Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ratanikiri Province

So techinically it is Jason's turn but he is busy at the moment so I will get it started.

We woke up in Ratanikiri, praying for a day of sunshine and luckily we were so blessed because it was a beautiful day. Over breakfast, we talked with the owner of the lodge about the best way to go around the city and she recommended by motorbike. Quite nervously, we decided to rent an automatic bike and navigate the city on our own. With a small map, our helmets, and the key to the bike, we tentatively started our journey. Except we didn't know how to start the bike. Some nice man showed us how, so again we started down the street. But the bike stalled out. So we walked to the gas station, filled up, and started again. Finally, we had begun to drive. We rode along and followed the map all the way down to a beautiful waterfall, called Kachung Waterfall, about 6 km out of town. The road there was filled with beautiful houses on stilts and friendly children selling sweets. Fields were flooded with rubber trees, with small paths weaving between the groves. At the waterfall, Jason went swimming and I wandered around the rocky area, watching children fish and play. A wooden bridge hanging across the river gave us a view of the flowing water and the trees leaning towards one another, eclipsing the sun in the distance. We exited the waterfall area and headed on our bike to the next location, another waterfall called Cha Ong, in the north of town. This time we both got in and climbed underneath the waterfall for an intense power shower that almost blasted us off the rocks. At the waterfall, we accidentally discovered that my camera takes panoramic pictures, so 15 minutes and a ton of film later, we decided to head on our way for some much needed lunch.

We pulled the bike off for a quick stop at a beautiful temple located at the top of the hill. The temples are full of beautiful colorful paintings and all the monks are dressed in bright orange robes and carry vibrant yellow umbrellas. The paint and colors are incredibly intoxicating and full of charm.

A quick look at our map showed us an interesting sounding restaurant, called Cafe de la Nature, and according to our map, it was just up the road. We sped off, and turned a corner and could not find the restaurant. When we asked some people (who did not speak very good English) they told us to go further down the road. We continued down the road for about a half hour and realized that we had probably gone too far. We finally found someone who could semi speak English and asked him where it was. He kind of laughed at us and told us we were wayyyy too far down. We turned our bike around and started driving for about 10 minutes. All of a sudden, our bike was no longer moving. We had run out of gas. Jason and I just started laughing because we were in the middle of nowhere and quite far from any petrol station. Then, out of nowhere, a man stops on his bike, jumps off, pours us a water bottle of gas from his tank and speeds off without enough time to even say thank you. That type of kindness is not unique in Cambodia. The gas he gave us was enough to take us all the way to a station to fill up and to another restaurant for lunch. It was one of the best meals of our trip, complete with avocado and mixed fruit shakes. Fully refreshed, we geared up for the next part of our day, a trip to Yeak Loam Lake, a volcanic crater lake.

A quick ride later, we arrived at the lake for a late day swim. The dock was pretty crowded when we arrived, so we walked around the lake to an empty dock on the other side. The water was still and beautifully green and the perfect thing for the end of our day. We were sitting and relaxing when a group of young students came onto the dock, very excited to meet some young Americans. A few of them were pretty drunk, but one student spoke very good English. I sat and spoke with him while Jason entertained the drunk guys who spent most of their time marveling at his intense height.

The man I was speaking to was named San, and he was a student on the weekends, but worked during the week at an NGO, teaching English to his students. He was extremely friendly and invited us to come practice English with him and his students. Unfortunately, we were leaving town and were not going to be there on the right day. After a long talk in which San may or may not have proposed to me (his English wasn't perfect), he invited Jason and I to go with him to the market. We followed his car home on our motorbike and then followed him to the market. On our way there, he decided to detour and take us to the home of what we think is his girlfriend. Or at least the girl he plans on marrying once he has enough money for the wedding. It was an incredibly sweet gesture and an interesting glimpse into the gender relationships in the country.

On a side note, I was reading a book all about the sex trafficking trade in Asia, which really had me thinking a lot about all of this. The women are treated very differently and I won't get into logistics, but it was quite eyeopening for both of us, as I was constantly reading excerpts to Jason.

Anyway, San then took us to the night market for some fruits and late night dessert. After saying goodbye, we headed back to our Lodge and talked with some people. One of them was an American kid from California who was working for an NGO for the last three weeks but was preparing to head back home. We made plans to meet the next morning and went to bed.

We were awoken at 7 am by some construction being done in the room next to us, because no one sleeps in here and they could not understand how we could still be sleeping! They put us in another room for a nap, and I went right back to sleep. We woke up, ate breakfast, and headed with our American friend to the market. We bought a few needed items and a couple presents (Caroline, get ready) and walked around a bit. We stopped for coconut shakes (AMAZING) and who should show up, but our friend San! Apparently, someone had called him and told him we were there so he stopped by to hang out. Gotta love the people here. He drove us to lunch, we hung out, and went back home.

That night, Jason, Reed (our American) and I decided to try out a restaurant we had heard about, called Sal's restaurant, known for it's amazing Mexican and other food. We hitched a ride from a guy Reed knew and pulled up to a poorly lit house with a sign pointing to a restaurant out back. The only person there was a young 10 year old girl, who was quite excited to serve us food. She indicated that her mother was in town but that she would be back soon, but in the meantime, would we like something to drink? We ordered beers which she quickly brought to us and some french fries which she scurried off to make. Before she left, we asked to turn the lights on, but she said they were not working. Now let me explain. This restaurant is a little open air bungalow, the second story of which has a few tables and chairs and a bar. Surrounding the restaurant is a gorgeous forest, but as the sun dropped lower, it became less beautiful, and more...creepy. Very creepy. A fog began to roll in as the three of us began to debate about which scary movie this would be the best setting for. Apocalypse Now? Something with Zombies? We agreed on a tie and Jason headed to the bathroom. He ran back to share what beautiful things he had discovered. The bathroom had worms in the toilet and he was pretty sure he heard a rat in the kitchen with the little girl working in the dark. At this point, we were all terrified and had the paln to et the french fries and get the hell out of there when we saw a car drive up to the house. A woman got out, carrying her 2 year old son and came to greet us. She brought a big flashlight and explained that the power had gone out all over town and that she was sorry. She was so lovely and calmed us down quite a bit, so we decided to stay and order dinner. The menu was organized by the amount of time it would take to cook, and we ordered some vegetarian tacos and lasagna and expected to wait "quite a bit more time". It was well worth the wait. The tacos were divine, filled with fresh purple cabbage and delicious melty cheese, and the lasagna was oozing with flavor. We couldn't get enough. With our bellies full, we headed home to give in to our food comas and sleep.

We love you all!

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