Friday, December 19, 2014

Now I can say I've experienced the real Cambodia

Thursday December 18 2014
Siem Reap, Cambodia

I am dog tired, like the end of the Iditerod. Thirteen and a half hours of buses will do that to me. Didn't the guy selling me the ticket say it was nine hours and then swear it would be when I told him Cambodian buses were never on time,

The day started after breakfast when my luggage and myself hop atop the motorbike and head to the six forty-five'ish ferry from the island to mainland. I am very glad the young man from the hotel wrangled my luggage onto the ferry since it was a bit of wading and then negotiating two boats.

I think this is how the conversation went with the women on the boat – without a word being spoken. You ladies look to be freezing all bundled up and huddled up. - Yes, we are freezing – I really don't think it is cold at all. It is like summer to me- Ya, that may be true, but you are also fat. I ended the conversation at that point.

For a fistfull of paper I found a skinny guy to carry two of my three bags up the steps from river level to street level and found the bus waiting. Maybe lurking is a better description. What more is there to say. The bus ate my luggage and then ate me.

Near noon we stopped and the bouncy English maiden who I had shared a couple words at a previous stop came up and held out a plastic back containing her latest purchase. All wide eyed innocence she says sweetly “Would you like a grasshopper? They really aren't too bad.”. I told her that a cricket perhaps, but a grasshopper would ruin my dinner. She offered again and I grew a spine and picked out one. Not the biggest fattest juicy one, but not the smallest either. As directed I pulled off the legs and popped it in my mouth. It kind of sat there until I talked myself into biting down. As she said it wasn't all that bad. Would I want a regular serving of grasshoppers? I don't think so, but it was the thought than the taste that was the hardest to come around to. That and they are really, really chewy.

That is about it for the day. So instead of rehashing what you already know – That bus travel is a lot like air travel only slower and smellier.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Pinkies !

Wednesday December 17 2014 – 5 pm
Kratie, Cambodia

After going to bed at eight pm, because at Eco-resorts there is no TV and the electricity is low voltage the lighting is less than optimal for reading. Besides I was tired and knew the cost for shutting down at eight was awake at O'dark-thirty.

I lay on the bed as the day slipped away and then heard the high pitch dive bomber sound of a mosquito. Back on go the lights and down comes the netting. I had hoped that the ceiling fan blowing straight down would have dissuaded the little suckers, but no the 'skeeters here are professional grade.

Awake before the sun. Made some coffee and took a not so hot shower. Had a little toast and jam for breakfast and was on a motorbike heading to the ferry landing. We stopped at the top of the bluff and I wandered down the riverbank and then the half a kilometer across the sand to the ferry with the landing craft nose. Sloshed to the ramp and was soon waiting at the railing for it to lift it's nose and get to ferrying. Then a little boat pulls up next to the landing craft and everyone abandons it and heads to the little boat. This is the real ferry.

Fifty people on a vessel that at most could hold twenty. Not a life jacket in sight. One of those fillers at the bottom of page 5 in the corner. Ferry capsizes, kills fifty. Maybe the Herald might put it on page 3 since I am a local. One thing to say though it was a thousand times easier in the day light than on a moonless night in December.

I climbed the fifty to seventy steps to street level (Where in the rainy season the water reaches) and bought a cigarette from the first person I saw smoking. Then I slid on over to the first tuk-tuk I see and ask him what it takes to see the dolphins. He gives me a price that I think is a little high in very poor English. I cross the street looking for a tour guide office to get the lay of the land and another tuk-tuk pulls up next to me and in very good English says Want a Tuk-tuk? How much? The quoted price was 50% higher than the previous guy! Which I pointed out. “Yes, but he doesn't speak English and I do very well” My reply is “Well, there is value in that.” and hired him.

So we bounced and jostled our way over bad and worse roads to the area where the Dolphin's boats are moored. Along the ten mile journey we pass through villages, occasionally a child will call out Hello and wave franticly. I always try to wave back, but sometimes they are inside and I don't see them until too late. One of the villages was the bamboo rice manufacturing center for the area, so lots of those roadside stands. Smell of smoke and the smell of cooking rice and the occasional skunk like odor from the swamps.

I pay for the boat. One boat one price. Regardless of the number of passengers. My driver asks if
I want him to come along. I tell him it is totally up to him. I'm good either way. He came along and I am grateful. His knowledge was a real addition. Besides another pair of eyes looking for the dolphins never hurt.

They look to be around ten feet long and are kind of a pink color. If you have ever been Orca watching you have seen the King Sized and enhanced version. You can hear them blow when they come to the surface and then just catch a glimpse of them as they re-submerge. Really peaceful. The dolphins were directly in front of where I got on the boat. The skipper ran the boat for maybe a minute and then just slowly rowed the boat to keep it in place. The dolphins stayed around us swimming upriver and surfacing for air on the way up and then staying submerged and swimming down with the current. I got some pictures, but mostly just watched and listened. They don't breach like their big cousins and I knew the pictures would be okay, but just okay. I got a shot to prove I had been there, but that was about it for the camera. After about forty-five minutes they moved of, the wind picked up and I didn't think I would see anything new by trying to follow then so we pulled back to shore.

The reason the dolphins stay here say the tellers of tails is that – Once upon a time – A young girl's parents heard that if you married your daughter to a large snake that wealth would follow. So a suitable snake was found and he and the daughter were wed. - On the night of the nuptials the mother and father were listening to the bridal chamber as the new bride and her husband grew to know one another. - Now the snake being a snake, decided that she would be a wonderful tasty morsel in his belly. - As the girl is screaming, the parents are congratulating themselves on the wonderful number of grandchildren to take care of them in the old age.- After a time there is total silence and they wonder why and peek in to see the snake with a hugely distended belly and no girl. - At once they leap upon the snake and cut it open and release the girl. - She is covered in slime and muck from the inside of the snake and walks down to the river to wash it off. As she is washing it off, she slowly turns into a dolphin and swims away into the river. - And that children is how the dolphins came to be in this area.

On the ride back to town we stopped at a 400 step monastery. I made it 275 steps until the last 125 which were straight up the side of the mountain with steps built for smaller feet and no handrail. The going up was not appealing, but the going down would have been sheer terror. Not one landing, not one switchback just stairs in a straight line. One slip and .. well you know and.

We took the long way home back to the ferry terminal. I picked up a bus ticket to Seam Reap which he promised me was only nine hours. We shall see. Back at the hotel I wrote the previous entry and loafed around doing exactly what vacations are designed to do.

Dinner and here we are at the conclusion of a very nice day.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Merde !

Wednesday December 17 2014
Kratie, Cambodia
No photos

Sorry I didn't write yesterday. I was in such a snit the entire blog wouldn't have been NSFW (Not suitable for work). It would have been a Lexicon of all the swear words in the English language and a couple other languages.

It all started with a bus ticket. Any thing longer than 3 or 4 hours on a bus is torture for me. Yesterdays bus promised nine hours of pure bliss.

Here it is from my point of view. The bus leaves at six-thirty am, so pickup at the hotel by the bus company at 6. Right at six a lone 125 cc motorcycle arrives at the hotel. My ride. Let's see. I have one large bag, one medium bag and one small bag. Me, the driver and a recent head injury. I think I will pass on this treat. Get me a tuk-tuk or no go, Dude. I'll eat the bus ticket before I risk life, limb and camera for something I am already dreading. So he hustles up a tuk-tuk. Says something to the driver and hot foots it away. I can see the tuk-tuk driver had intended to follow him, but we were left in the dust. So we go on a tour of Seam Reap. It is very peaceful at six-thirty'ish in the morning. We putter hither and yon. Hill and dale. Over the river and through the palms. I show him my ticket and he is still mystified on where to take me. I am getting happy. If we miss the bus, I don't have to go. No that would be a bonus.

Eventually he did find the proper bus station (each company has their own ya know?) and I guess I'm stuck. Bags into the belly of the beast I find my seat and we blast off – for a quarter mile. When we stop to pick up other passengers. Then two more miles for the same. At last we really are on the road until the next town where we stop for addition fares at an umbrella with a sandwich sign. Then we drive and actual 50 feet, skipping one umbrella and stopping at the next. I think this was a four umbrella town, and so on.

We are following the same route that the bus took from Seam Reap to get to the cruise boat I took two years ago. I am recognizing some of the landscape. We stop along the way for five or ten minutes. All the guys get off the bus walk towards the nearby bushes, face away from the road .. and you know the rest. The women get the privilege of paying a nickle to try and not pee on their feet (at least that is what seems to happen to me in those squat facilities). I am NOT drinking anything. I know I can hold it for nine hours. Just don't ask me to go nine hours and one minute. I think.

After a while it is obvious I was optimistic in my nine hour plan. Okay, I'll submit the next time we stop. We are passing through a grove of rubber trees where we stopped on the cruise boat trip and our guide showed us how they collected the sap from the trees. The darned bus pulled over. WTF? I'm the only whitey on the bus, why is he going to show the locals how they catch latex? Wrong! This is the Rubber Tree Pee station. All the guys wander a ways away and (to the tune of the theme from Frozen) “Let it flow, let it flow ….” I'm looking at the other women on the bus and this is just the way it is.

About six hours into the ride we pass over a big bridge to cross the Mekong and I look down to see if the bamboo bridge is where it should be and where we were docked last time and sure as shooting there sits on of the Pandaw boats. It might even have been the one I was on but no way to tell.

Another half hour and the bus stops at a covered concrete pad and the bus drives says this is your stop. A lone Cambodian woman and myself de-bus. I gave in and did indeed pee a small bit on my foot. So much for the Zen of chanting.

This was the local truck stop cum bus stop. A family owned enterprise from Grandparents, to a married couple with a baby and unmarried sisters. All working together. Every time some one walks by the baby's hammock cradle they give it a push to keep in rocking. It never stopped the entire forty-five minutes I was there. Nobody moved very fast, but boy were they efficient. Not a single wasted movement. Everything purposeful. Nothing had to be done a second time or done over. Kind of a ballet in reality.

Then a bus stopped on the road and my travel companion motions to me to get a wiggle on, this is our bus. How she knows is beyond me, because there is no destination marked on the bus, just the company logo. This bus eats my luggage and I get on to find a mix of about 50/50 local faces and white faces.

This bus doesn't stop for anything. It just keeps rolling. The reason it keeps rolling is because there is nothing between here and there. We did make one or two stops along the way, but that was very near the end of the line where my travel mate departed with a smile and (I think they are called) a wai where she put her palms together under her chin and nodded good bye to me.

I watched the sunset over the Mekong as the bus pulled into Kratie. Got off and the bus regurgitated my luggage and it was off to find a tuk-tuk to my hotel that I had reserved and pre-paid one night ahead. The tuk-tuk drive has never heard of my hotel, and it is now dark. Finally after him reading the hotel and me saying the hotel he says something like “Oh, that one! It's on the island! The ferries are finished for the day.” He takes to a nearby hotel where for $15 dollars I can live like a queen with A/C and cable TV. At least according to the owner. Eventually he gets it that I gave a non-refundable hotel room reserved and tells me the only way is to call out a private boat and have him ferry me across. This for the mere give away price of more than his hotel room. What are you gonna do? Call the motor boat.

The motorboat arrives. It looks like something you would see on most American lakes except for the squat long tailed engine. The crossing is smooth and totally uneventful. We pull up to the dock, which turns out to be another boat, which leads down a ramp and straight into mid calf deep water and slog ashore. In the dark, with tree bags of various sizes. I hope my boots dry out before I get back to

Once on the sand bank they way to the hotel is via motorbike..Come on! Really? Somehow we all jam on the ride and go scooting across the sand on a wooden trail two feet wide and then to the river bank where we climb a 45 degree incline to reach the cement roadway. The roadway is just with enough for two motorbikes to pass each other and not fall off the cement or clip handlebars. It is full dark and we are clipping along at 40km (almost 25mph). At this point I am really glad of the previous pit stop.

We pull up to the hotel and no one is around, Finally after some furious honking somebody stumbled out and said “Are you”. Ya, that's me. You want food? Yes, I do, but I want to see the room first. No you order and we make while you see the room. Okay, okay. I ordered a chicken sandwich and they had to confer that they had all the right ingredients before taking my order.

The room has a big fan, no A/.C and a mosquito net over the bed. It is now about seven-thirty. Eleven hours of bus travel and all the rest. I don't care if it is a concrete box with a bed on the floor. I ain't going back across that river tonight.. Oh ! The chicken sandwich? Bread, chicken and a slice or four of cucumber. Give me a beer too, please.

Now. Aren't you glad I mellowed eighteen hours before writing this?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Last day in Siem Reap

Monday December 15 2014

Siem Reap, Cambodia

This is going to be a little short today. Instead of my general writing as dined at the end of the day, today the hotel is having a big shindig around the pool area from 5 to nine. So I think I'll take supper at the restaurant when I had the cooking classes last time in Cambodia. The Paper Tiger (written in French). Since the restaurant is deep in the heart of tourist town with it's narrow alleys and touts and scammers I don’t feel that comfortable toting my notebook around. Better to leave it in the room and take Nook along instead, or maybe an audiobook.

I expect tomorrow's entry will be even shorter. I have signed up for the most fun in the world, actually the thing I hate more than most things – a 10 hour bus ride. I am going to Kratie, Cambodia. It is a town located on the Mekong and is known tourist-wise for it's fresh water Mekong Dolphins. We shall see once I get there.

This morning I had thought about going to see the old area of Siem Reap. Narrow streets with tons of people, kind of sounds like visiting to Angkor Wat temples to me. I opted instead to go back to the temple area and see one or two that I had missed on a previous trip and sorta hoped that my myriad of tourist friends might overlook it on their current trip.

We got there pretty early for the tour buses and the crowds weren't too bad. Wait two or three minutes at the most for the people clear the area so I am bringing home photos of the temples and not snapshots of strangers. I found out rather quickly that yesterday's temple trekking was a bit more strenuous that I had thought. My quads really cried much of the morning.

We did make one stop at the “Temple of Pee” which I try to avoid. If you can find a western seat somebody who thinks you have to squat to urinate has lowered the seat and stood on it, lets just say making a big mess. I was passing a western lady and asked her 'How are the facilities?' she said 'I've seen much worse. Clean, running water AND soap. - Oh! And very thin toilet paper'. I found that my worries were baseless and she was indeed right on all respects. She was most right about the TP, it was so thin that I had to spin the roll to get it to feed, otherwise just the friction and weight of the roll made the paper tear. If it was better quality you could have used it as tracing paper, but it was too thin even for that.

Stopped at a travel agent and bought the bus ticket. I asked about a plane. He said they only had 3 airports in the country. Here, the capital Phnom Penh and Sianookville at the beach. But, on the map it has a little plane next to the city. Turns out maps lie in Cambodia.

So at 1:30 in the afternoon I think I'll close this and go tourist poolside.

Tomb Raiding

Sunday December 14 2014 – Siem Reap, Cambodia

After yesterday's entry I went to Angkor Wat to get a picture with the late afternoon sun. The last time I was here as soon as the afternoon started to fade the clouds came out and obscured the string shadows and the nice blue sky. Yesterday was no exception. As soon as the sky heard the roar of the 125cc motorcycle connected to the cart it called in the clouds. Piffle.

One thing this one trip did point out to me is that the world's economy must be doing much better than 2012. The main temple at Angkor Wat was in danger of sinking back into the jungle with all the added weight of the tourists. The last sunset photo I took at Angkor Wat maybe had a hundred people on the entrance walkway at 5 pm. Yesterday's 5 pm there must have been a thousand, plus the people lining the moat, where I used to be alone. Of course I took a bunch of shots, but I fear I already have the same at home on the hard drive.

Dinner, some TV and bed. Woke at 2 am with no headache, ya!! Woke at 3 am with headache. Boo! It was gone after getting up and a cup of coffee and a shower. I sure wish I could figure out the trigger, besides the wee hour.

I had a seven-thirty taxi reserved to get me out to a distant temple. It is about an hour and a half away and I wanted to get there before the tour buses, but wasn't too worried, because the internet and Lonely Planet both said that “You might be the only people there”. So just in case I decided to get an early start.

As I was leaving the hotel I started a short conversation with a retired US male. He was at loose ends so I said I was going anyway and he was welcome to tag along. He said that sounded good and he would split the taxi with me. I told him that was unnecessary but it would be nice.

Well that was a mistake. Not one that ruined the trip, but certainly changed it in a way I would have preferred it not to. We passed through the countryside which was totally different that it is at the end of the dry season, not the start of the dry season. In March the fields are dry and remind me of California's dryness. Now the fields are lush and the ponds are full of lilies blooming. The going was slow because of the oxen pulling the carts heaped with grasses. It was a different world.

I almost missed it, because Mike would-not-shut-the-fuck-up. It was a freaking monologue without break. To add to it, he would start a story, or thought, go off and a tangent and forget the point of his rambling. Finally I quit trying to make any sort of conversation because it was just his disjointed thoughts. To add even more to drive me crazy he had no idea, I mean no idea about the history or significance of the Angkor Wat and surrounding areas. He was happy to stay in town and look at the cricket sellers on the unpaved back streets. That is any town Cambodia and he had been to some other town in Cambodia. There is a reason I travel alone. I guess I need a reminder from time to time.

Don'[t get me started on the 80 year old Australian lady who invited herself to my dinner and had nothing good to say about anything or anybody, at a loud volume. She was hard of hearing you know?

If these people are what is in store for me in another decade or so. Please slip the cyanide in my warm milk now.

We got to the temple just about nine and there was a big bus there already and a few private vehicles. Not bad, but not optimal. We approached the temple and a caretaker lady motioned that if we went where she was standing there was a better photo op than from the entrance walkway. So we stepped off the wooden walkway and over some flat rocks and the photo would indeed be better there. Then she had us cross a small dry moat on a conveniently placed slab. We started back to the walkway and she pointed to a doorway that was in such bad repair the they had placed timbers under the lentil and cross beams. Go in there she mimes, it's okay. There isn't a full flat surface for the next hour and a half as she leads us through the warren of broken walls and ceilings. Rubble, all with square corners and me fluffier (not fat) than I want to be and still a bump on the back of my head. She lead us to some great places and after I would take the absolutely perfect picture from where I was standing, she would point out a different angle the made a much better photo. For as dangerous and scary it was at times she really, really made my visit ten times better that it would have been without her. At one point we got to what looked like a good place to call it quits and then she pointed out the surrounding wall and no exit. It was either back the way we came or to continue on. Some smart guy once said “When you are going through Hell, keep going”. So we kept going.

At the next flat area it was obviously the end of the rock balancing, tomb raiding for us, because it was full of tourists and the wooden staircase/walkway was there. She lead us up the stairway and we ran smack head on to a mass of bus people who didn't realize that there might be other humans in the world besides themselves. No concept of lanes of traffic, No concept of personal space or of pushing you out of their way at the narrowest and highest part of the walkway. Finally I lost all thought of any decorum and just started acting the way they were. Nobody said a thing. It was just the way life is in those overcrowded cities of over populated countries. She and I must have passed 3 full bus fulls. At the main entrance we had to wait for a few minutes for Mike to catch up.

She's a probably been happy with a five, I hit her with a ten and told her in front of Mike “This is from me. You need to talk to him too.” So she got another five, kind of giving me an inkling of the 'split the taxi' topic.

Back at the hotel I was ten dollars shy of the full fare on me. The rest of my cash was in the room's safe. I told Mike I needed at least ten and he started patting his pockets. “I'm missing my wallet.” Are you serious? After a bunch of patting and a short walk outside he found it and did pony up the ten, but the remainder of the half of the fare was never offered. I guess he felt keeping my entertained with conversation was enough for a guy to do.

We went our separate ways and I had a non-alcoholic cocktail, but really wanted a double. After a bit of time on the chaise lounge by the pool I looked up and just a couple puffy clouds in the sky along with blazing sun. Maybe today was the Angkor Wat afternoon picture day. It was. As they say in the porn industry, I think I got the money shot.

Did a little shopping and back at the hotel for dinner. Th-Th-that’s all folks.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The $145 Doctor

Saturday – December 13, 2014
Siem Reap, Cambodia

When we last left our intrepid adventuress she was complaining about something. I guess that's redundant since she seems to be complaining about one thing or another.

After the tepid beer and a light rest I went down town to 'Pub street' that also has a multitude of places to eat, next door to a similar multitude of places to buy things that will look good on a shelf back home and soon meld into the background and just be a dust collector three vacations from now.

One of my favorite dishes anywhere, much less Cambodia is Fish Amok. Fish cooked in a coconut mile broth and served in a banana leaf like a stew. About 50/50 broth and fish. I went to a restaurant named Amok and ordered. I am not sure if my memory is totally failing (certainly a possibility) or the dish they made was 'Tourist Amok' which is much more likely. There was the banana leaves, but inside the big one was a pile of fish, and the smaller one held some sauce but the percentages would come out to be more 80/20, and frankly it's the sauce that makes the dish for me, not the protein. I'll have to go searching anew, perhaps tonight.

I was such a big girl. I stayed away all the way until 10 pm. At three am I woke with a Tyrannosaurus inside my head trying to eat it's way out. At seven am I told the Concierge that I was interested in seeing a doctor. He said they had a very good hospital in town but it was expensive. I asked how much he said $145, I said “A mere pittance if he can relieve me of this pain.” maybe not verbatim, but close. The hotel van took me to the hospital which was pretty nice I have to admit. By the look of the hospital I would not worry about getting treatment there.

A quick form filling out forms ritual as well as the temperature and blood pressure ritual. At least they didn't add in the – step on the scale – torture. Then the doctor met me in his office and I sat down and explained last Sunday events and prescriptions. He said that the only real way to know what was happening was to get of the cat and having it do a scan. By now that Tyrannosaurus was evolving to the smaller Velocoraptor. He said it was common for illness' and injuries to come and go as far as symptoms and this was probably a high or a low depending on your perspective. He said 400 mg of Tylenol three times a day was what he would suggest. Honestly it was pretty good advice. It hasn't worked totally, but it still was pretty good advice.

I was pointed to a different door and stood there with my money in hand. I walked over to a likely counted and asked who do I pay when the nurse from admitting came over and said there was no charge. The doctor said he didn't do anything, so no charge. Wow! Well Toto, we certainly aren't in Kansas anymore, much less Washington State.

The rest of the day I did what I should have done the previous day and just lay under a big umbrella, drank alcohol free drinks with small umbrellas and went on vacation from my vacation.

This morning my three am wake up dinosaur was back. Not the same as yesterday, but still one you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley. 500 mg of Tylenol didn't even wound it. At five I gave up and arose. Hot shower, Starbucks best and being vertical I'm not sure which worked but in half an hour it was extinct. Perhaps it was indeed the healing waters of the Angkor Paradise (tour bus) hotel. Maybe it was the magical elixir burnt and ground beans in hot water. I am kind of thinking that maybe the mere process of getting my head above my heart reduced the pressure some. Whatever it was I was carefully skipping down the stairs by seven.

The plan was to meet up with a taxi driver at 8 to go to an outlying temple not on the tour bus route. As eight fifteen rolled around no car or driver rolled on in. Eight thirty I gave up on him. It was too late in the sun position for good photos by then anyway. The temple is two hours away and by then the sun would be overhead and the shadows less than optimal. Instead I got a morotcart driver and went to the temple where Tomb Raider was filmed. Get there before 10 when the tour buses pull in and you'll have the place to yourself. That used to be the instructions to seeing it. “They” read the same thing I did. They were already there at nine fifteen. One fellow traveler cum photographer said it was crowded at eight am.

I wandered around and did a good bit of sitting, waiting for a break in the hordes for that millisecond when I could hear my shutter click and have no humans in the frame. I didn't stay very long. The population census was growing by the minute and some of the best places for photos were closed for renovations, and there were now wooden walkways and steps in place of the dirt and stone of eighteen months ago. I guess it really has been discovered.

We were back at the hotel by a few after eleven and I think this afternoon is going to be a replay of yesterday with a 4:45 date with a tuk-tuk to do Angkor Wat at sunset.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Nikon's back !!!!

No pictures yet

Wednesday – December 10 2014 – Bangkok

It's like 90 degrees out and bright sun, so much sun you almost need sunglasses, and there are Christmas carols playing on the sound system. That and the little blue and white metallic Christmas trees on the able signify it must be the Christmas season even here at the Bangkok Park Plaza.

Yesterday was an absolutely nothing day. Just hung out in my room except for the occasional foray to the watering hole and a crust of bread. Headache and really low energy.

I was pretty sure that the doctor in Bangladesh did everything he could for me but he was really hampered because of the lack of facilities. So I tried to email my doctor in the states. Guess what? You can't! Oh you can find their office hours, you can find their phone numbers, you can find their elementary school, but can you find an email address for them or their office ? No way Jose.

Finally I asked a good friend to call the flipping doctor's office and get their email. Reluctantly, very reluctantly it sounded, the office manager agreed that if I emailed her she would email me back the doctor's response. Kind of like Noah, no Moses ! Relaying God's commandments to the people. And what came from Mount Sinai ? Something like – Hey ! Sorry you got a boo boo. If your tummy isn't upset you won't need to take one of the pills the doctor prescribed. Have a good trip ! - I really kind of expected more, like 'If this, then this.', 'Watch for this' or 'Avoid this' Doctor Happy and I are going to have a 'chat' when I get back.

If I didn't have a friend who was persistent and shoveled through the crap I would never have gotten that far. THANK YOU TIFF !

So after 16 hours in bed, twelve asleep I woke with a sinus headache on top of the head headache. Either that or it's a cerebral hemotoma. After doing the sinus headache ritual that I know pretty well I'm feeling pretty darned good. Still a slight memory of the fall, but all in all I might move on tomorrow to different pastures, but those pastures will not be in Bangladesh.

I ,made a short jaunt into the nearby shopping center. A huge multi level to all things consumable. The information kiosk was a huge touch screen affair. I typed in CAMERA and it said there was a camera hut on the bottom floor. Of course once I got there it had turned into a discount luggage shop. I looked over and saw the Samsung phone store and asked if there was a camera shop in the center, she told me there was one on the 6th floor. Now that sounds easy right? Of course not. The floors aren't numbered, no not in Terminal 21. In Terminal 21 the floors are not numbered but named for major airline destinations. Rome, London, Dubai … I didn't know if the bottom floor was one or if it was sub basement number 2 or what. I rode escalators for a while and asked if this was floor six and got the “What are you stupid?” look with a finger pointing up from a shop keeper.

On the way up on the next escalator I noticed that imprinted on the escalator step plate a number 4. Well at least I had a better idea now. At the top floor was a big movie multiplex, and I was afraid Miss Samsung m9isunderstood me until I turned and there was a real camera store. They sold Canon, and Nikon. I had found paradise on the sixth floor. I walked in handed the pieces to the guy and looked a “Can you fix this, please?” He took the pieces, snapped the battery cover back in place, good as new. I was shocked, he then went on to tell me it was supposed to be removable to add a larger power pack. The cost of his knowledge and expertise? Zero. Thank you, thank you VERY much.

Next stop the 7 Eleven at the building across the street where I stepped inside and found the holy grail of the Pacific Northwest. The wonderful mermaid of Starbucks with her fins spread wide and inviting. Grande Americano, no room please. 7 Eleven became a faded afterthought.

The rest of the day was just taking it slow and easy in the hotel.

December 11th 2014 - Siem Reap, Cambodia

This morning I checked out and caught the 2 pm flight to Siem Reap. Home of Angkor Wat, Cambodia. The flight was one of those short hops where as soon as you reach altitude you start descending. The visa process was pretty simple, certainly not the three hour ordeal it was on the bus last time. I was lucky to have photos left over from my failed attempt at a Myanmar visa so it was just hand over the paperwork, photo some cash and off to immigration. Where the lines were poorly marked and the deadbeat officers couldn't even raise a finger to indicate they might, just might be willing to do some work this decade. They were quick to tell you, you were in the wrong lane, but not the right lane.

Well guess what ? I made it through. Now back at the hotel I stayed at before. Got upgraded to the top floor with a big balcony overlooking the pool. 'Which is where I am now with a frosty, quickly turning tepid Angkor beer.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Back to Bangkok

I am a little reluctant to post this because it sounds whinny to me, but it is written so I guess it should be put someplace. Sorry.

Tuesday December 9th – Bangkok

Well Bangladesh beat me. I hate to admit defeat but it was a tougher opponent that I had envisioned.

Yesterday I bought a plane ticket from Cox's Bazar to Dhaka. I would have got a through ticket to BKK but in Cox's you could only buy domestic tickets. The travel agent assured me I could book a flight internationally there.

I jammed all my worldly possessions in my bags, hailed yesterday's electric cart driver sped off to the airport. Halfway anyway. I Phone 6 and $2k was still in the hotel's safe. No in room safes don't ya know? Eventually with everything in hand I made it to the airport and the plane. The plane took off and the plane landed where it was supposed to.

At the Dhaka airport I started looking for ticket counters and didn't see anything I recognized as such. Then I was told that I was in the Domestic terminal, the International one was 'just over there'. I've learned what 'just over there' means in Bangladesh. I caught a taxi and got gouged, because it was really – just over there.

Still no ticket counters. Actually there were ticket counters, but on a rotating basis between the airlines as were being checked in and then the next airline took over that space. Mr. Saudi Air said that Thai Air was on the second floor. The second floor without an elevator I might add.

Step, drag. Cluck, clunk. Drag, pull I went up the stairs and found Thai Air's office. Closed for lunch or something. They would be back soon passers by assured me. I just sat on the floor by their door and rested. Thirty or forty minutes later a man walks up and says he's with Thai Air. I tell him I want to buy a ticket to BKK. He says the next flight is tomorrow. One flight a day, and while I was waiting for him, he was loading today's flight! ---- He did tell me that Bangkok Air had a flight out later and I should try them --- on the next floor up.

At the stairway a Army/cop/cos-play somebody asked where I was going. He walked me up to Bangkok Arline’s office. I didn't offer to assist me with my baggage in anyway, so clunk, step – etc. The sign on the door said hours 5 pm to 11 pm – it was two in the afternoon. He said I could wait down on the main floor. Then he asked for a tip (“Baksheesh). Really Dude? I gave him about a dollar and he asked for more. SCRAM! I'm tired, I don't feel good, nothing is working out – I was grumpy and didn't have the patience for this uniformed dildo. I walked toward the stairs and he went down the stairs.

Once he was out of sight I sat down, put my little pack behind me for support and wadded up my parka and rested my head on my big bag and dozed. I was aware of people around at times, but ignored them If stairs were in the picture the could carry my limp body down them. Someone came by and asked me if I was alright, and I explained my situation. He said there was an employee elevator down at the end of the hall I was welcome to use, which I did.

I was back up at Bangkok Airlines office about quarter to five and an employee opened the office and asked me what I needed. Buy a ticket? Oh, no you can't do that here. We are only for check in. – Gimme a break Universe ! What should I do, I have no mobile and the airport has no Wi-fi? – he said stick around. At five thirty the rest of the agents came and said it I had a credit card I could use their computers to purchase a ticket. – Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou!

Ticket purchased, now to just wait until the 10 pm boarding.

At last the musical chairs check in counters rotated to Bangkok Airlines and bags checked boarding pass in hand off to the gate where hand carry was x-rayed again, and a pat down. I walked into the curtained ladies pat down area and assumed the standing position. Arms out and feet spread. She was gentle and efficient. My computer/camera bag needed further examination. While the guy was trying to figure out of 8 gig memory cards were a threat, she was telling him (I think) something like “She just walked in and …. “. I told her I used to do that for a living, it wasn't that big a deal. Suddenly my electronics filled bag was alright. That made me feel really safe – Not.

The guy sitting next to me was a drinker and a talker. Three and a half glasses of wine and three whiskeys for a two and a half hour flight. He was some sort of NGO or U.S. government worked, doing some thing to do with the law. I put on my headphones and closed my eyes. After landing I took the Bose off and talked some more. He said “ … when I retired from Riverside Sheriff's ..”. I asked him if he knew so and so? Yes, she was my Captain. I said “She was my next door neighbor. She got her job about the same time as I got mine” I am glad we hadn't hit on this at the beginning of the flight, because we were suddenly the bestest oldest friends ever. His card read U.S. Embassy and if I ever needed anything it was mine for the asking. He never asked my name, so feel free to call him if you are even in need of an embassy contact.

I now know BKK almost as well as SeaTac so the trip trough the terminal and taxi was zip, zip. Same for directions to the hotel, which I didn't have reservations at. I was greeted by name and she searched and said only smoking rooms were available. I nixed that, and she called around and found a nice hotel a few blocks away.

I was in bed by 4 am, about the same time I got out of bed the day before, this was supposed to be a day of rest after the slip and fall. I'm glad it was nothing serious.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Ten dollar doctor

Sunday December 7th 2014 – Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh

Well like most mornings while on vacation, it started early with the call to morning prayer at 5:15 am. I had beat him out of bed by fifteen minutes. Haha.

It was about 70 degrees out and the guard was wearing his parka and hoodie as were the rest of the people passing by. I was in a sleeveless top, pants and sandals and very comfortable.

I did my breakfast thing and then hit the streets to look around the town. There is a Buddhist temple in town and everyone I asked about it was – Ya, it's just down the road and turn right. Mr. Security is becoming a bit of a pest. Anytime I have an interaction with a local person he is right there seemingly yelling at the poor guy. The poor electric cart driver was viably cowed, and negotiated a pretty rock bottom price to get me to the temple and back.

The temple was a little more than just down the road to the right. It was two or three miles from the hotel. I did find that the town of Cox's Bazar is a real life town though. Not just row upon row of high rise hotels and restaurants. It was kind of a quaint town. Vibrant and full of life and warm friendly people.

After yesterday's somewhat disappointing temple tour the one in Cox's Bazar was exactly what I had hoped for. Old, wood floors and beams. Dark and a bit spooky. The shrines were rather lacking pizzazz but at least they weren’t built in 2012. The temple didn't open until 11 am for visitors, and of course I was there at ten. But since I was 'Special guest” (read: American with N.Y. Money) I was allowed inside. It didn't take a long time to see the shrines and grounds. Especially after being hit up for a contribution to the orphans who lived nearby by the man who was walking me around. I gave him a minimal amount as the funds he used as an example of the money for the orphans was a wad of bills pulled directly from his pocket. I think the only orphan who was going to see that dollar was him.

Back off temple grounds my driver and I met at the candy/cigarette/pan store and I asked him what he needed to go to the fish market. He gave me a price and I rounded it up when I wrote it down and he gave me a big smile.

The fish market was absolute pandemonium. A large concrete building with open sides and fish on the floor and hundreds of men all bidding on the price of the various fish. Some fish looked like fish. Some eels. Some sting rays and baby manta rays and some fish that looked like they were from the Jurassic period. Weird bottom fish with wide heads and almost spines down their back. Maybe like a Sturgeon, caught for the very first time (sorry Madonna). My driver was going to show me a different fish when the next time I know I'm laying of the wet concrete. My fingers are tingling and people are around me yelling for me to get up. I kind of wanted to sit there for a couple moments and get the scrambling to become unscrambled. But I got up and my driver escorted me back outside.

I looked at me hand a saw blood and then noticed my left boob was covered in blood as was my hair. My sunglasses were on a strap around my neck hanging down my chest acting like collection cups for offering to the fish Gods.

You know there is nothing like seeing someone covered in blood that makes things happen. Everyone around kept yelling go to the doctor! It was a scalp wound. Head and scalp wounds bleed like there is no tomorrow, but they weren't having it.

My electric cart driver moved pretty quickly through town to the hospital a little faster pace that he generally puttered around at. He stopped at the hospital, jumped out without setting the parking brake and the cart started rolling. I grabbed it and kept it from rolling too far away.

The entrance to the hospital was jammed with women and the guard had the grates closed so that only one person at a time could get through. My driver grabbed my hand and actually pulled me through the throng and into the hospital and then into the room marked EMERGENCY. I was feeling a little woozy and was happy to sit down. The room had four or five gurneys in it all arranged in a semi circle. None of this sheets on the gurneys, just plain blue plastic. No curtains just an open room with the other patients and their families and who knows who else. The (I think) doctor had me lay on the gurney and I was pretty glad he did. Things were getting a little funny – like I better get low so I don't hurt myself when I fall.. He fiddled around and I heard a noise of paper ripping. I sat up and he showed me he was just opening a new razor to shave the area. I'd just had my haircut before leaving the states. He was going to ruin it. Let me tell you he was not gentle. I felt like he was a chiropractor as he forced my head into the position he wanted me in. I heard the words “No stitch” and breathed a relief.

He asked for maybe 75 cents (60 Taka) for something and gave it to a nearby kid. The kid came back with a freshly sealed syringe and a glass vial that you had to break the top off to fill the syringe. I looked safe enough. I think looking a the medical instructions he gave me it was Tetanus vaccination.

He wrapped my head like a fife player in a revolutionary was picture, gave me a prescription for three things and pronounced me well. I asked who do I pay and he mimed it was nothing. I told him I had to pay something and gave him a ten. I didn't know what else to do.

Again by the hand my young driver pulled me through the mass of people at the hospital's door and back to the fancy golf cart. Next stop pharmacy. A course of antibiotics, pain medication and anti nausea. Each package of pills the pharmacist drew circles on it for me and explained the course of treatment. On the pills for twice a day got two circles and the three times a day got three circles. I guess they are used to illiterate Western tourists. - the bill ? Almost exactly $10. Less than my co-pay with my HMO.

We got back to the hotel, all the while the kid driving kept checking on me. We pulled into the hotel's drive and most of the staff came out and asked what happened. There my mouth made a BIG mistake. “Oh, he and I got into a fight.” I thought they were going to lynch the kid after pulling him apart. WAIT ! WAIT! STOP! STOP!. I had an accident, he was perfect, he did everything right. He's a hero. Stop!

I don't know what was going on after I was shoo'ed away but they kept him in the drive talking what looked to me rather harshly. I have not idea what that was all about. The boy did a fantastic job.

Nikon took it a little worse for the wear. He flap that holds the battery in was on the floor (recovered). I don't think it is broken, just popped out, but I fear if I try to fix it I will break it. When I went to remove the lens though – you remember those Kaleidoscopes you had when you were a child with the little colored beads in the end that tumbled and changed as you turned it? - it sounded the same way. So much for photos the remainder of this trip. I had to pry off the lens cap and look at the damage. It was just a Skylight filter over the lens but it was a total DOA. I chipped out the pieces and jammed the battery in with my thumb and shot a picture. Everything seems to be OK.

Things are okay here. Concussion dot com or some other Google result said look for uneven pupils, vomiting and headache and none seem to be happening. So I am taking it easy the remainder of the day. I don't know maybe I met my match with Bangladesh.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

New York Money

Cox's Bazar – December 6th 2014

I had a nice laid back tourist day. None of this all day stuff. Just a couple hours in the morning and a short jaunt in the afternoon. The rest was laying around and reading my book. That is the way a vacation trip should be.

Last evening I was in the room and there was some sort of banging from a building project on the property next door. They were building a metal tank and beating it into submission and hitting it with an arc welder. It was after dark maybe 8 pm. The Red Devil on my shoulder told me to do it. I succumbed in my bag I carry a laser pen from previous trips to Egypt and Cambodia. I haven't used it all that much, because the laser is so intense that if everyone used them on paintings the art would fade, so I have only used it on rocks that better not fade. While the men were lost in their work I shined it on the wall and then the floor they were working. You could see one of the guys follow it and look for it again. I waited … patiently and when he relaxed his search waited a bit more .. then did it again. This time he really started looking for the point of origin. Finally I was busted. The stared at me and wouldn't turn his back on me again. Darn, the next point was going on the welder's butt too. Phooey.

After the best night's sleep this trip I made a cup of Starbucks and went outside to sit and sip. I thought I was in Egypt and the mummies had come back to life. The doorman had his jacket zipped up to his chin and his parka hood up. The guys in the passing rickshaws all had on jackets and most hat hoodies up and they weren't even trying too be Gangsta'. I found a perfect summer's evening, they found it the dead of winter.

and a pretty good buffet breakfast I grabbed Nikon and headed out. Yesterday when I was smoking in front of the hotel, the head of security came over and tried to talk. Unfortunately even in this tourist haven English is not very good. I had better understanding in Chittagong. So he and I spoke a little. I slipped him a bill and thanked him for taking care of me.

The met me at the door and we passed the “How are you”s and I walked across the street to get a bottle of water. Wend I turned with my bottle of water, Mr. Security was there. I guess he took his tip seriously. Then it was where are you going. I told him to see a Buddhist temple in Ramu about 8 miles out of town. I flagged down a CNG (that ran on gasoline) and was about to start negotiations when my protector walked up. The next thing there are three of four rickshaws, another CNG, two uniformed security officers and the plain clothes head of security. - I was a total after thought.

The driver pulled out his phone and read his phone number which security added to his contact list. Then wrote down the CGN tag number, I'm surprised he didn't take the guy's mug shot. He then turned to me and gave me a price and said to pay it to the hotel and he'd pay the taxi upon my return. Okay if you say so. I pulled a bill out of my pocket and handed it to the security officer.

We left town following the same road that I came in on yesterday's bus. Playing “Dodge Bus” in a bus is a total, and now boring, game than it is when you are in a motorized tricycle wrapped in sheet metal. The hotel had offered to rent me a car and driver, and maybe I should have done it.

I am staying it at Cox's Bazar. I think they spelled it wrong. Either that or every man here has peter fleas. I haven't seem so much scratching since watching the Grizzly bears rub their backs of the trees on the Wonderful World Of Disney. At least I hope they are scratching.

The first stop was a Buddhist temple that that the nation's largest reclining Buddha. Lots of 'est things in this are. Cox's Bazar is set on the Worlds longest continuous ocean beach. Something like 110 miles. I''ll report on a couple hundred yards of it tomorrow. I hopped out of the CNG and started up the steps after removing my shoes and a family coming down the stairs wanted my picture. Sure. I might hurt your camera but I'll be a good sport. Half way up another family and same thing, only this time with daughter and mom (I ran into them at a later temple and that time it was with daughter and son). I hope
I keep this in mind the next time I want to take someone's picture. It is a bit intrusive and a gift given by the person in the photograph.

At the top of the stairs a young man lammed onto me and started the dime tour. This reclining Buddha was nearly brand new. In 2012 there was some sort of hostilities between the Buddhists and the Muslims – I am not sure if the army came in a settled things or were on the aggressor’s side. Again language. I put a little bit into the donation box and did the rest of the buildings. Since they were only a couple of years old that didn't take long. At least here Buddha isn't surrounded in a halo of LED lights.

Back to the CNG and off to the next stop. Same thing here as well. Some of the out buildings were older than 2012 but the main temple was certainly no more than a couple years old. Of course the teenage boys poorly practicing their English. He knew about Obama and he knew New York. He got Obama right as our Prime Minister, but I think New York eluded him. He kept asking for New York money. It was much better than Bangladesh money, it was bigger. Then he started talking about the president of Iraq and my ignorance showed.

There were pictures of before and after 2012 along with the ruins with Army men and vehicles in the pictures. I took a picture of two and went back to the CNG. We got back to the hotel after he took a phone call which I think went like this – This is the hotel, where are you? We are on the road heading back, we're just passing …. . Once back at the hotel I found Mr Security and the driver and I walked over to him. I made sure he gave the driver his full due and didn't take a cut off the top. I gave the driver enough got a couple liters of gas, and slipped the security man a little.

This hotel is number #2 on TripAdvisor and probably number two as far as cost in town as well. This makes the front of the hotel in environs prime pickings for beggars. The old men you can brush off (unless they are missing a limb, then I donate). I thought the women with their sari's in their mouths were bad until I ran into the girls. Tap, tap tap. Tap,TapTap. TAP, TAP, TAP. I was about to brain the little bitch until she gave up after a block.

I have heard you can take the girl out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the girl. That was never more true than here. This hotel is about $100 a night with VAT. While sitting poolside reading my book I looked up at the balconies you witness a woman washing her hair on the 5th floor and another on the 4th floor squatting down cooking dinner. Make no mistake this is a vacation spot for well off Bangladeshis and the dust from the farm follows them even here.

Oh ! Did hear there was a English couple here today. They sat right over there! At least that is what the man in the coffee shop told me.

That should do it for now.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Yet, another bus

December 5 2014, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh

If you don't want to read bitching, please stop now! You have been warned.

It was a bus day so not much about anything tourist wise. I had hoped for a luxury bus down here, but got a regular bus instead. I had the same seat as on the Dhaka to Chittagon run, directly behind the driver. At least on this bus there were chrome bars separating me from the driver and then the windshield. But except for one big clunk in with a rickshaw in the bus station and one screeching of tires at 60 miles an hour, the trip was uneventful. The trip was supposed to be 4 hours and turned into four and a half hours. I am blaming the extra half hour on it being Friday, the Muslin Sunday and everyone was going someplace just to be in the way of MY bus.

We made one pit stop along the way. The luxury bus stopped at a nice solid roadside truck stop sort of place. The regular bus stopped at two thatched roofed buildings with 2 mom and pop stores and a man with a charcoal brazier outside. A bottle of fizzy orange drink and a smoke and we were back on the road in 15 minutes.

After that the bus stopped, no slowed is the correct work to let people off at various stops along the way. I really do mean slowed, except for when the two ladies departed. The bus did come to a full stop then. When we got to Cox's Bazar the bus stopped right in front of my hotel and voila, Bob's your uncle.

Cox's Bazar is Bangladesh's Miami Beach. Cheek to jowl hotels and restaurants. The beach in a few blocks away, even though this hotel is on the water side of the main drag. I was assigned a room overlooking the main road and asked if I could get the water side. They said no King sized bed only 2 doubles. That was fine with me. It's a nice room and and pretty luxurious in relation to the previous two. Pricey, but it is a resort town and a weekend so I won't bitch. At least until the bill comes.

Now comes the bitching -

When I was in Dhaka the hotel concierge made a reservation for me at the hotel. It was for sixty bucks a night. I thought I'd take a look at TripAdvisor and see what kind of rating it had. None. Okay, I'll pave the way. BUT there was a big advertisement for $35. Hey, twenty-five buck in my jeans is better than their corporate account by my reasoning. Naseef said to make the reservation and he'd cancel the one he made.

The room was spacious, but a little plain. It did have a balcony that I never used because of the bars and jail like feeling. It was your basic third world room, maybe a bit on the better side, but I've stayed in the same room in different countries. Some slightly higher, some slightly lower.

So I go to check out and toss a Benjamin on the counter figuring the room plus (25%) tax should just about cover it. The clerk said “That will be $175.” Really ? “Yes”. I turned and walked to the public computer in the lobby and pulled up the confirmation from, Clearly showing the $35 a night rate. He scratched and itched and after a bit a larger and older man came over and said “But we gave you a larger room. It costs more.” I told him that I had reserved at my price and them giving my a larger room was THEIR problem. If they wanted to up sell me, they should have shown me the smaller room and then the larger room. So, Dude here's your $100 and I'll see you later.

This went back and forth for probably half an hour. I wasn't yelling, but I was firm. I got fed up and said call the police in that case, we'll let them decide. That didn't happen. More back and forth. Finally I decided it just wasn't worth it to keep going. It was time for the nuclear option. I pulled out another C note and threw the two no the counter and said “”Here's your fucking money!” It was like a switch was thrown and his whole demeanor changed. “How much you want to pay?” I went up a bit and he came down a bit and neither of us went away happy, but we both went away. I guess that's what you call compromise.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Stuck in the mud

Chittagong, Bangladesh – December 4 2014

I spent the day exploring the city by CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) otherwise know to us as a tuk-tuk, and pedal rickshaw and auto rickshaw ( pedal rickshaw with an electric motor to augment the driver). Unlike Dhaka this town has hills. One poor rickshaw driver was walking me and the rickshaw up a hill when I called it quits a couple blocks before my destination. I just could let him work that hard. I had a few thing to check off my list and saw maybe 2/3rds of them. The other third, I just couldn't get the idea across. Things like the World War II memorial and cemetery. Where allied forces are buried. I am pretty sure we were close once or twice but that doesn't count when you can't experience it.

This morning started out with a horrid tragedy. I thought my hair dryer puffed it's last. It one of those dual voltage ones. What makes it dual voltage is when you turn the dial to 220, it blocks off the switch from going to High. Anyway I plugged into the adapter for to make the US blades fit into the round holes. Turned it on and it started and died. I fiddled with it a bit and it was dead. Then just on the off chance it was the adapter I tried a different one and the birds sang and the angels sang Hosannas. In looking at the bad adapter I noticed it had a fuse and that is the only thing I can blame it's malfunction on.

I generally sleep in only a T-shirt. I got up and made some Starbucks instant, pulled on yesterday's pants and a pair of boots and walked out to the nearby main street to watch the city awaken. As I was sipping my coffee and smoking a cigarette and man walked up and started a stilted conversation in passable English. Five minutes into the conversation he asked “Are you a man or a women?”. I told him, female. He shook his head and said, “No you are not. Women don't smoke. Women have hair down to their waist and your breasts are too small. I had never hear my boobs were too small. Maybe if I had a bra on or he would have looked down to my waistline he would have seen them.

After breakfast the CNG took me to the river since that is where every city is born. Always by the water is old town. The river here is huge. I can't explain it's width. Possibly half a mile. Full of huge ocean going ships and of course the small local transports. The one's in Dhaka are oar only powered, these today were motor boats with oars only used to move within the docking area.

A few clicks of the camera and then heading up the first alley I see into the neighborhood. Not much new from Dhaka's streets of yesterday, except the traffic was more manageable. Lots and lots of “How are you?” called from shops and passersby. Occasionally somebody would like to talk. One man I was talking to I told him that I had only seen 2 western faces in the 4 days I've been in Bangladesh. He said “Oh, no! I saw a French couple just last week …. or was it the week before?”

Boy can I draw a crowd, just by standing there. People stop and just stare. I doubt I'll ever get used to it, but I'm learning to accept it is the way it is. At one point there were so many children in my wake that when I stopped traffic was blocked. After that I didn't stop until I was out of the neighborhood. In past trips I often asked if I could take a picture of someone. Here people are begging me to take their picture. When I say yes, they pose. One butcher got out his knife and went to work on a leg of beef so I would take his picture.

I had a lit of things I wanted to see and saw some. Think I saw some and never saw some. I'd hail a auto-rickshaw and say I want to see E-Majid. E Majid ? Never heard of it. I'd say it again slower and say it fast and they would just shake their head. Then someone with some English skills would wander up and say “Where you want to go?” E Majit. He's say the exact same thing to the driver and the driver would go “Oh, E Majid ! I know'” With a subtext of 'why didn't you say so …'

Eventually 20 and 30 year old mosques get old on my tourist brain. There isn't much old in town as far a mosques and the one that are truly old, we rebuilt a new and improved version in the 1950's. I wanted to see the ship breakers north of town. I knew it was a long shot since they are really shy of camera toting white people, after they had been blasted in the Western press over child labor, hazardous working conditions, ecologically unsound practices and on and on.

A long CNG ride got me there. Lots of pavement under our wheels and then another mile or so of dirt path got me to the gate. I was told by the all Powerful Oz to go away. I even tried a small bribe which did not work. I strolled a 100 yards to the next gate and, well at least he didn't laugh at me.

Then came the “Aha!” moment. If I walk down that embankment over there and follow the well trod path the fishermen use to access the beach I can get a look at the ships from the side by looking up the beach. “HaHaHa Ha! So there Mr Naughty pants!” I followed the well trod part. Had to jump a few river-lets before the path petered out. There was like ½ an inch of water over the mud. I had boots on. I was good to go, until the second step where I sunk into this shoe grabbing gunk over the tops of my hiking boots. Then it was step, pull and hope your shoe stays on and you don't fall on your face. I was two-thirds of the way to the breach, darned if I was going to turn around now.

I came to the end of the wall and could see one of the ships high and dry beached. I went to raise my camera and a man came to the end of the wall and said “No Pictures”. I explained to him the fine differences between private land, where he was and public land where I was. He told me I was more than welcome to shoot thataway, but not thisaway. I had my camera at my waist and shot a few frames blind. Then we got to talking. His first question was – are you a journalist? No, just a tourist. Are you with a group? No, just CNG. I did take a couple fairly well framed photos as he seemed to be softening.

After my two or three camera clicks I started back. As soon as I made it through the muck to the beaten path, he yells “Go back ! You can take pictures. It's okay.” Sometimes the world never ceases to amaze me. BUT, I wasn't going to muck about again and headed back to where I left the CNG, to find the CNG had left me. So I'm a mile from pavement and 5 miles from town with my boots weighing 10 pounds each with loaded ucky black mud which stretched up to my knees. This is way more of an adventure than I had signed up for. A small shack was right over there, selling tea, cigarettes and cookies to the fishermen. The owner told me to sit down. I waved him off. Then he told me SIT DOWN ! I sat down. I bought a Fanta from him and passed cigarettes around and we had a grand old time for the 30 minuted before why woke up the rickshaw guy and got him to the shack. It really was a nice visit. Their hospitality was outstanding. Meeting them was the high point of my day.

Rickshawed back to the highway. Found a CNG and made it home to the hotel, leaving my shoes on the front steps and getting promised they would hose them off and get them up to me in a while.

Now time has to come to dine.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Forest fortuna adiuvat - Fortune favors the brave

Wednesday. December 3 2014 – Chittigong Bangladesh

Sorry no pictures today I've been on a bus for nearly eight hours which really cuts down on picture taking.

The checkout of the hotel was easy and simple, except I almost walked off with the plastic key to the room. That would have been a major faux pas. Naseef and Jeet both gave me advice on what to see where. One of the main problems with Naseef's itinerary is that it require that I change hotels and towns every night. That sounds to me to be like a tapas dinner. Lots of small things and time to enjoy a full bite of any one area. I think I am going to stay here two nights and explore the city tomorrow and then move on to a smaller town. I am tried of the noise and the pace of Dhaka and this city already. If I can't get a better feeling for Bangladesh by the weekend I am thinking of hitting a different country.

I thought Ethiopia was not ready for prime time. Ethiopia makes Bangladesh like Paris as far as things are set up for the tourist trade. I know I will change my mind after a good night's sleep. I also have the sniffles which I am sure adding to my tiredness and lack of enthusiasm.

This hotel is an odd duck. I am not sure what it was designed as, possibly as a dorm for the nearby medical school. At least medical care is just a short walk/crawl away. But for $35 a night my wallet isn't complaining. Naseef booked this hotel for me. The email confirmation said it would be $65 a night, I took a look at TripAdvisor to see what was said about the hotel. Nothing. Not a single review. What it did say was the had the same room for the thirty-five. When I mentioned it he was surprised. He said he called the hotel direct and they wanted more then the sixty-five, so he went to the Dhaka website that gives the hoteliers the best rate. So one got canceled and another got confirmed.

I was going to take the hotel car to the bus station, but Naseef pointed out that it would be much easier for a small tuk-tuk to negotiate the traffic than a full sized vehicle, not to mention that it would of course be less expensive. Someway or another I was able to cram my luggage and myself into the little jail. It was great advice, as the cars and buses were stalled in gridlock the little tuk-tuk squeezed in here and there and left them in a cloud (not) of propane.

The bus was right on time. I had purchased a business class ticket which meant that there was more leg room and reclining seats. It had the same scraped sides and broken windows, but it it was pretty comfortable. My seat was directly behind the driver so that when we had the head on collision with a huge sand truck or other bus I would be the second person to get off the bus. With just a little luck the driver would have already broken out the windshield as we flew through the air.

There were a few times that I thought we were much, much too close to hitting another vehicle head on. The tuk-tuks and the rickshaws didn't concern me as the buses closing at our same speed of 60 mph. I found myself tilting my head away from the window during the close ones. Like that would do any good.

Just like Dhaka the road was full of pedestrians, rickshaws, tuk-tuks trucks and the new addition of screaming long distance buses. Everyone had their piece of the road and held on to it like it was gold. The tuk-tuks and rickshaws were like minnows in a sea of Orca whales. It's not like the whale wants to squish the minnow, they just don't maneuver as quickly. The driver stayed on the horn nearly the whole way. Sometimes a quick tap to let them know we were coming of -passing. Sometimes laying on it in frustration at some vehicle who was taking up the middle of the road and wouldn't move to the side so we could pass.

Half way through the trip we stopped for potty and grub. I looked for a kiosk to buy a cigarette, but it turned out it was closed for lunch. So the manager gave me one of his. That was very nice of him. I ordered a Coke and it came in one of those old thick refillable bottles. The ones with the thick bottoms giving the name to thick glasses, Coke Bottle lenses.

We got into Chittigong a little later than I expected and well after dark. Of course there was the tuk-tuk driver to help me. I had planned ahead and written down the address of the hotel and phone number. He said he knew it, well he did know the general area and after a stop to ask a friendly neighbor or two we arrived at the hotel. He really overcharged me, but being over charged by a tuk-tuk driver is about the same a dropping the meter on a taxi in New York, and you hadn't gone a foot yet.

I got some food in me now and some fluids and am feeling better. Still dripping, but not feeling totally exhausted. Think I'll close this for now and go find a bed.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Una lingua numquam satis est - One language is never enough

Tuesday December 2nd 2014 – Dhaka

I asked for an adventure, a small one and today I succeeded at that.

After breakfast I caught, well let's be honest the doorman caught a tuk-tuk for me and negotiated a price for a ride to the river front. The birthplace of the city. The negotiated price was 300 Tk ($2.50). 300 ?!?!? What? Who do you think I am? The Bank of Bangladesh ? You know, it's surprising just how far 300 Tk will take you in a Dhaka tuk-tuk.

The driver unlatched the welded lattice door and I got in. The then threw a bold into the U shaped bracket in the door and I was locked in. There was no way for me to access the latch to get out. Steel mesh surrounded me and I was in solitary confinement.

He twisted the throttle and one of the more interesting (read frightening) rides of my life began. At small amusement parks in the US there is generally a ride called The Mad Mouse, or perhaps The Wild Mouse or some variation there of. The ride is a small roller coaster the has no loops just flat track the suddenly veers ninety degrees and giving you the thrill that you almost plunged off the edge. This ride was similar to that only without the safety bar.

Mr Toad of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride would squeeze in between huge buses layered in scrapes and Bondo. If you looked and counted you could easily see all the colors that the bus had been painted over the years. And by years I mean decades. I half joked yesterday that the buses were scrapped by the British in 1947 and resurrected here. We were so tight that even if I could reach the latch I couldn't open the doors. I could see the Behemoths start to move and slowly converge as Mr. Toad would crank the gas and we would squeeze between them and then like on rails turn right in front of them and stop. I waited for the bus' nose to squish is between it and the cargo truck in front of us. Then he'd gas it push the handle bars to the left and zip between a Toyota sedan and two rickshaws. All the time with the horn blaring. I really wonder if it worked in any way or just the thing to do when driving.

It took around forty five minutes to get to Saderghat, give or take. The area was jammed with tuk-tuks, trucks, cars and rickshaws. I shakily pushed through the mesh the 300 Tk and a few more as an offering to the God's and gratefully heard that magic sound of the bolt withdrawing. I paid my bail and I was again a free citizen of the world.

The sidewalks and the street was packed with people, tuk-tuks and rickshaws, with the majority being rickshaws and people. Every conveyance whether it feet or wheels was either moving at a fast pace or totally stopped. A few women in saris and even fewer in head coverings and scarves. Men in workman’s clothing, men in loose fitting pants and tops and men by the thousands with 20 or more pound boxes and baskets balanced on their heads worming their way through this morass. With all this chaos the only collisions I witnessed was my occasional mis-step into someone. It was a marvel of choreography.

After a short walk the huge Saderghat ferry terminal ended and the normal citizens began their lives. People on the sidewalks selling everything from tea to new to used clothing. I doddle along at about 1/3rd speed of the rest of the passers by. Occasionally I hear a, not angry, but certainly authoritarian voice behind me and turn to see a man trying to get past me fat ass as he has a load five or six boxes of oranges swaying on top of his head. I quickly recover from the dream state I was in and step the heck out of his way as I say “Sorry, sorry” which seems to translate well. Either I get a smile or he just hurries on. He might have been saying bad things about my mother in his head, but never, never any outward showing of anger at me.

The entire morning I would hear called “Hello, how are you?” and turn and acknowledge them with a “Fine, how are you?”. I would generally get a smile and a “Good” back and occasionally I think they were just trying out their English and didn't have a grasp on that the correct response was. Once in a while there was more conversation than just that one line exchange. Where are you from ? What is your name ? That sort of thing. A handshake was not uncommonly offered. Sometimes with a light grip, sometimes with a good strong business grip and sometimes with that grip I see in many Muslim countries where the hands are grasped and held for the entire time. A little uncomfortable for my western upbringing, but I am adapting. When whatever type of handshake was released the right hand always, and I mean always went and covered their heart. A sign I was told was the same as “Greetings from the heart to you”

People begging were almost non existent. The occasional cripple in a doorway of the mouth of a walkway. I only had interactions with three that I recall. One very young boy who was shooed off by a passing lawyer who then explained to me the political situation and why this boy was not in school because of the corruption. Frankly I'd have rather dealt with the kid. Then there was the young man with a empty blue orange crate in his hand who insisted that I give him some of my flavored water. Sorry only one set of lips go an my bottle, mine. If he had a cup, I might have. The one that I did give a small bill to was a woman and infant. Towards the end of my sauntering I had circled back to the area where I knew some tuk-tuks hung out. I was looking at the river and went and bought a single cigarette and then wandered towards the tuk-tuks. She was always there on the edges of my sight. Never obtrusive, just hanging back. As I was getting in the tuk-tuk she beckoned for something. I gave her a small, a very small bill and she was more grateful than she should have been for it. – then some guy in the crowd said “Give me 100”. I looked at him and said :”You're crazy” and touched the side of me head. The crowd around all laughed at that. I'm not sure it was the word crazy, but thing the tap to the temple is a universal sigh of wacko-ness.

Walking down the trash strewn loading area was where I first saw the little canoes that carry people and goods across the river. Like the roads, it appears to be chaos, but there is an internal organization to it. The boats are paddled abreast and then like parts on a conveyor belt one fills with the requisite number of people or people and goods and it pulls away and the next boat starts filling up. This seemed to be endless. There certainly was no break for the 10 of fifteen minutes I watched.

Though offered many times to board I declined. I'll accept you calling me a wimp and wear the title proudly. Maybe the next time I'm in Dhaka I'll give it a try. Inshallah.

I caught a tri-shaw (pedal rickshaw) for a ride over to an area called Shankhaira Bazaar. This is the heart of old Dhaka. Reminiscent of the souks in Morocco, only the streets are straighter. I wandered and looked. Once in a while buy a single cigarette or a bottle of water. The space alien passing glances I would defer with a smile, a nod or every now and then a 'Salam”. 90% of the time I got the same back. Just curiosity. – This is the truth, no exaggeration. I was in the area for between two and a half or three hours and never, ever say a western face. Not one!

I was offered chai from the vendors when I stopped to watch the process. One vendor was making a concoction that he was pouring between two cups. At first I thought it was raw egg whites, but didn't see any eggs. It was thick and I am not going to say what that dense liquid looked like. I started a new batch by peeling a leaf similar to an Aloe leaf into a cup and adding a few other secret herbs and spices into it and then like a good bartender mixed it by pouring it between the two metal cups.

Then there was the snake oil salesman with the cure for all the world's illness if you bought his special tonic and a couple leeches from him. He had a pretty good sized crowd, but no buyers from what I could see.

Some way know only to the God's of stupid tourists I ended up away from the cacophony of Hindu street into a quiet residential refuge. I was sitting on a step just trying to get myself re-centered and a huge argument started in the area I had just passed. I looked to the rooftops and the monkeys were going at at. I guess somebody be a messin' where they shouldn't be a messin'. Then the dominant one came across the rooftops and stopped and stared at me. I stared back and then pulled my head down to mark aggression. The monkey jerked it's head down ready to fight. I crouched down a little lower and brought my arms out a bit to show it I was bigger. That really got it's ire up. Then I heard laughing, From being totally alone with me and this monkey, who obviously didn't see many white chicks. Half a dozen people had been watching me. Fuck a duck. I was so embarrassed.

Time to close this missive I've gone on much too long.