February 22, 2012

In Transit

Yesterday was the first truly difficult travel day of the trip.

Nothing about it was extremely troubling, but nothing went exactly according to plan. Instead, it was filled with constant readjustments that were required due to cultural differences, third world realities, and lack of preparation on our part.

We made it out the door on time, and arrived to the chaos at the ferry port with plenty of time to spare. We were ambushed by porters who took our bags without permission and then we were stopped and aranged our tuk-tuk from the boat's landing station into town. It was only when he asked for money that I realized it was a scam.

I originally thought he worked for the boat company, as our tickets indicated that transport was included from the lake to the town of Siem Reap. When he tried to charge us money we walked away, annoyed. Unfortunately, despite the promise printed on our tickets, there did not appear to be any boat-related transport waiting for us at the port upon arrival. So we walked through the masses of tuk-tuk drivers hassling us and eventually convinced one to take us for free if we would give him additional work the next day. Upon arrival at our hotel, we saw the branded tuk-tuks of the hotel and realized transit was likely included with our stay, so we quickly dug into our pockets and paid him $5.

The boat was advertised as 5 hours. However, despite a 7:30 AM deparature, we did not arrive until at least 2:30 and we didn't check in to our hotel until 3 PM. On the boat, we were hassled by the porters who demanded payment for carrying our bags (despite our initial statements that we didn't want their help). I refused to pay, comfortable that my small bag had all of my valuable items -- I had had my fill of 3rd world money scamming at that point and was certain I could replace all of my clothes if my bag mysteriously disappeared. E2 and K were more generous than I was and paid the extortion fee. I should probably thank them as my bag arrived without harm as well. There was free water on the boat, so when they came around with sodas I forgot to ask how much (big 3rd world mistake). I enjoyed my coke but found myself being woken from a nap with a demand for 6,000 riels. Not an unreasonable price, just something I didn't expect since the water and bread had been *included* snacks and the soda was not (of course this distinction should have been obvious? right?)

The boat ride was long, but pleasant. Miles and miles of water and boats and fishing and river life unlike any I've ever seen. Between stints of gazing at the world speed by, I read IQ84 and found myself grinning. I don't know if I've ever read a Haruki Murakami book *except* when I've been on vacation. I love the otherworldliness of his writing, but it must be too hard for me to follow in my real life, as I completely associate his voice with the blessing of uninterrupted time and the parallel worlds of foreign cultures.

I'm actually here. In Cambodia. With friends. With access to the Internet everywhere we've gone. This modern world is the future -- I feel so lucky.

After the chaos of the ports and the boat, the dusty tuk-tuk ride bounced us over dirt and pot-hole filled roads through the country full of true Cambodian life. All types of construction on stilts to avoid the seasonal flooding. Lotus plantations.

For the first time in my life I saw a team of women laying roads. Beneath their conical hats they were wrapped from head to toe in fabric to shield their skin, eyes, mouths and noses while shoveling gravel and pouring tar in the 95F heat and ridiculous humidity. Sometimes, when I travel, I feel very close to my dad, knowing that he's with me in spirit. At that moment, as I stared in awe, I could feel him with me, watching these women manually doing the labor he used to manage with machines, shaking his head in amazement.

Finally, we arrived at our hotel and it is an oasis of calm and beauty. Good Job E2 on the selection. We ate a late lunch, relaxed by the pool, and once we were regrouped we went into town for our first experience of the frenzied collection of night markets, restaurants, stores, and tourists. I don't know if I've ever been anywhere with this many tourists. E2 claims there's only slightly less tourists than when she went to the Great Wall. It was overwhelmingly bright, loud, crowded, and bizarre.

And that was before the power went out.

Pitch black. A collective gasp from the crowds. I grabbed E2 and K's hands in case we needed to stay together. K, who's been traveling for 30+ days in Southeast Asia (and doesn't like to be touched) commented, "Oh, so we're holding hands now?" Perhaps my first instinct (that there may be a need to run together and/or keep in physical contact to avoid a stampede) was a bit strong. Apparently, the power goes out quite often here.

Upon our return to the hotel, the generator stopped and it went pitch black as well.

While reading last night, the power went out twice.

I'm an even bigger fan of my headlamp purchase than I thought!

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