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Thursday, February 10, 2005

Why I should never take a boat again

I had heard it is quite pleasant to take a boat up from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, as it allows you a chance to sit in the sun (or inside the boat) for a leisurely morning trip, giving you a chance along the way to get some idea of life along the river here in Cambodia. At twenty-two to twenty-five dollars a ticket, it isn't cheap (only about six for a bus ticket, for a trip of about the same amount of time0, but I thought, it's vacation, why not?
Unfortuntately, I seem to have misplaced my memories related to my brother and my ill-fated boat journeys in Laos (changing boats two times in the course of what should have been a fifteen minute boat ride - first due to engine failure, and then to a leak, leaving finally 10 of us (8 Laotian schoolgirls and my brother and I) in an even smaller boat with an incredibly skilled driver using nothing but a pole to keep us from running aground, then from spilling into the water, and then, at last, to lead us to shore. That seems a very badly constructed sentence, but you will forgive me, I hope, any lapses in grammar this evening...the keyboards here are not so great, and I am rather tired...
So, this brings us to yesterday. Though we had seats inside, we chose to sit atop the boat, watching the sun rise in to the sky, the fisherman in the water, floating houses, kids on the banks waving to us. It was quite nice really, with the breeze, and with conversational folk around us. I did notice, though, how much less traffic the Mekong saw here than it did in Laos, where there were always boats on the water, operating as fishing boats, or as taxis, and along the banks there was much more activity in Laos as well.
We reached a point where the river opens into a lake, the name of which I do not have handy at the moment, and it is here that the fun began. The sun was quite high in the sky by now, as it was about 11, and so it was not the most opportune time for the boat to get stuck in the mud. It is dry season now, and so the river is not so deep. Our driver, it seems, picked a rather poor lane through which to navigate the river (we saw another boat zip right through, coming in the other direction, and then there was the poor boat that tried to help us.,.). So at first, it didn't seem too bad. We backed up and tried again. No luck. Then an old man came up in a dug out boat and suggested we move over some, closer to the banks. A man jumped from our boat to look for deeper water and it was somewhat discouraging to see the water never go higher than shoulder height on him (keep in mind, this is Asia and men tend to be short!). The old man seemed to know what he was talking about, though, so over we went. Again, no luck.
About this time, another boat that had left from P.P. at the same time as us came by and towed us aways before the rope snapped in two. Then it towed us some more. The Cambodians directing this operation seemed to think we were in a good place to start, so we tried. We didn't. All this time the water around us was filled with silt churned up from the bottom.
I noticed that the other boat and many less people than we did atop the boat, and I can only imagine they had far less inside as well (part of the reason we went up to the roof was the massive amount of people and bags inside the boat - which made any trip to the bathroom a bit of an adventure, as did the bathroom itself). Another guy noticed this too and suggested we off load some of ours. I was quite keen to do this as I realized we were not going anywhere anytime soon, but my bag was buried in the back of the boat and so I had no chance.
The process was repeated many times, and many times it failed. The boat would pull us, we would try to start, we would stop, float backwards, and then stop again. One quite fun attempt ended with the side of our boat lodged on the side of theirs, theiroreign passengers no doubt pissed and ready to beat our drivers senseless for making them waste half their days trying to assist. After more than two hours of trying to help, that boat drove off, leaving us stuck and helpless.
A half hour after that, another boat came...a ramshackle looking thing that looked as if it might break apart the second it towed us. Somehow, though, that little thing managed to pull a boat about five times its size, loaded with two times too many people, all the way out into the lake and into deep water. A cheer went up, and then everyone who wasn't already asleep fell asleep...well, I didn't but my ass did. Those boat roofs aren't so comfortable.
We made it to Siem Reap at about 5, after a short boat ride through a floating city, and a drive on a dirt road filled with one of the most awful stenches I have ever encountered and a display of poverty I have seen once or twice before...A great lead in to today's first encounter with Angkor Wat.
Angkor is amazing, by the way, or what I've seen of the complex, but as I am waking up at five to take in a sunrise tomorrow, it will have to wait for another day to talk about (although I wonder if I should even bother trying to talk about it...its one of those places that just has to be seen).
I'm excited about the next two days - especially the fact that when we leave, we won't be taking the boat.


Blogger Natalie said...

Hi Al! Just wanted to leave a comment (since I know none of the guys will) and let you know we're all reading.

Your photographs are fantastic.


3:26 AM  
Blogger Natalie said...

(Although, they may be more apt to post if you allow anonymous comments.)

3:27 AM  
Blogger Micheal said...

This is like reading a travel narritive while it is being expereinced! I love this Please keep it up

10:31 PM  
Anonymous Natalia said...

Writing about the same thing, but in Spanish. Funny to see how we see the same things from different perspective.

Your picture are great as always, but I know there are better ones to come, right?

11:56 AM  

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