Monday, 14 November 2016

Taking a WHAT? Through Cambodia? To WHERE? The train from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville !

4 am.  My alarm clock is set for 5 but I get up anyway.  My stomach is not happy.  I think I both ate and drank too much. Must not do that in this HEAT !

5 am. Stomach is feeling better after two coffees and two cigarettes.   I guess I better slowly start packing.

I smoke a lot ;-)
6 am.  O.K., I guess I have to run to the quay to properly see that rising sun. After all, this is the last time I’ll be in PP for a while.

6:20 am.  Check out. I ask the receptionist where the best place is to find a Tuk-Tuk this early (I refuse to take a taxi).   She relays the issue to the door man who steps into the street with me.  Another one of my suspicions is quickly confirmed.  
Tuk-Tuk drivers indeed are lucky enough to have a roof over their heads. In a way, because that roof is the roof of their vehicle.   The drivers sleep and LIVE in these tiny contraptions.   The door man discusses the issue with another hotel employee who points at a Tuk-Tuk parked across the street.  The doorman walks over and tries to wake the driver sleeping on the passenger bench.   And that is very hard work indeed, the man just won’t wake up.   From the moment he barely open eyes turn from the guy who just woke him to his approaching passenger to the moment when he pulls out of his parking spot with the engine running,  no more than 2 minutes have passed.   No morning coffee or shower. Not even a visit to the loo.  For a Cambodian Tuk-tuk-driver $5 is a large amount of money.  None of them will think twice about accepting a fare, even if he’s still mostly unconscious.
That driver was asleep 3 minutes ago !

This train takes cars too ;-)

The seats are numbered.  And they SELL OUT. So buy them EARLY !
Whenever I talked to my Spare Mom, she could NOT believe it when I told her that there are 6ft tall Asians in this world.  I should have sent her this picture of the smoking & hot (o.k, and also smoking hot ;-) 6 ft Khmer train conductor, LOL.

The train is to leave at 7 am but doesn’t leave until 7:20. What’s the rush?

5 minutes later I’m glad that I took the train and I’m glad to get out of my luxury quarters in Phnom Penh’s Riverside.   Because I had been fooled again.   I have seen Phnom Penh last February when I rode a mountain bike to the Killing Fields.  How could I forget reality?     90% of Phnom Penh is a slum.  Barely covered linked-together hut complexes on stilts sitting above a giant lake of sewage and garbage. Running water?   Only the sludge below the floor.   Just this very morning I saw a man do his morning toilet with only the water in a small plastic bottle.
 sewage and garbage stream below the living quarters

Exploiting cheap labour: A Garment factory: This is where your Boss or Armani pieces get made for 50 cents !
The train moves very slowly through the outskirts of Phnom Penh but then picks up speed.  I'm almost sure that we hit 30 km/h at some point, LOL
Smoking Lounge ;-)
We have reached a first stop. Takeo.  Also known as world of water.  

The station 'washroom' costs 10 cents AND there is a long line-up of women in front of it

This cow's strangely disturbed look might be due to the German who just exposed himself to it for peeing purposes 
Re-establishing the railway was a HUGE effort.  Not only did they have to fix the track and find usable railway stock, they also had to find and train crossing guards for every little road that crosses the tracks. 
Yes, looking over these rice-fields to the horizon everything looks solid. But don’t forget that rice fields are always flooded !  While it looks like solid ground, the train is sneaking through a plane of water that reaches to the distant mountains.

Opening the compartment door at full speed?  Why not?

After two hours, the elderly man next to me speaks to me “Where are you from?”   After learning where that is, he asks me whether I have been to Australia, where he has gone to visit his daughter !
Quite a while later:  “In Canada …. pause … do they have fields of rice?”   LOL, NOPE !  5 minutes later “Palm trees? Do they have Coconuts?”   LOL, Yes, but not on trees.   After a while I remember that I still have some old pics on my cell phone  (there is some snow on the North Shore mountains) and I show them to him.   The view of Second Narrows Bridge plugged by car traffic and a cruise ship leaving under Lions Gate Bridge obviously don’t mean much to him “Ship” he says.
There is such a huge gulf of difference of experiences between these people and people where I come from.  And it's a fundamental difference.  A difference pointed out in a rather new song by a Canadian son of Ethiopian immigrants containing the lyrics "We don't pray for Love, we just pray for cars" (Click on the link to see the video).  THAT is why I seem to resume living when I return here, not because it's warm (as Grandma still thinks). And the corollary is true as well. I feel dead in Vancouver.  Everything about Vancouver seems to kill spirit, desire, joy, expectation...    HAPPY SHOPPING !    George had the perfect expression for that.  And he used it often.   PHONY!

The wife of the elderly man.  And some train life
The old man and his family leave the train at Kampot Station (He lives very close to the Vietnamese border, he told me), and after I shake hands with him and thank him, all the other 4 family members line up to follow suit.  All with HUGE smiles.   THAT is what I'll miss when I'll be back of the pais con corazones frias!

Kampot. This is where Bourdain ate river crabs, LOL.  But I just leave the train for the 15-minute stop (like everyone else;-)

As soon as they are gone, I have the 4 seater for myself but ALL the remaining children in the compartment (And there are a LOT of those) us my benches as exercise equipment and me as conversation partner and entertainment.
There is another single traveler sitting on the other side of the car, but unfortunately she doesn't seem to have the same play value to the kids.   So I go for VERY frequent smoke breaks to escape the pandemonium.

FINALLY (about 7 hours?) the train reaches Sihanoukville.   It looks like a mini Phom Penh without the nice parts (wow, that sounds NASTY)  Again, I end up grabbing the monkey bar of a scooter for dear life ( like in Nha Trang0, but this time for a long 20 minutes.  We finally get to Elephant Garden resort at Otres Beach.  And the owner is a German.  Dressing down his employees for not being perfect.  

The first thing I do after arriving at Elephant Garden is to cross the 20 meters of sand separating me from the water.  BEACH!

Bruschetta, my first meal since breakfast

But the German owner has a point.  There are no towels in my room but instead I find a pair of the previous occupants' underwear, LOL. Good thing I'm not the type that would get all huffy and puffy about things like that.  
A Marlin before  ....
What is much more relevant:  I decide to eat in the 'resort' too.  Something called fried Marlin with bok choy, wasabi pasta, in some kind of foamy sauce with REAL Kampot green pepper. 
My mind is fried after the first chop-stick load.  WHAT IS THAT? I've been in Spain, France,Germany, Holland, Belgium, the US and some other places this year.  Why is this meal in some off-the-radar beach 'club' in friggin Cambodia the most amazing meal I have eaten all year (Sorry Alan ! ;-)    And why does it cost US $12?  Strange world ! 
REAL Kampot Pepper (the city of Kampot is only 95 km from here); a delicacy!
9 pm. Wow. A long day and I'm getting tired.  But I have to finish this translation first. Maybe a dessert of Banana flambee on chocolate pancake will provide that second wind I need.?  As long as it is not cockroach flambee, because in the few hours I have been here I have seen the biggest two cockroaches of my life (think approaching the size of a pack of cigarettes)

Chocolate & banana?  didn't I eat that somewhere else very recently ?

But cockroaches don't really scare me anymore. There are much worse things. 
I still remember the non-believing look of the scooter-rental guy in Varadero after I told him that I would be returning to Canada that day a few years ago. Canada, el pais con cucarachas pequenas y corazones frias.  But I was right, as the last few years have shown. The warmth of the hearts of the people of a country truly seems proportional to the size of its cockroaches.

There is a good chance that I took this picture while submerged in water up to my nipples ;-)

I know Asians who want to go to the Gym to look like Westerners.  FOOLS ! ;-)

10 pm. Time to sleep under a mosquito net for the first time ever !

7 hours of solid uninterrupted sleep?   Not even to pee ?  WoW!  Maybe it's the chemicals in the insect repellent ? LOL !

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