This is the third blog I have written, so hope it is third time lucky! Sunday morning, the wind is blowing so a storm must be imminent. I have had breakfast of boiled eggs and bread, pineapple and coffee, opting today for the healhier option, rather than the delicious pineapple and banana pancakes of the last few mornings. I must go shopping today and buy coffee and a pot, as the stuff they serve here is DREADFUL! Breakfast is included with the bed. A pleasant place completely surrounded by palms, ferns, mangoes and anything else green that grows so well in this climate, so it seems isolated from the Cambodian madness which is just outside. I'm sitting in the place where food is served, listening to a little Cambodian girl behind me reading out loud and cockerels crowing loudly. In the distance moto engines throb. I moved into a more pleasant room last night, they told me when I arrived that the room I was given was only until my long term one became vacant on Sat - although basic it is fine, and wifi works ok in it, a bonus.
Journey over was fine, it began after Heather dropped me off at Ebbs Fleet where I joined the grey/black commuter world, huddled standing in a corner looking at everyone's expressionless face as they stared at screens, tapped at keys whilst attached by headphones to them. No one seemed to acknowledge anyone and I was pleased that my career had not required me to join this daily happening. Even the tube to Heathrow was full of commuters with a few travellers interspersed, again very little communication with anybody unless via a mobile or computer. Heathrow was as usual crowded and frenetic, but I soon joined the short queue for Singapore Airlines check-in. Quickly, it was my turn, but all did not go to plan - the aisle seat I expected had not been reallocated when I had been transferred flights. As worry crossed my face and I told the girl I needed an aisle seat, I was told the plane was full, but she would see what she could do for me. A few phone calls and minutes later she had sorted it for me and I was a much relieved person.
Aftter a quick drink and bite to eat it was time to board the enormous plane - A 380 I had never seen one before, but was keen to see inside. I was seated at the back beside a couple from Somerset going to meet his brothers for the first time in 40 years, one in Perth the other in Sydney. They had emigrated on the £10 tickets and until recent times communication had been expensive and difficult, but Skype and the Internet had changed that. Although they were both nervous of meeting relatives after so long it was an exciting trip for them and their first long haul one. The seats seemed a little more spacious and were comfortable. After a while I needed to walk about and decided to look what was upstairs - Business Class - first you enter their kitchen and the steward there took me in to see the 86 passengers stretched out on their reclining beds watching something or plumbed into their computer - wifi available (at a price!) such comfort, but completely out of my bracket. Once back in the kitchen he offered me champagne, a new bottle was opened and a tumbler neary filled! We continued talking as other stewards came and went, glass refilled and given food to eat that was not available in economy. Reluctantly, I had to go back down to my own seat when we hit some minor turbulence and had to be strapped in. I was invited to go up and join them again, but didn't want to push my luck, but it will be worth a try on my way back! After 13 hrs we arrived in a grey and miserable Singapore, 6 hrs later we left for here via Da Nang, another 5hr+ flight, that passed reasonably and we arrived here to torrential rain. Quickly through customs and visas a tuk was waiting to bring me here.
Thursday was very busy, albeit very wet day, lunch with Alan and Bridget and then we went in his land rover see the state of the roads and Grace House. We drove through deep water in places, although much has been done to stop Siem Reap flooding the water has to go somewhere, and it does that immediately outside the town. Here it is level with its banks, but outside it is over everywhere and deep. At GH the village is under water and the grounds of the school are, but the classrooms ok as built up enough. A party atmosphere prevailed as it was a holiday for Pchum Ben, people were everywhere, fishing, talking, cooking, swimming in the flood water, riding bikes etc, but many came to say hello and welcome back once word got round that we were there. It was great to see so many of the kids I've taught. People were bemoaning the fact that it was cold - I thought it was a wonderful temp. That night we went to a quiz at the Warehouse to raise funds for Landmine Schools, an NGO set up by a couple from the US who support Akiro, a Cambodian guy, who placed landmines as an 11 year old boy, but now works to clear them and help those whose families have have had people killed or have been disabled by them. They have 7 schools and villages and support about 500 families in this area alone. Akiro, in 2011 was awarded CNN Man of the Year award, so they are feted in many places and countries. They have just returned form the UK, giving talks and trying to raise awareness of the dangers of landmines and to raise funds to support the victims of them. They had been to Eton and other famous British institutions. Bill and Jill have the most beautiful collie, Mickey - good to see her again too.
Friday was lazy, catching up on sleep and jet lag, but I did manage a walk into town for something to eat, but the majority of places were closed as it was the most important day of Pchum Benh. Unfortunately, the heavens opened whilst I was there, so had to get a tuk back, the guy on the moto was holding his umbrella whist driving with the other hand!
Yesterday, after oveersleeping and missing my alarm beeping I managed to get ready quickly and walk to the cycle shop to see if anyone was going to be there for the ride. Fortunately, 4 others arrived, two American guys a French and Japanese girl and myself set off towards an area where we thought there would be less flooding. Some of the time that was true, but at others it was nerve wracking trying to cycle through deep water on red, sandy tracks that were deeply holed and furrowed. Many times we had to get off and wade knee deep through long stretches of water, locals watched in amusement, but I'm sure they were puzzled by us doing it for pleasure whilst they have to do it for survival. It was a very rural area, so some bikes were laden with veg either to be sold or for food, one lady had about 10 doz eggs strapped to the back of her bike and did not seem at worried about the conditions, or worry about breaking them. A couple of times locals pointed us to slightly higher tracks we could use to avoid some water. It was horrendous to see how the desperately poor people were living and in such awful conditions - palm leaf huts with no protection against the rain, just a couple of metres square for large families and no facilities whatsoever - no running water, water filter or sanitation. Some stared at us with blank faces, others smiled and the kids were keen to shout out "What's your name? Where are you from? One dollar." Or just high five us. Unfortunately, we witnessed one unpleasant incident - a young woman was walking along carrying a baby whilst a guy was following and thrashing her with a stick. Steve, who works with a US NGO that supports abused women shouted at the guy and in Khymer tried to tell him he was doing wrong. At least he left the woman, Steve tried to reassure and comfort her, but of course we know that once they got home he would be able to do what he wanted. It's wonderful to be able to leave the tourist part of Cammbodia and see its natural state, but on the other hand it is hard seeing the way the vast majority of its people still live. The countryside is beautiful, bright pink lotus flowers brighten pools when it is not raining, and the cows and water buffalos laze around munching on whatever there is when there is no work to be done. After nearly 4 hrs we arrived back in SR, I was knackered, completely covered in red mud, but was very pleased that I'd been. It was harder than cycling in Berlin or Devon, but I used the gears with greater confidence, so was able to cycle through some conditions that I walked through last year. I'll be there again next Sat at 8 am.
After a slow walk back I met up with an Aussie traveller I'd been talking to the other day, so once I'd cleaned myself up we walked into town for a late lunch. It was great listening to her travel tales, then we had to get back as she was catching the night bus somewhere else. Once back the heavens opened, thunder and lightning entertained, and then the power cut out, fortunately, it only lasted a couple of hours and by 8 pm light was restored.
After a long lazy breakfast this morning I hired a bike and tried to cycle to G H to see what condition the roads and tracks were in. I tried the two best ways I know but had to give up on both of them because the flood water was too deep. If I had had a better bike I might have tried harder, but the one I had borrowed from here was horrible, and as I hadn't seen the condition of the surfaces before the water I didn't feel confident about trying to go through. However, the water had completely broken the river banks on both sides, so it does not look good for the next few days.
On the way back I stopped to buy my coffee pot, coffee and mug along with other food supplies, and whilst buying missed a short storm, but for the last hour it has been raining heavily again and looks pretty horrible. I haven't heard thunder or seen lightning, so hopefully power will remain.
I have just heard that GH is not opening until Wednesday, but Alan is going to fetch me on Tuesday to their place so that Bridget and I can do some work on the curriculum. If the tomorrow morning looks ok I think I will hire a decent bike and cycle out to Preah Khan, a temple I've not been to yet - the roads to that part of the Angkor Park are usually ok.
I'm loving the temperature here at the moment, but the locals are finding it very cold, and it is the time when they are extremely susceptible to colds, sore throats etc. On occassion, I have even turned the fan off for short periods.
Have a good week, take care and love to all, J x