Two Weeks in Cambodia

Written Pictures on a Bus:

Dusty Cambodia. No hills. Cows same color as the ground. Trees incapable of providing shade. Angkor Beer posters flapping in the dull, stale air. Country life. Mostly shirtless. Houses on stilts as if they were clambering up on shaky wooden legs to escape the baking earth. Thirsty looking palm trees drooping under the powerful sun. Tiny muddy reservoirs. Naked kids the color of creamed coffee bathing at a hand pump. Strange Khmer writing replacing the accent laden Roman script of Vietnam. Hammocks aplenty.

Just as things were looking greener, we enter back into the dustscape of scrub brush and lonely, yellowed trees. Wide vistas of aridity. Perhaps it’s just the end of dry season doldrums. Mattresses stacked ten high on a sagging car filled with dudes and one guy sitting on a tire tied to the roof. Slow moving trucks filled with rubble or bricks. Bony cows munching whatever grass they find between discarded road rubbish. Bare chested men carrying hunks of metal. Two lonely light posts marking an abandoned trail into the hills. Desiccated rice paddies still in their trademark squares and rectangles sit unused and unfarmed, awaiting rain.

Some roadside streets have the unmistakable feel of a yard sale on a grander scale. Gasoline sold in recycled one liter glass Coke and Pepsi bottles…even when it’s filled with petrol, you still have to say, “Is Pepsi okay?”

Hammocks limply lie under shady coconut trees. Mud everywhere. Flip-flopped feet trudge with heavy burdens. Always the stilted houses. Rice drying on big, blue tarps. A new road will be built here to accommodate the roving bands of tourist laden buses.

Giant haystacks in perfectly piled mounds. The houses disappear and it looks like Africa. Flat, barren and hot with a smattering of shrubs and trees baking under the sun. There are nameless buildings with nameless products or services offered. There is always a seat filled in the hair shop. But, work seems to be perpetually stopped mid-point. Bricks without mortar, bulldozers without drivers, boats without motors, fires burning unattended, pots steaming in empty restaurants, and it seems that a semi-permanent siesta has settled over the people.

Sihanoukville, 8:30 p.m:

Cascading blond hair stacked above visible curves like a wig firmly resting atop a sunburned Gaudi creation in barely acceptable cutoffs. Nothing can prepare you for the surreal, sumptuous movement of that statuesque beauty, rising from the table like a quivering tower of jelly embraced in silken scarves. Men walking with the lusty glare of boys too young to realize desire blinds judgement.

Tuktuks blast by burping diesel farts into the humid yet cooling evening air. Stray cats exemplify the beachy attitude of walking aimlessly with a purpose. Table candles flicker. Hotel fountains sparkle. Whispering winds ripple frayed flags below grass roofs. Saturday night expectations hang in the air like adult versions of elementary school wishes for Santa. Paolo Nutini covers Amy Winehouse on the dulled speakers. Cigarettes with a faint wisp of marijuana and cloves tickle my nostrils. Finishing off a seductive dinner with a chocolate mousse. It’s overwhelmingly romantic in this Italian bistro on a normal April night in Cambodia.

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