Going away this weekend with the Cambodia volunteers made us feel right at home. It was really nice to feel part of a group again and have all the gossip like 'Does Diana fancy Sam or not?'. All good stuff.
The afternoon we got there, we were driven on motorbikes (3 people on each) to a river where we had a chilly swim. It was lovely, but would have been better if you weren't always fighting the currents and looking for leeches.
We were again haunted by horribly uncomfortable car journeys the next day when we went on a day trip to the hill station of 'Bokor' which was built during the French ownership of Cambodia. However, before we got there, we had to endure the bruising, brutal, unforgiving, merciless, ruthless, tarmac-less road up the near-mountain. To call it a mere 'hill' wouldn't do it justice. To make matters worse, we were in yet another pick up truck. Not as crowded this time, only the 6 of us, but it was smaller and we didn't have nice soft bags to sit on. I can tell you now, I'm still in a lot of pain on account of that journey. Then it started to rain and we all had rips in our rediculously cheap plastic bag panchos. Still, the pain was over sooner than expected when the guides told us there was in fact space inside the other pick up truck, as in nice, soft, upholstered, indoor seats. Naturally, we swapped over.
Anyway, we first went to the 'Black Palace'. I felt the name was misleading, as it was simply a set of small derelict buildings, and bungalows at that. The location was wonderful (Although on this particular day we could see absolutely nothing as there were clouds all around us), but still, I didn't think they deserved the title 'palace'. Anyway. They were all used by the King at the time for various purposes. The first building we visited was his 'party room'. Looking over the balcony outside, we should have been able to see a great drop to a huge valley below, but as it was, all we could see was white. It was weird, like floating in a void or something. Then we went down to the King's actual house and then to the 'Royal Kitchen Building' where all the food for his parties was made, and also I believe where the workers lived.
After these, we went for a lovely hot lunch of rice and vegetables and bananas before heading off to the 'new' casino. The building had a slight horror movie quality - Old, disused, remote, full of stagnant water, leaking ceilings, rain outside, cracked tiles etc. The 'old' casino was quite similar, although you could tell it was a much nicer building when it was used. It's situated next to a sheer drop, and we were told that a few people committed suicide by throwing themselves off it after losing huge amounts of money in the casino. Apparently they have a new year party there every year. Wouldn't much like to go to one. Bit too creepy for me.
Lastly was the old creepy church on the hill. Again, the horror movie look was in abundance, an old abandoned church, falling apart, high alone on a hill, mist, rain... The horror ended though when you saw that a big picture of Elvis had been graffiti'd (sp?) on the wall. Not so scary then. We survived the journey back down, although the term 'The thorn in my side' could almost not be more appropriate. Instead of a thorn, it was a large bolt which injured me each time the car broke, which was frequently.
We left on Monday after seeing some caves in the morning. It started off alright, concrete steps all the way up. They gave us candles for the dark caves which was quite cool. We went in the first cave, but found exiting it slightly more difficult. What we had to do was surmount a fear of heights and a fear of falling to shimmy over a rock to avoid a 20 ft drop. Safety first, eh. Ash was really brave and went first :) What followed would have been made much easier with a machette - A walk through basically jungle with little evidence that a path was actually there. At one point, my 12 year old guide stopped in his tracks when he realised he'd walked face-first into a spider web and that it was now on his face. He got his friend to flick it off and he dusted himself down and continued. I had to laugh as I thought about how I'd have reacted in such a situation...
The next cave was full of bats. I felt slightly sorry for them as the guides led everyone into the cave very quietly and then began to make loads of noise, clapping, whistling, hooting and hissing. It was really cool though to see the bats all take flight and race about above our heads. The noise of their beating wings was really loud too.
And that was our weekend as volunteers again! We're off to Vietnam soon so we'll post again from there.
Lots of love, Ash and Fiona.