Sunday, November 21, 2010

Water festivals and ghosts and babies with big heads

It's late. I'm exhausted.  And I have another early start tomorrow.

But I thought I should update my blog before another couple of days pass and I'm on my way home. 

Saturday.  We tackled the temples.  We met a couple of guys who decided to join us on our adventures.  One is from Austria.  The other from Germany.  Great guys who enjoy street food (not such a great idea in Cambodia unless you can identify the mystery meat) and they seem to like taking pictures as much as I do.  We all fit into one large tuk-tuk and set off about 9am. 

I set the itinerary.  I wanted to see some of the smaller temples and avoid all the tourists.  Everyone agreed to follow my plan which was slightly scary to me since my plans are always faulty on some level.  The first temple we visited was Preah Khan, which has probably become my favorite temple since they ruined the "lost temple" atmosphere at Ta Prohm by putting up barricades and wooden walkways.  Preah Khan has lots of small corridors, tons of carved Apsaras (or heavenly dancers with large breasts) and a fair number of trees that are taking down the walls with their large roots.  Although everyone wants to see the Bayon with the large carved heads and Ta Prohm and Angkor Wat, they should really try to see Preah Khan as well, especially since it is usually avoided by the large tour groups. 

I really wanted to find a smaller temple called Ta Nei.  I had seen one picture of it; it looked small, crumbled and completely deserted but the tuk-tuk driver made up all sorts of excuses why we couldn't get there.  Finally he drove us down a long dirt path, which eventually turned into impassible mud and stopped.  If we wanted to see Ta Nei, then we had to walk the rest of the way.  The only problem was that we weren't even sure if we were on the right road (our driver couldn't speak much English) and the map wasn't any help.  To make matters worse, we came to a fork in the road after walking for a couple of minutes.  We decided to split up and jog (!) for a minute and then return back to the spot if we couldn't find anything that resembled crumbling ruins.  The jogging idea belonged to the German dude.  To him, there wasn't anything even remotely bizarre of jogging down a muddy path in the Cambodian jungle in 85 degree heat with strange insects to find a temple.  As it turned out, we DID find the temple and both roads led right to it.  It was an incredible discovery.  We came to the end of the road and there was a relatively intact temple that had absolutely no human presence.  I felt like I was discovering Angkor Wat for the first time.  We were able to climb over the ruins, explore the corridors, photograph anything we wanted without the intrusion of other tourists and pretend like we were Indiana Jones.  We found out later that it was "closed" to tourists because they were using it for "research"??  I have some great pictures of it that I will share later. 

I was driving our tuk-tuk driver a little batty.  He didn't understand what I was saying and I think he wanted to do the regular tourist circuit.  I, on the other hand, wanted a custom tour that went all over the place and even to temples that were apparently closed.  As with all the Cambodians I have met, he was still incredibly tolerant and put up with all of us for almost eleven hours for $28 including tip.  And he was happy. 

In the evening, we went to a Cambodian drag show.  Yes, a little weird but why not?  To say that this show had low production values does not fully explain how low budget it was.  The shoes didn't fit, one dress was ripped and covered in mildew and at one point, a wig flew off and landed on the floor.  The Cambodians seemed to enjoy it.  Ignorance truly is bliss. 

Okay, I'm just about caught up.  Today, there was a huge (and I mean, freakin' huge) festival going on in Siem Reap called the Water Festival.  This festival signals the end of the rainy season (goodbye water) and everyone pours into Siem Reap in the north of Cambodia and Phnom Penh in the south.  I thought that Siem Reap is chaotic on a regular day but add in another million people and you pretty much have breakdown of all systems, especially the traffic one.  This morning, we were walking down the sidewalk near the river bank catching all the festivities, which included boat races and lying around, and we came across a baby which had the head the size of two basket balls.  I am seriously not joking.  This baby's head was enormous and he lay there on a cot, clutching bills of riel which locals or tourists were giving to him.  He was in front of the children's hospital and I guess it was their way of raising money for him.  Just put him out on the sidewalk and make him earn money for his care.  There were plenty of people surrounding him as if he were part of a sideshow circus.  It was all very disturbing.  My guess is that he had a severe case of hydrocephalus and was never treated for it.  If this had happened in the US, the hospital would have been burnt to the ground and all the hospital staff would have been thrown in jail.  In Cambodia, there is a different system; you try to get through life any way you can. 

In the afternoon, I FINALLY had a good long talk with my partner in crime, Savong.  We met at a restaurant and discussed all the details of the Savong Foundation, which is the charitable organization that will hopefully be a 501c3 soon.  He answered all my questions and I was very pleased how the meeting went.  I'm very excited about the direction of the foundation and the two hour meeting only reinforced what I already suspected about Savong; this guy is pretty incredible and I am very blessed to have him as a friend. 

Okay, dinner and a massage.  Fast forward through that.  I'll just say that the massage cost $26 for an hour and a half.  That is actually quite expensive for Cambodia but it was worth it. 

In the evening, I met with Savong again and he took me down to the river to watch the water festival.  The river was full of handmade boats with candles and incense which made for an incredibly beautiful sight.  There was lots of music and HORDES of people.  Amazingly enough, there were no traffic accidents or people run over by a wayward tuk-tuk.  As far as I could tell anyway.  I suppose this was the definition of ordered chaos. 

Then Savong took me to the site of the killing fields in Siem Reap.  Under a full moon, he showed me the stupa that was loaded with the skulls and other bones of the victims.  (That was more than a little creepy).  He told me how the old people with killed with blows to their heads and how babies were bayoneted after being tossed up into the air.  He told me the stories of his own family and how some them survived and some of them not.  Then he told me stories about his father who has sort of a psychic gift and how he has healed some people that were possessed by bad spirits.  One tip for keeping the bad spirits out of your body; don't let the banana tree leaves touch your house.  The spirits will slip and slide on those leaves and enter your house and then it's possession time. 

And then I went back to the guesthouse.  I think I should have been in bed about an hour ago.  We have a long day tomorrow; we're going back to see some temples and then we may do some shopping.  On Tuesday, we're going to buy some supplies for the medical clinic (thanks Anneke!) and probably buy a pump for a very poor family. 

Oh wait, this morning, I also helped to buy a rice plough with Ponheary Ly who runs the guesthouse where I'm staying.  We bought it for a farmer who needed it for the rice harvest.  I'm starting to loose track of everything I did.  Thankfully, I have the pictures to jog this damn brain of mine. 

I gotta get to bed.  I'm gonna hurt tomorrow.

No comments: