Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Mama I'm Coming Home

My flight leaves in 24 hours. I can not possibly begin to explain the mixture of emotions coursing through my veins at this moment...

What a journey this has been!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Traveling Cambodia and Going Home

Cambodia is great. Actually Cambodia is better than great, it's amazing. I'm reaching the end of my trip, and I could not think of a better country to have spent my last three and a half weeks in.

After leaving paradise (Koh Tonsay) I headed back to Phenom Penh with some of my friends to take in the city a little more leisurely. One thing that helps do just that is having friends who speak Cambodian. Often times I can tell when people are talking about me (though obviously I haven't a clue what they are saying), though I don't think I was aware of just how often I/We Westerners are talked about. Walking around the central market with my friend Sam (Who has spent over a year here and speaks nearly fluent Cambodian) he would provide a running commentary on what people were saying about us. The best were the girls. They would whisper about how cute we were and occasionally Sam would stop, turn around, and say "Yes, we are. And we understand you." This would leave them shrieking with laughter and covering their faces in embarrassment.

Another great thing about traveling with someone who knows a country is that they know people. Sam has LOTS of Cambodian friends and simply being associated with him made me their friend as well. It was shocking how little I was harassed by tuk-tuk drivers and touts the second time I was in Phenom Penh. Once they knew I was with a friend of theirs they were only smiles and handshakes.

And then there was the woman. Oh, what a woman! I don't know her name but she was an absolute sweetheart. She was maybe 50 to 55 and owned the guest house I stayed at in Phenom Penh. She did not know Sam (i.e. she had no reason to be so friendly), but treated me as though I was her long lost son. I am actually beginning to wonder if she thought I was someone else. Aside from sowing some pants for me, getting me anything I needed, and inviting me for food she also gave me the biggest hug and kiss you could possibly imagine when I finally said goodbye. I have no idea why...

I'm in Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) now after saying a difficult goodbye to some of the best friends I have made on this trip. Siem Reap is pretty hard to take in. Being the number one tourist destination in the country it has really developed and prospered. Along the main street and on the way to Angkor Wat there are tons of resorts charging $200-300 a night, there are fancy restaurants that I cannot afford, clubs with cover fees, and more Mercedes than I thought existed in this country. Clearly Siem Reap is doing well for itself. Or is it? I think the answer may be no. Out of all this development I wonder how much is locally owned? How much of the tens of thousands of dollars that large Japanese and Korean tour groups are spending everyday here go back into the community? My guess is not a lot.

Being the cheap bastard I am I took up residence outside of town at a small guest house. When I arrived they were full, but happily put me up in the "barn" with a Thai monk for one dollar. Walking the dusty road into town last night I felt like I was in Cambodia, or Myanmar, or Laos, or any other very poor country that I have visited in the last few months. The tell-tale signs of were all around me. The garbage, the fetid water, the begging children. Yet, 400 meters down the road life was different. Neon signs shown brightly, police blocked traffic from entering streets, and whities, like myself, strolled freely from one fancy hangout to another. 400 meters away a woman begged for some milk for her starving child, thank God the cops block those roads off, otherwise her child's screams might just disturb someone's vacation.

Despite the feelings I have towards Siem Reap my visit to Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples was fantastic. Well, actually that might be a bit generous. Two things prevented me from really loving Angkor Wat. 1.) The heat. I am so ready for cold Seattle air. 2.) The massive groups of Japanese and Korean tour groups. While I am not a fan of their methods of travel I harbor no resentment towards them. What I do resent however is constantly having to move out of the way, or sit and wait while 30-40 people all crowd around something to have their pictures taken. And they take A LOT of pictures. Nonetheless, Angkor Wat was simply amazing. I was enchanted by the detailed stone carvings, and the sheer size of the stones used to construct the temples blew my mind! I was able to find many areas where I was alone, and could walk the temples in silence, marveling at the their grandiosity.

And so that's it. I just visited the largest religious site in the world, and am ready to head home. Three days from now I will be heading to Bangkok and in five days I will be back in Seattle. I have visited 13 countries on this leg of the trip and am anxious to arrive back in Seattle. While I have been dreading this arrival at times, I am now accepting of it. The next great journey is about to begin. Oh, and it helps that I will be leaving for a week's vacations in Mexico two days after getting back!

My Wandering and Wondering is going to continue even after arriving back in Seattle as I am sure I will have lots to say about this trip once I have put some time and distance between it and me, and have (hopefully) figured out what lessons I learned on the road. Also, I will be embarking on Part 2. of this epic journey in the fall when I plan to visit South America for several months and will of course be keeping the blog going at that time as well.