Hope everyone is OK and has had a good week. I have had a very interesting one, which included - a day trip to Preah Vihear, The Temple in the Sky, which is a world heritage site on yet another Public holiday - Independence from France in 1953, and a three day visit by Eileen and Colin from Guernsey. I was able to see them for a couple of short evenings and Thursday. However, I also have had/got a nasty cold and cough, so have felt rotten.
I thoroughly enjoyed Prreah Vihear, a 5 hr journey from here, but luckily the roads were deserted and we had a very careful driver, which made such a difference. An interesting ride through paddy fields, scattered settlements and a couple of very small, dusty towns and their markets. Very kindly, Lou had prepared iced coffee and chocoloate brownies, baked in her hotel kitchen for us to have en route, and so refreshed and after relieving ourselves behind a tree, we arrived at our destination on the Thai border. The temple was built in the 9th century, on top of a 625m high plateau, and was visited by pilgrims to worship Shiva (a Hindu god), however, we had to pay for a 4 x 4 vehicle to take us up, and it was a scary ascent, as we struggled to keep ourselves steady in the back of the truck as it climbed up. The views below were great, but until very recently all the land was covered in forest, now it is clear to see the swathes that have been cleared illegally, and apparently there had been a shooting and death the previous week over the lillegal logging. Once we were at the top we could see all the sand baggged walls that the soldiers had used as defences, and small stone huts they had lived in during the last 50 yrs as Thailand and Cambodia fought over who should own the temple. Last year, the Thai government ceded it to Cambodia, so hopefully it will be a safe place to visit for years to come, as it is so beautiful. The most impressive things were how well cared for the extensive grounds were, the fact there were so few tourists, I think we saw about 10, and that nobody tried to sell us anything. It was great ambling and looking at our leisure in the heat of the mid day sun(+35 degrees!), and being able to admire the amazing architecture, and beautifully executed stone masonry and carvings. It is now a World Heritage Site, and to copy a phrase - Preah Vihear is a testamony of great architectural achievement and Khmer engineering which offers an unparalleled symbiosis of building and landscape. After about 3 hrs of looking it was time to descend, and find somewhere to eat the picnic Lou had also prepared for us. It didn't take long for our driver to find a wonderful spot by a lake covered in beautiful pink lotus flowers. As delicately as we could manage a most wonderful array of food was laid before us - Greek salad, Khmer salad, potao salad, a roast chicken, cheese, bread rolls, and a selection of fruit was ready for us to tuck into. Even our drivers joined us, and approved of the fare they were eating. After another 5hr journey, some in darkness we were grateful to arrive back in one piece - once we were nearer here the roads became busier with cars, trucks, motos, bikes, ox carts etc, but as is the way, very few had any form of lighting, so we were not surprised to come upon a nasty accident. However, there was an ambulance amid the hundreds standing watching. A tiring day, but one well worth it.
Tuesday was back to work, and then early evening I tuk tukked over to E and C's hotel to meet them, and to see their accommodation. It was great to see them and chat before giving them a quick trip round Phsar Char and Siem Reap, and another tuk ride back, luckily I live on the same road, so could be dropped off first. It didn't take E long to start buying, so I was able to assist with the negotiation of price! Wednesday I had a very pleasant meal with them in their hotel, but had to do battle outside of it to get a tuk home at a price I was prepared to pay - I eventually won, but the guy had lost face with his peers for giving in to me, so when I got back here and paid him he did not speak to me, which is most unusual for tuk drivers.
Thursday I did not work, so that I could take E and C out to G House and show them around here a bit. After a tour of the project they were able to have an iced coffee in our local place, before we met Jill in Sister Srey for lunch, her final meal in SR this year. Then it was time for a walk along the river, a drink in the Foreign Correspondents Club - a left over from the time of the Khmer Rouge / Vietnamese war etc and a sighting of the first boat practising for the water Festival races. So after a full on day in this climate we were all knackered by 5:30 and went back to our respective homes. A surreal experience - people you know very well come here and leave, and are now back home in Guernsey as I write this, it is difficult to believe that it has happened, however, great to see them and show them a tiny bit of this place.
Last Sunday afternoon I went for a ride and wander around town hoping that being outside would help me feel better, and to a certain degree it did, but when I decided to come home I broke the key in my bike lock. Luckily, it was light and a few tuk drivers came to my aid, one immediately went to borrow a machete, and then the two of them tried to bash it to pieces - not caring about what they were doing to my bike. Fortunately, a driver I talk to often appeared, saw what was happening, and went off to find a stone to rest the chain on, so saving the bike frame. Eventually, it broke and my bike was free, but some damage had been done to the back brake, again my lucky day because Pheatra, from G H was a few metres away and he sort of fixed it for me, at least so I could get back here. I managed to ride it ok the next day, but it was sticking and hard work, but that night the staff moved the bikes here for some reason, and then they all fell on top of each other. When I managed to retrieve mine the brake cable was detached and a few other problems, but Cannel, another tuk driver and bike rider I know was picking someone up from here, (Vibol's son) saw my plight and within 10 minutes had mended every problem, and oiled everything, so after that my bike was easy to ride again and safe. Then on Friday morning I had just left here to cycle to GH when we had a torrential down pour which lasted for about 45 mins, fortunately, I was able to shelter in front of a shop. However, I had to listen to the girl who worked in its life story and how poor her family is and how hard she has to work to feed them and pay for her siblings' school things, because both her parents are too ill to work. I wasn't sure if she telling me so that I'd give her money, to practise her English or just to make conversation. I enjoyed talking with her, impressed with her English and it helped to pass the time. Unfortunately, Carmel was knocked off her bike , as she rode to GH in the rain and was shaken, battered and bruised, but a weekend's rest sorted her out.
We had a great cycle ride on Saturday until the last 15 km, most of it was new to me, saw beauiful countryside, flowers, ripening rice and remote homes - people were weaving baskets outside some of them. The further we got away from here the drier the ground became, so some cycling was along narrow tracks of deep sand, however, I cope with cycling through it much better now and am not so nervous - just pedal hard. We turned the wrong way near the end, so ended up cycling along a new road without any shade in temp of high 30's, although little traffic, it seemed never ending, and mentally I found it a struggle. We completed it and with great relief and thirst I got back here.
Sunday I cycled with some of the GH students to Tonle Sap, as part of their training for the Angkor Bike Ride in a couple of weeks time. Firstly, I cycled with Sarah and Diana through the countryside to Arang, and then back along the river to GH to meet everyone, Sarah cycled to the lake with us but Diana went home. I have never seen the lake so far away before, when it should be at its most extensive, and up to the road we cycle along. Even when were going around Phnom Krom, and normally cycle by it or even through it, we could only see it in the distance. The effect it must be having on so many people will be devastating, no fish to catch and sell, and the aftermath of the flooding lays silt and water ready for the planting of the next rice crop.
Everywhere you go land is for sale, buildings rising, roads being surfaced and bridges strengthened, and there is an amazing array of machinery about, it appears that Cambodia, in some aspects is now entering the 21st century - if only the way most of its people lived could do the same! Apparently, land here 2yrs ago sold for $30 a sq m, not it's worth $300 sq m, but as most buildings going up are hotels there is going to be a major problem, as tourism is down and there are far too many beds.
This blog is a week late because I have had technological problems! Too many photos bunging up the hard drive, although someone has sorted that out for me, and all my pictures are safe on an external hard drive, he has done something that is stopping me from accessing the new ones I've put on here, so no new photos to show you, until I've been to see him again - tomorrow I hope!
Take care and have a good week everyone, love to all, J xx