Below is the posting from our final guest blogger Paul.
The four of us hopped on a bus from Siem Reap to Pursat and welcomed the air-con but not so much the 3 hour Cambodian music video. Epic it was. And when it was finally over, they played it again. I found it to be an exercise in patience, much like the entire 3 weeks I spent in the heat and humidity of Southeast Asia. Upon our arrival in Pursat the tuk-tuk drivers spotted us from outside and started waving their arms whilst running alongside the moving bus. It would have been unsettling if they hadn’t, as this is standard procedure. Lets face it, as non-Asians, we stick way out in a crowd. Our plan was to spend the night in Pursat, ride the bamboo train in the morning, and head to a floating village about 70 km away where we would partake in a home-stay.
So the one tuk tuk driver that spoke English approached us and stuck to us like a stray cat you just fed a can of quality tuna. It was off-putting, which was unfortunate, because he knew what we wanted to do, made a plan for us that sounded reasonable, but was too expensive. So we all ignored him as best we could and found a guesthouse across the street to drop our bags, wash up, and explore the town in search of eats. We eventually stumbled upon a real, rural Cambodian street market complete with wriggling fish, baskets of live bugs, pig heads, and water buffalo roaming the streets. It tickled and slapped all of the senses.
Naturally the air was already thick with moisture to which every scent seemed to hang on, from scooter exhaust, sea creatures, fried stick-meat and durian,to sweaty bodies, rotting garbage and a lingering putrescence reminiscent of stinky feet and dirty biscuit* (*word substitution by blog administrators). Or vice versa. Ironically enough we were all quite hungry, but understandably skeptical. Enter Willia. Yes, Willia. A 25 year old Brooklyn girl who was born in Haiti and working with the Peace Corp in Pursat to bring health awareness to the people. She even spoke Cambodian and hooked us up with a noodle stand and ordered for us. A stroke of good fortune. She offered to show us around a little so we took her up on her offer and started walking towards a giant barge that was cemented into place in the river and turned into a park. Neat.
We were walking on the sidewalk and Willia was walking her bike next to us on the street when suddenly two guys on a scooter clipped her handle bar, lost control of the scooter and did a face plant at 20 mph. We all just stood there slightly in shock, and puzzled. Naturally they had no helmets on, so when the driver finally peeled his face off the street and stood up, he looked just like he did a face plant in the street at 20 mph on a moped. It was ugly. Willia tried talking to him and slowly came to the realization that they were very drunk. That explained it. They picked up the bike, and the passenger, who was not hurt, drove the two of them away, and we walked to the park. Those are not the droids you are looking for. At the barge park I picked up on Willia’s dazed vibe and suggested we all call it a day and head back to our spaces. We had a big day ahead of us and a strange day behind us.
The next morning Sarah and Dave got up a bit earlier than Jen and I, shrugged off the stray cat/tuk tuk driver (yes, he was persistent) and sat down for their fried rice breakfast. Jen and I followed suit but my breakfast never came. Lost in translation I suppose, or severe lack thereof. But at least we had a view of some nature, in the form of dogs having sex next to our table. And yes, it was. Doggy style. From there we managed to get a tuk tuk to take the four of us to the bamboo train.
It sounds leagues more interesting than it is. Not even bamboo, but I guess no one would be intrigued if it were called a pallet train now would we. None the less (a phrase I don’t really understand) we got on the slatted wood platform with our bags and headed down the tracks toward what we thought would get us to some transportation to Krakor, the town nearest the floating village of Kampong Luang. The “train” was powered by what closely resembled a lawn mower engine with a fan belt running off a pulley from the crankshaft to a pulley on the axle of the drive wheels. The engine was loose and held in place both by the operator sitting on it and a stick. To get it to move he just took the slack out of the belt by tilting the engine. And there was a stick for braking as well, which we had to do in order to remove the train from the tracks everytime we met a train traveling in the opposite direction. The other trains were loaded with construction grade wood 5 feet high and then 8 to 10 people and their cargo on top. After 3 or 4 of these episodes we got dumped off deep in the heart of a rural farming community.
It was like planet of the Asians and Dave was Charlton Heston. We didn’t actually get wrangled up and forced into slavery, but it felt like we had gotten out of a spaceship on a strange planet that we would later find out was Earth after the apocalypse. We shortly drew a crowd as we walked down the dirt road with our gear, and umbrellas, sweating like things that sweat very heavily. The whole time clueless as to where we were, and in which direction to walk to get us closer to the floating village. Dave was stopping every person that went by who was operating anything with wheels and an engine in hopes to make a connection and score us a lift. After about an hour my hopes of staying hydrated long enough to get out of the situation started to wane. I must admit, I began to get seriously concerned for our welfare and suggested we go back to where we got dropped off and wait for another train to take us back to Pursat and jump on a bus.
By that time Dave was able to communicate our need for a ride to a woman who wanted $100 to get us to the floating village. Although we weren’t sure if she knew where we wanted to go. It was vague at best so we all agreed to turn around and head back. When we did, she offered again for $50 but it was still vague and too much money so we kept going. A minute or so after we left, a woman offered to take Jen and her giant bag to the bamboo train stop on her scooter. So off went Jen and her bag. I turned to Dave and said “you know now that we’re split up we will find a ride”. It’s Murphy’s law and its real because 3 minutes down the road a guy comes walking up to us and says, in very clear English, “hi, can I help you guys?” I turned to Dave and said “see”.