Hi, it's noon on a glorious Saturday afternoon, but very hot, so I am sitting in the shade on the balcony writing this and taking life easy. I have had another really nasty cold and chest infection which is being treated with antibiotics, but I probably have done too much this week as it has been the Water Festival. Grace House was open Mon and Tuesday, but I wasn't in a fit state to go on Tuesday, so bought the antibiotics and rested for some of the day here. However, Janet and David arrived that evening, so I did go to meet them and took them into town, but I couldn't face dinner. The rest of the week has been caught up in the excitement of here, and enjoying a festival which hasn't happened since 2014, and one I haven't witnessed before.
The place has bee transformed - overhead, decorative lights have appeared, many different emblems, symbols, signs and adverising banners have been placed along the riverside. Everywhere riverside has really been spruced up and looks amazing. The religious symbols have all been decorated beautifully with lotus and other flowers, and every boat station has its own spirit house and offerings. Teams have lovingly looked after their boat and spent hrs during daylight hours practising on the water. The grunts and shouts of encouragement have attracted everyone's, attention and the frequent submerging of crew attention has amused all onlookers. All taken in good grace by those concerned. The hundreds of food sellers and their carts began arriving and positioning themselves on Monday, so pleasant and unpleasants aromas were always wafting on the air.
We all panicked on Mon evening as there was a major blackout, we thought it was because the system was being overloaded, and so many people were doing things they weren't really qualified for. The miles of cable underfoot and at head level was a little scary! However, after 30 mins power returned and the system has managed with only a few minor blips for the two day duration of the festival.
Wednesday was the first day of it, and by 9:30 I was on my way to see what was happening, all was very low key, but it was great to be able to walk without worrying about vehicles - bicycles were exempt! I soon met up with people I know and we wandered slowly - due to the extreme heat observing all. The sides of the road and river were now crowded with food and drink carts - selling nothing stronger than tins of Angkor Draft beer, but it was worrying seeing so much food not being refridgerated in the heat - and there for the day! Constantly families were arriving and wandering like us, looking at the dignitaries tent, comfortable seats and uninterupted view of the finish line. As we walked away from the finish line some stalls were selling the beautiful made offerings for the Full Moon ceremony the following evening. Music played in the background, and it was a pleasure to be part of it. By 2 pm, when the races started, the river banks were crowded with people vying for the best position to see them, I managed to find a place to snuggle in and watch for a while, but by 3pm the heat and walking I had done all day was too much, and I had to wander back and have a rest before meeting Janet and David for the evening at their hotel. The walk back in was with another throng going in for the fireworks, and others strolling home, or back to their motos to go home. I bumped into a group of G H boys, dressed to kill in their Sunday best and hair gelled into place, stupidly, I forgot to take their photo. The walk through the Royal Gardens was through a mass of food stalls and Khmers picniking, but everyone so relaxed and friendly. Four times I had my hand shaken and was thanked for visiting Cambodia. Eventually, I reached the calm and air-con of Raffles and went in for a drink beside their enormous pool with J and D's fellow cruisers. Relaxing, and very different to what I am used to. As it was dusk, the fruit bats were flying below the beautiful dark, velvet sky and the virtually full moon shone over us. Very quickly it became black and before we were ready the fireworks began, and we had to watch fron the front of the hotel. The exploding ones were beautiful, but we couldn't see the lower ones for the trees behind the Royal Palace, and missed the reflections in the river. We then wandered into town for something to eat and through the thousands who were arriving to hear the live band band. Luckily, it couldn't be heard in town, but because it was a holiday we struggled to get a tuk back. After some negotiation one was hired, but he didn't like my low price when he had to take two of his load to a very grand hotel! Fortunately, my lowly place was very close to their hotel and I explained that I worked here, so knew the prices!
Thursday am I showed J and D my residence before we walked back into town for them to see a little of its life, and any last minute shopping, as they were leaving Cambodia late that afternoon. It was deserted, so quickly seen, and my haggling skills enabled them to purchase a few things at what I would deem an acceptable price - and morning price according to to market sellers is always cheaper than afternoon or evenng price! Once I had said goodbye to them it was time to get ready for the afternoon's final races, ceremonies, fireworks and Moon Festival. People descended on the river from every direction and in their thousands, whereas Wednesday had been comfortable Thursday was impossible to fight your way through the hordes, or even see the river and races. Once I had met with the Grace House staff we decided to go to a cafe and watch life from there whilst we had a drink. Time past, so did the fireworks and as soon as it was dark people began to float their offerings down the river. The sight was magical, as thousands of candlelit decorations floated gently downstream. Young boys were paid a few riel to swim with them into the centre, so they had a chance of going further. I decided that I would walk one side of the river to Phar Char and then back up the other side, unfortunately, the crowds did not allow that to happen, so I only made it one bridge down. On my way back I did meet a few people I knew to talk to, but most of the time was spent forcing my way through, or admiring the offerings that were still for sale. Eventually, I found myself a space only to be told by a policeman that I couldn't stand there as it was where the dignitaries were going to float their offerings from. I decided it was worth trying to stay there, as I could watch so much, and the people around me were so friendly. Half an hour late they arrived and in turn floated the most beautiful boat shaped offerings, but because the boys had all been moved away there was no one to take them into the centre, so their journey was slow and very close to the bank. As soon as the last one was off another beautiful firework display started, as the full moon looked on. Once that had finished I made my way home with many other people, but many more were still entering the area to listen to music and eat at the many food stalls. The first thing to greet me here was the table of food that had been set up honour the full moon., such an important part of people's lives here. Strangely, by 9 pm cloud was obscurung the moon, but everyone had had their chance to pay their respect to it. During all of this J and D had left and were flying to Singapore ready for their flight back to the UK.
Although Friday was still a holiday nothing was planned to happen on the river, and by early morning the crews were dismantling their make shift camps on the river bank, and loading their boats on to different contraptions to take them to their resting place for another year. However, the food sellers had permission to stay until Sunday evening, so as it was still a public holiday a leisurely atmosphere pervaded the place. Cathie, a volunteer whom I had met a couple of years ago wanted me to take her on a countryside icycle ride, so despite the dreadful cough I was pleased to be back in the saddle and we explored, eventually getting to the Tonle Sap lake and riding around the abject poverty of the people who live at the base of Phnom Krom. The rubbish, sewage, animals, children, poultry all live on top of one another, and how they survive without their being serious epidemics of horrible diseases I do not know.
Saturday was my day of rest, and one I spent here trying to help my body recuperate from the cough and very strong course of antibiotics I had taken. I had to admit defeat and tell my Sat cycling group that I couldn't join them for the 150 km ride to Beng Melea and back - it was even a pedal too far for me. However, Lou wanted a ride, so I took her on the illegal Angkor Park ride through the rainforest tracks, past temple ruins only a few see, past very poor families living in inadequate coconut huts and along the top of Angkor Thom wall through three of its gates - one being Victory Gate which 1000yrs ago only the King and his entourage woukd have been allowed through. The fantastic carvings of three elephant heads and their trunks are the give away. The other Angkor Thom gates have the enormous carved Bayon faces looking in each direction.. We stopped at one point to see some restoration work being done only to discover it was a group of Khmers doing painstaking archeological excavation on part of the wall and by a building of some kind - it is good to see them being part of the reconstruction of their very important heritage in SE Asia and the Indian sub continent. I was very proud that i could lead the ride without any problems, so now have three serious rides that I can lead here.
I am so pleased that I was here to celebrate this last week with the local folk, it was a pleasure to see them in their thousands enjoying themselves so quietly and calmly, as is their way, but also to be welcomed into their festivities and celebrations.
Sorry that this has been posted so late, but last week was a busy one - mainly socialising, but also poor internet connections do affect what I can do.
Hope everyone is well, take care and have a good week. Love to all. J x