Burning down the road

Trip Start Jan 31, 2011
Trip End Dec 15, 2011

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Where I stayed
The Cozy Elephant

Flag of Cambodia  ,
Saturday, July 2, 2011

On waking today, I expected another cloudy wet day. I was rather surprised to find it was sunny and clear. The guys downstairs thought it would rain about 3 so I had my rain coat with me of course.
I put on my still wet shoes, thinking they'd have more of a chance of drying by being on my feet and being driven through the warm air! Besides, if I was going to go climbing through caves, then flip flops are completely inadequate. a decision a later came to realise was very wise. Shorts on, t-shirt on, and new helmet on. Spray all over in Factor 50 suncream I paid hugely for in Vietnam, and off I went. 

The drive on this pleasant, clear, warm day was perfect. The road was busier than the last couple of days, after all, it's Saturday. I found the turn off toward the mountain - this is always dubious as it's a dirt road and you never know if it's someone's back garden

As I drove down the road, there were lots of children in various states of naked/dressed-ness shouting "Hello! Hello! Hello!" and waving furiously. I waved back where possible, grinned at them and shouted "Hello!" back. Everyone has wooden houses, mostly on stilts, and with lush green fields on very flat landscape, with the occasional hill popping out of the ground.

As I paused to review my map in more of a built up, village area a boy asked where I was going and was I looking for the caves, I told him yes, and he asked if he could guide me. I thought, why not. He ended up driving us round more fields and dirt tracks to a Hill and we went inside, for $1 to the caves. I was joined by 2 more boys who also took great care to show me all the caves and point out the rather suspect - "look, it's an eagle/elephant/turtle" at limestone rocks, some of which really didn't look anything like what they were saying. It's like looking at clouds and trying to find a picture in them all. I nodded and "hmmm"ed at the 'animals' they were pointing out. I wish I'd taken one of the Eagle they attempted to point out, and the boy also helpfully pointed out that we were safe because it wasn't a real eagle. I sarcastically, phewed, and said something like "wow, it's really not real?", then we carried on. The next bit was absolute adventure climbing and I had visions of 127 hours coming to mind, apart from the fact I wasn't alone! We descended into a cave, which involved climbing very very carefully, and hanging onto everything and being as sure footed as possible. they told me it was easy and we'd come out at the rice fields. Easy, ok, down? ok, I can manage that then. 
No sooner had we got down into this rocky dark cavern, than they said, "Right, the exit is up there" pointing up the side of a rock. Oh good. Up. Up a steep rock. They agilly grabbed a vine and shimmied their way up the rock face, helpfully trying to point out to me how I should come up. They'd already witnessed my puffing as I went up the stairs to get into the top of this place, accompanied by "this is what 10 years behind a desk will do", so I'm not sure why they didn't think that I'd struggle a little hefting myself up rocks. I DID though. I used to love climbing rocks and trees when I was little. I still envy kids who run around playing tag. What an easy way to keep fit, and the only reason grownups don't play is because of what other grownups might think. But I bet secretly everyone would love to play, in the same way we all miss playing musical statues and pass the parcel. I'm sure I'm not the only one. If I am, then I fear I will never grow up. 
Anyway, I digressed slightly. As sweat dripped from my face still from the climb up on the stairs, then the tentative climb down, the only way out of there was by rock climbing, whichever way I went. I managed, like I said and got out in one piece, feeling I'd done my exercise for the day - cardio and weights. Well done.
I handed the 2 uninvited tag along boys 2000 Riel each, and me and my lad returned to the bike. Where he suggested 1000Riel for the little girl who looked after it was enough. (At this point I'll also mention that he asked me how much to rent the bike for the day. I told him $5, he thought this was expensive. Keep this fact in mind for further down)

Next place he drove me to was the 'Secret Lake' which isn't very secret at all. It's huge, and has lots of huts around it, not to mention a tourist map which turns anything secret into a funpark almost immediately. Ok so it wasn't a funpark, but it wasn't secret. But it was pretty. My lad then suggested another Cave, which I wasn't very fussed about and as he'd brought up the subject of money, I said I'd pay him $5 for these 2 hours of his day that he volunteered himself, which I'd like to point out is a very generous sum of money here. Many a hotel receptionist in Phnom Penh only gets $60 per month, and imagine how many hours they work! So I thought he would be well chuffed at my "I'm giving you $5!" thinking what a nice lad he'd been, and his parents had both died and he was saving for school. 
My good warm feelings inside then turned to anger and frustration as he asked if I could give him $10, for the reason that "it is nothing to you, you can afford it".  I then attempted debate with him where I said that I thought $5 was plenty, and he kept on with his argument.  I ended the converstation with no resolution when I asked him to stop whilst I took a picture, then said that instead of going to see the second caves I'd rather he took me back to where he'd left his bike so at least he wasn't in the middle of nowhere.
We drove on, me in silence feeling furious inside with all sorts of justifications and reasons to give him why I wasn't just going to give him $10. He pissed me off because he made me feel bad. I felt bad for potentially giving him $5 because cleary he thought I was being a cheapskate because"I can afford it" which SO isn't the point, after all you don't go up to a millionaire and say "Please give me 1000 because you can afford it", it's rude! And makes the other person feel like a walking cash register, which is really self esteem damaging when you stop feeling like a human being with feelings and interests and your own history, and more like a cash register that everyone flocks towards just to take, take, take. Oh look, a foreigner, lets just HAVE all their money. ARgh!!! So, I'd also feel bad if I gave him the $10 he was asking for, because yet again I'd feel ripped off, used and abused, and anyway, I was minding my own business riding along the roads when he invited himself into MY space, I did not seek his guiding services. I'd have been pleased if someone had given me $5, literally! for 2 hours of my time on a Saturday going to see some interesting things. 
To sum up, I seethed with annoyance all the way to the next destination, which despite our conversation, turned out to be the second lot of caves, and not his bicycle. 

I went off up to these caves, whilst the lad waited with the bike. Another 2 blokes came along this time, trawling up behind me on the steps. As I was already feeling used and abused, and like everyone else keeps inviting themselves into my space then expecting money for it, I was not in a good mood. I told the guys that I did not require a guide thankyou, and his english was terrible anyway. He continued to follow me, and I told him again, whilst very pointedly walking ahead of him\, which was up more steps. Inevitably he caught up with me because I got all puffed out and had to sit down at the top! Once I felt I could, I quickly got up, saying again that I didnt need a guide and walked off into the cave. He followed me again, and then broke ahead in front of me, pointing out yet more spurious 'animals' in the rock formations. "Fine" I thought, "Follow me, but I have told you three times now, and I'm getting sick of this uninvited expectation of money". I left the cave, after deciding not to go clinging to rocks 20 feet above a drop for a second time today. Once I reached the bottom of the stairs I headed for the bike and he called after me, "No!" I thought, "I'm not having this, I'm a human being, not a walking bank, I have to try and live on $20 per day myself, I'm not giving it all away when I am perfectly capable of getting around on my own! I've been doing it long enough". 
The lad asked why I didn't give 'the guide' any money. I told him, also feeling annoyed at him still, that I'd told him I didn't need a guide several times but he followed me anyway!
We got on the bike and left. This time adamant that I was dropping off the greedy boy who'd made me feel bad, and made me spend the entire half hour justifiying reasons in my mind as to why $5 was enough for the 2 hours of his time, rather than relaxing enjoying the ride! (this is all very exhausting isn't it).

Finally we arrived at the spot where he wanted to be dropped off. I handed him $5, he once again asked for more, and my immediate response, (that I'd spent half an hour mulling and justifying)deciding that this comment had come from him already, was that for $5 per day I could rent a whole bike for 24 hours, and he thought THAT was expensive! So why he thought 2 hours of his time was worth more, I wasn't sure! He said nothing, no counter answer (which they are SO good at normally), took the $5, thanked me and carried on his day. Relieved I was out of this karma melting pickle, I carried on with my day. Deciding that taking on a 'guide' is soul destroying because it doesn't matter what you give them, they'll make you feel bad for not giving them more. Better off just saying no. Well done Cambodia. I no longer require your tourist/bracelet/book/massage services because you always manage to make me feel bad! BUT EVEN THAT'S BAD! I can't win.

Being karmacally challenged is going to continue for the next few months I'm sure whilst in these 'poorer' countries. Now I know why winning the lottery would be a complete pain in the arse (and if I do I'm not telling anyone!). No one cares about YOU, just what you have to give them. I don't believe I'm like that. I don't like people because they can get me free tickets to shows, or fix my toilet, or take me out for dinner every time I see them. I like or dislike people, because of who they are, because the fact is I have nothing to physically give anyone except being genuinely interested in them and as nice as possible hoping they'll just like me because I'm interesting, have ambitions, an adventurous spirit, can talk about anything from films to philosophy and am just 'mr niceguy' (except, it seems, being everyone's own personal computer helpdesk. Even my job brings conversations to a standstill. I have witnessed this so many times "So what do you do Zoe?", "I test software". Pause. "Right"- slightly blank look on face. "And Lizzie, what do you do?", "I have my own jewellery business", at which point the conversation revolves entirely around this person with the much more interesting job. Which is fine, even I can only speak for about a minute describing my job before everyone, including me thinks, "I'm bored now. So! Jewellery making? How fascinating!"). I think this is why it's such a shame that the only reason that anyone talks to me is because they imagine all the greenies in my wallet, not because I'm clearly a foreigner who might be able to help them improve their english, or tell them interesting things, or might want to find out a little something about how they live. No, sadly, no one actually gives a sh*t about me, just what I can give them. 

My god, digressing is occurring too often, you can see I just think onto my fingers and let them type as I think. SQUIRREL!...(for anyone who hasn't seen the dogs in the film "Up" now you'll be lost, and now you must watch the film, or this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YaAxzIFgNso&feature=related)

AGAIN! Where was I....um, (I'm scrolling up to check). Ok, dropped off greedy lad, and on my own. I was hungry and thirsty by now, and miles from anywhere big. I was in the village again and having spotted a great big coolbox I decided that as it was 1.30, I was thirsty and a little hungry. Again, no KFC's nearby, but right next to the shop with the coolbox, there was a put-me-up stand where they had various foods, and if nothing else, a stick of french bread. I went over and looked at the various meats on sticks, and picked something that looked beefy on a stick that was sitting in a marinade. I asked for 3 and she cooked them on a little bucket shaped charcoal stove. They were so good I had 3 more with my stick of bread. Everyone seemed rather amused and honoured that I was sitting there eating. I looked up the road and did a complete double take when I saw an elephant coming down the road. This clearly wasn't an everyday occurence as even the locals got their camera phones out. I reapplied more sun cream and set off up the road for a more of a drive. The sun was beating down with no sign of clouds or rain anywhere, and despite my attempts at not burning, I could see and feel my legs and arms going pink. 

I drove for another couple of hours and returned to Kampot where I changed into longer clothes, but the damage had already been done, I got a bit sunburnt.  I returned to Rikitikitavi, where I'd had a good chat last night with the owner, and said I'd go by today. I had a delicious dinner and then a good chat with her and a couple of others. I got back to the hostel after midnight and went to bed. Arms and knees stinging a little.

Best: riding round on my own

Worst: grumpy hour

Beautiful: Lush green fields against brilliant blue sky
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Glenwaters on

Hey - I remember that elephant when I visited Cambodia 40 years ago.
Bet he still remembers me!

Andrew D on

I love the look of that little place in the village. It's so basic, but it looks inviting, and in one of the pictures one of the girls is smiling at the camera... a proper big grin! Plus the elephant encounter sounded both surreal and fun. Stuff like that, and the nice restaurant with the nice ower you visited, sound to me like the essense of travelling to places like this. Strange sights, beautiful landscapes and meeting lovely people. Ignore all of those other people who just seem to be out for your money... unfortunatley there will always be people like that. Don't let them get to you, and just look forward to meeting the genuine people who are happy to provide a service for a fair price, and who are actually pleased to meet you and talk to you. It seems like you have met a fair few of those kinds of people now too! It would be good to hear about the good people you have met so far on your travels - other travellers and locals alike! Perhaps in your next blog post you can tell us about those people... I'm sure thinking about them will make you feel much better, and hopefully restore a little bit of your faith in humanity!!!

Take care, and I look forward to more entries!!! xxx

Mummers on

Great to see the sun shining on those lovely scenes

Mrs Bloom on

Oh dear Mrs Grumpy, sounds like you are encountering the type of folk we disliked in Cambodia. They hang onto your sleeve and all make the same little noise, like they've learnt the song at the breast of their mother "One dollaaaaaarrrr?"

In our experience this was only really notable in Cambodia and Vietnam, but the Vietnamese were more feisty and cunning in their dollar-quest.

But fear not! The Laos people are lovely and haven't totally caught onto the point of tourists, they're still happy doing their own thing while making space for you (although things are changing rapidly so get a move on!) and the Thai understand that the point of a tourist is to smile at them, help them out, show them how great your country is so that they come back and are glad to spend their money!

AND the Malaysians are far too proud of what they've achieved to need any dollars. They give gladly and for free because their aim is to be 1st world. Things cost a little more in Malaysia but the standards are high and the price is the price, whatever the colour of your skin.

I think things will get much easier for you, so look on the bright and colourful side. You'll just have the grit your teeth and bear it while getting through Cambodia and especially Angkor Wat! There you will need your best child-swat.

You seem to be doing everything right as a solo-traveller, engaging with all the locals and seeing everything there is to see.
I'm a very proud sister xxxxxxx

Andrew D on

Just to let you know Zoe, Mojo passed away at the weekend. We found out today as he had been missing for a few days. Me and Alex are really upset, but we're at least glad we know what happened to him and he can come back to us (he's being cremated and we get the ashes back on Thursday). I'm really going to miss him. :-( x

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