Since my last email from Portland, OR I traveled down to the Loma Linda
area where I saw some friends and relatives, packed up my suitcase and
carry on, then bought enough cereal and other food to fill a large 60
pound box as my second piece of checked luggage. Monday morning I left
Calimesa, CA at 6 am. I had an uneventful check in and security check
before having plenty of time to wait at the gate for the boarding call.
On my entire trip none of my bags were opened by security. The 12 hour
flight to Seoul went smoothly and I enjoyed a movie and two meals. I sat
next to a man from China who was a vegetarian, and next to him in my row
was a lady who spoke no English at all and I think was from Peru. I had a
couple hours in Seoul and found a place to check email for free while I
was waiting. The flight to Bangkok was 6 hours and I slept through most
of it. In Bangkok I found a corner and went to sleep for about 4 hours
with my arms looped through my carry on straps. I then got on the 1 hour
flight for the last leg to Phnom Penh, Cambodia where I landed after about
36 hours of traveling.
As we made the approach the landscape struck me as barren, but as we got
lower I realized that it was mostly made up of rice paddies that are dry
this time of year. The first paved road I saw was at the airport. The
others on the way in were all dirt. At the airport I was supposed to meet
an ADRA staff member before going through customs, who would have my visa
documentation. However, we landed a little bit early and nobody was there
to meet me. After waiting a few minutes a lady from the airport showed up
with my documentation and I went through immigration, picked up my checked
baggage and went through customs. It turned out that the person who has
the clearance to enter the restricted area of the airport was traveling
and the people who met me couldn't get in so they sent my documents with
an airport employee instead. After throwing my luggage in the back of the
ADRA pickup we drove to the house where I will be staying. I unloaded my
stuff, took a brief tour and then went to the ADRA office to meet some of
the staff and send email.
The place I am staying for now is a room in a large house. The ADRA
director, his wife, and two boys live in the largest part of the house,
but 4 volunteers including myself have separate rooms in it as well. My
room has a queen sized bed with mosquito netting, a fan (no AC), a large
clothes cabinet and a nightstand. I have my own bathroom and shower as
well. The volunteers share a kitchen area which has a 2 burner gas stove,
a refrigerator, a table and chairs. The house is kept clean by a maid who
also does the dishes in the kitchen area. The ADRA office is about 2
blocks away on the same road as my room. The office is a two story
building with several sections for different projects and groups. Several
of the staff members are in Thailand for meetings at the moment so I
haven't met everyone yet and don't know how many work here. So far two of
the volunteers, Sam and James have been showing me around.
After getting some email done I went back to my room to take a much needed
shower and unpack some things. Back at the house we had a lunch of
sandwiches before Sam took me shopping. We went to the shopping areas on
a small motorbike which is a very popular form of transportation here.
The motorbike ride in itself was quite an experience. Traffic patterns
here remind me a little bit of Sri Lanka, but they are not the same.
Basically, you have a whole bunch of small motorbikes everywhere with some
cars and the occasional truck, ox cart, and bicycle mixed in. There are
also pedestrians, a few of which are pulling carts. Only the major cross
streets are paved, minor streets are dirt, even downtown. The flow of
traffic is very fluid and seemingly random at times. It is quite common
to have an extra lane of motorbikes traveling against the flow of traffic
on the shoulder. Nobody takes any notice of stops signs, although they
seem to stop at traffic lights most of the time if there is a significant
flow of cross traffic. The rule seems to be that if you are in front,
then you have the right of way and those behind you have to worry about
avoiding you. It is common to see motorbikes going completely against the
flow of traffic, especially when "merging" from the opposite side of the
street. Crossing the street by foot is a gradual process of making your
way forward whenever a vehicle isn't coming. Pedestrians are kind of like
the rocks that stick up in a stream, the traffic just flows around them.
Moving cars are kind of like that too since the motorbikes pass them on
all sides as they move down the street. At some of the stop sign
intersections traffic actually flows in all four directions at the same
time with motorbikes making their way slowly through the intersection in
every direction using a sort of rolling yield.
The first stop on our tour/shopping trip was what they call the Russian
Market. I'm not certain why it's called that since I didn't really see
any Russians. The market was basically a whole bunch of little stands in
a building selling everything from $5 DVDs to $4 Northface day packs, to
$3 dockers pants, to shoes, cloth, souvenirs, and "rolex" watches. I was
able to find a nice nylon "sport" watch band for $2. Our next stop was
the main central market which is indoors. In this market people were
selling fresh fruits and vegetables as well as clothing. There was a
large selection of meat products ranging from fresh octopus to whole fried
rodents. I didn't explore very much of the market, but saw that there was
also a section of vendors selling ready to eat food. I bought some
bananas (50 cents for a very large cluster) and some fruit that I thought
was persimmon at first. It turned out to be something different, but
good. It's basically a cross between a persimmon, a plum and a mango.
The pit is stringy like a mango, but the fleshy part is more like a
persimmon and it's very sweet. On the way back to the house we also
stopped at a couple of western style super markets where you can get
pretty much anything for a price. They had a good selection of cereal,
even including grape nuts. You can get most American junk food and
toiletries and I even saw canned blueberries and marshmallows for sale.
The prices are a little higher than in the states, which is very high for
here, considering local food prices. They definitely have more western
things available here than they did in Sri Lanka.
After we unloaded the groceries (backpacks are very handy when you go
shopping on a motorbike) we came back over to the office and played
ping-pong for a while. For supper we had an improvised version of
haystacks based on what James usually has in Australia. The ingredients
were cucumbers, tomatoes, tortilla chips (I brought those, James is used
to using Doritos), cheese, sour cream and "sauce" that James makes from
canned red kidney beans and chili powder I think. Apparently this version
of haystacks is pretty close to what James likes to have back in
Australia. Sam on the other hand is from Germany had never had haystacks
before James introduced them to him. Sam is able to substitute his 1 year
as a volunteer here for the military service that is mandatory in Germany.
Sam works on miscellaneous projects while James is the current IT
After supper we started to watch a James Bond film that was on TV, but I
pretty much fell asleep as soon as I sat down, then the power went off for
about 20 minutes and I took the opportunity to go to bed. I ended up
going to bed after 8 pm local time which is 5 am Pacific Time. I slept
soundly until about 4 am when I woke up and layed in bed for an hour or so
before getting up to take a shower. I should be mostly adjusted to local
time in another day or two I think.
The office here has a full time internet connection from a local provider
using wireless technology. The connection speed is faster than a modem
(64k), but they do get charged if they go over 750mb in a month.
I should find out more about what they want me to work on here when the
ADRA Director and other staff members get back from Thailand this weekend.
Right now I'm going to go through a stack of 4 laptops that "don't work"
to see if I can get a computer to use when the owner of this one gets
That's all for now!
It is Sunday afternoon here in Phnom Penh and as usual it is hot and
humid. Yesterday evening it got a bit dark and cloudy as if it was going
to rain, but I don't think there was any actual precipitation. So far
this weekend has been pretty uneventful. The highlight of the morning was
playing some table tennis here at the office with Wesley. Last night we
watched a movie that was on TV in the Reimann's house. They have cable
with several English movie and news channels. Frank (the country
director) left Friday on a trip to Europe and I'm not sure how long he
will be gone. Sabbath morning I went to church where the sermon was given
by the local pastor with no English translation. He did hand out English
sermon notes to the expats so that we would have some idea of what he was
talking about. After the main service the expats and a few local people
have an English Sabbath School class where they sing some songs and then
discuss the weekly adult quarterly lesson. After church they have an
expat potluck every other week and this week it was held at the Reimann's
house. We had lots of good food and visited a while with many of the
other expats. I talked to some of the Adventist Frontier Missions people
who are getting ready to go to a remote village to live. They have got a
house picked out and everything, and are in the process of moving. For
potluck the volunteers, led by Wesley, made Samosas which is basically an
Indian food with vegetables inside a pouch of dough kind of like pie
crust. The whole thing is fried after the pouch is made and filled with
vegetables. They turned out really good and even the leftovers are gone
On Friday we only have a one hour lunch break instead of the usual two
hour break, but the office closes at 3 pm instead of the usual 5 pm.
Since we got out a bit early I decided to try to get a haircut after work.
I rode one of the motorbikes in to town and eventually found a little
barber shop with no English signs. There were several people getting
haircuts in it already though so I knew it was the right place. I went in
and sat down, and the first thing they did was powder my neck. I guess
they do it so that the hair doesn't stick to you as much since everyone is
sweaty. The guy who cut my hair took quite a while, but did a good job.
He didn't have electric trimmers, but he did have some hand operated
trimmers as well as the scissors. At the end he asked if I wanted a
shave, but I declined for this time. Also, right at the end of the
haircut he sort of pounded the back of my neck and then rubbed my
shoulders for about 5 seconds as the finishing touch. I'm pretty sure I
got overcharged a bit, but the 75 cents was still manageable. On the way
back I stopped and got some fruit and bread for the weekend. They have
really nice Asian pears right now and I also got some dragonfruit and more
bananas for smoothies. One of these days I'll take some pictures of the
dragon fruit as it is quite interesting. The inside is white with black
seeds and has a similar texture to kiwi. Outside it is pink with green
sort of leafy scales on it. Friday night I started sharing my bathroom
with a lady who is here for a visit. She is from Australia but lived here
in Cambodia for 8 years starting about 10 years ago. She said that when
she first came here with her husband (who was the ADRA director) there
were no church members, and now at church she recognized many of her
neighbors and friends who used to be Buddhists.
On Wednesday I went to a local Indian restaurant with Wes where we paid $2
each for all you can eat rice, dahl and vegetable curry. They also had
salad and we could watch CNN in English while eating. On our way back
from the restaurant we stopped at a supermarket to get some groceries.
They also had a little caf where I was able to get a soft serve ice cream
cone for 50 cents which was very refreshing.
Last Sunday I went to the central market and managed to find a transformer
so that I can plug in my cd/mp3 player here. I also found the Lonely
Planet Cambodia guidebook for $2. It costs $15 in the US or $25 in the
Bangkok airport but the version I got is a photocopied edition that is
very usable. It doesn't have color on the inside pictures, although the
cover is full color and glossy. I also got some food and looked at a few
other electronics items. One lady really wanted to sell me a hammock for
something like $3 and followed me around the market for a good 10 minutes
trying to make a sale.
This coming Tuesday I will be traveling to Kompong Thom province (about 2
hours away on a good road) where I will be spending at least 50% of my
time. It turns out the Child Survival project there, which is funded by
USAID, is paying my stipend. I will be there a large portion of the time
for at least the first several months. The project director is a
non-Adventist Australian guy who has lived here in Cambodia for 5 years
but just started working with ADRA in October. He is quite a character.
He brought a sea kayak with him from Australia which he uses on the local
river near the project office. He also apparently hosts a radio show on
Sundays on the only English radio station here in Phnom Penh. Out at the
project they do get email using a cell phone hooked up to a computer, but
I don't think they have any regular Internet access as there are no land
lines. We'll see, but I'll probably be pretty much out of touch at least
for this first trip up there. I'm coming back here to the capitol no
later that Friday so will be here again for the weekend. I think my main
job at the project will probably be to train the staff to use computers,
and I may be teaching some of them English as well. I'm sure I'll find
out more about it this week when I am up there.
Starting on this coming Friday the ADRA office will be closed for an
entire week to celebrate the Khmer New Year. I'm thinking about doing
some traveling, but I'm not sure yet since my passport is currently with a
government office getting a visa extension. If I don't have my passport
in time I will probably just travel within the country instead of trying
to go to Vietnam, Laos, and/or Thailand. We'll see what happens.
Anyway, that's pretty much all that's going on with me. I'll talk to you
It is Sunday morning here again, and yes it is still hot. After I wrote last Sunday I think we pretty much just watched an Irish movie that was on TV and played some table tennis. Monday I got a few things ready for my trip out to the project office and for lunch I went to a Thai place. I also met with Geof in the morning and discussed some trip details.
Tuesday morning I got up a bit early and went down to the clinic to get another dose of vaccine. When I got back I went over to the office, met up with Geof and went to his house which is near the ADRA office. From his house we caught three motos (which are basically motorcycle taxis) down to the central market area to find a taxi to Kompong Thmor. We had three motos because Geof, his wife Ruth and I were traveling together and we also had luggage. Since there were three of us we rented an entire taxi instead of just getting seats in a shared one. Normally it would cost about $10 to do this for the 2+ hour trip, but we ended up paying $15 (most of the drivers were holding out for $25, partly because of the upcoming New Year holiday and partly because of our white skin). We found out later that at some point in the market area one of the compartments of Geof's bag was unzipped and a couple of pencils were taken. Luckily nothing of value was missing. The taxi we ended up in actually had AC, although one of the back seat windows was stuck partially open so it wasn't as cool as it could have been. I've been told that the road we took is one of the good roads in this country. It did have a pretty good blacktop surface with not too many major potholes, but some of the bridge areas were dirt with a few planks and other pieces of wood covering dry streambeds. On the way we made one stop for some sort of palm juice, and another for water. Our water stop was in a town famous for the local treat of fried spiders. I didn't see them up close on this stop, but from a distance I saw some merchants with platters piled high with something black The last part of the road was a bit rougher with only a thin blacktop area in the middle and a dirt section of road on either side. We probably spent more time off the blacktop than on since we had to yield to trucks, and there tended to be deeper potholes on the asphalt section. We got to Geof's place in Kompong Thmor about noon, and his live in helper had a lunch of vegetables with rice waiting for us. It looks like I will be spending most of my time during the week living with Geof in Kompong Thmor, but I will probably come back to Phnom Penh on most weekends. The building I will be living in seems to be designed as a store downstairs with living quarters upstairs. The upper level houses 5 of the ADRA project staff members, and Geof, the helper and I have the lower level. It is a bit of a bachelor pad with no dining table yet, although there is a Sony flat screen TV with DVD/VCD player and surround sound. The floors are bare concrete since the landlord doesn't have enough money to tile it until he gets more rent money in about a year. The upper parts of the walls are painted white, but the lower part is also bare concrete waiting for tiles. At the moment there are two rooms, one with more solid concrete walls and the other with thin, more temporary wood walls. The plan is to add another wood room for me, but for now I'm sleeping near the living room area. The helper does laundry, cooking and cleaning as well as the shopping. The "kitchen" area is basically a concrete counter with a two burner gas stove and no oven, sink or refrigerator. Food is pretty much purchased from the market the same day it is eaten, although there is a cooler that gets a daily block of ice to keep the powdered milk and some water cold. Electricity is pretty expensive here, but ice is very cheap. Geof says that he may get a refrigerator eventually if needed, but so far the cooler with ice has been fine. He has only been in this place for a month or two so it's not fully set up yet. The bathroom has a squat toilet (basically just a hole in the ground with foot pads for squatting), an open water tank with small bucket scoop for showers and flushing (Geof also got a hot water heater that may eventually provide some running water for showers I think, but it isn't hooked up yet), and a sink with running water fed from another water tank that is upstairs. All water is pumped from the well to the tanks as needed using an electric pump. For this trip I slept on a cot with a small mattress on top of it, but we plan to get a regular bed soon. I also have a little wardrobe that was purchased from the local market the day we arrived. It's basically a metal frame with a cloth cover that can be zipped up to keep the dust out. It has room for hanging clothes and also has a shelf. Overall the place is very basic, but livable. It definitely helps to have someone else cooking the meals.
After lunch we went over to the project office which is about a block or so away from the house. The office is in a Colonial style house with a large veranda on the second floor which is actually used as a meeting area and as office space for a couple of people. They do have a shower with running water and a sit down toilet at the office. When we walked in the door the staff and some of the health workers from the surrounding villages were in the middle of a training session. This was interrupted and I was told to introduce myself while Geof disappeared to talk to someone else in the office. There were probably about 25 people there, and through a translator I introduced myself and after some prompting from Geof I told them all about my parents and sister and where they are. When I was done they went around the circle introducing themselves and I of course promptly forgot all the names. After the introductions were over Geof showed me around the office. They have a small computer lab with about 5 desktops and a couple of laptops networked together. I spent most of my time at the office doing some minor upgrades and organizing the lab a bit. I also spent some time helping Geof with some paperwork for USAID. The computer room is the only one with AC, but it is currently not working.
In the evening we went and got some local deserts for supper which we ate with mango. The desert we had was some sort of rice pudding with pieces of soggy bread mixed in. I ate some, but didn't particularly like it. The mangos on the other hand were "bad" according to the vendor that sold them, so they were cheaper. Here they like to eat mangos when they are green so the ripe ones we like are not considered good, so our "bad" mangos were very tasty. For breakfast Wednesday morning we had fresh bread from the market with Ovaltine from a restaurant (basically sweet chocolate milk). For supper Geof and Ruth introduced me to what they call "rice cream" which is basically rice with sweetened condensed milk, milk and fruit. We had it with mango Wednesday, and then with bananas on Thursday. It was actually pretty good, and they considered it to be an Australian food (the helper couldn't believe what they were doing to the rice, so it's not a local food anyway). Wednesday afternoon we had the first good rainstorm since I got here. It got really windy, and then poured rain for a while before clearing up. It reminded me of the rainstorms in Sri Lanka. In the evening I went for a paddle on the river in Geof's "canoe" which is more like an open version of a sea kayak. It was quite nice to paddle along the peaceful river and I saw quite a few people taking baths, washing motorcycles and fishing along the way.
Thursday evening we caught a taxi back to Phnom Penh where I got to take a shower with running water and slept in my nice queen sized bed there. Friday I went to the markets and got some computer supplies for the office, and went to a motorbike rental place that didn't end up having any bikes available. On Sabbath I went to church where a man from Pakistan had the sermon in English that I could understand most of the time. He preached on Daniel which was also the subject of the Sabbath School discussion. After church we had haystacks with black beans and lettuce (my style, not the Australian style this time) and then I took a nap. Saturday night I went to an Indian/Nepalese restaurant where I got my favorite curry with peas in it.
Today I started this email in the morning, then went looking for motorbikes, found one, came back and I am now finishing up the email before hitting the road. I'm planning to head south towards the coast and will be gone until Friday. There are several areas I'm hoping to visit including a mountain national park and the beach. Since it is New Year here it's about the same price to rent a dirt bike for 6 days as it is to take a taxi down there and back. I'll have a lot more freedom to stop when and where I want with my own transportation than I would in a shared taxi.
Anyway, I think that's it for now. Happy New Year!
Well, I am now back from my trip which went very well and was lots of fun. It is Sunday morning and yes, it is still hot here.
After I last wrote I finished packing and began my motor bike trip by riding about three hours south to the town of Kampot. The trip was fairly uneventful although I did run out of gas once. It wasn't a problem though since people sell it in 2 liter fanta or sprite bottles by the side of the road and I ran out near one of these vendors. Some village kids helped push the bike a few feet down the road to the vendor where I bought some gas and was on my way again. Upon arrival in Kampot I found a guesthouse and rented a room with two double beds, fan, mosquito nets and a bathroom for $5. It was nearly dark by the time I checked in, and I enjoyed drinking some cold water while chatting to another traveler from Sweden before heading out in search of supper. I wasn't too hungry so I was hoping to find some fruit for supper, but instead ended up getting a fruit shake from a street vendor. The downtown area was filled with vendors making fruit smoothies from fresh fruit, ice, sweetened condensed milk and sugar. While having my smoothie I chatted with a guy who was called over to the stand when I arrived because he spoke some English. Just after I got back to the hotel a thunderstorm hit and it rained pretty hard for a bit. We are still technically in the dry season I think, but we're getting closer to the rainy season. So far the rain storms haven't been lasting very long yet, although they do help to cool things down a bit. Back in my room I read in my guidebook and made plans for the next day before going to sleep.
When I first got up Monday morning I packed up my things, checked out of the guesthouse and drove to the local "waterfall" which is basically just some minor rapids that are barely even rapids in the dry season. Since it was Khmer New Year the river area was full of local people out having a picnic. Enterprising vendors had set up flat wooden platforms with reed mats on them so that people could sit comfortably by the river. Inner tubes were also available for rent and lots of people were enjoying a swim in the river. I bought some mangosteins and a papaya which I ate by the river as my breakfast. Mangosteins have a hard purple shell with white sections inside that kind of look like garlic, but are very sweet and tasty. After I finished my breakfast I got back on the bike and rode about 20-30 minutes to the coastal town of Kep. Kep used to be a French resort area before the war days, and there are many abandoned and looted villas in the area. From what I understand it is usually a fairly empty town with very few people, although it was very crowded when I first arrived because of the New Year. The beach area was completely full of people playing with inner tubes in the water and having picnics on the beach. Since it was just after noon when I arrived, I located another $5 guesthouse with a view of the ocean and got a room. The family that seemed to be running the guesthouse was eating lunch when I checked in and invited me to join them for rice and cooked vegetables with meat. I was able to easily eat around the meat and had a nice meal. After lunch I took a shower to cool off and then took a nap. When I woke up I went out to the beach for a swim. At the beach I met a Canadian guy who also lives in Phnom Penh and is working for one of the newspapers there. After talking a bit we decided to meet up the next day to travel together. I relaxed in the ocean until dark and then went back to my hotel, read some more in the guide book, and went to sleep.
Tuesday morning I woke up fairly early since I had gone to bed so early the night before. I packed up and rode out of town back towards Kampot where I was planning to meet Patrick, the Canadian guy living in Phnom Penh. On the way I stopped at a Buddhist temple complex built around and on a hill that is home to some caves. When I first arrived a young boy started showing me around and guided be to several shrines, and through several caves. One of the caves was home to a fairly large population of bats that were quite talkative and another had some interesting stalagmite formations. Most of the caves had little shrines in them and the boy who was guiding me would stop, remove his shoes, kneel, and then bow down with his head to the ground at each of the shrines before moving on. It was an interesting cave tour and I got very hot and sweaty climbing around with my backpack on. While traveling I drank about 4 liters of water each day. Locally filtered and bottled water is readily available at every little roadside stand here for about 12.5 cents per liter so my water budget was about 50 cents per day. I usually would stop after an hour or two on the bike and drink an entire liter bottle in one shot. After the hot caving hike the wind felt especially good when I got back on the road to Kampot. In Kampot I met up with Patrick and we had a breakfast of fresh pineapple and ice cold Ovaltine, which is basically chocolate milk from a mix. After eating, Patrick rented a dirt bike and tried to learn how to shift before we both filled up with gas. We then stopped at the local market to get a couple of things before heading out of town. About 12km out of town we turned off the main road and paid our entrance fee of $5 each to enter Bokor National Park. The road to the hill station on Bokor Mountain is around 30km consisting of some remnants of what used to be pavement, along with plenty of big rocks and potholes. Dirt bikes are an excellent choice for traveling on this road, although quite a few people seemed to be managing in their passenger cars and small vans. After a couple of rough hours we finally arrived at the Bokor Mountain Hill Station where there are some rangers' quarters and a couple of rooms that they rent out for $5 per person. The elevation at the hill station is just over 1000m which is around 3,000 ft so the weather is a little bit cooler than down in the valleys. After getting settled in the room, we promptly went to sleep for a couple of hours and woke back up around 4:30 pm. The main attractions at Bokor Mountain are abandoned buildings and a waterfall. The ranger station/guesthouse is located in one of the old buildings and near the others. The most interesting of the buildings is what used to be a fancy hotel. It is 4-5 stories but is just a concrete shell now since the buildings were looted during famine years. The hotel is perched at the edge of a cliff overlooking the valley floor and the coast. When we first began exploring, the view was clouded over so we couldn't see much other than a steep dropoff and thick jungle foliage. As the sun began to set the mist cleared enough so that we could see out over the coastal area though, and the view was quite impressive. Other abandoned buildings included a post office, casino and Catholic church. For me one of the nicest things about the hill station was the lack of people. Although it was crowded during the day because of the New Year holidays, nobody else stayed overnight so it was very quiet and peaceful, especially once they turned off the generator. In the evening I watched the sun disappear as a thunderstorm began to develop in the distance. I also came back to the cliff later on at night and could see the village lights along the coast as well as lots of stars overhead.
Wednesday morning on the way to the trailhead for the waterfall the chain came off of Patrick's motorbike. Since he had a cell phone along he was able to call the rental shop and they sent some guys out to fix it. While waiting we both got on my bike and went to the waterfall trailhead. We parked the bike with the rangers there who charge a small fee to keep an eye on it. We took some pictures with the rangers and I showed them the results on my digital camera. We were a bit surprised when they smiled and pulled out their digital camera to show us. They had a nice Sony camera, complete with 10x optical zoom. The rangers had quite a bit of gear with the WildAid logo on it and apparently get quite a bit of funding from the organization to help protect the natural resources. Illegal logging and poaching is a big problem here in Cambodia and I think WildAid is an organization that is trying to help. At any rate, the rangers had a nice digital camera from WildAid even though their quarters consisted of hammocks in a tent structure. After walking a short distance down the trail we crossed a bridge made from a few logs nailed together. On the other side of the bridge several moto (scooter) drivers were available in case you didn't want to actually walk the 20 minutes to the waterfalls. I think they were probably just there for the New Year crowd since I doubt there are enough visitors to make it worth their while at other times. We declined the moto ride and hiked on out to the waterfall area which was quite dry. It was interesting because we could hike around on what is the waterfall shelf in the wet season. I did manage to take a nice cool "shower" in the waterfall, although I think there are good pools for swimming in the wet season. By the time we got back from the waterfall we didn't have to wait much longer until the repair crew arrived on another dirt bike. They unloaded their tools and gave Patrick the good bike while they worked on his old one. I think there was a little more damage than just the chain coming off, but they sent us on our way before it was totally fixed. At the bottom of the hill Patrick headed back to Kampot where he needed to catch a bus or taxi back to Phnom Penh while I went the opposite direction to Kompong Som which is also known as Sihanoukville. By the time I found a guesthouse in Kompong Som I had been on the bike around 4 hours and was glad to get off. Since Kompong Som is a more touristy area there are many more places to stay and I was able to find a bed for $2 a night in a shared room. There were three beds in the room but the first night only one other person was there and he was from Japan. The second night I had the room to myself. After getting settled in I went for a swim in the ocean until after dark and then got some dinner of fried noodles with vegetables for 50 cents. When I got back to the hotel I talked to a couple of Americans and agreed to share the cost of a boat trip with them the next day. I then went to bed early to recover from a long day on the bike.
Thursday morning I met up with the two Americans who have been teaching English in Japan for the last year and are from California. We had omelets for breakfast and then bought some food to bring on the boat for our lunch. The boat trip we went on was in Ream national park and was mostly a river trip. The boat we went in had a small engine mounted on it with a long shaft with a small propeller extended down into the water. It is a fairly common type of boat here I think, and the propeller shaft is good for shallow water since it can easily be raised and lowered by tugging on a rope. As we made our way down the river we passed by Mangroves and also saw lots of people out fishing in row boats. There were also some people diving for clams and others checking on lobster traps. Our final destination was a small fishing village at the mouth of the river. To get to shore we had to walk quite a ways on a sand bar and in ankle deep water since it was low tide and the boat couldn't make it very close to shore. The village men and boys were playing volleyball when we arrived. Most of the traditional houses in Cambodia are built on stilts so that they will stay dry in the rainy season when everything floods. The houses in this village were of this type and the people were very friendly. From the village we hiked along a trail for about 30 minutes through the jungle and eventually came out on an ocean beach. We had the beach completely to ourselves and enjoyed swimming, sleeping and eating lunch before hiking back to our boat. The river boat trip was around 2 hours each way so by the time we spent some time on the beach, it was nearly 5 pm when we got back to the ranger station. Back in town I had noodles for supper again and then went for a night time swim in the ocean. I'm really glad I decided to go for a swim since it turned out that some sort of glowing algae or plankton was in the water so that when I moved my hands the water would sort of sparkle with green specks of phosphorescent light. The sea was quite calm so there weren't really any waves, or else I imagine they would have been glowing as well. The way it sparkled reminded me of the "fairy dust" that you see in the introduction to Disney movies where the little fairy is flying around. After my swim I took a shower and went to bed.
Friday morning I was feeling a little strange so I didn't do much after having pancakes (more like crepes) for breakfast. A bit before checkout time I got all my stuff packed up and went with the two Americans from the river cruise to a massage place. There is a project here in Cambodia to teach blind people massage so that they can have a sustainable income source. It is called Seeing Hands and they have two massage places in Phnom Penh and one in Siem Reap that have been going for a while, but the one in Kompong Som is just starting out. They were offering free sessions since the people are still in training there. I had a nice 1 hour massage before getting back on the dirt bike for the long (3+ hours) ride back to Phnom Penh. The road back to Phnom Penh is probably the best one in Cambodia with no potholes at all, but I still was getting pretty sore from so much time on the dirt bike and really enjoyed a nice 20 minute stop to sip cold water while sitting in a shaded hammock on the roadside. There are quite a few drink stands by the road that also provide hammock seating for the customers. When I got back here I checked email, let people know I was back safely, returned the bike to the rental shop, had cornbread for supper, took a nice cleansing shower and then went to sleep.
Sabbath I went to church where we had two sermons, one right after the other. The first was given by a man who used to live here and speaks the language well enough that he gave the prayer in Khmer and corrected the translator at least once during his sermon. The second sermon was a bit shorter but was given by the union youth director who is from Malaysia. The first speaker has recently moved to Thailand and is here doing some training sessions I think. Before he moved to Cambodia in 1992 he and his wife pastored in Northern California and they remember when we came to Redwood Camp Meeting dressed in our Sri Lanka outfits. I talked to them a little bit at the expat potluck following the church service. Sabbath school was cut a bit short since we had two sermons, but nobody seemed to mind. After potluck I took a nap, and then watched some TV in the evening before going to bed.
This morning I had a fruit shake for breakfast and I'm thinking of going to the market later on today to get some food and maybe some clothes. I took a bunch of pictures and will put them on my web site, hopefully pretty soon. I think we have hit our monthly bandwidth limit here in the office so I may have to find an internet café where I can upload the pictures, we'll see.
That's the news from Cambodia where the weather is hot, the monsoon is not here yet, and the humidity is above average.
Talk to you later!
This week has not been nearly as eventful for me so this email will probably be quite a bit shorter. During the week that most of us had time off, Geof, who is my supervisor at the project in Kompong Thom province, was working on a big project for USAID. The main result of this that affected me was that Geof took a few days to recover this week so I ended up staying here in the Phnom Penh office until Thursday. I mostly worked on making an HR database using Access and did some computer troubleshooting. I also took a trip in to town to buy some computer supplies. The store we usually buy from has pretty much anything you could want, although some of the prices are a bit high. Imported hardware can be a bit more expensive than in the states, although some things are still cheaper if they are made in this part of the world. Most prices are open to bargaining as well. In the evenings we weren't able to play any table tennis because they are doing a construction project in the room where the table is normally set up, although we did play some computer games. For lunch on Wednesday Wesley and I went to a restaurant run by Germans where we got and split a pizza and a dish of spinach filled ravioli. Both were very good, but a bit pricey compared to local food.
Thursday Wesley and I went over to Geof's house in the morning where our taxi was supposed to pick us up. The taxi didn't show up so Geof went down to the central market area where all the taxis are and got another one. By the time we got up to the project it was around noon. Geof was anxious for his daily snooze and went to sleep, while Wesley and I went to a local restaurant where I managed to order vegetables with rice. It was probably just a bit overpriced for here at 75 cents, but the portions were fairly large. We actually ended up sharing a table with a couple of the project staff members who also happened to be eating there. After lunch I did some work on the computers, and eventually managed to get the Khmer fonts working. I also discussed some longer term goals with Geof. For supper Wesley and I went out and bought some rambutans, mangos and a couple of other types of fruit.
Friday morning I worked in the office some more, and then we had a good lunch of rice with tofu and cooked greens. It was prepared by the helper at Geof's house. It looks like Geof and I will each be putting in 15,000 Riel per week (5 days) for the helper to buy food. She will be cooking lunches and probably getting some fruit for supper as well. For breakfast we will have powdered milk and cereal (brought from Phnom Penh, or in my case from California) most of the time I think. 15,000 Riel is equivalent to about $3.75 US. ADRA is paying for my lodging and utility costs both when I am here in Phnom Penh and at the project. They are also paying the $3 taxi fare each way between the project and Phnom Penh each week. This is quite helpful since my stipend is actually less than what most of the local project staff get paid. After lunch we caught a taxi back to Phnom Penh where I took Wes down to the motorbike rental place. The main office here is taking Monday and Tuesday off so he went to the beach for the long weekend. At the project they have rearranged all of the holidays into 5 day blocks to that we will get a full week later instead of a long weekend now. After I dropped off Wes I did some shopping at the Central Market. I got some mangosteens, which seem to be coming in to season since the price is dropping, and some watermelon. I also found 3 shirts for $2 each and a pair of Mossimo khaki pants for $3. I'm still working out the details, but I'll probably keep some clothes at the project, and others here in Phnom Penh so that I don't have to haul them back and forth. Friday night we all had haystacks together with the Reimanns and then visited a while. We also had German chocolates that Frank brought back from Germany on his last trip.
Sabbath after church I took a nap and then at night we went over to one of the missionary houses (the home of Tim and Faye Scott from the US) and played a game called Settlers which is a strategy board game kind of like Risk. It's mostly a game of chance I guess, but there is some strategy involved. It's also a bit like monopoly. For the first game I learned how to play, and I won the second game although it was very close. We also had watermelon, popcorn, lemonade and some Oreo cookies as snacks.
Today I am planning to go back up to the project with Geof. James and Sam rented dirt bikes today and are planning to do at least part of the trip I did over the New Year holidays.
This week I will probably stay at the project until at least Thursday, maybe Friday. I haven't been able to upload pictures yet, but hope to do it next weekend.
That's pretty much the news from here. Have a good week!
Another week has passed and believe it or not, it's still hot and humid here. I spent most of this week in Kompong Thmor at the Child Survival Project where I am actually going to spend most of my time here in Cambodia. Shortly after I wrote last week I found out that the people I was planning to share a taxi to Kompong Thmor with had a change of plans, so I decided to wait and go up Monday morning. I ended up playing games at the Scott's house again Sunday night and then tried to get my first stipend pay check at the office Monday morning. I wasn't able to get the check, but did get some cash to last through the week at least. I finally managed to get the check and cash it on Friday afternoon when I got back from the project, so that is all taken care of now.
Monday morning I took a moto (motor scooter taxi) down to the central market and taxi stand area. After a visit to a computer shop to make an exchange, I got a seat in a van taxi. Most of the time I have been travelling in car taxis, but the vans are definitely a different experience. They have several rows of seats, each of which is designed to seat 3 people but actually seats 4 plus children. The trip takes a little bit longer since they tend to stop a bit more often to let off passengers, but the difference isn't that much. The price is also a bit less than a car taxi. The main thing that was uncomfortable for me was the lack of leg room. The bench seats are so close together that I had to sit completely upright and even then could not put my legs directly in front of me because there was not enough room. It was better once a couple of people got out and my row was not full, but I survived just fine. I did at least have a window seat so that I could have fresh air. When I got to the project office I spent most of the afternoon getting the Khmer fonts working on all of the computers. I also helped a couple of people with some minor computer problems.
This week the ADRA team was doing some surveys and recruiting in the villages, so Tuesday morning Geof and I went out to visit some of the locations where this particular ADRA project is working. The main goal of the project is to increase the child survival rate in a specific region. Several methods will be used to help accomplish this goal, including training VHVs (Village Health Volunteers) and TBAs (Traditional Birth Attendants, or midwives). The theory is that a VHV knowledgeable in basic health principles can act as a resource person within the village. The VHV can also become a sort of liaison person between the village and the regional health center. Since the TBAs are often the only care provider during pregnancy and child birth, they will be trained to better recognize signs of complication so that they can refer patients to the medical centers when appropriate. They will also be trained in basic health and in principles related to their roles as midwives. Since many children die from relatively simple and/or easily treated problems, increasing the health knowledge in the villages should help to increase the child survival rate. On Tuesday the team was actually doing some research by talking with groups of mothers to determine their current knowledge levels. The villages were very close to the project office, and we visited three different ADRA teams at work. I think it will be much easier for me to just send a couple of pictures instead of attempting to describe what the villages are like in words. On the way back from the village visits we stopped along the way and saw one form of child labor where young children are put to work in the family business chipping rocks into gravel. We also saw a blacksmith's shop where a pony was being fitted with some new shoes, got some coconut ice cream cones for 2.5 cents each, and had some sugar cane juice. The sugar cane juice is widely available and is a tasty drink. When you place an order they run the sugar cane through a press to squeeze out the juice and collect it in a glass or sometimes just in a plastic bag. Plastic bags are widely available here and are used for everything. The fruit vendors even in village markets tend to bag each type of fruit that you select, and then put them all in another larger plastic bag. For many types of drinks they just use a plastic bag with a straw instead of a glass. We got back to the office just in time for lunch and a nap. Since the lunch break here is usually 2 hours long, most people take a mid day nap. I have been napping on and off so far. I'm still not addicted but probably will be soon. After lunch I worked on a few projects in the office.
Wednesday the ADRA team was doing some recruiting in villages a little bit further from the office and we went out to visit them again. Everyone in the ADRA team gets around using scooters which were purchased brand new for this project. They have spray painted the ADRA logo on them, which helps to make them look less new and hopefully less attractive to potential thieves. It is quite the motorcycle gang that pulls out of the office in the morning when everyone is headed out to the villages. In the villages we visited on Tuesday the children were pretty healthy overall, but on Wednesday there were some that were not so healthy. Several of the children were sick with easily treatable conditions, but the people didn't know what to do. This particular area was a ways from the nearest medical center so hadn't had as much contact with it as some. It is fairly common for the village people to be wary of the health centers as well, and they often wait until it is too late before they even try to seek treatment. They told me that in this particular village most of the people are illiterate because the school is not very close and in the past there have been security concerns because of illegal logging in the area. The parents would not let their children go to school because the road was not considered safe. Now the road is safe again and children are able to go to school. On the one hand the village conditions are quite sad, but at the same time it really demonstrates what this ADRA Project is designed to accomplish. The goal is that by the time the project is finished, children will be getting the appropriate treatment when needed, and the overall village health will be much better. Wednesday afternoon I worked on several projects, the most interesting of which was to figure out how to install a voltage regulator for the office. One of the local staff members and I first figured out where the electricity first enters the building, then realized that it is split into three before actually entering any sort of breaker. Each of the three sections is then on a separate breaker. I asked if there was a way to turn off the power outside the building, and was assured that it wasn't possible. So, being one to take things at face value I suggested that we go look around outside, and found a panel on the telephone pole with some pretty questionable looking wiring, about six or eight usage meters and two switches. After asking around and borrowing a wooden ladder from one of the neighbors, we got a closer look and confirmed that one of the switches was wired to our usage meter and did indeed turn off the power to our building. So, now we know how to turn off the power to install the voltage regulator, which is one of my projects for next week.
In the office we have a fairly interesting religious make up. I think the majority of the staff members are Buddhists, with a few Christians. I'm not certain but I think there are one or two SDAs besides myself. Geof is Christian, but not SDA. On Tuesday and Thursday mornings we have worship led by Geof. At the moment we are just reading through some basic Bible stories, and then Geof talks about them a little before having prayer. The person doing the translating is Buddhist and has never heard any Bible stories before, so it is quite interesting at times. On Thursday morning we had worship with breakfast at Geof's house and made our first attempt at singing. We sang "Father I Adore You" along with a music CD, and it worked pretty well. At the moment we are reading the story of Joseph and discussing how God led him and had a plan for his life all along. After worship I spent the day in the office working on several projects.
Friday morning I worked some and then before lunch I caught a taxi back to Phnom Penh so that I could work on getting my stipend before the office closed. I shared the taxi with a couple of mothers with sick children who we had found during the village visits. Geof decided to help them get to the hospital in Phnom Penh, which is free for them once they get there. The main costs that they needed help with were transportation, food and lodging. Geof arranged for them to stay at his house while seeking treatment. One of the children has a tumor on the neck and the other has a case of cleft palate. Often the people are too poor to even afford the trip in to visit the free hospital. Another problem is that they are sometimes too scared of western medicine and refuse to undergo the recommended treatment once they get there. Since these people are staying with Geof he and his wife will be able to help them understand what is going on and what needs to be done when they visit the hospital. Once we got to Phnom Penh I first got my stipend sorted out, and then stopped by the medical clinic to get another two vaccinations. From the clinic I went to a couple of markets to get a computer program for the project and some fruit for the weekend. I got mangosteens and Asian pears this time. Friday evening I pretty much just took a long bath/shower and went to bed early.
Sabbath after church I had lunch with Reimann's (the ADRA director and his family) and then took an afternoon nap. In the evening I watched Joshua and Caleb, the two Reimann kids so that their parents could have some time together. The boys actually were asleep in bed most of the time so I watched a DVD movie. Actually, most of the evenings at the project I watched a movie on DVD with Geof as well. Although they are DVDs, they are often not DVD quality, especially the newer movies. Typically if it has actually been released on DVD in the states, you can get the good quality DVD here as well, but before that the "DVD" is usually made from a bootleg version of some sort.
The other volunteers are all gone this weekend, two to one of the projects, and one to the beach, so it is pretty quiet around here. The Internet has been on and off a bit this weekend, but I have at least been able to do some email. I also got my email working at the project office last week so I won't be completely out of touch up there. This coming week I plan to be at the project again. Whenever we get the books (they have been ordered) I'm supposed to start teaching English to the project staff in three one hour sections per day, so that will take quite a bit of my time once it starts. In the mean time I've got several other projects to keep me busy.
After several attempts at getting my pictures online, I finally gave up on my usual methods and instead decided to try something new. I have created a page where a few pictures are now online using the same web site that the Benton family uses to keep in touch. A few of you are already members of that site, so will already have access to the pictures. The rest of you can go to the family site and use the login and password I sent you to get to the pictures. The space is pretty limited on this site, but it allows me to only upload once to get the pictures on to the Benton site and this one. In order to stay within the space limit I will have to delete the old pictures whenever I add new ones, so they won't be online for very long. Eventually I will get the rest of my pictures on to my other photo site, but I'm not sure when that will happen.
That's all the news for this week.
Until next time,
Well, it's been 3 weeks since the last time I wrote, and I have been sick on and off that entire time. I finally went to the doctor Friday and they found that I have Giardia and a couple of other parasites so I am now taking three different medications and should hopefully be feeling better soon.
The first week after I last wrote I was at the project office in Kompong Thmor, mostly working on figuring out some map creation software. In between I helped some of the staff with some computer questions and projects. For the weekend I decided to go and visit the town of Kompong Cham. Friday afternoon I traveled with one of the ADRA staff members who lives in Kompong Cham, and then found the Adventist school where I stayed. Here in Phnom Penh I had met Peter who is a student missionary from Walla Walla teaching English at the school in Kompong Cham. Since I wasn't feeling all that great I didn't do anything too energetic but did go to vespers on Friday at the local SDA church, and then went to church on Sabbath. The Pakistani treasurer from the Phnom Penh church headquarters office happened to be there so the sermon was even in English. Sabbath afternoon I napped, and then Saturday night I met up with Patrick (the Canadian guy who went to Bokor with me before) and along with Peter we went to "Las Vegas" via the recently completely bridge over the Mekong. Pretty much all of the locals in Kompong Cham consider the bridge to be the main attraction. It is a very nice bridge built by the Japanese and forms part of the overland link between Vietnam and Thailand. The bridge itself has become a sort of hang out spot, but on the other side of the bridge a bunch of restaurants have sprung up with lots of bright lights and live Khmer music. Since there are plenty of bright lights the expats tend to refer to the area as Las Vegas. Anyway, we walked over there and had some supper in a small hut with our own hammock and two different sets of loud music. After that we stopped by the expat hang out area in front of the Mekong Hotel where people like to sit and have a drink (of water of course) by the river. One of the guys there asked me if I had ever heard of a beer borne disease, and then rested his case against drinking water We didn't stay there very long.
On Sunday Patrick and I went to see some temple ruins that are from the same period as Angkor Wat. The walls and a few carvings surround a newer, more recently built temple that is in use now. We also visited man hill and woman hill, both of which have temples on top of them. The legend goes that the women wanted to have more rights so the wise queen devised a competition between the men and the women. They would each have one day to build a hill, and whoever had the taller hill at the end of the day would win. At dusk both hills were about the same height, but the men stopped working at dark while the women worked through the night to make their hill taller. According to the story, since the women won the competition the men now have to pay to get a wife rather than the other way around, and women have more rights that they did before. Nearby the hills we also saw a bunker that had been dug by the Japanese during WW2 and one of the killing fields where many Cambodian people were massacred during the Pol Pot years. Our guide told us that there used to be skulls scattered around the place, but now they are in the process of burying them. We did see a few of the skulls lined up inside a building waiting to be covered over in concrete.
I spent the following week in the Phnom Penh office working primarily on the ADRA Cambodia web page. I didn't remake it from scratch, but did do some pretty major updates. I spent the weekend in Phnom Penh as well where all of the school kids sang and played music for church. They had a music festival where the kids from the other Adventist schools come down for a few days and then had a big concert for church. The music director is from Argentina and does a very good job. They even produced a Christmas CD recently, which they sell to help sponsor students who can't afford to pay their school bills. Saturday night was spent playing a board game called Settlers at the Scotts, which is pretty much an ongoing Saturday night activity here for the volunteers and a few others. This time we even made caramel corn using my mom's recipe, which was good.
On Monday after a few hours at the Phnom Penh office, I grabbed a taxi for the 4-5 hour ride to the town of Pursat. ADRA has a couple of projects operating there and they needed some help getting their computers working properly. One nice perk of the trip was that I stayed in a hotel with AC and CNN for the two nights I was there. I didn't really do much in Pursat other than work. They had a virus problem that I was able to fix, and I also helped them get their network and backups organized.
When I got back to work in Phnom Penh on Thursday they were having meetings involving the leaders of all the ADRA projects in Cambodia. Since everyone was here for the meetings I finally met the ADRA staff members that I hadn't met yet. For lunch we all went to a western restaurant that serves things like pizza and pasta and it was very good. Friday I went to the doctor and got some medicine, and then we had a sort of farewell lunch for Mark who is not really leaving. He will actually be moving out of the Phnom Penh office and will now be working full time with the ADRA Projects in Pursat.
On Sabbath I went to church, where the sermon was not translated this week. We did have an English handout to go along with it at least. After church we had potluck which was fun. Saturday night we played Settlers again, and today I haven't done much other than check email and take naps.
This coming week I'm planning to go back to Kompong Thmor where I need to help out with some picture scanning and editing. They are preparing the training materials which will be used to train people in the village, and I don't think anyone has used a scanner much before. Geof left on a two week trip to the US today, so he won't be around here this week or next week.
Anyway, that's pretty much all the news from here.
Talk to you later,
Since I last wrote my health has improved considerably. Before I was feeling drained and had very little energy, but now I'm much better.
After writing my last letter I did indeed go to the project office in Kompong Thmor. I ended up having to turn around and come back though after discovering that the scanner was not working, even with the new drivers I had brought from Phnom Penh. It turned out that the scanner didn't even work when we got it originally, but nobody had mentioned this to me or done anything about getting it fixed. At any rate I ended up bringing the scanner back to Phnom Penh where the company that we bought it from confirmed that there was indeed a problem the light bulb was not present. At the end of about a week of calling the company several times per day I managed to get a temporary replacement that we can use until they get our scanner working again. After wasting about a week to get a working scanner I went back to the project office where we finally were able to get some training materials scanned in to the computer. Most of the pictures we scanned will be used in training packets for the traditional birth attendants and the village health volunteers. Since many of them are illiterate, the materials to be distributed are mostly pictures that will help remind them of the training they receive.
Over the weekend while I was waiting on the scanner I went on a motorbike trip to Bokor Mountain National Park, which I also visited on my New Year trip. This time I went with Wes, Sam and James. We left Sabbath morning, spent about three hours on the good road to Kampot (150km) and then another two hours on the 30km road up to the Bokor hill station. Overall the trip was great and I really enjoyed the considerably cooler weather and remoteness of the hill station. In the evening I was actually comfortable wearing jeans and a long sleeved shirt. It was very misty which made the abandoned stone buildings seem even more eerie, and we enjoyed building a small campfire at night. On Sunday morning we spent some time swimming in the waterfall. Since the rainy season has started there was water in the waterfall this time, so actual swimming was possible. On the not so fun side of the trip the chain broke on my bike just as we got to the top of the hill. We managed to find most of the pieces on the road, and then towed my bike the remaining 3km to the ranger station where we spent the night. One of the rangers had an extra chain link to rejoin my chain and managed to repair my bike. Sunday morning after our swim Sam's bike got a flat tire, which again was repaired by one of the rangers. In the mean time Wes and James had gone ahead and James had a bit of a fall. He was fine, but got a little scraped up. James went ahead, but by the time the rest of us got back to Phnom Penh it was just getting dark. It was definitely a fun trip in spite of the mishaps.
The following weekend I stayed in Phnom Penh and went to church, followed by potluck. I used some of the supplies I brought from the states to make cornbread muffins for potluck. After dinner we watched an old black and white movie about Martin Luther which was quite good. The topic came up in the Sabbath school discussions so the Anthony's (who were hosting potluck) decided to show the film. In the evening we had our last game of settlers before James and Sam would be leaving. Sunday was a fairly slow day of doing things on the Internet and playing some games. Monday afternoon I was originally planning to head back to the project to start teaching English, but ended up delaying my trip until Tuesday. Since James left Monday evening he wanted to show me a few things about the computer systems here. Also, Geof got back from his 2 week trip to the US and we decided to travel to the project together Tuesday afternoon.
The rest of the week I pretty much spent teaching my first few English classes, which I wasn't particularly looking forward to. It went pretty well though and I think I'll survive somehow.
Sam had some visa worries, but ended up leaving as planned on Thursday. He is now back in Germany and no doubt he is glad to see his family and girlfriend again. Wesley will be leaving at the end of the month and there are still no plans regarding new volunteers coming to ADRA. There are a couple of positions open and some applications have been received, but they have not been processed yet as far as I know. Wesley's next position when he leaves here will be in North Korea where he will be working with ADRA. They have no Internet access, only email service provided by the government. All expats live on one big compound and they can only shop at certain stores. It should be interesting to say the least. Before he goes to Korea he's planning to spend some time trekking in Nepal.
This last weekend we ended up having Monday and Tuesday off from work. Tuesday is the Queen's birthday and most of the offices closed for Monday as well by substituting another holiday or taking annual leave. The long weekend kind of caught me by surprise, but I decided to go Kompong Som which is the main beach resort area in Cambodia. I traveled down with Wes and Chris (Geof's 14 year old son) Sabbath. After we found a hotel and got settled we met up with Geof's wife (Chris's mom) who had come back from Thailand that same day by boat. Geof came down and joined us on Sunday after doing his radio show. It was quite nice to just relax for a few days. We spent some time on the beach and swimming in the ocean, although in the afternoon the monsoon rains usually come through at this time of year. They are fun to watch as well though. Sunday morning Wesley and I decided to swim to a buoy a little ways from the beach, which ended up taking a bit over 2 hours roundtrip because of a cross current that made reaching the buoy a bit harder. Next time I know to start way up the beach so that the current can just take me to the buoy instead. For the long weekend I ate out 3 times a day, shared a hotel room with Chris and paid for my transportation costs. For the 3 and a half days I decided to really just enjoy the beach and not worry too much about saving money for a change. I ended up spending a total of about $40 even though I ate out and had western and Indian food the whole time. I also enjoyed fresh lemon juice (lemonade) with most meals and had a Thai massage Tuesday morning before catching the bus back to Phnom Penh. The lady who gave me the massage is actually from England but has had formal training in Thai massage and is working to support her Asian travels. When I got back I checked email briefly, and then got a much needed haircut. I feel much cooler now without the built in winter hat. After my haircut I took a shower and then read some more in "A Beautiful Mind" which I have almost finished reading now. It's the biography of a mathematical genius who suffered from schizophrenia. The recent movie of the same name was based on the book, but the book is much more detailed and factual.
Today I'm planning to head back to the project after I pick up some printer supplies this morning. I'll spend the rest of the week teaching English and helping out with the computers as usual.
Well, that's about it for now from Cambodia. I've got a few pictures online already from the motor bike trip, but didn't end up taking many at the beach. I may add a couple from there later.
Until next time,
Since I last wrote things have been fairly quiet here. During the week I have more or less been in a routine of teaching 3 English classes per day. I have the first class from 6:30 7:30 am, the second one from 8:00 9:00 am and the third from 5:30 6:30 pm. Since most of the students are quite busy with work during the day two of the classes have to meet outside of the regular working hours. In between classes I have been helping people with various computer problems. We have also been printing training materials in color pretty much straight through the last couple of weeks, so I have spent some time refilling the color ink cartridge so that we don't have to buy a new one each time it runs out.
I spent the last three weekends here in Phnom Penh. Two weeks ago we had potluck and Wesley and I made samosas again. I also made egg gravy to put on toast for Sabbath breakfast and it really hit the spot. Saturday night we played games at the Scotts and I don't remember doing anything of interest on Sunday.
Last weekend was Wesley's last one here in Cambodia. I believe we actually went out to two different Indian restaurants for "last lunches" before he left. We also tried out a Christian coffee shop that is within walking distance of the mission compound where we attend church. I think the place is run by Americans and I was able to get a real chocolate milk shake (they also had malts and berry shakes on the menu) and freshly baked ginger snaps. Everything was very good, but a bit pricey, especially by Cambodian standards. On Saturday night we made quesadillas and played games at the Scotts as usual. The quesadillas took quite a while to make since we first had to make tortillas from scratch, but they turned out really well. On Sunday I made shortcake (which we ate with canned raspberries) and went over to Hernan and Corina's house to watch the final match of the world cup. Hernan and Corina are from Argentina so are required to root for any team playing against Brazil. We were disappointed that Germany didn't win, but not surprised by the outcome. The world cup has been quite a big deal here. The most annoying thing about watching it though is that the local station plays advertisements during the game. I'm told that in most countries they do not interrupt with ads, but here they do and a couple of times they have been playing an ad when a goal was scored even.
This last week Geof had too many things to do in Phnom Penh and didn't end up joining me at the project so things were even quieter than usual. One day this week I decided to get my breakfast at the market instead of having it at home, and purchased something that looked like donut holes. I could barely finish one since it turned out to be a thin layer of bread filled with some sort of salty soy bean paste. I also got some fresh baguettes so at least I had something good to eat instead. I also took a little time this week and drove out to visit the Adventist school and ICC (International Children's Care) Orphanage. It is about 7km or so out of town and I had not been there before this week. My visit was brief but it was nice to chat a little with the Australian family that is living and working there.
I was reminded of the darker side of Cambodian history this week while teaching English to the advanced group. When we came to a discussion question in the book, which asked "Did you hate high school?" the class agreed that they didn't hate high school. I asked if there was anything that they hated about it, and they all agreed that they really didn't like the required political classes and Russian language courses that they were required to take during the Pol Pot years.
This weekend a Treasurer from the GC spoke for church. After church I went to Scotts for lunch where we had a good meal. I also got to visit with Braden and Johanna who are here in Cambodia with Adventist Frontier Missions. When I first got here they were living here in Phnom Penh but now they are in one of the more remote areas of Cambodia. Their trip to Phnom Penh was quite interesting. It took about 12 hours and they had to swim a couple of rivers and walk 15km or so because the road was freshly washed out in places. Normally it shouldn't be quite that rough of a trip, but it is the rainy season and you never know I guess. They're planning to go back to their home this week. After lunch I went and picked up a friend I know from California named Rachel. She is here for about 6 weeks working with a Christian hospital boat that goes up and down the river providing health care to villagers. Since it was pretty rainy we decided to check out the National Museum which I hadn't been to before. The museum is fairly small, but has quite a few nice carvings, many of which are from Angkor Wat. On the way back from the museum we got rained on pretty good and I was quite wet. At least the rain cools things down a little bit, which is always nice. It great to see one of my friends from the States here in Cambodia, and I'll probably get together with Rachel again in a couple of weeks. After I dropped her off at the organization she is staying with, I went over to Scotts for another game night. This time we played Taboo for a while before playing a round of settlers. We finished up with a few games of a modified version of Uno. Sunday evening I went to a "hut warming" for Ross, the Australian guy who lives here and makes peanut butter. He is moving into an actual grass hut that is fairly open and not very big. I think there is one wall, and the other three sides are open with low eaves hanging down from the grass roof. The evening also doubled as a farewell party for Bill who has been teaching English at the Adventist school. He left today so now there is only one English teacher still here with the Adventist school. I think they are not going to have as many student missionaries here this coming year as they did before, but there are at least two new teachers coming in a couple of months.
I'm not planning to go to the project for the next two weeks. This week they are too busy to have English classes so I'm going to work on some other projects here in Phnom Penh. Next week we are moving houses (I stay in the same house as the country director, although I have my own entrance) so I'm sticking around to help with that.
I've enjoyed getting to chat with some of you online from time to time. I'll actually be online a bit more than usual over the next two weeks while I'm here in Phnom Penh.
Anyway, that's pretty much all that's been going on with me here in Cambodia!
Until next time,
Well, the past few weeks have been fairly eventful here in Cambodia. After I last wrote I spent some time working on the ADRA Cambodia web page. On Tuesday a couple of guys from the GC were here for a quick visit and I acted as the tour guide for the afternoon. We stopped at the Russian Market (where you can buy just about anything for a good price) and then visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It was a very sobering visit, since the museum is housed in a former school that served as a prison during Khmer Rouge years. Visiting this site reminded me of concentration camps in Germany and of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. The first part of the museum consists of interrogation rooms, followed by prison cells. Pictures of prisoners who passed through the complex hang on many of the walls in these areas. The final section of the museum has some artwork about the period and some of the devices used in interrogation sessions. This museum is a reminder of the atrocities that took place here in the late 70s. Pretty much everyone here has a story to tell about the Khmer Rouge years. One local ADRA employee even recognized a shirt in the museum because it had belonged to one of his parents who were killed by the Khmer Rouge. My visit to Tuol Sleng was very sad, but it made me realize how precious the current state of peace is here in Cambodia.
The following day I got together some computer supplies, helped Ben load up one of the ADRA vehicles with large metal molds used to make cement well rings, and headed towards Preah Vihear Province. On the way we (Ben & Sharon Davis and I) stopped for lunch at the $2 Indian place and then purchased some additional computer supplies. By the time we got everything sorted out it was getting late and we ended up driving to Ben & Sharon's house in Kompong Thmal. This is the same area where the project I normally work on is located, but Ben & Sharon don't actually live there at the moment. After a good nights sleep we piled back in the ADRA truck and continued on towards Preah Vihear province. Along the way we had several stops as Ben & Sharon have been here several years and seem to know people all along the road, many of whom they have business of some sort with. For example, one person we talked to was doing a welding job for Ben, another wanted to give Ben a pet python, and we purchased 4 bicycles (not assembled) for the Preah Vihear project from another man. We also had a stop for lunch along the way, but eventually made it to Preah Vihear. The trip from Phnom Penh takes about a minimum of 6 hours in the dry season, but usually takes a bit more than that, depending on how bad the road is. The last 3 hours (dry season time) is dirt and I think it took us about 4 hours this time as it was in pretty good shape. When the road is in bad shape the trip can extend to 5 or 6 hours.
Upon arrival at the project office I looked around a little bit and tried to answer a few computer questions that the staff asked me. The ADRA project in Preah Vihear is called the WELL (Water Empowerment Learning Livelihoods) project and one of their functions is to dig wells. On the grounds of the project office they have people making the cement rings that are used to line the well so that it does not cave in. The main purpose of my trip was to setup a small network in the project office so that they could share the printer and make backups more easily. Since we arrived fairly late in the day on Thursday I did most of my work on Friday. The network I setup is very small, but they do have nice wall mounted network jacks and cables that are run under the floor now.
This particular project is fairly remote. The only electricity is from a generator and they do not have any telephone, cell phone or email access. I also didn't see any sign of running water, except when it was raining and running off the roof. Currently the only link to the outside world is via radio, but even that has been acting up lately. For emergencies a nearby government organization (I think) has a reliable radio. Ironically, another project in the area has outfitted some of the local schools with satellite based broadband Internet connections, but they are quite strict about only allowing the students to use the connection. I guess they had to get a special permit from the government and they are quite strict about what it is used for.
During my visit I stayed with Ben & Sharon, first in a rented house. On Sunday however I helped them move into their new house which they are in the process of building. They decided that with three walls and a waterproof roof, it was good enough to move in to. Minor details like plumbing, windows, and doors will come later. I must say however, that even in this state the new house is much nicer than the one they were renting. I have pictures of both in my photo album. One of the nicest things about the new house is the location. The nearest neighbor is about 2-3 kilometers away and the house is surrounded by jungle. There is quite a bit of rush hour traffic on their road, but it is made up almost entirely of cows. Apparently there are good grazing grounds a few more kilometers past their house. Another nice feature of the new house is that Ben & Sharon also have a rather large area fenced off where they keep several pets including geese and some other birds. During my stay I was introduced to public showers, where you use a scarf-like piece of cloth called a krama to keep yourself covered while showering. In the rented house the "shower" consisted of a large clay jar under the house filled with rainwater, while in the new house it was a large plastic bucket on the front porch, also filled with rainwater. Here in Cambodia the krama is a multi-purpose device that can be used as a rope, head covering, nose and mouth cover to keep out the dust, shade from the sun, shower outfit, towel, swimsuit, shopping bag, etc and is carried by both men and women.
For Sabbath we had church at Ben & Sharon's new house (the day before they moved in). There is a small company in the area that normally meets at the pastor's house. I experienced a new form of prayer that I had never encountered before, just after the Sabbath school and church services. The spirit world is very, very real for people here in Cambodia with many wearing special good luck charms and getting tattoos designed to protect them. It is fairly common when a new member joins the church to have a ceremony to remove all of these charms as the new believer comes under God's protection and no longer needs them. Ben & Sharon's house is located near a cemetery and many of the local people are scared of the area, especially after dark. So, perhaps at least partly because of the location, the company of believers decided to conduct a prayer session asking God to drive away any evil spirits and to keep Ben & Sharon safe in their new house. The pastor began the prayer, but after an introduction (I guess, it was all in Khmer) all of the members began praying their own prayers at the same time. This alone was not new to me, except that everyone prayed in a normal talking voice at the same time so the result was a bit of a cacophony. It was an interesting experience that sort of caught me by surprise, but I'm sure God was able to hear each of the individual prayers that were offered.
Sabbath after church we took a walk to the site of an old dam. Apparently this dam was constructed using forced labor during the Khmer Rouge years. They made most of it out of dirt, but created a large concrete section with gates for controlling the water flow. Once the dam was completed they stopped the flow of the river. I guess nobody calculated where the water would back up to however, because a very large area was flooded as a result of the dam. In fact, a much larger area was flooded than the area that was to benefit from being irrigated using the dam, the water was released and the dam sits unused.
On Monday I was planning to catch an early taxi back towards Phnom Penh (one change is involved), but ended up missing the last one (at about 7:30am). Since I was hoping to be back to Phnom Penh that day, I decided to try another mode of travel. I first took a motodope (scooter taxi) about 8-10 km to the main road ($1.50). The moto driver was a church member and was quite aggressive in flagging down a passing truck. He negotiated a seat between the driver and his helper in the truck cab for $1.00 to Kompong Thom where I would be able to catch a taxi to Phnom Penh. This particular truck was carrying rice and since trucks usually don't drive as fast as taxis, the 3 hour dirt road trip turned into around 4.5 hours. The rice truck dropped me off a couple of kilometers outside of town where they stopped to unload the rice, so I took another moto in to town and actually found a taxi fairly quickly even though it was about 6:15 pm by this time and most people travel earlier in the day here. It was a long day, but the taxi made good time since there is less traffic at night. It is rather interesting though that the young people like to hang out on the road at night. They basically sit on the edge of the pavement with their backs to the traffic flying past them. I'm not really sure what the draw is, but the road ends up lined with groups of people who are nearly invisible at night. I'm told that when the floods come people move their animals on to the road as well since it is the only dry area (the roads are the highest ground around usually). This leaves you with a narrow corridor for traffic to make its way through the collection of animals, people to watch the animals, and other more "typical" road hazards.
Back in Phnom Penh things were fairly quiet until Frank returned from a trip and the moving began. Frank (the ADRA Cambodia Country Director) and his family live in a house with a couple of separate rooms at the back for volunteers. The land lady at the old house decided to sell it so we had to find a new one and I was the lucky one in charge of moving all the boxes and furniture to the new place. The two houses are fairly similar in size and configuration, although I think the new one is a little bit nicer. I ended up spending part of Thursday with the three ADRA guards helping, all day Friday with four hired moto drivers (they each got $5 for a full day of heavy lifting), and part of Monday morning moving. The most "fun" part was when we had to lower very heavy wooden furniture over the balcony using ropes since the staircase has a tight corner in it. At least now everything is moved and I'm all settled in to my new room. Frank and his family aren't very settled yet since they are all in Germany at the moment and haven't had a chance to unpack yet.
The weekend was fairly low key with another Saturday night of games and another house warming party on Sunday. I also met another volunteer from PUC who is here doing some video projects for a couple of months.
On Monday after all of the moving was finished I went to a hotel where they have a hot tub, sauna, steam room and cold pool. They also have a movie room where you can watch DVDs with the AC blasting cold air. Entrance is $6 but for an extra $5 you also get a massage. Since I was feeling some new muscles I decided to spring for the $11 and get the one hour massage, which was wonderful. The cold pool was also great; it was cold enough that I started feeling faint in less than a minute.
On Tuesday I went up to the Child Survival project in Kompong Thmal, but ended up coming back on Wednesday to deal with some computer problems in Phnom Penh. There also weren't really enough staff in the office to have English classes since several were on leave and others were busy in the villages during class time.
Thursday night I went to a brand new Japanese restaurant located in a brand new hotel. I went with Ryan, a contractor who is here from the states for a short time. He has worked with ADRA at least two times before this trip. A couple of his friends who work for another NGO here in Cambodia also came along. The restaurant experience was quite interesting because we were the only customers (they haven't started advertising the place at all yet). There was a staff of around 10 people who spent the whole time watching our table and making sure everything was just right. I had some cucumber sushi rolls and some miso soup with tofu that was really nice.
Friday afternoon Ryan and I each rented a motorbike and we headed down to Kep, which is near the city of Kampot (I visited both of these places on my first bike trip over Khmer New Year). This time we rented bigger bikes than what I used on my previous trips. They are just bigger in that they are taller and have more clearance, the engines are still 250s. Upon arrival in Kep we found a nice guesthouse located right on the ocean and rented the "expensive" $7 room. Normal rooms are $5 but the one we got was on the second (top) floor with a balcony and window overlooking the water. It was pretty much dark when we got there, but we decided to go for a swim anyway, and it was really nice with all the stars out. There was enough breeze that there were even some semi-decent waves, although body surfing wasn't really possible.
Sabbath morning after breakfast we set out to explore a road near Kampot that we had both heard might lead to a proper waterfall. Ryan had even heard that it might be a back road to Bokor Mountain. Well, the first part of the road is nice and paved and leads to some rapids that the Khmers refer to as a waterfall. I think I mentioned this spot in an earlier email. After the picnic areas the road deteriorates considerably. We kept following it for a couple of hours, and a while after a fun stream crossing we decided that the "road" was getting a bit too overgrown since we were constantly riding in a hunched position to avoid low branches. We parked the bikes and stashed some of our stuff, then hiked on up the trail for another hour or so before stopping for a picnic lunch by the river. Crossing the stream was probably the most fun part of the motorbike trip, although the least fun part was trying to get the bikes kick started afterwards (and other times). I wound up with several scrapes and bruises from failed kick start attempts, and I think I'll stick to electric starters next time. Along the trail we saw one rather impressive set of rapids that would make for some very exciting rafting (which we're guessing is the rumored "waterfall"), several groups of Khmers harvesting bamboo from the forest and transporting it back out along the road/trail to town on their bicycles, and a few pits by the side of the road which I suspect were gem mines, although I'm not sure. We also saw several areas that had obviously been used for camping at some point and one large hawk. Not long after we parked the bikes and started hiking we came to overgrown areas where the branches were low enough that we had to hunch over (nearly crawling) to get under them, and other spots where fallen trees would have made motorbike passage very difficult. Needless to say, we were glad to be on foot. On the way back to town we stopped at the picnic area, rented some inner tubes, walked a little ways up stream and then rode down the rapids. It was a nice bumpy ride and the cool water felt really good after a day of hiking and riding. By the time we stopped swimming in the river it was well after dark so we drove back to Kampot and got a $5 hotel room. I pretty much just took a shower and went right to sleep.
In the morning we got up fairly early and headed back to Phnom Penh since Ryan wanted to get some work done in the office. The ride back was fairly uneventful although it was quite nice to get off the bikes by the time we pulled in to the rental shop.
The last two days I've been here in the Phnom Penh office working on a few computer problems. I've also been trying to get a replacement part for one of the Child Survival Project computers. It looks like I'll be heading up to Kompong Thmal tomorrow.
Well, this update has gotten to be a bit long. I guess I shouldn't have waited so long to write. Anyway, that's the news from Cambodia!
Until next time,
Well, it's been nearly a month since I wrote last, so I guess my attempt to write more often has failed. Time has been passing pretty quickly and it seems hard to believe that I've been here five months already. The last several weeks have been relatively uneventful so this email shouldn't be quite as long as the last one at least.
The weekend after I last wrote was my birthday. The actual day was on Friday, but since I spent most of the day traveling I thought of the following couple of days as my birthday weekend. Friday morning I taught an English class and then got a taxi. I learned from the ADRA staff and the taxi driver that a bridge on our route home was damaged so I would have to pay extra for the car ferry that we would take on the long way around. As it turned out we waited in line for the ferry for two or three hours and then found out that the bridge was fixed so never actually took the ferry. The 2.5 hour trip turned into about 6 hours and we arrived in Phnom Penh just as one of the heaviest rains I've seen so far hit. The taxi driver of course still charged the higher fare even though we didn't end up paying for a ferry, and I was completely soaked to the bone on the moto ride back to the ADRA office from the taxi stand area. I actually enjoyed that part pretty well though since the rain cooled me off a little, and my bag was kept dry by the moto driver's poncho. Over the weekend I went out to eat at a fancy Swiss German restaurant where I had cheese fondue, Greek salad and potato soup. Afterwards we had dessert at a much less fancy, but fun place called "Ice cream in coconut". Can you guess what they serve? The coconut milk is served in a glass and there are some interesting candy-like "treats" in the bottom of the coconut under the ice cream. I also got a singing to with a candle to blow out at the Saturday night game table.
On Sunday I went to the killing fields which are just outside of Phnom Penh. I went with a couple of guys who are here doing some video projects, a British girl teaching English for a month, and a couple of other friends from church who live here. There were six of us and we went on two motos, so we had three on each bike. With the same group I also set my personal moto record of four foreigners (barongs) on one moto for a fairly short distance of about two blocks. We took one picture with five piled on, but weren't really stable enough to drive anywhere that time.
The killing fields are another sobering reminder of the sad history here in Cambodia. They have one large monument where they have collected most of the human skulls and things that used to be strewn around the area. There are many shallow pits that were used as mass graves in the area and you can see some bone fragments and bits of clothing in places. The genocide museum definitely paints a much more vivid picture, but the killing fields are worth a visit as well.
During the week I went on another village visit with the ADRA staff where they were mapping the villages. They basically take a big piece of paper and a legend to the house of the village chief and he draws each hut in his village on the map, marking which family lives in each one. These maps are useful for contacting the villagers who are working with ADRA as Commune Coordinators (CCs) or Village Health Volunteers (VHVs). It is also helpful in contacting the Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs). Over the last couple of weeks the project staff have been conducting training sessions, first for the TBAs, then for the CCs. Now they are in the midst of training the VHVs. The CCs use what they have learned to help train the VHVs in their respective communes (communes are administrative divisions sort of like counties in the US, but smaller). Since most of the staff are spending all day conducting training in the field, they are actually too busy to have most of the English classes right now.
On the next weekend I was planning to go to the beach with Ryan, but ended up canceling at the last minute because I got a little sick from something I ate or drank. It only lasted for about 24 hrs, but I didn't feel like riding down to the beach after church. Since I was feeling better by Sunday we decided to visit Oudong instead. Oudong is an ancient capital city with some temple ruins and things to look at. It is also a popular Khmer picnic spot with lots of vendors around the parking area. Since it is only about an hour north of Phnom Penh we just went on our motos. While we were hiking around some Khmer girls wanted to take their pictures with us, so we stood there first for a group shot, and then for individual photos with each girl. I mainly bring this up so that you don't wonder about the strange pictures in my photo album... :)
After I got back from Oudong I met up with my friend Rachel from Loma Linda who was here for six weeks. We had some supper and watched a movie, then I said goodbye to her since she was headed back to school that week. I also said farewell to Ryan on Monday before I went back out to the Kompong Thmal project since he also was headed back to school.
At the project I spent one morning taking some photos of a TBA's house that had burned down so that we could send out an email to some of the ADRA staff to raise a little money to help her rebuild her home. She had just completed the ADRA training course a week or two before the fire. Fortunately she was visiting neighbors when the fire started. On the same trip I got to stop by a small temple site which was quite peaceful and had some ruins which I believe were from the 1200s.
Last weekend was not particularly eventful. We had a fairly small group of four at the game table Saturday night, but it was still fun. On Sunday Jeremy (one of the guys here doing video projects for the mission) and I had a craving for Mexican food so we made tortillas and salsa from scratch. Along with beans, cheese and some veggies they made excellent burritos which we enjoyed while watching a movie. I also stopped by Central Market and bought a pair of Gap pants for $3.
On Monday Jeremy came along with me to Kompong Thmal and we spent Tuesday and Wednesday visiting the areas where ADRA is conducting the VHV training. In between village visits I taught my 6:30 am English class and helped get some extra training materials printed up at the last minute. I also helped our Monitoring and Evaluations (M&E) officer with some of the computer statistics packages that he is trying to use.
Friday night I had a very International supper with Frank, his wife Elaine and some ADRA guests. We had ten people at the table, with at least one person from Germany, France, England, Mongolia, New Caledonia (Pacific Islands), the Caribbean (not sure which island), Vietnam and of course the States. I think the US and Vietnam each had two people and the other countries just had one (not counting the kids who were in bed by the time we ate). The guests were here in Cambodia for an ADRA workshop in Siem Reap and were visiting from the ADRA offices in Vietnam, Thailand and Mongolia.
The English Sabbath school was especially diverse and full this week with about 30 people and at least 13 different countries represented. Potluck was excellent with lots of good food and fellowship. Saturday night we played games as usual. The group is growing again since one of the English teachers arrived last week. A new ADRA volunteer from Germany is due to arrive this week and another one or two are coming to the mission soon as well. There is still an unfilled PR position with ADRA that might bring another volunteer eventually, and Ann Stickle will be arriving in a couple of weeks. She will be the new Associate ADRA Director here and she was in both Moscow and Maryland at the same time as my family, so it will be fun to see her again.
This week I'm staying here in Phnom Penh to work on compiling the results from some strategic planning surveys. ADRA Cambodia is having a strategic planning session in a few weeks where the survey results will be used.
Well, I think that's pretty much all that is going on with me right now. We've actually had some relatively cool weather over the past couple of weeks. We went nearly a week without breaking 90 degrees, although the humidity is still around 100%.
That's all for now,
Greetings from Cambodia!
Although it has been a little over a month since my last letter, not a whole lot of interest has happened. I have been very busy with work. I spent about three weeks working on compiling a whole bunch of surveys that were completed by ADRA staff (from each project), clients (beneficiaries), donors, ADRA headquarters staff and Cambodia Adventist Mission employees. Most of the surveys first had to be translated into English (which took about two weeks), and then I compiled all of the answers from each group into one document. After the answers were all entered into the computer, I then condensed several pages of answers (for each question, for each group) into a summary of about a paragraph. This whole process ended up taking around 3 weeks of my time, with plenty of computer problems to solve in between. Towards the end I was working some long days, but I got everything finished in time for the strategic planning workshop which was last week. I also prepared workshop folders with several hundred pages of information for each participant to use throughout the week.
During the actual workshop I was also pretty busy. I helped people with printing, checking email, and sharing and compiling documents among other things. I also had a little bit of time to be involved in the actual workshop. The goal for the week was to come up with a sort of "big picture" plan for ADRA Cambodia for the next 3 years. Many good discussions took place, and I think that the workshop went very well overall.
Although the workshop was at the beach town of Kompong Som, we were busy enough with meetings that by the time we finished I usually didn't have enough energy to go to the beach or do much of anything other than eat supper and go to bed. A few of us finally did go for a late night swim once during the workshop, and the phosphorescent algae was sparkling which made it really nice.
The weekend after I last wrote I took Jonathan, the new German volunteer, to Oudong along with Karli and Jeremy. We took a bunch of tropical fruit, most of which Jonathan had never seen before, as a picnic lunch and had a good time relaxing away from Phnom Penh. I also went bowling for the first time here as a sort of farewell night for Jeremy. We had a fun evening enjoying a regular, American style bowling alley that they have here.
Ann arrived shortly before the strategic planning workshop and we all took some time out on Saturday night to have a welcome party for her. She is getting settled in now and even had her first moto driving lesson this afternoon.
Most of the strategic planning workshop participants boarded the bus back to Phnom Penh at 12:30pm on Friday, but a couple of us decided to spend the weekend in Kompong Som. Geof brought his kayak and body (boogie) board and we spent Friday afternoon enjoying the sun and surf. It rained pretty much all week, but the entire afternoon was sunny on Friday so we had an especially nice time. Since it had been pretty windy all week as well, we had an unusual (for Cambodia) treat of good waves. Normally the waves are pathetic at best here, but this weekend we were able to body surf nicely. Another friend (Ross, who makes peanut butter here among other things) came down from Phnom Penh Friday afternoon and spent the rest of the weekend with us at the beach. The bungalows (huts) we stayed in were $3 per night with two beds or $4 per night with three beds, although Geof upgraded to another hotel with hot water instead which goes for $7 per night. Most meals eating out were around $1-2. We found a really nice restaurant called the Snake House which is decorated with various types of snakes in cages. It is run by a Russian family so the menu features a few Russian dishes which were good and reminded me of Russia. Several of the tables have glass tops and actually contain a live snake which you can watch as you eat. The whole place is really set up nicely with gardens, a salt water fish pond, a fruit bat and some geckos/lizards to keep the snakes company. The food is pretty reasonable as well. I usually ordered a couple of vegetarian side dishes (most of the main courses contained meat) and came away full for $2 or so. We ended up visiting this restaurant a total of three times, once during the workshop and twice on the weekend.
On Sabbath we went for a swim in the morning, even though it was pouring rain. There wasn't any thunder when we started swimming, but we heard some after a few minutes so decided to get out. After lunch the weather cleared and we had another fun afternoon enjoying the sun and sand. One particular crash that I had was quite spectacular. A wave caught the kayak just right so that it did a nose dive into the water, hit the sandy bottom and then flipped forward (end over end) sending me and one passenger flying. We were both a little bruised, but agreed it was worth it considering all the fun we had. The people watching had a good laugh about seeing the kayak standing up vertically in the water on its way through the flip.
On Sunday we were all a bit tired so didn't end up swimming again before heading back to Phnom Penh. I opted to get a massage (which helped immensely with the newly acquired aches and pains) during lunch time since I had a fairly late breakfast. I lost track of time and ended up paying $5 for somewhere between 1 and a half and 2 hours of relaxation.
It was really, really nice to have some time to relax and enjoy nature after being so busy with the workshop and preparations for it. Now that it's over I have started working through my list of computer things which need to get done here in Phnom Penh. I'm making good progress and should be caught up by the end of the week or so.
Next weekend I'll probably hang out in Phnom Penh, although we have some holidays surrounding the following weekend. I'm sure I'll travel somewhere over that weekend, possibly even to Vietnam.
A couple more volunteers have arrived at the mission to teach English, although I haven't really gotten acquainted with them yet since I've been so busy. Jonathan (the new German volunteer) is pretty well settled in now and even managed to purchase a TV this week. Using a borrowed DVD player we "tested it out" last night by watching a movie. I think he's planning to eat only rice for the next few months to make up for the TV purchase. He says maybe he'll add some salt for special occasions like Christmas dinner (at least that's the ongoing volunteer joke these days).
Well, I think that's pretty much all of the news I can think of right now so I'll stop and send this.
Until next time,
PS I just remembered another thing that might be newsworthy. Not long after I wrote my last update email I had a fairly minor moto accident. Basically another moto backed out in front of me and I couldn't stop in time or turn to avoid him without hitting other traffic. I hit the back of his bike, then fell over on mine. Thankfully I was wearing my one pair of thick jeans so only got a minor scrape on my knee (my jeans ripped in two places though) and a couple of scrapes on my elbow. Neither bike had any major damage (my front basket had to be replaced and some plastic was broken I think) and the other driver wasn't hurt. I'm also thankful that I wasn't going very fast (traffic is typically pretty slow moving here). I guess this is why we always wear helmets and try to drive as safely as possible here in Cambodia. Ironically I had already scheduled the bike for some repairs that afternoon, so they just added a couple of extra items to the list...
In an unprecedented move I'm actually sending another email less than three weeks after my last update. Since I last wrote I spent about a week working on some things in the Phnom Penh office and finished up a few things related to the strategic planning workshop. On the weekend I spent time with some friends, including Braden and Johanna who are here in Cambodia with AFM (Adventist Frontier Missions) working in the Mondulkiri province. Mondulkiri is one of the more remote provinces in Cambodia and they were enjoying their visit to Phnom Penh. I was already thinking about trying to visit them over our long weekend holiday (last weekend), and since they were in Phnom Penh I was able to talk to them about the travel details and finalized plans for the trip. On Sunday I went bowling and then went to a surprise birthday party for Johanna.
During the week I spent a couple of days in Phnom Penh and then had a quick trip to the project in Kompong Thmal. It was nice to see the staff there again since I had been gone for over a month working on workshop stuff.
Friday morning Jonathan (the new German volunteer), Sujoya (a new volunteer from Wales who is working at the mission) and I got up before sunrise and took motos down to the taxi stand area for Mondulkiri. After waiting around for a little bit while they loaded some cargo into the truck, the driver told us to climb on and we were off. The pickups that usually make this particular trip are 4 wheel drive Toyotas with good mud tires on them since the road can be pretty bad, especially if it is raining. The back of our pickup was piled high with luggage, a brand new moto and around 10 or so people plus kids. The first part of the trip was on good, paved roads but the roads weren't so good for some of the later parts. At least it didn't rain very much so most of the road was not too bad. The trip probably would have taken about 10 hours but we had a flat tire along the way. The first time it blew out we stopped and they rolled the wheel a few hundred yards down the road to the nearest repair shop. Unfortunately the repair job didn't hold, so on a remote stretch of road we had to stop and change to the somewhat smaller spare. Once we got to the next small village we got the tire repaired again, and it seemed to hold air the second time. Although the trip was pretty long, the time went by fairly quickly since there was plenty of jungle scenery along the way. Thanks to the flat tire we reached the hilliest part of the road just about sunset and enjoyed an absolutely gorgeous sunset as we wound our way up the mountain road. Parts of the surrounding jungle were quite misty which added to the whole effect, and as a prelude to the sunset we also saw a rainbow. Whenever it started to rain along the way the passengers in the back of the truck would drape a large tarp over everything in an attempt to keep dry. I also had a rain coat which proved to be quite helpful. Before we arrived in Sen Monorom (the capitol of Mondulkiri province) it was completely dark and the clouds had cleared to reveal a star filled sky. It is truly amazing how many stars you can see when there is no electricity, and hence no light pollution along the way to distort the view. Sen Monorom itself does actually have electricity for a few hours in the mornings and evenings so we were welcomed to town by a couple of street lights. Upon arrival we had some trouble locating Braden and Johanna's house since we had agreed to contact them via cell phone when we arrived. Unfortunately for us the local cell tower was too busy so it took quite a while before we could place a call. Once we got through we met up with Braden and Johanna who had prepared a lovely supper for us. Our trip from Phnom Penh ended up taking about 13 hours and the price for the taxi ride was $10 per person. Although we had hoped to get in before dark, the sunset and stars more than made up for the delay.
After a good nights sleep in the relatively cool climate of Mondulkiri (I actually slept with a top sheet for a change), we all got up and had a breakfast of pancakes and fresh fruit. The markets in Sen Monorom are pretty well stocked since Vietnam is actually quite close. Foreigners can't cross the border in this area, but produce and other goods seem to flow quite freely. After breakfast we sang some songs and had our own mini church before hiking a few kilometers out of town to a waterfall. On the 4 km walk to the waterfall we probably saw a total of about 6-8 people once we left town, which is quite a change from the more populated rural areas of Cambodia. We got back from the waterfall just as it started to rain, so we sat on the porch talking and enjoying the cooler temperatures brought by the rain. A couple of people even put on light jackets. After supper we piled into Braden and Johanna's pickup and drove a little ways out of town to watch the sunset, which was beautiful yet again. Saturday night a few of the neighbor kids came over and we sang some songs, then played chicken foot dominoes (Mexican train) using a double 15 domino set. Braden and Johanna have a simple, but comfortable house in Sen Monorom. In some ways Ben and Sharon are more remote in Preah Vihear (no electricity, no cell coverage, not living in town), although the road to Mondulkiri is certainly longer and more difficult. After a few games of dominoes the kids left and we played a few rounds of Pit using spoons before heading to bed. After dark we pretty much stayed indoors and put on plenty of mosquito repellent since malaria is a problem in Mondulkiri. Braden and Johanna have both gotten it several times since moving there. We also took some preventative medication before, during and after the trip.
Sunday morning we got up a little bit early and headed out to one of the Phnong villages. Braden and Johanna have been learning about the Phnong people and have been studying their language as well. The Phnong and several other hill tribes are separate people groups from the Cambodians. Their culture, language and way of life are very different and they often live in the more remote (and hilly) areas of Cambodia. Although Braden and Johanna often visit Phnong villages as part of their research work, this particular visit had another goal elephant trekking! Upon arrival in the village we were told to wait while they went to get the elephants that we would ride. While waiting we were able to catch a little glimpse into village life and took some pictures. Some of the village structures reminded me of the long houses used by Native Americans in the US. When the elephants showed up the guides saddled them and then we climbed aboard. Jonathan decided not to come along on the elephant outing, but Braden, Johanna, Sujoya and I considered it to be the highlight of the weekend. We rode on the elephants for about two hours over green hills and through some patches of trees. At the end of the two hours we arrived at our destination: a waterfall. Since it had been raining quite a bit over the past few months the water levels were about as high as they get and the current was quite swift. We still had some fun swimming though before eating our picnic lunch on some rocks below the waterfall. After lunch we got back on the elephants and headed back to the Phnong village via a different route. On the way back we got to cross several rivers, one of which was almost deep enough to get us wet on top of the elephants. It was truly amazing how sure footed the elephants were as they slid down and climbed up the muddy river banks. The trip back to the village took around three hours since we took the scenic route through the jungle. We got rained on a little bit at the end of the ride, but we all had rain coats so didn't get very wet. Thankfully the rain didn't last too long so the road back to Sen Monorom wasn't too slippery. Many of the roads in Mondulkiri are made up of hard packed red clay which can get as slippery as ice when wet. Some of them are also very rutted and have little gorges along the sides produced by rain water which are deep and wide enough to swallow a Toyota pickup whole. When we got back to Braden and Johanna's house we were pretty tired so we just had supper, talked a while and then went to bed. The day-long elephant excursion cost $10 per person including the vegetarian picnic lunch and was arranged through one of the local guesthouses.
Monday morning we got up early and caught a taxi back towards Phnom Penh. This time however we arranged with the driver to drop us off near the town of Snuol (motos took us the last 5 km in to town). In Snuol we caught another pickup taxi for the 3 hour ride to Kratie. Kratie is located on the Mekong River and is known as the best place to see rare freshwater dolphins (Irrawaddy Dolphins). After finding a nice, clean hotel ($5 for two rooms with a total of three beds) we arranged to rent a moto from one of the local moto drivers for $3 including gas so that we could drive the 20 km or so out to the dolphin viewing park. We weren't sure if we would be able to spot the dolphins since the water levels are quite high in the river and people kept telling us that we would have to take a boat to see the dolphins. By the time we got to the viewing area it was too late for boats, but we sat and watched the sunset. Just as the clouds were turning bright colors a couple of dolphins surfaced a ways from shore and blew some air out through their blow holes before disappearing below the waves. Although it wasn't exactly an up close and personal dolphin encounter, it was still pretty cool to see the dolphins and the sunset was spectacular with a thunderstorm dumping rain right next to brightly colored clouds.
Tuesday morning we caught a speed boat down the Mekong to the town of Kompong Cham (around 3 hours, $5) where we then caught an air conditioned bus back to Phnom Penh (under 3 hours, $2). Jonathan was ready to get home so he got the last seat on an earlier bus while Sujoya and I waited for the next available seats a couple of hours later. Normally it's not a problem to get seats, but because of the long weekend lots of people were traveling. While waiting Sujoya and I took a moto out to man hill and woman hill which I had been to before on a previous trip to Kompong Cham. The last time I was there I was pretty sick so didn't climb the stairs to the top of woman hill, but this time I made it to the top with no problem. At the top some tourists were getting their names recorded on one of the walls of the Buddhist temple in exchange for a donation. We enjoyed the view of Kompong Cham and the Mekong River before heading back to the bus station. We also got some supper from the local market which ended up including dried bananas, corn on the cob, baguettes, some battered and fried green beans (which I hadn't seen or tried before) and some fruit. In Cambodia there are always little snacks and 'treats', and some of them are even vegetarian. You just never know what the next street vendor is going to have here
After a good night's sleep in Phnom Penh I spent a few hours in the office in the morning and then caught yet another taxi out to Kompong Thmal. On Thursday I spent some time on a couple of projects in the office, but on Friday morning I went with the staff to distribute some chloramine water purification tables in some flooded villages where they might have a hard time boiling their drinking water. Some of the staff ended up wading through waist deep water, but the group I went with ended up staying pretty dry except for driving through a little bit of water on the road. When we finished with the tablet distribution I caught a taxi back here to Phnom Penh.
Yesterday we had some baptisms and baby dedications in church and I had lunch with some friends. Last night we played settlers with some new expansion rules that made the game more interesting.
After some minor difficulties I finally managed to purchase a plane ticket to visit my parents in Cyprus. Since we have a couple of weeks of local holidays here in November I'm combining them with my vacation time to be gone from October 24 to November 25. I'm looking forward to the trip, especially since I'll also get to see my grandparents and some other relatives who will be visiting Cyprus at the same time as me.
In the time before I leave I'm planning to do some computer training with the ADRA staff in Kompong Thmal. Most of them want to improve their typing skills although a few have other areas of interest too.
Well, that's pretty much all that's been happening with me here in Cambodia. I suppose my next update will probably be from Cyprus. Anyone else want to meet me there? :)
Until next time,
Greetings from Slovenia!
Well, I see it has been a full month since I last wrote so here is the latest update.
After I last wrote I spent the week doing computer training in Kompong Thmal. I spent time helping most of the ADRA project staff learn how to type, although I also spent some time on specific programs (Access, Outlook, etc) with a few of the more advanced users. Some of the staff had never really used a computer before so they have plenty to learn and practice.
On Sabbath we had potluck, which was good as usual, and on Saturday night we played some games, although this time we went to Bryan and Penny's house which is a few miles north of Phnom Penh.
On Sunday I spent most of the day at the Phnom Penh water park with some friends. The water park is geared towards kids, but it was still fun to play on the slides and in the pools. It was also nice to be wet, and hence relatively cool for a change. The park opened this year and has a wave pool, lazy river, giant waterbed covered in water and several slides. On the way back from the water park we went out to eat at a pizza place which I hadn't been to before, and it was very good.
After spending a short week in Kompong Thmal, I traveled by taxi to Phnom Penh on the afternoon of Wednesday, October 23. In the evening I got a haircut and took care of everything I needed to get done before leaving Cambodia for a month.
Thursday morning I got up at about 6:00 am and caught a moto taxi to the taxi stand. I had arranged for a share taxi seat the night before, which was supposedly leaving at 7:00 am and actually left at 7:45 or so. The taxi was headed for Koh Kong which is a town on the Cambodia-Thailand border. The first half of the ride was on a very good paved road, but the second half was on a dirt road that was quite rutted in places. Much of the road wound through hilly, unpopulated jungle areas with plenty of beautiful scenery (we actually passed through at least one national park). We also used four car ferries along the way and had to wait about 2.5 hours in a tiny village because the road was closed for repairs. I had planned enough travel time so that I would be okay spending the night at the border if needed, but we ended up making it to the border about 10 minutes before it closed at 5 pm. After a little hassle with the taxi driver I walked across the border and got right on an air-conditioned mini bus headed for the town of Trat in Thailand. As we sped along the smooth, paved coastal highway I enjoyed watching the sun set between a couple of islands. Public transport in Thailand was quite luxurious compared to the Toyota Corolla taxis in Cambodia (with four in front and four in the back usually). In Trat I bought a bus ticket (AC with a movie dubbed in Thai) to Bangkok. I had 30 minutes before the bus left so I got to enjoy my first Thai food in Thailand, which was wonderful. I finally arrived in Bangkok at 11 pm, although by the time I found my way to the ADRA building (via a combination of local buses and a taxi) it was 1 am and I was glad to get a hot shower and some rest. The one hour flight from Phnom Penh to Bangkok would have cost around $170 (roundtrip), but certainly wouldn't have been nearly as interesting as the overland route which cost a little less than $20 (one way) for the entire trip.
Friday morning I said hello to a few people in the ADRA Asia regional office and then headed for the Bangkok airport. My flight was scheduled for later in the day, but my dad was arriving in the morning. He was visiting Thailand for the weekend and things worked out so that we were able to meet up in Bangkok. We ended up visiting Pantip Plaza which is basically a multi-story mall (complete with food court) devoted entirely to computers. After looking around a little we found some Thai food for lunch. We then made our way back to the airport where my dad got a ride to Mission College and I caught my flight to Dubai. I found that Thailand was noticeably more developed than Cambodia in many ways (cleaner, more electricity, good infrastructure, etc). I also noticed that quite a few familiar American franchises such as 7-11, Pizza Hut, and Burger King (and others) were present in Thailand (but not in Cambodia).
I had about 8 hours in Dubai and had a good sleep on the floor for about 5-6 of them before catching another flight to Larnaka where I was met by my mom. From the airport we went directly to an apartment hotel on the beach (about 5-10 minutes from the airport) where my mom's parents were waiting. My grandparents had been in Cyprus for about a month already when I arrived so we just relaxed at the beach for 3 days until my dad arrived from Thailand on Tuesday. I enjoyed home cooked meals, readers digest and swimming in the ocean everyday. I also had the first of many delicious clementine (mandarin) oranges, which are now in season in Cyprus and was introduced to the great freshly baked whole meal bread that is widely available in Cyprus.
On Sunday the parents of Jonathan, who is the other ADRA volunteer in Cambodia, spent the afternoon at the beach with us and gave me some things to take back to him. It wasn't planned, but it worked out that they were on vacation in Cyprus at the same time as me so we arranged to meet up. It was nice to get to know them a little bit and they told us some interesting stories about the changes that have taken place in Germany (they are from former East Germany).
Tuesday afternoon we picked up my dad from the airport and drove to my parents' apartment in Nicosia. I had seen pictures but this was my first time to visit our new home in Cyprus. Tuesday night we went out to TGI Fridays to celebrate all of our birthdays. I enjoyed it quite a bit although I was experiencing some reverse culture shock since prices for eating out in Cyprus are actually higher than in the US (and way higher than in Cambodia).
Wednesday evening Greg (my dad's brother) and his wife Mary Kay arrived from Maryland and Thursday morning my grandparents flew back to Oregon. On Thursday and Friday Greg, Mary Kay, and I were shown around Nicosia by my mom while my dad worked in the office. We visited an Independence monument, an old aqueduct, a real grocery store (we don't have them in Cambodia), a farmers market and the old town area which is filled with touristy shops and restaurants. For lunch we had cheese sandwiches made with haloumi cheese which is a locally produced, very mild cheese that reminds me of cheese curds available at cheese factories in the US. For desert we sampled some of the excellent Italian style ice cream (Gelato) that is widely available in Cyprus. We also visited the wall at the edge of the UN green zone that divides the capitol city (Nicosia) between north and south Cyprus. The island has been divided since Turkey illegally invaded about a third of the island in the north in the 1970s. Cyprus is hoping that this conflict will be resolved soon since Turkey is now under pressure to resolve it if they want to be considered for membership in the European Union. South Cyprus on the other hand is on track to join whether or not the conflict is resolved.
Sabbath we went to Sabbath school and church at the Nicosia church, which I remembered from my previous visit to Cyprus in December of 1999. A few people at church (and at the Middle East Union office) remembered me from when I was here before, although many of the people have moved here since then as well. After church we drove up into the mountains where we had a picnic lunch and then visited a Greek Orthodox monastery located high in the hills. Next we drove to the top of Mt. Olympus (a little over 6,000 feet) where they have a couple of ski lifts that usually start operating in January I think. On the way back we visited an old village called Kakopetria that has been restored to look about like it did a couple hundred years ago with narrow cobblestone streets and stone buildings. The village is basically a tourist area now with a few small hotels, restaurants and shops.
On Sunday I enjoyed my first visit to the sailboat in it's new Cyprus home (for those of you who haven't heard about it, the trip from Maryland was a success and my dad was on board for a little over three weeks for the 2000+ miles from Gibraltar to Cyprus). After dropping off Greg and Mary Kay at the cruise terminal in Limassol, (they enjoyed a 3 day cruise to Egypt) my mom and I drove to the marina in Larnaka where we met my dad and some ADRA people who were in town for a workshop. We didn't have a lot of wind, but enjoyed swimming off the back of the boat and had a nice lunch aboard as well.
Monday we got up relatively early and went to welcome people to the ADRA workshop that was starting in Larnaka (Larnaka, Nicosia and Limassol are in a sort of triangle, and are all about an hour from each other). I ended up sitting in on the workshop for the rest of the day since the material was fairly relevant to the project I work for in Cambodia.
Tuesday my mom and I picked up Greg and Mary Kay from the cruise terminal and then made our way along the coast. Along the way we had a picnic on the beach next to the birthplace (according to legend) of the Greek goddess Aphrodite. We also visited some ruins from the Roman period including a theater, a house with ancient baths, a stadium and some rather elaborate underground tombs. We arrived at our hotel in the west of Cyprus just in time to watch the sunset. After we got settled in at the hotel apartment we enjoyed a nice meal at a restaurant in town and then had a night visit to the baths of Aphrodite. Greg and I walked up the path and it was so dark that I ended up "bathing" my foot rather unexpectedly. Judging from postcards and the sound of water (we couldn't see much at night) the "baths" are basically a pool of water with some tiny waterfalls trickling into it.
Wednesday we drove back to my parents' apartment. The route we took first wound along the coast (breathtaking views) and then climbed into the mountains where we had a picnic in Cedar Valley, which lives up to it's name with Cedar trees as well as some others. Some of the trees (not the Cedars) were displaying their golden fall colors and were quite pretty. Since it was on the way back we stopped at Kakopetria again to get some pictures in daylight and explored the area a little bit more.
Thursday my dad and I got dropped off at the sailboat early in the afternoon (the others went on to explore other parts of the island). We then headed about an hour up the coast by boat and picked up some ADRA people from the hotel where the workshop was taking place. We didn't have much wind again so did some more swimming before dropping off the ADRA people back at their hotel. We used the dinghy to row people to and from shore. After dropping the people off my dad and I cooked supper (pasta) and then went to sleep. During the night the waves picked up in a different direction than the breeze so that the boat started rocking in a way that made it hard to sleep. Since we were both awake we started sailing at about 3 am and the wind gradually increased throughout the morning. By the time the sun was fully up we were really having a good sail. We sailed along the coast and then anchored in a cove around noon where we met up with Greg, Mary Kay and my mom. After enjoying some swimming (I even snorkeled a little bit) we all had supper on the boat.
Sabbath we explored the coast by car and enjoyed sea caves, arches, jagged cliffs and a church. For the rest of the day Greg, my dad and I sailed the boat back to it's home in Larnaka marina. The "sailing" was actually motoring with a couple of sails up at first, but later in the day the wind picked up and we enjoyed some excellent sailing, including some at night before arriving in our marina at around 9 pm.
I spent Sunday and Monday at home and Greg and Mary Kay flew back to Maryland Monday morning. Tuesday I ran some errands with my mom and then we left for the airport at about 2:00 am Wednesday morning. After a layover of a couple of hours in Budapest we arrived in Zagreb, Croatia Wednesday morning. We were met at the airport by a taxi that took us to our hotel in Rogaska Slatina, Slovenia (about an hour from the Zagreb airport).
We are visiting this part of the world because my dad is attending meetings here. My mom was already planning to come with him and since my visit to Cyprus ended up overlapping with the meetings my parents decided to bring me along as well. The town we are staying in is quite small and is basically a spa resort with all kinds of "cures" ranging from massage to aromatherapy to acupuncture to the painful sounding "lymph drainage". They like to hold meetings here because it is a central location and the prices are considerably lower than Western Europe. Full board is included in the room package and the food is very good with buffet style appetizers and salad followed by a choice of entrée and desert. By now we are often skipping the entrée or just ordering a fruit plate fairly often since the appetizers are so good and it's easy to eat too much. It has been interesting to meet and dine with lots of church leaders who are attending the meetings from all over the Trans-European Division. As you might imagine we had a good Sabbath with the majority of the congregation made up of pastors and plenty of people to share the speaking at vespers and church services.
While my dad has been in meetings most of the time, my mom and I have been relaxing. There are a couple of different hot pools fed with mineral rich spring water that we have visited. The larger pool complex has an outdoor portion and a variety of different water jets including some in-water lounge chairs that use bubbles to give you a gentle massage-like experience. One rather unique thing here is that they have coed locker rooms. They have little changing rooms like you would find in a department store, but the rest of the locker room, including the showers is open and coed. Although everyone wears swimming suits it is still a little different than what we are used to in the States.
We have also enjoyed walking/hiking in the hills surrounding the hotel. My favorite trail so far is one that goes to the top of the local ski hill where they have a lookout tower with a good view of the area. Unfortunately for me they don't have snow here yet so I haven't been able to do any skiing.
On Monday we walked a few kilometers out of town to the local Crystal factory where we enjoyed a tour. They certainly don't have the same safety standards as in the US since we basically walked right through the glass blowing area with no safety railing or anything like you would have on a factory tour in the US. This factory actually supplies Crystal to several famous brands in the US but you can buy it here at very reasonable prices.
On Tuesday a lady who lives in this area picked us up and took us around. We first drove to the top of a mountain where it was quite cold (close to freezing) and we had a great view of the valley below. I again was wishing for snow since we saw a gondola ski lift at the top of the mountain. She then took us to visit several castles and one old town. After lunch our next stop was at the Adventist school where she lives, which is just across the border in Croatia. The school is very nice and even has a castle on campus that they used to use as a school before they built the new buildings. Our last stop was at another castle that we visited just as it was getting dark. These castles are relics of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Hapsburgs), which ruled in this area until World War I.
Yesterday and today have been low-key relaxation days and tomorrow we are going to the airport to fly back to Cyprus. After spending Sabbath in Cyprus I will start my trip back to Cambodia Saturday night.
Well, I guess I should have written sooner since this has gotten rather long again. Oh well, perhaps the next update will be a bit shorter
Until next time,
Merry Christmas from Cambodia!
Over the last couple of days I've been listening to some Christmas music and I think the song that I can relate to the most right now is "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas". The weather here in Cambodia has been warm and humid all month, although the last day or two have been a little bit cooler with highs in the low 80s. Needless to say, my chances of getting a white Christmas this year are rather slim.
The day after I last wrote I began my trip back to Cambodia from Slovenia. 4 planes, 3 taxis, 2 motor cycle taxis, 2 buses, 2 tuk-tuks, a ride in my parents car and 3 short nights later I arrived back here in Phnom Penh. On the way I spent a few hours in Croatia, Cyprus, Dubai and Bangkok. In Cyprus I had enough time to bring my checked bag up to the maximum weight limit for the flight to Bangkok using an assortment of Christmas presents with some Big Franks to top it off. On the way here I also spent the night in a hotel near the Thailand Cambodia border and then had a 10 hour share taxi ride from the border to Phnom Penh. As you can imagine I was quite glad to see my bed by the time I got here.
I pretty much stayed in Phnom Penh for my first two weeks back in Cambodia. I did take a quick trip to the Kompong Thmal office, but only ended up spending one night there. On the weekends I enjoyed getting together with some friends again for church and then some games on the two Saturday nights.
On Sunday (a little over two weeks ago) I traveled to the town of Koh Kong which is located near the Thai border on the coast. I actually passed through this town on my way to Cyprus a couple of months ago, but this time I joined the entire ADRA team from the Child Survival project in Kompong Thmal for a week-long workshop (this is the project that I have spent the majority of my time here with). The workshop was focused on behavior change strategies. Quite a bit of it took place in Khmer so I also spent much of the time with another small group that was working on writing a new proposal during the same week. I ended up keeping quite busy and didn't even get a chance to swim in the ocean while I was there. The beach was a few kilometers away from our hotel and I just didn't have enough time or energy to go when the meetings were over.
On Sabbath I finally got to explore the area a little bit by car and we even tried to take a boat up one of the rivers to visit a waterfall. I say tried because the boat engine quit after a couple of kilometers and our guide couldn't get it started again. He ended up rowing us back down the river to where we had started, but gave us directions on how to reach the waterfall by car instead. I enjoyed swimming in the waterfall for a while and then we explored a couple of other roads in the area before ending up at the beach to watch the sunset, which was a perfect ending to our nature filled Sabbath.
On Sunday we traveled back to Phnom Penh (via the 4 ferries). Along the way we took a little side trip to Kirirom National Park. This park is quite accessible by good paved road and is only a couple of hours from Phnom Penh. It is located in some hills where they have pine trees and the weather is a couple of degrees cooler. They have quite a few nature trails as well as some places to swim in the river. It's a nice place to get away from the city and I'm thinking about going back there for a weekend trip sometime.
On Monday I did laundry, repacked my bag and got a couple of things done in the office. I was planning to write an update email but ran out of time. Tuesday morning I caught a taxi and then a pickup to Preah Vihear where Ben & Sharyn Davis live and work. I have visited them before and wrote about the house they built in the jungle. Since I last was there they have wired up the solar panels and batteries so they have electricity. They also have a bathroom in the house although all water has to be carried from the river which is a 10 minute walk away. The house itself is still very open and the shower still only has two walls. They now have the animal pen wired up with an electric fence and the current population includes 3 gibbons (like monkeys), 2 monkeys, 3 small deer-like animals, a parrot and a large bird of prey. There are also several storks, geese, chickens, guineas and pelicans plus all of the actual wild wildlife which includes birds and several flying squirrels that can be spotted at night gliding between the trees above the house. Besides enjoying nearly a week of rural living, I also ran some network cables in the office and worked on databases to help keep track of the micro credit (small loan) and well digging activities of ADRA in Preah Vihear.
On Sabbath we visited a site where ADRA is planning to conduct adventure based learning activities. They have purchased a piece of land and have started blazing trails through the jungle. They plan to set up several activities like a zip line and other rope course type things. I enjoyed seeing some very large trees, which I hadn't really seen here since most of the accessible places in Cambodia have been logged.
On Sunday I traveled back to Phnom Penh. I arrived early enough in the day that I decided to go to an evening Christmas service at one of the International churches here. It was nice to sing some carols and start getting into the Christmas spirit a little bit. They even had a couple of songs by the Sunday school children. Afterwards I visited some friends and then we visited one of the fancy hotels to look at the Christmas decorations.
Today and yesterday I've been keeping busy in the Phnom Penh office. Last night Jonathan, Sujoya, Daren (Sujoya's boyfriend who arrived from England about a month ago) and I went to Bryan and Penny's house to play some games. On the way I had a flat tire so we had to find a repair shop to get it fixed. The valve stem actually broke off somehow so I had to spring for a new tube ($2 including labor, much more than it would cost to fix a typical puncture).
Today we went shopping for food during out 2 hour lunch break. I'm organizing Christmas dinner tomorrow with all of the volunteers and a few others who are here for the holidays. It looks like we'll have around 15 or 20 and we bought all of the food today. We first went to central market which is the main market in Phnom Penh and bargained for all of the vegetables and things. We then visited one of the supermarkets to get the imported foods. This evening I'm planning to visit a couple more of the fancy hotels, including one that the SDA church school choir is singing at. After that I'm going over to a friend's house for a Christmas Eve party.
Tomorrow we'll spend most of the day getting ready for and eating Christmas dinner. After dinner we're planning to have a gift exchange and maybe some games too. It certainly won't be the same as being with family, but I'm sure we'll have a good time.
Have a very merry Christmas wherever you're spending it this year!
Until next time,
PS I've run out of time so I won't get pictures uploaded to myfamily today, but I'll try to do it soon. The other pictures (lots of them, and with no captions) are already on photopoint.
Greetings from Kompong Thmal (Cambodia),
After I wrote last time (it was Christmas Eve) I met up with some friends and we went to see the local SDA school choir sing at one of the 5 star hotels in Phnom Penh. It was really nice to hear Christmas carols as we sat around the giant Christmas tree in the air conditioned hotel lobby. I even got to talk to my parents on the phone for a while before the singing started, which was a real Christmas Eve treat. After the singing was over we made our way to a friend's house for a Christmas party and then I opened my Christmas presents back in my room with Jonathan before going to bed.
On Christmas morning I opened one last present that had been stored in my freezer (it was candy) and then had a special breakfast of grape nuts. In the morning Jonathan and I watched a movie, then at noon we started the preparations for Christmas dinner. Several friends came over early to help with the cooking and everything was ready by 6:30 pm. We ended up with 19 people for a sit down dinner with plenty of good food and company. After dinner we exchanged gifts (each person brought and got one) and then had the 'cleanup party'. The leftover food 'cleanup' was tough and lasted several days but we made it through somehow.
The day after Christmas I worked in the ADRA office. Friday morning however, I caught a ride down to Ream National Park where the local pathfinders were having a camporee on the beach with over 300 people in attendance. I had a really good weekend sleeping in a tent, swimming in the ocean, showering in the open and eating Khmer food cooked over the fire. We got rained on the first night, but our tent stayed nice and dry. During the day the pathfinders had various activities including cooking competitions and the obligatory knot tying competition. On Sabbath the division youth director spoke in English so I was able to understand the sermon, which was nice. Saturday night they had a talent show which was quite interesting with some cultural dancing and some long winded Khmer drama performances. On Sunday I traveled back to Phnom Penh via a waterfall where we had lunch, cooled off in the water and took naps.
I worked in the Phnom Penh office on Monday and Tuesday and then went over to Hernan and Carina's house (they are a volunteer couple here from Argentina) to eat home made pizza and play games for New Year's Eve. We even had some sparkling grape juice to celebrate with at midnight.
After staying up way too late visiting on New Year's Eve I got up Wednesday morning and caught a taxi to Kompong Thom. I was supposed to meet up with the Preah Vihear ADRA team there and then travel on to Preah Vihear with them, but due to a communication mix up, I came a day later than they did. Upon arrival in Kompong Thom I hired a moto taxi to take me the 30 kilometers out of town to some temple ruins where I was supposed to meet the ADRA team. The moto driver decided to take a shortcut on a bad road (it was under construction in places) and we ended up with a flat tire along the way. While waiting for the tire repairs I lounged in a hammock and ate some pomelo (similar to grapefruit) that I had along. Eventually we made it to the temple complex and began asking around and looking for the ADRA people. Many people were quite helpful and a few even said they had seen the ADRA group and gave us directions, but of course it turned out that they had been there the day before so none of the 'sightings' were legitimate. Once I finally gave up on finding the ADRA people I decided to make the best of the situation and wandered around some of the temple ruins for a bit. The ruins are from the same time period as Angkor Wat and were fairly extensive. I didn't see all of them, but the ones I saw were interesting and it was very peaceful to wander through the forest and ruins with very few, or in some cases no other people around. By the time I gave up looking for the ADRA people it was too late to catch a taxi to Preah Vihear so I got a $3 room at a guest house in town ($3 gets you a mid-range room with double bed, cable TV, shower and western toilet in your own room). After staying up late the night before and then running around all day I was very tired and went to sleep early after a supper of mangostiens, oranges, french fries and coconut milk. In the morning I wandered down to the taxi stand and discovered that no taxis go early in the morning because they usually originate in Preah Vihear and then return there in the afternoon. After talking to several taxi drivers I somehow wound up catching an earlier one (only had to wait a couple of hours) that went where I needed to go. I think they actually were headed to a different village but the village with the ADRA office was on the way so they agreed to drop me off there. All the taxis to this part of the province are pickups and I splurged and bought 2 seats in the front (which is really just the front passenger side seat). The cost for my 2 seats for the 2-3 hour ride was a whopping $2.50. If you ride in the back of the pickup the price per seat is considerably lower, although we're getting into the dry season now so the roads are really, really dusty which makes the back extra 'exciting'. I finally arrived at the Preah Vihear ADRA office about 30 hours after I left my room in Phnom Penh.
I rode between the monitor and the driverOh, and by the way I was carrying my backpack and a 17 inch computer monitor box with me for the whole trip. The moto driver seemed happy with the $5 I gave him for the 60+ kilometer, 5+ hour roundtrip including time spent in the temple complex. I rode between the driver and the monitor, which was strapped on to the moto with bungee cords (I'll put a picture online later). The trip certainly was a bit longer and more eventful than I had planned, but I had fun and it sure was an experience!
In Preah Vihear I mostly worked on databases. Since I had lost a day to travel it was a little tight to get everything done that I had wanted to do, but I managed to finish it up on Sunday. At least I got to work in a nice setting at Ben & Sharyn's house the last day. I even worked using a laptop in one of their hammocks part of the time.
Monday morning I caught a taxi back to Kompong Thom, and then caught another one on down to Kompong Thmal. Satish was visiting from Nepal to help with monitoring and evaluation and I spent the week learning and helping out where I could. I know it sounds crazy, but some people in real life actually do use the stuff we studied in statistics class for something useful. In this case we were conducting a survey of people in the area covered by this ADRA project. The survey results should help to measure what ADRA is doing and show if certain geographic areas have different needs than others. Becky from ADRA International was also here to provide support for the Child Survival project and Ann came up from Phnom Penh for a day or two. It was a busy and fun week but it was nice to spend a little time back with the Kompong Thmal team after running around to other projects so much.
On Friday I came back to Phnom Penh where I had supper with Jonathan and his parents who are visiting from Germany. Monica, who is the new Public Relations / Monitoring & Evaluation person also joined us for supper after getting picked up from the airport. Monica was here in Cambodia for a couple of years several years ago, so she already knows her way around pretty well.
On Sabbath after church we had a nice potluck and I got to see everyone again after spending the past several weekends out of town. In the evening we played games with a big group and Jonathan's mom brought some really good homemade German treats for us to try.
I spent Sunday working and by Friday I had installed Windows and other software on 7 different laptops for various people and projects. We also had several people in the office play musical chairs as positions have changed, so I got to help them move their documents and settings around to different computers. Two new staff members needed help getting set up with computers and I spent some time helping another project plan their move to a new office. Our office in Phnom Penh has grounding for the electrical outlets, unlike most buildings here and I found out this week that one of the rooms didn't have the grounding wire yet. On Friday I got new wire put in so that the computers in that room no longer give you a jolt if you touch them. By the time sundown came on Friday, I was more than ready for Sabbath.
Starting on Wednesday I was also attending evangelistic meetings in the evenings which are being held in Phnom Penh. Mike Ryan from the GC is doing the preaching using newly completed multimedia aids which are on DVD and have been translated into Khmer. This is the first large scale public evangelism that the Adventist church has done in Cambodia since they started working here after the war time so it is quite historic. The first night they had somewhere around 1500 people in attendance and as a result of the work done by global mission pioneers leading up to these meetings, there were over 320 baptisms on Sabbath with another group scheduled for this coming weekend. After these meetings in Phnom Penh are over, copies of the DVD will be put to use by the local pastors in small groups and other meetings throughout the country. Please keep these historic meetings in your prayers as they are continuing this week and will conclude this coming weekend.
On Sunday I got a haircut for 75 cents and enjoyed a fairly low key day. In the afternoon I went to one of the International churches and then visited some friends for supper.
Monday I finished up a few things in Phnom Penh before catching a taxi up here to Kompong Thmal where I will be spending the rest of the week helping out with several projects. One side effect of all the computer juggling last week is that I no longer have a desktop computer to use in the Phnom Penh office, but now have an older laptop instead. This is the first time I've been able to take a computer with me on the road here and it is quite handy for things like writing this email.
Well, I think that's pretty much all the news from Cambodia for now. I haven't had time to put pictures online yet and this week I'll be doing email at the whopping speed of 9.6k so I don't think I'll be uploading them until the weekend at the earliest.
Until next time,
I've appreciated hearing from quite a few of you over the last few weeks. It's really nice to hear how things are going in your lives.
On the Thursday after I last wrote I traveled back to Phnom Penh in the afternoon, arriving just in time to attend the first evening of evangelistic meetings with Jan Paulsen speaking. He also spoke Friday night and Sabbath morning and I enjoyed all three of his presentations. I think the meeting attendance peaked at around 1700 people and on Sabbath we had another 490 baptisms which brought the total for the two weekends to about 800. The organizers learned from the first weekend and the baptisms went much more quickly the second time with the larger group taking about the same or maybe even less time than the first, smaller one. Both weekends they fed most of the meeting attendees, so the food preparation was another big organizational challenge. After the meetings on Sabbath most of the local SDA international community and visitors had potluck together at the Reimann's house (the ADRA director's house where the other volunteer and I live). Overall the meetings went very well and now there is plenty of follow-up work to be done in Phnom Penh.
Saturday night we played games and Sunday I enjoyed a visit to the sauna/hot tub/cold tub/steam room followed by massage and a movie. In the evening I went with some friends to a place that serves chips and salsa. We also got some bakery treats and enjoyed relaxing for a little bit.
I spent most of the week drilling holes in concrete, putting up conduit and running network cables in a new project office in Phnom Penh. We got a lot done, although next week I'm going to help some more with the software side of things in the same office.
On the weekend and during the first part of the week I spent some time with Jonathan's parents who were here visiting Cambodia, although they returned to Germany Wednesday morning. They enjoyed a side trip to Thailand and came back to Phnom Penh in time to attend the last couple of evangelistic meetings. They enjoyed their trip and found everything to be very interesting since they hadn't traveled outside of the western world before.
You may have heard or seen in the news something about what happened in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. Basically a large crowd composed mostly of students was protesting outside the Thai Embassy here in Phnom Penh during the day, and as darkness fell they got out of control and overran the embassy compound, lighting several fires and vandalizing the offices. Several members of the Thai diplomatic mission including the ambassador escaped safely by climbing over a back fence. The crowd eventually moved on from the gutted Thai Embassy to Thai owned businesses throughout the city, including a couple of cell phone companies, several hotels, airline offices and other smaller businesses. The police initially didn't do anything to help the situation, but eventually dispersed the crowds by firing their weapons in several parts of the city. The protests seem to have started based on a rumor about offensive comments made by a popular Thai actress about Cambodia. I've heard several versions of the rumor, but most of them include that the actress said something to the effect that Angkor Wat (an ancient temple complex in Siem Reap which is a national symbol of Cambodia and is even on the flag) really belongs to Thailand and should be returned. She denies having ever made the alleged remarks and no proof or evidence that she did make them has been found.
Some ADRA staff drove past the Thai Embassy in the afternoon and saw burning tires and the protesters, while a few others saw police firing their guns to disperse a crowd later in the evening. I saw some people taking down a sign from a Thai company near the ADRA office, but there were only a few people there and they were quite calm so I think it might have been the owners trying to protect themselves from being targeted. I was in the ADRA office most of the evening and only went out to drive a few blocks home and drop off a few friends on the way. Everything had pretty much calmed down by Wednesday morning and Thai citizens had been evacuated from Cambodia by the Thai military. Last I heard there were no confirmed deaths, although one Thai national was missing.
This incident is a real blow to diplomatic and trade relations between Cambodia and Thailand. The politicians are working on reconciliation, but as one newspaper article put it, "The glass has already been broken." Based on the facts that the police didn't respond appropriately right away and that inflammatory leaflets were distributed at schools before the demonstrations got under way, some are speculating that things were a bit too organized to have just happened on their own. With elections coming up in July, anything is possible I guess, although I'm sure we'll never fully know what went on behind the scenes.
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday ADRA staff from the provinces were in town for meetings so I got a chance to hang out with some of the project staff a little bit in the evenings. We also had a big farewell lunch for one of the admin staff (Chivoon) who has moved on to work at another organization.
Saturday morning several of us got up at about 5 am or so to begin a trip that could have been done in as little as 3 hours by taxi, but instead ended up taking us about 12 hours. The interesting (crazy?) part is that we actually chose to take a much slower travel option: the train. I had been wanting to try the Cambodian train system for quite a while and finally talked several friends into doing it. Jonathan (ADRA Volunteer), Ross (Australian peanut butter maker and English teacher), Komrong (Cambodian medical student girlfriend of Ross), Quinton (here for a 3 week field study from Avondale College in Australia) and I arrived at the train station by motorbike taxi at about 6 am. We had checked with people at the train station twice the day before to find out about schedules. The first time we were informed that no trains would be going because they only travel every other day in the direction we wanted to go. The second time we were told that a freight train would be leaving before 7 am and we could ride in a box car if we came early enough to catch it. Upon arrival at the train station we were initially informed that the train was in fact going, but that it wouldn't be leaving until 9 am now. While waiting we had a little breakfast and decided to start planning for the second phase of our trip, dirt bike rental. We called a shop in Kampot, our train trip destination and they said that they had some bikes left for us. When we called back to reserve them, they had already been rented to someone who just came in to the shop. Since it didn't look like we'd be getting bikes from Kampot we decided to ask the train station officials if we could take bikes with us on the train. They agreed to do it for a total of $2.50 per person including a bike each (for us foreigners, Khmers ride for 50 cents). We then walked a block or two to a bike rental shop that turned out to be closed for the Chinese New Year holiday. We roused the shop owner and he wasn't interested in renting to us.
Tuktuk to TrainNot easily defeated, we hired a three wheeled motorcycle like vehicle to take the 5 of us to a couple of other rental shops. One was sold out, one had bikes but said they were already reserved for others and a third was closed. We headed back to the train station with no bikes, the backup plan being to check again on arrival with the shop at our destination and rent a car or pickup instead if they were still sold out. The train guys were ready to load our bikes, but we re-negotiated to go without bikes and pay $1.50 each instead. We put our bags on the train and got on, but after just a few minutes were told to go back into the waiting area at the station. After going back and forth for a while, it turned out that the station master wouldn't let us foreigners ride the train. Back in 1994 when the Khmer Rouge were still at large a couple of foreigners had been kidnapped (and eventually killed) from the train so I guess the man in charge was a bit jittery. The officials actually riding on the train however were more than willing to take us and suggested that we could meet the train at the next stop, a few kilometers down the line. Back outside the train station we flagged down another 3 wheeled motor bike taxi to take us to the next train station and sure enough, it was no problem at all to board the train there. By the time we were actually under way on the train it was about 10:15 am and we had been awake for 5 hours.
Relaxing on the TrainThe train ride itself was very scenic although we all agreed it would be even more scenic in the wet season when the rice paddies would be green. This time of year they were all brown, but we still enjoyed watching the countryside roll by. The most unique scenery came towards the end of the trip when we passed through some interesting hills and rock formations. You can see some similar hills from the road, but the train passes by many more of them and travels much closer to them as well. Our "seats" on the train consisted of a disintegrating box car with most of the side walls and some of the floor boards missing. We also rode on top of a fuel car part of the time where we enjoyed a panoramic open air view. These cars made up the majority of our train and there was one in front of our box car for easy access. I think most of the fuel cars were empty since the fuel is usually hauled from the port to Phnom Penh, although it seems the train operators may have been selling a little bit of excess fuel along the way (which somehow didn't get offloaded in Phnom Penh with the rest like it should have). During the trip we all took naps and enjoyed some of Ross's peanut butter with bread for lunch. Although it was a long trip, we all enjoyed it and were glad we had waited for the train.
We eventually arrived in the provincial capital of Kampot at around 5:30 pm where we opted to walk in to town after the moto drivers quoted us the price of 25 cents for Khmers and $1 for foreigners. We had been sitting all day and the walk of about a mile sounded pretty good to us by then. In town we went directly to the motor bike rental shop and since we arrived later in the day than we originally thought we would, some bikes had been returned and we were able to rent them for $5 each. Another bonus of being late was that we only had to pay for one 24 hour day instead of two like we had thought about doing initially. On the downside we didn't get to spend the night in Bokor National Park like we had hoped, but instead stayed in Kep a nearby coastal town. We could see the ocean from our guesthouse, but the sea was calm so there weren't any waves to hear during the night. We also saved some money on lodging since the price of $5 per room worked out to be considerably cheaper than the $5 per person we were expecting to pay in Bokor. After a short after-dark walk to see the ocean, we all enjoyed showers and a good nights sleep.
KampotIn the morning we got up, drove along the coast and back to Kampot where we purchased food for breakfast and lunch from the market. After eating a picnic breakfast of hard boiled eggs and baguettes (bread) we got on our rented dirt bikes and headed for Bokor National Park. I've already written about Bokor a couple of times before since I've been there twice already, so I won't write too much about the sights now. There was a lot more traffic this time than on previous visits because of the Chinese New Year holiday and we had 'fun' trying to pass all of the slow moving vehicles on the way up the mountain. We had lunch in the abandoned Casino/Hotel perched on the edge of a cliff, but the clouds didn't clear to reveal the view on this visit. They have built several new bridges on the way to the waterfall since I was last there so now you can drive nearly the whole way (before you had to park and walk about 20 minutes to get there). The waterfall didn't have much water in it though since the dry season is well under way here. Last time I was there we could actually swim in the large pools, but this time it was barely possible to get wet under the remaining trickle. When we were just about to begin our trip back down the mountain we discovered that one of the bikes had a flat tire. After trying to get the one tire repair guy on the mountain to come to the bike (he was running errands in town and wouldn't be back until dark), we ended up contacting the bike rental shop owner who eventually agreed that we could drive the crippled bike to the guesthouse and leave it there. We actually hauled the bike in the back of a pickup part of the way, but had to drive it the last 3 km to the guesthouse since the pickup was headed down the mountain and not to the guesthouse. So, we went up the mountain on 4 bikes and came down on 3, playing musical chairs along the way to spread the 'joy' of riding double on the rough road. Thankfully we didn't have any more mechanical trouble (unless you count a gas leak on my bike which necessitated switching to the reserve tank to make it the last few kilometers back to town).
We arrived in Kampot just as it was getting dark and proceeded to look for a taxi. After trying several other options we negotiated the price of $25 for an entire taxi to take the 5 of us on the 3 hour trip home. However, just after we thought we had agreed on the deal the driver informed us that his wife also needed to come along to keep him company for the return trip. That would make for a total of 7 people in the car, only one less than the typical taxi load of 4 in front and 4 in back. We ended up telling them that we would either pay $25 without the wife or $20 with her which they agreed to so we were squashed but saved a dollar each on the ride to Phnom Penh (this price was still higher than normal because of the late time of day and the Chinese New Year holiday). We arrived home just after 10 pm, took showers and enjoyed another good nights sleep. Despite a few minor delays along the way we had a great weekend.
Monday morning I had a quick stop in the Phnom Penh office before helping Quinton catch a taxi to Kompong Thom where he would make the connection to Preah Vihear. He's spending his study tour time mostly visiting Ben & Sharyn's project there. After sending Quinton on his way I did a couple of errands near the taxi station and then got in a taxi bound for Kompong Thmal. Call me a masochist, but I noticed that the back seat had three extra-small people in it so opted to save $1.50 by only getting the one remaining seat instead of buying two like I often do to get some elbow room on this route. I was comfortable enough for the ride and even slept part of the way, so I think it was worth it.
This week I'm working on some small projects here in Kompong Thmal until Thursday when I will go back to Phnom Penh. Friday morning I'm joining the ADRA admin office team on a weekend staff retreat at the beach.
It looks like this email has grown to be rather long yet again...I guess it's good that I didn't wait so long to write it this time, or else it would be really long! Anyway, I hope everything is going well with you where ever you are and I'll talk to you later.
Until next time,
For more pictures see my Train & Bike Trip to Bokor photo album.
Greetings from Cambodia,
As usual I've been keeping busy over the last few weeks. The weekend after I last wrote I went on the ADRA Cambodia admin staff retreat. We all piled in to a large bus at 6:30 am Friday and headed to a nice hotel at the beach. We had some meetings over the weekend and some team building activities as well. The weather was warm as usual and we enjoyed playing on the beach and in the water. A few of us got a chance to visit a restaurant called the Snake House again, which is very cool with snakes and other wildlife decorating the open air garden restaurant. The table we sat at even had a live snake inside it with a glass top through which we could see the large python while eating. The food at the Snake House is reasonably priced (around $3 per person if you order a couple of items) and includes some Russian options since the restaurant owners are from Russia. In the surrounding garden area they also have a couple of salt water fish ponds and some other local wildlife including a crocodile. Most of our other meals were in local restaurants in the beach area near our hotel, although we also got some fresh tropical fruit (pineapple, mango, papaya, dragon fruit, etc) from sellers on the beach. On Saturday night several of us took advantage of the free karaoke system in our hotel. Believe it or not, and I know it's hard to believe if you know me, I did sing several songs with Jonathan, the other ADRA volunteer. They were even songs that we didn't really know since the hotel only had two English karaoke discs with no songs that were very familiar to us. On Sunday we had another meeting in the morning before leaving, and then arrived back in Phnom Penh in time for supper. It was nice to spend some time playing at the beach, and the game of the weekend was a version of American football that usually degenerated into keep away.
The following Friday a group of about 17 members of the local English Sabbath School class traveled in one van and one car to Kirirom, which is a national park about 2 hours from Phnom Penh. I had arranged to rent an entire 5 room guest house in the park for the weekend, and since a couple of people decided not to come at the last minute there was enough room for nearly all of us to sleep in beds. Originally some of us were planning to camp outside, but it turned out that only two people slept outside and then only for one night. We did enjoy having a camp fire for each meal and some of us used it for cooking. On Sabbath we had a baptism in a nearby river, followed by a picnic lunch in small huts by a stream. Saturday night we sat around the campfire eating camp bread cooked over the fire and we even enjoyed a special treat of big franks from the US. Sunday morning we piled in the van and drove to a pond where we lounged and swam. It was a bit overcast so the heat wasn't too bad and the water felt great. We played frisbee both in and out of the water and took turns jumping off the little pier into the water. We all enjoyed spending time at a slightly higher elevation (which was somewhat less hot than Phnom Penh) with lots of pine trees and fresh air. After arrival back in Phnom Penh we played a quick game of settlers to make up for missing games night over the weekend.
During the last two weeks I've mostly been working at the TOH project office getting their new broadband Internet connection, Windows 2000 Server, phone system and new web site working. Most everything is finished there now, from the network cables to the email accounts. Last week I also started working with a newly hired IT person. He will be finishing up a degree here in Phnom Penh this summer, and is working part time until then. He's been learning and helping out with the configuration at the TOH project office, and towards the end of last week he spent time on various projects in the Admin office. It has been nice to start handing things over to him as he is learning quickly.
I spent last weekend in Phnom Penh, where I enjoyed potluck and my first 'normal' Sabbath in several weeks. In the afternoon I went on a mini outing with several friends to check out a park area on the other side of the river from Phnom Penh. Afterwards we got fruit smoothies from a street vendor for just under 40 cents each before heading to Scotts house where we played some games.
Sunday morning I went in to the office to catch up on a couple of things before taking a taxi to Pursat with Ann (ADRA Cambodia Associate Director) and Debbie Harold (from ADRA International). The trip to Pursat normally takes around 5 hours, but we had an extra delay since one of the bridges along the way was damaged and was being repaired. While waiting we were entertained by watching several vehicles attempt to avoid the delay by driving through the river. The larger four wheel drive vehicles actually made it through without a problem, but one Toyota Camry and a smaller pickup weren't so fortunate. They were both buried up to the axles and had to get a tractor to pull them on through the river and across the sandy river bank. They may have gotten stuck, but they did get on their way well before we did
Here in Pursat I have done some trouble shooting on several of the computers and spent time coming up with an easy to use system to create some basic video cds for use in the field.
This afternoon I'm planning to travel back to Phnom Penh where I will spend Thursday and Friday in the admin office before heading to the Siem Reap ADRA office next week.
Well, I guess that's about it for this update. I've enjoyed hearing about the snow in Maryland and wish I was there to enjoy it. I guess I'll have to settle for swimming at the beach instead
Talk to you later,
Greetings from the land of endless summer!
I guess when you think of it that way the hot weather might not be such a bad thing. If you like having hot weather all the time, then Cambodia is paradise.
As usual I've been keeping busy over the last few weeks. After I last wrote I traveled back from Pursat to Phnom Penh where I spent a couple of days working in the Admin office. On Saturday night we played games and visited until way too late at night, especially since Sunday morning I had to start traveling at 6:00 am.
The first leg of the journey was a quick motorbike ride to the passenger ferry dock on the other side of town. The "ferry" I took was a long narrow speed boat with air conditioned indoor seating similar to that found on airplanes, but with much less leg room. The ferry travels to the town of Siem Reap, which is a prime tourist destination so a good number of foreigners are usually traveling on these ferries. Many of the foreigners (myself included) prefer to sit on the roof of the ferry where the view is much better and the wind serves as natural air conditioning. The one downside to sitting on the roof is that you will get sunburned without proper protection, but with a little sun block it's a nice way to travel. For the first couple of hours villages, rice paddies and fishermen flew by as we sped up the Tonle Sap river, but for the second half of the trip the river opened up into the Tonle Sap Lake. The river is unusual in that the direction of it's flow actually changes depending on the time of year. During the wet season it flows into the lake, causing the lake level to rise, while during the dry season it flows out of the lake towards the ocean. They actually have a big festival to celebrate at the time of year when the water flow changes direction. The lake is very large and provides food and a living to many people in Cambodia who fish in it. The lake is so big that at times on the trip you can actually lose sight of land completely. Since I made this trip in the dry season our ferry wasn't able to travel all the way in to the usual landing area. Instead we were dropped off at a floating pier and then ferried to shore through a floating village in smaller boats. The floating buildings (and they do look more like buildings than boats) house restaurants, government offices and of course people's homes. On the way to shore we passed several houseboats that were being towed out to the village through a narrow canal/river with the family happily cooking dinner in their version of a mobile home. The area where we actually unloaded onto dry land was still several kilometers from the wet season ferry landing, which itself is several kilometers outside the town of Siem Reap. So, naturally the next step was to hire a motorbike taxi to take me the 40 minutes or so into town for the outrageous sum of $1. The road was pretty rough so on our motorbike we were able to pass most of the big tour busses, cars and pickups that were also making the trip. Upon arrival in Siem Reap we asked where the ADRA office was and nobody seemed to know. I had the address in Khmer but most people don't do well with those here. We managed to drive directly to the office though since we got on the right road and I spotted the sign just as we were about to make a wrong turn. At the ADRA office I met the Australian adviser for the two ADRA projects in that province and he showed me around the office. They have a couple of guest rooms right there in the ADRA office so I got settled in and then enjoyed relaxing for the rest of the afternoon. The total travel time from my room in Phnom Penh to my guestroom in Siem Reap was about 8 hours.
I ended up spending the next 9 days working in the Siem Reap ADRA office. My main goal for the trip was to help improve the computer skills of a few key staff members, although I also spent much of the time solving computer problems and working on the network and server. A couple of the people I helped hadn't heard of email before so I started with the basics of how to send and receive messages. Others had used email but needed a few tips in other areas.
In the evenings I enjoyed exploring the town of Siem Reap. It is a very touristy place with all of the souvenir sellers, restaurants and sidewalk cafes typical of such places. I enjoyed some great food including burritos ($3.50) and pizza (small $4). I also had the more typical rice with vegetables for some more economical meals ($1.50). Two nights I went to restaurants that featured Khmer traditional dance shows and one night I went to a restaurant with a shadow puppetry performance. The puppets were pretty interesting; they are made from leather and are used in combination with a backlit white screen.
On Sabbath I went to church a few kilometers out of the main town area where Tim Maddox lives. He is running a supporting ministry there where he trains lay church members for outreach work among other things. There was a good sized mission trip group from Australia there for church as well. They had just come from working in Thailand and were also doing some work with Tim's project. After church we enjoyed a Khmer food potluck and some visiting. In the evening a few of the Australian visitors and a visitor from Guam (Wayne Ward) joined me for supper at an interesting Thai restaurant. The restaurant had platforms set up at different levels with lots of trees so that it felt like you were sitting and eating in the trees. They also had low tables and lots of pillows so you sat on the floor to eat. The food was great and it was a nice place to spend the evening relaxing a little.
On Sunday I broke the bank and splurged on one of the most expensive things in Cambodia, a 1 day pass to visit Angkor Wat and the surrounding ancient temple sites ($20). During the previous week I got to visit a couple of temples and got a pretty good overview of the area by exploring it in hours just before dark when they don't really check for tickets anymore. It was nice that I got to do this since Sunday would have felt quite a bit more rushed otherwise. It's pretty much impossible to adequately describe how impressive and extensive the temples are in this area. Spread over many kilometers are literally hundreds of stone temples of varying sizes. Most of them were built around the 12th century and have lasted quite well over the years. Some of the temples have been restored while others are only partially cleared of jungle growth. I met some people who spent an entire week just visiting various temples and they still hadn't seen anywhere near all of them. When I try to think of something to compare the temples to I think of Greek and Roman ruins, although the Pyramids in Egypt also come to mind. One major difference between Angkor Wat and those places is the number of visitors. Right now it is still pretty easy to find yourself alone as you wander through the mazes of twisted tree roots and crumbling stone. The number of visitors is increasing rapidly though so it probably won't stay that way forever
After finishing up some work in the Siem Reap office on Monday, I traveled back to Phnom Penh by bus on Tuesday ($4, 7-8 hours). The road was fairly bumpy, but I've seen worse and the bus was new and air conditioned so it was a pretty nice trip. I also got to see a little more of the country side along the way.
The last couple of weeks I have just been here in Phnom Penh. I've been keeping busy in the office with work. In the evenings I've done a few fun things with friends. One night we went to watch a movie at the French Cultural center. On the good side they had a nice projector with good sound, aircon and nice seats. On the down side the movie was in French with no English subtitles. A couple of weeks ago we also celebrated Ann's birthday (she is the Associate Country Director for ADRA Cambodia). On one of the Sabbaths I visited with a friend here who got to see my parents while attending a conference in Cyprus and on another evening several of us went out to eat and then visited a roller skating rink but didn't end up skating. Some of us weren't sure about finding any skates that were big enough while a few others had to get up too early the next morning, but it was still interesting to see the skate rental 'system'. They basically just have a huge pile of skates and you dig through them until you find a pair that you like. They also have a big pile of socks you can use if you didn't happen to bring your own. It's been nice to be in town for a little bit spending time with friends here and actually going to the same church for three weeks in a row.
This last weekend was also spent here in Phnom Penh and it was pretty packed with various get-togethers and outings. On Friday after work I went to a cultural dance performance with the ADRA Admin staff. One of the hotels near our office invited us all for free to the 'premier' of their new program. They probably wouldn't mind hosting some of our upcoming workshops and guests of course too
On Sabbath we had communion with both the English and Khmer congregations together. They first had the foot washing ceremony, then the usual bread and grape juice. The one major difference was that they moved all of the chairs out of the church and we sat on mats on the floor for the service. They also made a large cross in the middle of the room out of some plant life and had a bunch of candles set up in it as well. At the end of the service everyone got a candle and they lit one candle at the front and then passed the flame around the room showing how we as Christians should spread the light we have to others who spread it to others and so on. Most of the more rural churches in Cambodia sit on the floor every week and it's a normal thing to do here. I've even seen cases where people from rural areas didn't start eating food that was on a table until we moved it to the floor for them. Anyway, we had a really nice communion service and then afterwards Jonathan and I had lunch with Hernan and Carina (friends from Argentina) who just found out they are pregnant. Needless to say they are very excited and we had a nice time visiting with them. After lunch I joined a group of young people from the church on a motor bike trip a few kilometers out of the city to an island in the river. If it is a true island it is big enough that I didn't see the water all the way around it, but we did have to take a ferry to get to it. On the island they have lots of traditional silk looms and they make some very nice material. We visited a church member's house there and then went to a nice little beach area. After sundown worship we stopped and ate corn on the cob at a small roadside restaurant before coming back to town. We stopped by the church to drop some people off and then ended up watching a wedding rehearsal for a little while. After that I went to play games before finally heading to bed.
On Sunday I visited a new shopping mall that opened a couple months ago here. It's really quite nice with many shops. They even have elevators and escalators. According to the newspaper people go just to ride the escalators since they are the first ones in Cambodia outside of the airport. One major difference with this mall (compared to the US) is that there are many shops selling every cd and dvd that you could think of for prices ranging from $1 to $5 depending on the quality and format. In the afternoon I visited a nice garden/nursery a few kilometers outside of the city. They grow orchids and many other tropical plants there and have a nice place to picnic or just relax away from the city. In the evening I met up with Ann and some of her friends who came to visit from Russia. I was reminded of just how poor my Russian language skills are, although I did understand some of what people said to me. We ate out at a Khmer style restaurant on stilts above a pond area covered with lily pads. The food was good and it was fun to practice a little Russian again.
This morning I was invited to a typical Russian breakfast involving sour cream and crepes, which was excellent. Today I have been tying up lose ends in the office and getting ready for another trip.
Many people have been asking about what exactly my plans are. Well, officially my 1 year contract with ADRA Cambodia expires at the end of March so today is my last day. However, I do not have tickets or firm plans to leave Cambodia just yet.
Tomorrow I'm leaving on a trip within Cambodia to visit friends in Mondulkiri Province (where I rode elephants several months ago). I'll be riding up there with them in their truck along with Hernan (my friend from Argentina). Originally we were going to rent motorbikes but we decided against that option after being faced with the choice between bikes that were either too old and unreliable, or too expensive. The reliability issue isn't normally all that important here in Cambodia since you can generally find a repair shop along the way or in the worst case load your bike onto a passing truck. Our goal on this trip though is to travel from Mondulkiri to Ratanakiri. These are two of the most remote provinces in Cambodia and the 'road' between the two sometimes deteriorates into just rice paddies. There isn't much if any traffic so an unreliable bike would be a bigger problem than usual. Tim Maddox and Gary Rogers (works at the mission) are doing this stretch of road on their own motorbikes and we had hoped to tag along with them as they're traveling around to visit global mission workers in several remote areas. We have now changed our plan and will try to hitch a ride on an old Russian truck or perhaps on a motorbike, we're not really sure. If we don't find a way through we can always catch a taxi back to Phnom Penh instead, but we're at least going to give it a shot.
After I get back from the above trip I'll be heading out on another trip, this time to Vietnam and Laos. We have Khmer New Year holidays in the middle of April so a couple of other volunteers are planning to travel with me for the first 10 days of the trip, and for the second 2 weeks the group will be reduced to three of us. We debated about trying to squeeze in a quick visit to China as well, but after a bunch of research it's not looking likely now. Although the details aren't all ironed out yet, the main idea is to do a big loop through Vietnam, returning to Cambodia via Laos. I'm definitely looking forward to it!
I'm planning to arrive back in Phnom Penh in early May and will work a bit more with ADRA Cambodia then, mostly doing some training of the new IT person. After that things get a little more fuzzy, so stay tuned for details. Probable ingredients include attending July weddings in the US and sailing in the Mediterranean with my family.
Well, I think that's about it for now. It's getting late and I still need to pack and get some sleep so I'll be ready for our 5 am departure tomorrow morning!
Until next time,
Downhill Moto DrivingGreetings from Cambodia!
I know it hasn't been very long since I last wrote, but I've been busy traveling this last week so I'm writing again already.
Tuesday morning after I last wrote I got up very early and was on the road to Mondulkiri with Hernan, Braden and Johanna shortly after 5 am. Braden and Johanna are living and working in the province of Mondulkiri with Adventist Frontier Missions. They are currently learning the language and culture of the ethnic Phnong hill tribe people. Hernan is a civil engineer who is working at the Adventist mission office in Phnom Penh while his wife Carina is working at the Adventist school here. Originally Carina was also planning to travel with us, but they just found out that she is pregnant and they decided this trip would be a bit too rough, especially since she has been feeling extra tired lately. Anyway, Hernan and I caught a ride with Braden and Johanna as they were returning home from a visit to Phnom Penh. Thanks to the early start and some recent improvements to the bridges and road, we arrived in Sen Monorom, the capital of Mondulkiri Province, early in the afternoon. The drive up was uneventful, although we enjoyed some nice scenery along the way. We saw lots of birds and even spotted a wild monkey as well. It actually rained during the night before we traveled and a little bit more during the day, so we enjoyed the lack of dust on the roads. It is pretty unusual to get rain here at this time of year, in fact last year we didn't get any at all until several months after I arrived.
After getting settled in at Braden and Johanna's house we took a walk to the local market. Since Sen Monorom is situated at a higher elevation they have a few things that are not found in other parts of Cambodia, including avocados. Luckily for us, the avocados were just coming into season when we arrive so we picked up several kilos. They say that the price is still high because the season is just starting, but we were pretty happy to pay 50 cents US per kilo (around 25 cents per pound). After playing a couple of games and eating a kilo or two of avocados we all went to bed early since we were tired from the trip. The higher elevation in Mondulkiri also keeps the temperatures a bit lower than in Phnom Penh, so it was a pleasant change to sleep comfortably without a fan.
Jungle Stream CrossingOn Wednesday Braden and Johanna were busy with their work, but Hernan and I decided to explore the surrounding hills on a small (100cc) motorbike. We started out with a general idea of where a waterfall might be located (the one I visited several months ago by elephant) and somehow managed to drive right to it after taking several nearly random turns. We drove for nearly an hour and didn't see any other vehicles the whole time, either on the main road or on the smaller tracks we followed across the rolling green hills. We arrived at the waterfall just in time to chat with a couple of tourists from Canada before watching them climb aboard their elephant for the trek back to the Phnong village they had ridden from. The village is actually one that Braden and Johanna have become quite familiar with in the last few months as they have spent time getting to know the villagers and studying their language. The road we used to reach the waterfall was little more than a seldom used track, but we managed to find an even less used single track foot path for the trip back to the main road. The narrow trail got pretty steep at times and when I had trouble pushing the foot break (it kept hitting the ground due to the steepness of the slope) Hernan decided to get off and walk for the steepest part. At the bottom of the hill we came to a small river and eventually found a good place to cross with the motorbike. However, we could hear a slight roar like rapids so decided to explore downstream a little bit before crossing. The jungle growth was pretty thick but we managed to squeeze under and through the grass, trees and vines to finally emerge at the base of an absolutely amazing waterfall.
Hidden WaterfallJudging from the complete lack of trash and nearly undetectable path through the undergrowth I don't think many people had been to this waterfall before. It was situated in a sort of semicircular cove with steep cliffs, banks and trees forming the semi circle. At the bottom was a perfect swimming hole with several separate streams of water cascading down from the cliff above. This time of year is dry season, so I'm sure the water volume is much higher when the rains come, but the water flow was just right for sitting in the natural pneumatic massage chair for a little hydrotherapy. After spending some time playing in the waterfall we hiked back to our motorbike, crossed the stream and rejoined the main road to town (which also is dirt, there aren't any paved roads in Mondulkiri). By this time it was early afternoon so since we still had time for more exploring we took another small path and eventually wound our way back to town the long way, which included a brief stop in a Phnong village and another stream crossing.
Another CrossingAfter a quick stop to refill our water bottles we drove to another nearby waterfall before taking another scenic route back to town where Johanna had prepared an excellent supper for us featuring a huge bowl of guacamole. After supper we played some games before heading to bed.
Thursday morning we got up early and walked over to the taxi area near the market to find out if any trucks were headed out towards Ratanakiri Province. We had read a couple of reports from other travelers and talked to numerous people around town but kept getting conflicting reports about whether or not we could travel by anything other than a motorbike taxi on this route. The moto drivers started at $50 per bike for the entire 8-10 hour run to Banlung (the capital of Ratanakiri Province) and lowered the price to $40 the next day without us even asking about it. However, we were hoping to try something different and possibly cheaper. Options we had heard mentioned included truck, elephant, ox cart, motorbike and of course foot. On Wednesday we were told a pickup truck was going but that another one wouldn't be going for 4-5 days at least. Thursday morning however, we arranged to ride on the back of a very large military style truck designed for hauling heavy loads on bad or non existent roads. Luckily for us the main thing they were hauling this day was palm roof thatching so we had a nice soft seating area which we shared with several other passengers. We were told the truck would take us half way to Ratanakiri, to the town of Koh Nhaek. They said that it would take around 6-7 hours, long enough that we would probably need to spend the night in Koh Nhaek. The price was right though at $2.50 per person for what turned out to be a trip of around 9 hours.
Our "Taxi"The road lived up to it's reputation with plenty of rocks, broken bridges (we drove through the nearly dry riverbeds) and very limited roadside population. There were several stretches where we didn't see any houses or signs of people for a couple of hours at a time. We could always tell when we were nearing a settlement though because the trees would be clear cut along the road and there would be signs of burning as well. We met one or two other large trucks along the way and saw several motorbikes traveling in each direction as well, but traffic was pretty scarce. We had a couple of stops in very small villages where you could get a little rice and something to drink if you wanted. One of the villages about 2 hours from Sen Monorom was called Putrea and had a Muslim population with residents originally from Kompong Cham (a town a couple of hours from Phnom Penh). Along the way it didn't seem like the village kids had seen many foreigners since not many yelled out hello, some seemed scared of us and when I took out my camera they didn't run away like they often do in other areas.
The first part of the trip was hilly as we descended from the higher elevation of Mondulkiri and then we drove through long stretches of forest before coming out into rice paddy lands about an hour or so before reaching Koh Nhaek. I'm hesitant to really call Koh Nhaek a town, since it basically consists of one intersection with a few houses. They do have a generator hooked up to most of the houses though so they have electricity at night. There are no actual guesthouses, but we were pointed to a house behind one of the restaurants where we were provided with sleeping mats, pillows and new looking blankets on the balcony area. We brought our own mosquito net and mat, but only ended up using the net since mats were provided. There was some food available, although we brought our own so didn't try the restaurant this time. The weather was pretty warm but we eventually cooled down after a pour shower using the hand pump well located 5 minutes or so by foot down the road from our sleeping accommodations. The floor and thin mat were pretty hard, but I still slept fairly well, only waking up to shift positions a few times once I cooled off enough to sleep.
When we first arrived we started asking around about transportation onwards for the next day. Earlier we had heard rumors that the next leg of the trip could be done by boat, but there were no signs of a river anywhere near town. It seams that the boat option may in fact be possible in the rainy season, but things were quite dry and dusty this time of year and there wasn't enough water in any of the streams to make them even close to navigable. After double checking that nobody knew of any elephants, vehicles or boats that could make the trip we began negotiating with a couple of moto drivers who were willing to do it. After some discussion amongst the gathered villagers, they offered to do the 3 hour trip for $20 per motor bike. We didn't agree right away and after supper the moto drivers came to see us at our "guesthouse" and agreed to take us to the Sre Pok river ferry crossing for $35 for the two bikes. They said the trip would take 3-4 hours and we agreed to leave early the next morning.
National Road 7Friday morning we gave our hosts the expected amount of $1.25 per person for the lodging and were off bright and early on what we had heard would be the worst stretch of road on the trip. The rumors proved to be true, although I must say that my moto driver (Pheng, in case you ever want to travel this route) was obviously very experienced and did a superb job. There were many steep stretches and stream crossings that most drivers wouldn't have been able to tackle with two people on a 90cc "Super Cub". I only had to get off and walk one time on the entire trip, and that was for an extra steep and rocky hill without a smooth approach. Pheng also did a good job of riding through sand (of which there was plenty) without slowing to a crawl or losing his balance. Hernan's moto driver didn't do quite as well, although he managed to avoid any actual falls. Hernan did get off and walk at most of the riverbeds and even jumped off in the sand a time or two I think.
The road itself shouldn't really be referred to as a road since in some places we were literally just driving along a foot path in rice paddies with the little dykes between fields serving as speed bumps. There were also lots of different paths and tracks that one could take so I was glad that our moto drivers knew where we were going. I can see how this "road" would be nearly impossible in the rainy season since much of it would in fact be underwater. Traffic along the way consisted of about 2 other motorbikes (spotted in settlement areas) and a couple of ox carts. Right at the end of the trip we also met an old jeep, but I doubt it was headed for Koh Nhaek. Although the road was pretty terrible, I wouldn't rule out the possibility that a vehicle could make it through, especially if you don't mind working on the road a little along the way. In fact, there was a large army style truck (like we had ridden on the day before) parked near the ferry crossing when we arrived and we were told that it was going to try the road to Koh Nhaek the next day. I didn't see any fresh vehicle tracks along the way though so I don't think anyone is making this run frequently.
National Road 7 continues...The amount of birdlife we saw along the way was phenomenal and I'm sure I would appreciate it even more if I was a bird watcher. I only knew enough to identify 3 woodpeckers (all on one tree) and several storks at a watering hole. We saw many, many other birds as well including one very large eagle or hawk of some sort.
Surprisingly the trip from Koh Nhaek to the Sre Pok River really did take only 3 hours (one comes to expect longer travel times than people tell you in Cambodia). At the river a small ferry capable of taking motorbikes and passengers was waiting for us and we agreed to the price of $1.25 for the two of us to cross, although we didn't try to barter very hard. The Sre Pok river flows into Cambodia from Vietnam and I'm pretty sure it is the one referred to in the movie Apocalypse Now. Even though it was the middle of the dry season when we crossed, the river still had a good amount of water in it although some rocks downstream made it look like longer distance boat travel might be a bit difficult this time of year.
On the other side of the river there were only a couple of houses, but we found one of them with a motorbike and driver willing to take us the few kilometers to the town of Lumphat for $1 (the two of us joined the driver on the one motorbike for this short trip). We were hoping to find a taxi and market area in what we thought was the bigger town of Lumphat, but it turned out that when we arrived at around 10 am there were no vehicles going onwards to Banlung. The "big" town of Lumphat turned out to be pretty small with several shops and a restaurant making up the central market. We decided to upgrade to the relative luxury of two motorbikes for the trip onwards to Banlung and eventually the two drivers agreed to do the 3 hour trip for $4.50 per motorbike. We had some mechanical trouble on one of the bikes, but after a break to work on it we were off and made pretty good time on the nice smooth, graded road which looked like a superhighway compared to the other roads we had been on that day.
Ratanakiri: Crater Lake in the EveningWe got in to Banlung early enough to spend several hours relaxing in the crystal clear waters of the crater lake a couple of kilometers out of town after finding a good guesthouse and some lunch. For supper we enjoyed some more avocados before going to sleep on soft beds with a much appreciated fan blowing all night long.
Saturday morning we tried to get in touch with some church people, but didn't get through so we decided to explore the area on a motorbike that we borrowed from our guesthouse. We drove to three different waterfalls, all of which were very nice. We didn't see many other people and had all three waterfalls to ourselves. We also drove several kilometers on a road through the hills and rubber plantations before eventually coming back to town to pick up some food (including more avocados). We took our food out to the crater lake where we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the clear cool water. The lake was definitely the highlight of Ratanakiri Province for us. It is deep enough that the water stays clear and cool, both of which are uncommon for bodies of water in Cambodia. The lake is a protected area and efforts have been made to minimize the litter and keep things looking nice. They have a couple of wooden docks which made excellent spaning platforms and provided easy access to the water. By the time we left the lake in the evening we had it completely to ourselves with nothing but jungle sounds to break the silence.
While at the lake we also met up with our friends from the mission who traveled on the same road we took between Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri on Friday using their own 250cc bikes. They took around 10-11 hours for the whole trip, but it sounded like the worst stretch took them about the same amount of time as it took us with our moto taxis. We met up with them just in time to watch a couple of baptisms of people who have been studying for a couple of years with the global mission pioneers. Most of the 15 or so baptismal candidates in this group were from the same hill tribe group and were related to one of the pioneers who was converted himself a few years ago. It was nice to join one of the church groups for at least a little while on Sabbath.
Saturday night we ate at the "American Restaurant" that didn't have much in the way of American food. I ordered something labeled as a pizza calzone with no cheese which reminded me more of Indian food than anything else. It rained again in the evening as well, which was very nice because it reduced the dust and lowered the temperature enough to make the evening considerably more pleasant.
We decided that we had seen enough of Ratanakiri Province on Friday and Saturday so Sunday morning we headed to the taxi station to look for a ride back towards Phnom Penh. I think the fact that any additional touring would require more time on a motorbike affected the decision a bit too. By this time we had a few sore spots from too many hours on motorbikes and didn't really feel like sitting one anymore. Hernan certainly didn't mind the idea of getting back to his wife a bit earlier than expected either. Anyway, after asking around a little we were told that no taxis go directly to Phnom Penh so we figured we would overnight in the town of Kratie and maybe see the freshwater dolphins that live in the Mekong River near there. I had been to Kratie before so could take it or leave it on this trip, so when a taxi appeared that was going all the way to Phnom Penh in "10-12 hours" we decided to take it. I guess the one good thing about the taxi was that it had good suspension. On the other hand it was having engine trouble and Hernan (who is taller than me) and I ended up sharing the backseat of the Camry with a family of 4. Cambodian taxis usually have 4 passengers in the back and 3 in the front plus the driver, but kids ride free and sit more or less on their parents laps. These kids weren't all that small either though (the boy was probably 9-10, the girl maybe 5-6 years old) so things were pretty tight. The road was good for the first few hours, then turned into a horrible mess of former pavement with too many holes and craters to be considered pavement any longer. This lasted for the next 6 hours.
Dying TaxiAlong the way we had a few rest stops, some longer than others as our driver kept tweaking things with the car. He cleaned the spark plugs at one stop and we had another sudden stop to repair a broken fuel line. The car finally died and refused to start a few kilometers outside the town of Kratie so a passing vehicle gave us a tow to a mechanics shop in town. After trying a couple of quick fix ideas, our driver finally gave up and arranged for another car (and driver) to take all of us passengers onwards to Phnom Penh for the remaining 5-6 hour segment of the trip. By the time we got back on the road it was nearly 7 pm and after a couple stops to change tires (one was rubbing the wheel well, then another one went flat later on) we finally arrived in Phnom Penh well after midnight and I took a much needed shower before falling asleep in my own bed. The trip ended up taking about 16.5 hours and each of the 7 passengers paid $20. We covered a distance of about 630 km (just under 400 miles) from Banlung to Phnom Penh and had the option of taking a plane instead ($55 one way, around an hour). The trip certainly wouldn't have been nearly as interesting by plane though!
Since I got back to Phnom Penh early I've been getting some things done in the office. I've also been getting the last details of our upcoming Vietnam trip worked out and also found some time to write this update. Tonight we're planning to make up a big batch of guacamole using several kilos of avocados that somehow survived the taxi ride down here from Ratanakiri. For those of you who have asked, yes we know about SARS and have been keeping an eye on the situation. At the moment WHO is only advising against unnecessary travel to Hong Kong and China and the situation in Vietnam looks pretty good. I'll certainly be checking the latest reports over the next few days. My next update email will probably be from somewhere in Vietnam since I'm planning to head that direction on Friday. A few of the "maybes" on the Vietnam trip have decided not to go so it looks like we'll just have a group of 4 volunteers traveling together with 1 person coming back early since he has to get back to work sooner than the rest of us. It should be pretty fun and I'm definitely looking forward to visiting a couple of new countries!
Right now everyone in Cambodia is gearing up for the Khmer New Year holidays which officially start next week. In the evenings people are playing different types of group games in the streets and our office staff even played one this morning before work. I'm sure the water and powder throwing will start up soon as well. The water part actually sounds pretty nice right now since we definitely have been "enjoying" the hot season again with rising temperatures over the last few days. The nights have been noticeably warmer too lately with lows in the upper 80s.
Well, that's about it from here for now so I'll close and send this.
Until next time,
For more pictures from this trip see my Sen Monorom to Banlung photo album.
Well, I arrived back in Phnom Penh safely late yesterday afternoon with enough time to unpack, shower and put on some clean clothes before joining my friends for a fun time of visiting and playing games. If it seems like I've been out of contact a bit longer than expected, it's because I decided to take an extra week off at the end of the trip to see more in the country of Laos. I was originally planning to get back here a week ago, but I'm glad I was able to take the extra time to travel instead. I'm having a hard time getting my thoughts in order with so many experiences to report on, but I think I'll try to do a quick summary first, so here it is:
Time spent traveling: 30 days
Route: From Phnom Penh down the Mekong River to Chau Doc in Vietnam, to Cantho (also on the Mekong), to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), to Dalat in the southern hill country, to the beach resort of Nha Trang, to Hanoi with very brief stopovers in Hoi An and Hue on the way, to Halong Bay (beautiful islands in the sea where we slept on a boat), to the hill country of Northern Laos (minority tribes, waterfalls, cool climate, mountain scenery and kayaking), to Vientenne (the capital of Laos), to southern Laos (cheap bungalows, waterfalls and islands in the Mekong), and back south to Phnom Penh via the Mekong River.
Approximate total distance traveled: 6,600 km (about 4,100 miles, a little more than 1.5 times the driving distance from Washington DC to Los Angeles)
Modes of transportation used: 18 buses, 16 boats, 10 trucks (usually with bench seats and a camper-like cover over the back), 9 motorbikes, 7 tuk-tuks (a cross between a motorbike and a pickup), 2 car taxis, 2 vans, 2 bicycles, 1 jeep, 1 cyclo, 1 kayak, 1 train and 1 pair of shoes.
Cheapest lodging: $1 per night for riverfront bungalows in Laos (not counting the 2 nights in a row I slept on buses on the way to Hanoi or the 1 night I spent on the train on the way to Laos)
Most expensive lodging that I stayed in: $2.50 per person for AC and satellite TV with 4 people in a large room 1 block from the beach.
Number of 12.5 cent chocolate and other ice cream bars eaten in Vietnam: unknown
Overall it's been a great trip. I met lots of nice and interesting people along the way and saw some amazing scenery. I still need to sort through all the pictures I took and will also be writing about the trip in more detail.
Today I have enjoyed catching up on email, and this evening I'm getting together with friends for a small farewell party to say goodbye to some of the other volunteers who are leaving Cambodia this week. I'm running out of time for now so will write more later.
Bye for now,
potluck at the zooGreetings from Cambodia,
Well, this is it, my final update from Cambodia. I will be leaving Phnom Penh by taxi tomorrow morning, and then will fly from Bangkok to Washington, DC with a stopover on the way to visit some friends in Korea. I will continue the Laos trip report later, but for now I will try to bring you up to date on my last few weeks here in Cambodia.
elephants really do like peanutsUpon arrival back in Phnom Penh I quickly got back into the office routine. I mainly spent time working with Krisna, who is my locally hired replacement. He will be graduating from an IT degree program here in Phnom Penh next month and has been working part time with ADRA for the last few months. Krisna has been doing well and I've been going over pretty much everything I can think of about the computer, phone, email and other technical systems here in the office with him.
smile for the cameraMy first full weekend back in Phnom Penh (June 16-19) was actually a four day holiday weekend, but since I had taken plenty of time off earlier in the month I decided to work through the holidays instead of going to the beach like some did. In between spending time in the office I enjoyed another potluck and games night.
The second weekend we had a few visitors in town from ADRA Australia and ADRA New Zealand, so after church we had lunch with them and enjoyed visiting. In the evening we played some games and on Sunday we went to the Phnom Penh Zoo with some of the ADRA staff. We had a potluck style picnic lunch and enjoyed seeing elephants, tigers, lions, crocodiles, monkeys, gibbons and many other animals.
at the zoo with friendsIt was mainly nice just to get out of Phnom Penh and away from the city for a few hours. The zoo is situated over an hour south of town, completely away from people and also serves as a sort of wildlife rescue center. In some cases animals at the zoo have been captured from poachers, although I'm not sure how often this happens.
This last Monday I went up to Kompong Thmal for the day to help them configure a new email account and to say goodbye to the staff there. I hadn't seen most of them in a couple of months and wanted to let them know that I am leaving Cambodia. It was nice to see everyone again, but also sad to say goodbye.
typical roadside sceneOn Tuesday the Admin office took Jonathan and I out to lunch at a nice Khmer restaurant for our farewell party. Some of the staff also made pizza for us since they know that we prefer it to Khmer food. We do enjoy Khmer food, and we ate some of it as well, but it was very nice of them to bring the pizza.
On Friday I finally settled on plane tickets after checking with several travel agents in Cambodia, Thailand, Cyprus and the US. My routing is a bit complicated and I was checking out several options.
ADRA farewell partyFor lunch Jonathan and I cooked pasta with spaghetti sauce for the entire office, so it was a fairly hectic day with trips to the travel agent both before and after lunch. In the evening I was invited over to Hernan and Carina's for a pizza supper which was excellent. It was nice to visit with them since I won't be seeing them for quite some time. They will probably go back to Argentina soon, so maybe our paths will cross there some day.
On Sabbath we had a big potluck and then I spent the afternoon sharing some pictures with my friends here. In the evening I went to my last games night at Scotts where I won the 8 player game of settlers.
saturday night "snack"After winning I was given a farewell "present" of peanut butter by Ross, the Australian who makes peanut butter here in Phnom Penh. The present would have been nicer if it wasn't smeared in my hair and all over my face, but I guess it's the thought that counts I was able to get cleaned up, but only by using the shower. After I got the peanut butter out of my hair we visited some more and then I said goodbye to most of my friends here.
Yesterday I made several trips to one of the local markets to buy some last minute souvenirs and things and went to the Phnom Penh water park for part of the day. I got most everything done yesterday, so today I am just packing and catching up on email before heading out.
"gift" from rossI've already been in touch with some of you about my summer travel plans, but I will include my rough schedule below. I will be delivering a friend's car from Maryland to Oregon this month, but will be taking time to visit friends and family along the way. Afterwards I will spend some time in Maryland before heading to Cyprus to spend time sailing with my parents and sister.
Here are the details:
June 4 Fly from Bangkok to Seoul, Korea
June 5-10 Visit the McGhee family in Korea
June 10 Fly from Bangkok to Washington, DC (Dulles airport)
June 11-12 Drive to McMinnville, TN to visit grandparents
June 15-27 Drive from Tennessee to Portland, Oregon (exact route not finalized yet)
June 27- July 3 Visit grandparents in Portland, Oregon
July 3 Fly from Portland, OR to Baltimore, MD
July 3-14 Visit friends in the Maryland area and attend weddings
July 14-16 Fly from New York to Cyprus with short stopovers (not leaving the airport) in Seoul, Bangkok, and Dubai.
July 16-?? Sailing in the Mediterranean
It ended up being cheaper to fly back to Bangkok before going to Cyprus, even though the travel time will be significantly longer going that direction around the world. I guess I'll get more frequent flyer miles that way though
Well, that's it for now. Keep in touch and I'll talk to you later (many of you in person even).
Bye for now,