Phnom Phen, learning to smile!
How little we know about the world around us. I was the first. I have to admit that until we got down to “organizing” the trip, I hardly put Cambodia on the map. I could place it in an area, but far from its true location. Normal that then one ends up surprising everything. Although the worst thing is to talk about something without knowing about it, something too common. With this objective I am writing to you today, so that the next time you think of Cambodia, you will always do so with a smile.
( 08-09-14 ) The last time we spoke, we had just spent a few days in Siem Reap, in the impressive temples of Angkor . And although we would have gladly stayed more days in that part of the world, the calendar was tightening and our journey had to continue. Next stop, Phnom Penh. Being the capital of Cambodia and being just over 300 kms away, it would be easy to get there, right?
Well no, quite the opposite. It took us more than 10 hours to make that journey. Normal if we take into account the state of the “roads”….
… for calling in some way the set of holes that link one city to another, and the conditions of the «bus» …
… From which part of its roof came off in the middle of the journey and punctured up to 3 times. Yes, friends, 3 times they had to stop to fix the same wheel.
Now, blessed pricks. In our last tire incident something wonderful happened. Although later I will stop at the recent history of Cambodia, for contextualization I will tell you that this country “has just” emerged from a genocide that took a quarter of the population. Although little by little the country is seeing the light, it is not easy to recover from a blow like this. As you move away from the cities “blessed” by tourism, the country falls apart. The rural world of Cambodia is in a very difficult situation. Well, returning to our story, our third blowout left us lying in the middle of another of those villages in such a difficult situation. A village full of children. They didn’t take long to see us arrive. At first they were watching us from a distance.
Lugo timidly, in formation, back to back, they were taking small steps to approach us. But any movement we made scared them and they all ran away. By the time we realized we were playing English chocolate with some Cambodian children. But since we also wanted to be participants, we changed the rules a bit and introduced “magic”. Diego dusted off some basic tricks and with them we managed to get them to come up to us and even talk. We did not understand anything, although it was not necessary.
It is surprising to see how most of them were barefoot. And it is that those andurriales were plagued with red ants, of which they bite. In the short time we were there we were bitten a few times despite wearing shoes so I imagine that for them it will be something normal and natural. They didn’t seem to care either. Our time with the children took me to my solidarity experience in Peru, where I was lucky enough to help in a very needy town. And in general, I think we all wanted our bus to never be fixed and to have spent the whole day there. In fact, in our initial travel plan, the possibility of spending a few days helping in Cambodia was raised, but in the end, due to work schedule issues, it was impossible. In the short time we were with the children, we could do little more than give them a magic show and one of our ribbons of the virgin of the pillar, which we left tied around the wrist of the youngest of the gang.
And then the puncture was fixed and he had to get on the bus and turn his back on reality. At night we arrived in Phnom Penh , dizzy from so much boat, sweaty, hungry … but with good shoes and clothes. There is no reason to complain. In that state we did not give much more than to eat too much at a fast food restaurant, take a mini-tour of the city, and fall exhausted in our bed. Tourism would have to wait.
(09-09-14) … and he had to wait longer than necessary since this morning it was logistics and, after 16 days of travel, a second laundry. As in most of the places we found, no one guaranteed that our clothes could be dry that day, we looked for a self-service laundry and we managed it ourselves. For the first time in a place like this, the play did not go wrong, regardless of the fact that some shirt has shrunk a bit.
With the logistics already done, we went to the Central Market of Phnom Phen …
… And we ended up eating in the surroundings.
The rest of the afternoon, some basic sightseeing. As there was not much time we had to choose, since there is a considerable distance between most points of interest. We would opt for the Killing Fields , the area where the extermination of Cambodians was concentrated during the aforementioned genocide. We would go there with a Tuk-Tuk, the main mode of transportation in the capital. 15 dollars it cost us the round trip (24 kilometers in total) including our “driver” waiting for us during the visit. You would be surprised what these people are capable of doing for four dogs. Extreme helpfulness.
In fact, during the trip it started to rain and the Tuk-Tuk ran out of gas. What did our taxi driver do? The first thing, cover us so that we do not get wet. The second thing, put on the raincoat. The third, take off your shoes (I imagine not to spoil your shoes). The fourth, go out in the rain in search of a can of gasoline.
It didn’t take long to find it and, as if nothing had happened, it led us to our destination. All this while maintaining the most sincere of smiles. At the end of the day she took a good tip, but she would have treated us the same even if we had paid her half. And so we come to the Killing Fields .
1975, after 8 years of civil war in Cambodia , the Khmer Rouge , a Cambodian guerrilla organization led by Pol Pot, seizes power in the country with the aim of building a new communist Cambodia. Three premises: the ruralization of the country to the detriment of the big cities that are considered bourgeois; the promotion of agriculture as the main economic source …
… And the extermination of the “hidden enemy”. Who was the hidden enemy? All those who did not think like him. Capitalists, foreigners, intellectuals, Cambodians in general … anyone was potentially exterminable. Any activity they carried out considered illegal carried a first warning. There were no second warnings.
Between famines, poor working conditions, and the extermination of hidden enemies, nearly 2 million people were left by the wayside, 25% of the country’s population at that time. Killing Fields is now a small tribute in one of the areas where that slaughter was concentrated.
Of course, the fewer bullets spent the better. Machetes, poisons, suffocation … or digging your own grave. The lucky ones died trying. Those who did not were buried alive.
As it happened two years ago in the Auschwitz concentration camp , the Killing Fields left us speechless …
… And throughout the visit the rain accompanied us. I reaffirm myself that in places like this the sun should never rise. The only thing that gives you some hope is seeing the many expressions of solidarity that can be seen in almost every corner. Shows in which we also wanted to be part of.
It was a tough but necessary visit. Every now and then it is good to run into real problems; shrinking a shirt is not. Head down we left the field, where our tuktukero was waiting for us, who surprised us with a proposal that we did not quite understand. He spoke very rudimentary English and made hand gestures as if he were firing a submachine gun. We wanted to hear that some shooting area was going to take us, or something similar. It sounded good, but we got it wrong. Very bad. And we realized that the Tuk-Tuk went down some strange roads full of garbage. Our trip ended at something like a shooting range where a guy without a shirt but wearing good military pants was waiting for us. He pulled out a price list: $ 100 to launch a grenade, $ 150 to fire a submachine gun, $ 300 to launch a rocket. We told him that we had misunderstood him and without further ado they got us out of there. This is the only photo we have of the place, it is unfortunate, but I had to take it secretly.
The fucking thing is. We have just left a monument to human atrocity and 10 minutes from that place there is a shooting range where we can play God. There are people who do not learn. I hope they are few. On our return to the city it began to rain Cambodian … that is, without knowledge. So we had no choice but to tell our driver that he will drop us off at the hostel. But as often happens in these situations, it was arriving and stopped, so there was no time for naps.
The first thing we did was take Álvaro and Diego to cut their hair, this time in a hairdresser on the street …
… And from there, I walk around the city, in search of what Phnom Phen hides.
It did not take much, the night fell on us immediately and it was time (again) to pick up soon. Today, several days after our passage through Cambodia, we can recognize that we were too ambitious believing that 5 days in this country would be enough. It was like opening the package and not eating the chocolate. The only thing that consoles me is to think that sooner or later we will return but not as tourists, we will again get muddy and walk barefoot through their villages. We will return to learn to smile as only those who have nothing can.
( 09-10-14 ) Another early riser, like almost every day of the trip. This time we had to catch another plane to Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). Although it took off in the middle of the morning, you already know that between chekines, visas, security controls, proving that you are not a terrorist, check-in and others, you have to be at the airport at least 2 hours before. And that we travel with a backpack, something that speeds up processes a lot. But hey, even with those first thing in the morning Tuk-Tuk to the airport …
… And there again Air Asia through (a great and very cheap airline for trips within Asia) we headed to Kuala Lumpur. And you will say … what have you missed again in Kuala Lumpur ? The trip was ending for Álvaro. For work reasons, our friendly colleague had to leave us a week before, so we decided to accompany him halfway.
At 11 pm our friend’s flight left, the same time we were catching a train to Singapore. So we did little else than spend the day at the KL Sentral train station (where buses to the airport leave every half hour for less than 3 euros) …
Little India, Kuala Lumpur
… And go out to eat in the nearest neighborhood, Little India .
Little India is another recommended visit in Kuala Lumpur, although the “tourist” part does not go much beyond its main street. Yes, we ate well in an Indian place for Indians. We began to master Asian culture, there is no race that resists us.
And from there, back to the station to lock ourselves in a cafeteria, where at least we take advantage of the afternoon to do some blogging and logistics. When you are in the world, you don’t have to give up any day for lost, there are always things to do.
And suddenly Álvaro left. And suddenly you become aware that they have already flown almost 20 days of travel. And suddenly your table limps because you have lost one of its legs. And you just have to thank him for his great attitude throughout the trip and wish him that the return to work is successful, comfortable and pleasant. One moment, one place.
And so far I can read for now. Although we are returning to Spain today, there are still two more posts to share with you about our last days of travel. And I can tell you that, despite Álvaro’s absence, things have gone very well. Do you know anything about Singapore? Well get ready, because Nothing Included has arrived in the most luxurious city in all of Southeast Asia. And we have not been alone, but very well accompanied. We will write to you again soon, but in the meantime we would like to read you in our comments. A hug!