Ghost stories: the living and the dead
Trip Start Oct 04, 2005
62Trip End Ongoing
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Once in Kep, though, the mood changed. Where I had felt nothing but warmth and life when sitting with that family, here I felt hollowness. Yes, the sun reflecting on the water was beautiful and the hammocks did look very inviting, but it was obvious that this was a ghost town. The French had made it a very popular resort town before the Khmer Rouge regime and their grand villas still remained, but now the lawns were overgrown, the windows without glass, the ornamentation ripped out, and the walls riddled with bullet holes. It was sad to drive through and know that it had once been a happy place. It looked like there were beginnings of reconstruction, and the crabshacks had a few customers, but it all seemed so tired and sad. The lifeforce of this place had been drained many years before.
The fog had drifted across the "road" giving chills and obscuring our view on and off all the way up the mountain. For the past ten minutes all that we could see from the back of the pickup truck was the vague forms of bushes and trees on the hills next to us. And then suddenly it appeared right in front of us - The Bokor Palace Hotel. We had spent two hours bumping up the nonexistant road, broken up with an hour jungle hike, to get to what is supposed to be the creepiest place in South East Asia. The hotel had been built as a getaway for the French who prefered the cool mountain air to the beaches of Kep. It was a five-star piece of heaven overlooking the jungles surrounding the mountain, the nearby towns, and the ocean beyond. Then, like in Kep, it was all abandoned and taken over by the Khmer Rouge
Walking down the streets in my last day in Kampot, the sun beginning its descent behind the mountains and the children playing some sort of game resembling kick ball, I suddenly felt as if I were walking down a street in the States. I may be halfway around the world from home in place very different from what I grew up with, but the most important things are the same. As I pass, the children wave to me with giggled shouts of hello, and I wave back just as excited as they are to make that small contact. Here, despite the horrors of their past, a new generation is growing up knowing love and peace. I feel safe walking these streets alone, safer sometimes then in Charlottesville or Arlington, because I know that the guys on bikes and motos are just staring out of curiosity or because they want to make a few dollars giving me a ride to my guesthouse. I smile and tell them no, that I like to walk. There are puppies playing in the dust-filled gutters, it always seems that one is black and one is white - strange. Little babies wearing only little t-shirts sit on their mothers' or sisters' laps, safe in the arms of those who love them. As dinnertime approaches, the mouthwatering smells of curry, fried rice, and noodle soup begin to fill the air. A breeze from the nearby ocean cools the sweat on my brow and ruffles my skirt up so that I have to grab the edges to make sure I don't give the watching moto drivers something to really look at. As I approach my guesthouse, I think, that this is a perfect way to end my stay in Cambodia, enjoying the life of the country, the love that has managed to survive so much terror.