Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Holy Guano, Batman !

Bamboo, Bamboo tubes, Rice paper.

Wednesday - March 27th 2013 - Battambong.

At the crack of 8 Nicky picked me up and we sped away for the real tourist excursion of Battambong. There are many cultural sites, but the MUST SEE for tourists is the Bamboo Train. When Disneyland first opened you would get a booklet with many coupons in it. an A ticket might get you a ride on a trolly, but the cool rides like the Matterhorn were all E tickets (not to be confused with the current E-Ticket for planes) Well let me tell you the Bamboo Train is definitely an E ticket. First the two axles and wheels are set on the tracks, then the bamboo platform is placed on them and a small lawnmower type engine in attached. I rubber fan belt is looped around the pulley on the motor and you now have a bamboo train. The operator pull starts the engine, pulls a stick back and the belt tightens and you are off.

I want solo so got any seat on the train I wanted. Up front of course. It (honestly) was scarrier that riding on most rollercoasters. At least with a rollercoaster you have some assurance the darned thing is going to stay on the tracks and not fall to pieces. As we started to roll it sounded like a jet warming up and the the roar became deafening and the wind in my face started as the tracks and ties started to blur. The tracks look like a serpent in places, there are gaps between the rails and the rsils do all meet at the same level. You are speeding down them at around 10 Mph, but it feels like 50. Occasionally you hit an exceptionally bad joint and for a half a second you wonder how come you aren't airborne. You night need a back surgeon when you get home, but for now you are still rolling and that is a good thing. If you meet another bamboo train going the opposite way, the one with the fewer passengers yields by removing their entire train and replacing it after the exchange. Now the bamboo train is strictly for tourists but in it's heyday it was used by the locals for transport and was most everywhere in the country.

Nicky advised me to avoid the sharks at the terminus and purchase my contribution to the economy from the people at the brick factory. A young girl (5-6-7 (I can not guess ages here)) latched on to me and she toured the brick factory with me with surprisingly flawless English. At first I thought it was the human audio tour (Just repeating the words, but not grasping the meaning) but I was buying a Coke from her mother and would ask the mother a question and she would turn to the girl to find out what I asked. She was really a cute girl. If I was Angelena Jollie I would have brought her home as a trinket from Cambodia.

Dad was away in Thailand for 6 months working and would return when the rains came and rice planting started. Lots of projects around Cambodia, especially ones run by NGO. But most of the NGOs use their own people and equipment so Thailand in the land of milk and money during the dry season. Where the NGOs aren't using their own people, then it is the old 'Open pocket' thing. You scratch my palm with cash and I'll scratch your back with a job.

Then the sticky rice factory. Well actually the sticky rice shack. The rice is mixed with coconut milk and a few beans and stuffed into a piece of bamboo. Then it is placed over a low fire, turned once and the rice turns into a hard thick mass. The burned part is sliced off and it's ready for sale. Since the bamboo is now posterboard thin you peel it like a banana and there is this stalk of rice sitting there. It is very tasty and very chewey. One of those would fill me up from breakfast to dinner.

Next of the trip was Wat Ek Phnom. A very Tomb Raider temple. Lightly restored but with large blocks strewn about, and some placed that the wall actually looks unstable. When you see a DANGER sign in Cambodia you'd be wise to heed it's warning, Clamber is not exactly how I would word my tour of the temple. Gingerly is a better definintion. I ain't no Lara Croft, except on the XBOX. I've not seen alot of writing on the walls, but the tourist ticket office did have a nice representation of the Angry Birds. It looks like everyone know Angry Birds.

Then came the fish paste factory. Take a bunch of fish, add a bunch of salt, toss into a big vat, cover and let sit and bubble for weeks in the hot Cambodian shade and you get fish paste which you use in soups and as a tangy accompaniment to any meal. Well any meal except one of mine. The Romans had a fermented fish sauce called Garum (I think) and I was lead to believe that Worcester Sauce is a couson to this. Regardless, I probably will not be having Hot and Sour soup anytime soon after this olfactory experience.

Last on the morning's Tuk-tuk tour was the Rice Paper factory (Again read 'shack'). Rice and water is mixed and the water is filtered through cheesecloth and the remainder is still very thing. Then it is spooned and spread like an omlette on top of cheesecloth over hot steamy water and covered. Then the previous one is  done and you spatula it off and place it over a bamboo plus sigh the spins where it is picked up again and placed on a drying rack and place in the sun until dry. The finished product is something like a very thin dried noodle. luke warm water brings it back and then you use it like a Burrito wrapper for fresh spring rolls. I guess you could call it a factory, certainly an assembly line for 2 people. But these people weren't getting rich doing this.
Miscellaneous ramblings.

A lot of doctors here in Cambodia. 25% of the people wear surgical masks.

According to my Vancouverite breakfast neighbors the Cambodians like the Muslims. The Buddhists in Cambodia have a saying to show they accept the Muslims. "We don't like killing. But we do LIKE meat"

The current King is just a figurehead. The prevoius king did all the work and got lots of things done. The current king is just enjoying his Kingdom.

I guess a real treat is to bring a Washington apple as a gift. It's IMPORTED !

I asked Nicky if he knew what salmon was. No. Red fish ? You mean the stuff that comes in cans ??  Ya, forget it.

-- Holy guano, Batman !

-- 7 p.m.

After an hour luxuriating under the A/C and the first part of this I met Nicky at 3:30 in front of the hotel. The heat was oppressive. Not comfortable as yesterday, nary a cloud in sight, just blazing hot sun. I almost told him to go on by himself and come back and tell me what I saw. But being the trooper I am I hopped on the Tuk-tuk and we headed into the wilds again.

This was to see a temple at the top of a very high mountain. 10,000 steps or maybe less but I was sure by the time I reached the top it would feel double that. I could see the mountain from a few miles awat and it was looking very, very daunting. I had read that there was a road you could walk up instead of the steps and so resigned myself to the longer and yet easier climb. At the base of the steps was what appeared to be a small villiage consisting of shops. Some selling handicrafts and some selling refreshments and some selling both. They were there strictly for the pilgrims and tourists trade. I got a 2 liter bottle of water and prepared myself for the worse. Nicky handed me a map and said this will help you - or - (OR ?!?!? What a magic word) you can ride on the back of a moto to the top. Moto ?? I had to ask how much just to be polite. Four dollars. A bargain at twice the price to my way of thinking. He said he would find me a cyclist who spoke reasable English. He might not understand the words but he knew the words by heart and could speak some more but it was iffy. It was sounding better and better.

So in a cloud of exhaust MapMap and I took off. After seeing the road I probably could have done it -- in a week. We cruised up about half way and stopped at a small cave complex. He walked me up a small hill and showed me a pit falling about 50 to 75 feet to the floor below. Stalactites held on to the roof of the cave below, This was where the Khmer Rouge in this area brought the condemned to get bludgeoned and their dead and not so dead bodies tossed into the maw. If they weren't killed from the blows I am confident the fall would have finished the job. Such a beautiful location and such a bad history.

We then walked down to the opening of the cavern below. Again a very beautiful grotto. Stalactites, verdant lush greenery, cool am ideal location for an afternoon picnic -- except. About 2,000 bodies were found here. The prison where the condemned were held before their one way trek in the woods is now a Buddhist temple. At the mouth of the cave, to the left was a smaller cave. This was where the babies were smashed against the rock wall by holding their legs and swinging them like  a baseball bat. Then their bodies were thrown in like yesterdays newspaper. To the right was where the adults fell. There is now a very nice reclining Buddha in front of a small stupa containing skulls and bones. Eighty percent of the bones were cremated and 20% were kept as a permanent reminder and give those left behind a place to grieve and remember.

I was still in a quandary as why the babies needed to be killed and he pointed out that child care takes away from the mother's ability to work the rice field and the building nearby lake where 10,000 are thought to have perished. He said that the workers at the lake were required to dig a two meter square hold 2 meters deep daily. If for some reason you failed in your task, it was doubled the next day and you still had to finish yesterday's task. If you called in sick you were excused for the day. Then a few days later you disappeared.

It was good to move on from that. The rest of the moto was totally anti-climatic after that.

There was the old temple at the top of the hill, built in 1964. Didn't seem all that old to me. It was flanked by three or four newer temples. There were the two heavy artillery guns that had foreign writing on them. One in German and one in Russian aimed across the valley at a nearby former Khmer Rouge stronghold. The view was spectacular. I think you could see the mountains of Thailand in the distance and could easily see Battambang 20 Km. away. We sat at the top of the hill watching the sun sink low on the horizon before slowly rolling down the hill and past the shopping mall that was now just poles and bamboo rafters.

I know it is sideways. It's the blog software.

Nicky and all the other Tuk-tuk drivers had moved back down the road towards town. They were clustered in front of another massive cave. we waited patiently and pretty soon a small cluster of bats flew out of the cave. Slowl they built in numbers until there was a continuous river of bats in the sky. and they kept coming. Millions of them. Absolutely millions of the little mammals. It like the bat alarm went off and everyone had to get up and go to work. We watched the parade and the other Tuk-tuks started to depart and we followed suit soon. Along the main road back to town we stopped and in the distance like smoke from a fire a black cloud moved across the landscape. Rolling like a wave some would overtake the ones in front and move towards the river where dinner of 'skeeters and other flying insects were on the menu.

It had been a very full day and it is very nice to be settled back at the hotel for the night.

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