floating polystyrene box!

A lizard I spotted by the bungalow, mum and her bungalow and the dramatic sunsets which seem to be always amazing in Kep.
The next day saw us take an afternoon trip to Rabbit Island. Rabbit Island is just a 20 minute boat ride from Kep's pier and leads you to a delightful tropical island beach with not a lot going on. despite not having any swim wear mum and I decided a swim was in order so in we went, Cambodian style, all clothes on and into the water.

Our boat to the Island
Back at the lodge

Some of the plants around our bungalow
After relaxing at Kep we travelled by tuk tuk for about a hour to the riverside town of Kampot. Kampot is a sleepy town which is full of colonial buildings but not much else.
Last time I was in Kampot I was so impressed. This time I appreciated it more - Our hotel was far nicer (Bokor Mountain Lodge) and I was happy to be out of smelly, polluted Phnom Penh! In addition to that, the next day we were going to go on my first jungle trek in Cambodia to see waterfalls. Ideally, it would have been best to drive up to the deserted old town of Bokor on the top of the nearby mountain but since development works have been going on the access is restricted unless you pay bribes of disproportionate amounts... so in its place we were trekking up part of the mountain. For our first day a walk along the Riverfront and a trip to the Epic Arts Cafe (an organisation that assists disabled people in Cambodia) followed by beer and sunset was enough.

Walk, sunset and our hotel
The next day we were picked up at 7.30am to start our jungle trek. The tuk tuk drove for about 20 minutes down a country lane towards the mountain. The lane was very reminiscent of an English country lane with big hedgerows. The rice fields and people living in stick houses though meant that you could not feel you were in the UK for long! We then became trapped in the mud so we got out of the tuk tuk and pushed... we travelled some more and then came to a "lake" in the road that the driver was not prepared to navigate. Suddenly our walk had just turned about a hour longer... We walked along the road towards the mountain.
Our guide was a man called "Trey/Tree(?)". This man told us of his life. His family had all been killed by the Khmer Rouge because they were educated and when he saw their fate he hid himself in the jungles around Bokor. He lived in the jungle for a year avoiding people because he had no clothes. He made clothes from leaves and lived off things he could find. Eventually, he joined in the war and when the Khmer Rouge were defeated he became a mine clearer for the US. He cleared mines just using a knife!!!! He nearly lost his leg in an accident and so gave that up and eventually he is now a tour guide in the jungle.
The road to the mountain "sorry tutk tuk cannot"
On the road we came across a field that had been cleared of all trees. There was evidence of logging and burning the ground. There is a lot of illegal logging in Cambodia and now we were seeing it first hand.

Rare moments - me smiling on a walk (!) with my Mum, Trey and the mountain in the background

After the road we entered the jungle... wow! This was no walk in the park. We hacked our way through vines and scrambled up rock faces for about 2 hours. We sweated buckets!
And then tired but smiling we made it to the waterfalls! First of all a stop at a smaller fall. We stood on the surrounding rocks which were exceptionally slippy - like walking on ice - and then made our way to the main waterfall below.
The main waterfall was stunning. It was so secluded. It was surrounded by ancient trees with their fingerlike roots clasping the rocks around it. The pool was really deep and you could swim right up to the waterfall itself and drag yourself onto a big tree that had fallen in and lodged itself in the pool. The force of the fall was amazing - you could bearly swim to the base of it.
We then made our way back slowly through the jungle and back down the road to make the journey back to the hotel. I would definately recommend the journey to the waterfall in Boker Mountain. Next time perhaps I will go right the way to the top itself and stay overnight in the ranger's station!
Some jungle life
Some of the colonial buildings still standing in Kampot

We then spent a few nights in Sihanoukville. Cambodia's developing "resort". After an afternoon on the beach we were bored so the next day took a canoe out onto the sea! The aim was to make it from Serendipity Beach to Ream National Park beach. We ended up not quite making it because of a storm approaching but did spend 7 hours out at sea. The results: a worried canoe owner thinking we had drowned and ringing around other bars to see if they had seen us, blisters from the oars, burns from the sun... ummm but all good fun. No pictures of that (we turned over more than once losing various items including my shorts(!) so a camera was not a good idea) but here are some night shots