Two days in Sihanoukville and two in Phnom Penh

26 Jul

In my travels I never leave the road for a more confortable and fast plane. Greyhound buses have brought me from new york to los angeles and from vancouver to halifax. Together with some vans I have also made my way through the gulf of Mexico, from miami to cancun. My butt has tasted sits with forms and hardnesses in all their spectra. My body has been squeezed between big americans and broken front sits, shaken by the curves when snaking down mexican moutains in worn-out vans. My face has turned pale and my look focused on predicting the curves ahead in order to not throw up. For me all this hardship is worth the people, towns and sceneries you meet on the way. It gives you a good sense of how big a continent is and what is mostly in it, something you don’t get when flying. And by now, you can imagine, I have developed some kind of sleeping-in-bus-kamasutra and can adapt myself into almost any small space and sleep. Also, my body has learned to not get sick in buses, so now I can read, write and sleep in almost any road. This is, of course, in North America.

In south east asia, road adversities play in another league. From luang prabang to vientiane I discovered that bumps in the road can throw you out of the sit. No matter what time is it, buses may play loud karaoke pop songs in their tv’s. And, from siem reap to sihanoukville, in the south of cambodia, the bus is freezing. Somehow I also know how to sleep in very cold temperatures, and somehow nobody in the bus has the idea to wake me up when the bus arrives. Waking up alone in a bus, more than an hour later than its arrival time, and with the doors closed, is a weird sensation. Riding motorbikes and tuk tuks in these mad cities it’s another topic and for another day.

The two days I stay in Sihanoukville rains non stop, so I cancel my snorkeling plans and head to Phnom Penh, the capital, where I absorb myself not in the angkor period (9th through 12th centuries) as in Siem Reap but in the civil war and the khmer rouge that happened in the seventies.

In two words, the conflict began in 1970 and was mainly communists versus republicans, together with their vietnamese and american allies exacerbating the war. After five savage years it ended in 1975 with a communist victory. The worst was to come. During the following four years, until vietnam invaded cambodia, the communist leader pol pot ruled to radically establish its communism through, among many things, political executions and massively deporting people from cities to the countryside, bringing forced labor and starvation. This stupid endlessly dream turned into more than two million cambodian deaths, about one fourth of the cambodian population. Wiki-google it yourselves. I recommend the movie “the killing fields” and the book “first they killed my father” about the topic.

In phnom penh the prison s-21 and the killing field of choeung ek are two symbols of the genocide. S-21 was a school reformed into a prison of torture and execution. Ironically, I think, the man in charge was an history teacher. The bastard is still alive and will die in prison. I walk through the different cells and the hundreds of pictures of the prisoners, dozens of which are of kids. Choeung ek keeps the skulls and bones found in a memorial budhist stupa in where people show respect. I also walk around the pits from where hundreds of people were exhumated.

In the afternoons I walk around the markets. They are, for those who know the chinese stores in europe, like humdreds of them put together. Everything you can imagine, and many things you cannot, are there. I discover I really like bargaining. Even for things I don’t really want, I have fun trying to discover the minimum price. I refuse two hundred times (out of two hundred) tuk tuk proposals and get lost in the city. In a street store the woman lets me try her merchandise. I love the fryed (crunchy) grasshoppers with species and some sweet and spicy fruits that look like cherry tomatoes. She fills for me a bag of each. She speaks no english and has no calculator to show me the price. I give her a dollar and she gives me back fifty cents. I feel, for first time in Cambodia, that I’m doing the real thing and paying the real price.

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