who ... moi?

a social butterfly: scared of much, but not of many. never lets the truth get in the way of a good story. not a fan of acronyms, snakes and angelina jolie. a HUGE fan of Fathead.

this blog is black for ENERGY-SAVING reasons.

thanks for your understanding.
if it's too dark, put your glasses on old one.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

‘scuse me waiter, there’s a sparrow in my whiskey

the next day we woke to a better and brighter life.  the river that gushed around us was magnificent.  the palms were green, the birds were harmonic.  the wooden shutters from our room opened to reveal a lovingly manicured garden of flowers.  all was right with the world again.

goodness, don det was just too beautiful  and we were itching to explore it.  grabbing our day packs and cameras Fathead and I “hit the road” and decided we could circumnavigate the island in a matter of hours.  as soon as we left the tiny strip of bean-bagged riverside decks and cafes the island’s landscape opened up to reveal endless fields of fluffy green rice paddies. 

the locals lived in simple reed and bamboo huts scattered in between palm trees and fields of water buffalo.  the children ran along the dust tracks with homemade wood and wire wheely toys, their adorable toothless smiles greeting us as they scuttled past.

it was gorgeously hot as we wondered further and further along the loop round.   we’d been walking for about 2,5 hrs and it was then that, as if to notify us of the halfway mark, an enormous pregnant cloud settled above us, and promptly delivered the monsoon that it’d been carrying.

we ducked under the menial cover of a coconut tree and frantically wrapped our bags in poncho’s.  should we wait? we were in the middle of nowhere.  nah, we’re going to get wet anyway …
so forward we marched.

the thing about dust roads is that when the rains come, they transform into slippery, shoe-sucking gauntlets of mini rivers and mud.  each step had to be slow, so as not to break our only pairs of flip flops. and so we embraced the torrential shower, had leaping competitions of the enormous pools that swelled in the road and basically got soaked to the core.

about 1,5hrs later the cloud was empty and dissolved as fast as it had appeared.  the blue skies returned and as we laughed about the ridiculousness of our situation, the sound of giddy singing voices and drumming approached us from behind.

the voices were carried by a local truck – much like the kind we use for open-air game drives, back home.  the singing grew louder and as they splashed past us we saw about ten don detans banging empty containers against the poles of the canopy, hands clapping and the happiest mouths wide with song.

100m down the road, the truck stumbled to a slippery halt and arms from all directions waved out of the sides of the truck.

oh yes please!  we’ve been saved!

hurriedly we made our way to our knights in rusty armor, who help us clamber up .   the truck bounced on, the singing commenced and we were thrust our own instruments of percussion – an upturned bucket and an empty coke bottle.

no one spoke english but we chatted away in laughs and gestures and pats on the back.  and then, an old lady flashed us her most menacing smile and handed us a bottle.

“lao-lao” she said, gesturing for us to drink.  lao lao is the local whiskey – usually flavoured with some poisonous creature.  up until now, we’d seen snakes, scorpions, spiders and bumble bees  decaying in knarly bottles of this brownish liquid.  but this … what is that?  a sparrow?!

Fathead took the first swig and I watched his face to gauge the damage I was about to inflict on my liver.  it’d be insulting not to accept this local gift of hospitality … but the smell, and the bouncing roads … and the sparrow …

i took a deep breath and swallowed.  it burned. it tasted like ethanol. the truck continued to jiggle us about, and the burning continued its path of destruction down my esophagus.

i don’t remember much more of that ride, but suddenly we were standing outside out hostel, drenched and feeling slightly toxic.  we slipped and slid up the stairs to our room, where we found brody and dan – dry and amused at the state we’d arrived in.

laos was off to an interesting start.

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4000 islands

as the mekong river exits laos, it splits around an enormous network of outrops and islands … 4000 of them, to be precise.  some of these are little more than a clump of mangrove trees, other much larger ones are homes to fisherman villages.

it was  the second largest of these, don det, that we had decided to make our first destination in laos.
don det is little more than 500m squared.  it’s rustic and about as “back to basics” as you can get.  one muddy loop road circles the entire island, linking the central rice paddies to a small strip of eateries, chill out bars and river-side bungalows. 

by the time we arrived, the sun had set and taken with it all guiding light to the island.  Fathead and dan - the gentlemen-, decided that, as they needed a beer after their harrowing bus experience, the ladies should traipse out into the darkness, in search of accommodation.

sans torch and packing a serious fear of snakes I reluctantly accompanied brody on a mission that would lead us down ankle-deep trails of mud and slush.  in parts, the grass felt knee-high and the sounds of slithery creatures rose from each icky step we took.

we followed distance lights, scaled wooden cattle gates, knocked on doors and eventually checked into a home for the night.  relieved to be getting back to where the boys were now enjoying their 4th frosties, we hot-footed back towards the “main road”.

it was eery enough in the dark, mother nature singing her creepy song that she does when you’re scared and alone and in the middle of nowhere.  something shifted across the path, blocking what little moonlight we had. it was big.  and then, that big something let out a grunt … the kind of flatulent, guttural noise that only a fak-off big-assed pointy-horned half-ton water buffalo can make.

i may not have been much of a sprinter in high school, but that night usain bolt would have eaten my dust.

crossing kitty

an early hung-over start was probably the highlight of our day of depature from cambodia.  we arrived at the bus station, mentally gearing ourselves for the upcoming 12hr journey into laos, and stared in disbelief at the vehicle before us.

really?... that’s a bus?... for humans?

the ramshackle yellow tin balancing precariously on four wheels, was indeed what we had paid $34 for.  so on we climbed.

apparently we were the only westerners who’d been duped into buying these death-wish tickets, so thankfully we were able to stretch out across several empty seats and catch up on some much needed shut eye.
and this is exactly what we did for the first 4 hours of the journey.

it was around minute 247 that my dreams of sirloin steak were shattered by the sound of a bomb blast, somewhere in the region of my right inner ear canal.  before my eyes could open, my terrified body had launched itself across seven seats and the aisle where it landed on Fathead’s lap.

heart racing, adrenalin surging, i screamed  knowing with all my heart that this was probably the last sound i would make in my life.

the explosion must have been a landmine. or maybe a nuclear war head.  i knew this, because my ear drums were still ringing with deafness.

and then i noticed dan and brody groggy and puzzled as to why i’d woken them with the soundtrack to a hitchcock movie.  and then Fathead … that stupid, “douglas, what are you up to?” teasing smile that he gets when he thinks I’m the silliest girl in the whole world.

“a tyre blew” he said in that tone that boys get then they know more about cars and are  cool and brave and you’re being a wuss cry-baby girl.

“i know … i was just worried about you”, i lied. and of course everybody knew i was lying … it was a good effort mind you, but I think the shaking voice and tears were a bit of a give away.

the bus kept going at the same speed.  no attempt to pull over, no need really.  why would you if you don’t have a spare tyre in the first place, right?  so the journey continued - the ruptured flaps of the burst rubber whacking the underside of the bus with every revolution.

fear turned to distress turned to slight paranoia and eventually, hysterical laughter.
roads turned to dust, and dust to mud.
12 hours turned to 16.

and when we finally reached the port which would take us to our first destination in laos, our “all inclusive” tickets turned to “excluding ferry fees”.
the day turned from bad to worse.

a little on edge … okay, quite fakken livid … I confronted the scam operator, who kindly told me to shut it – yes, I was being ripped off, but I was "european and could afford it".

kitty turned into psycho-crazed deliverer of verbal abuse.


Monday, November 22, 2010

highlights of cambodge

our tour through this oft overlooked land was like a shot of stroh rum: quick and powerful with long lasting effects.

if pushed to list the snapshots in my memory bank, I’d recite the following (to name, but a few):

phnom pehn’s happy backpackers hostel – chilled out, dreadlocked creatures of the backpacking underworld, sporting “tubing in vang vieng” vests, chugging down klang beers as they slipped from hammock to river-side lounger.

highway hephalumps – asia at it’s best … elephants walking down four-laned roads, perfectly assimilated with the bustle of regular traffic.

happy-ness – a sprinkle of joy on anything you like … cheerful  burgers, jovial fruit shakes, delighted desserts, giggling sauces and just the happiest pizza’s around.

shooting ranges“may I see the menu please?”  … “yes, I’d like two bazooka’s, one hand grenade and … what the hell, 30 rounds with that Ak-47 over there on the wall”

“sorry, just a question – what are those served with? … ear plugs, combat gear and goggles … right, thanks”.

“excuse me? … did you say ‘would I like a cow with that?’ … oh really? you can have a side order of a whole, live cow with your bazooka? … umm, no no thanks – that’ll be all for now”.

well hello there, ladies – sharing a few beers outside a 24hr convenience store with a bouquet of lady-boys … dressed to kill and intent on taking one of our boys for a little “tour” of their city.

fish massage
– being bribed by Fathead to experience a “fish massage” …  where your legs are submerged in an enormous aquarium whilst hundreds of tiny, carnivorous fish nibble the dead skin from between your toes.

ankor what? – one of the many drinking holes to be discovered along (the aptly-named) Bar Street.  Beer towers, graffiti, “waka-waka eh-eh” blaring out on repeat, consistently losing  a dreadfully complicated card game introduced to us by dan and brody, and a unrelenting urge to adopt a cockney accent and repeat the phrase “anka? anka wauh?”.

so if you find yourself out in south east asia and fancy a little touch of madness, go for a potent shot of cambodia … neat.

Monday, November 15, 2010

the temples of angkor

just outside of siem reap lies the world’s largest religious site, and one of the most awe-inspiring ruins of human history . 

the temples of angkor.

what remains of  “the city” (or angkor) hides in the depths of forested hills and tangles of vine. 

the entire collection of temples has now been sectioned off – a sanctuary in which no modern day life is allowed to aid the decay and inevitable disintegration of these incredible structures.

within this UNESCO world heritage site, rests more than 1000 points of worship – the scale of which varies from a humble shrine of stone, to the largest individual religious monument  on earth (angkor wat).

it’s modern history is as fascinating as it’s ancient one:

right up until end of the 19th century, the giant beauty lay hid, deep beneath the cover of lush forest.  only in 1907 did a team of french archaeologists begin the restoration which would last right up to 1970.

thankfully, during cambodia’s civil war, the temples of angkor were of the very few parts of cambodian heritage that was spared from the khmer rouge’s destruction.

restoration resumed post the end of this devastating time, and has continued ever since with an international collaboration of roleplayers – thanks to whom, we are now able to visit, explore, worship and be inspired by one of man’s greatest structural homages.

only a few years ago, researchers found that angkor was the biggest city in the world (prior to the industrial revolution) occupying an intricately structured space of 1000 square kilometers. 

the only other historical site that can come close to measuring up to angkor is tikal (the mayan city in guatemala) and that only measures in at 150 square kilometers. 

comparatively in today’s world, angkor is said to approach the size of los angeles and dwarf the island of manhattan seventeen times over.

while the sheer enormity of the site is impressive, it’s the magical, mystical magnificence of the architecture that draws more than 2 million people to the temples of angkor, every year.

how long one chooses to spend here, depends entirely on time, budget and a personal interest in the detail and history behind each site.  the permits range from 1, 3 or 7 days and some visitors have been known to utilize the full week, and then renew their pass.  

for us,  1 day was plenty of time and allowed us a leisurely exploration through the main temples we’d selected.

we used the 1 days pass across two dates, watching the sun set on the first evening, and then entering the temples at 5am in order to catch it rise again, the following day.  before the sun brought colour to the day, we waded blindly through a dense darkness – the surrounding forests soundly asleep.

like pilgrims we waited for that moment of “enlightenment” as the sun began to light up a land beyond the horizon.  slowly, steadily the morning came – and before us, emerging first in silhouetted shapes and then suddenly in intricate detail – angkor wat appeared. 

being there in the flesh is quite a surreal experience.  the silence of eons passed is thick in the air.  modern visitors keep humbly quiet as a sign of respect to a civilization who knew so much, who fought without fear, who conquered and thrived and finally, were destroyed.

i felt a great sense of abandonment inside the hollow hallways, empty chambers and staircases that no longer led to anywhere.  yet,  exploring the intricacies of enormous stone carvings with my  fingertips, i imagined  a connection to these people, an understanding of their lives.

three highlights of our visit were the famous angkor wat, the bayon and ta prohm.

while it pains me to make this tacky connection, it does help to gain a mental image of these spaces – so those of you born pre 90’s may recall that an indiana jones and lara croft: tomb raider were both filmed at some of these sites.

ta prohm – by far my favorite.
a place of utter wonderment and mystery.

to fathom how such ancient trees managed to sprout on top of these enormous walls, their bulbous roots spilling down the sides, is damn near impossible.

but if you could get close to it, you’d grasp an understanding of how old the ruin is  – you’d imagine a whole lifetime prior to these trees which now sprawl like hungry creeper vines along the temple walls.
you’d imagine a world alive – when these walls were filled with worshippers, not ghosts and moss.
you’d imagine a falling seed, and the rains and winds and warmth that would have colluded to germinate the seed to a tree.
and then you’d imagine a centuries of growth – of stretching higher, swelling wider, reaching further, weighing down and down and down onto this already crumbling mass of stone.
and if you got to that point to imagining – you’d understand just why I will worship this temple, forever.

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