A Recount of My Travels

Day 17, May 4, 2017: Siem Reap, Cambodia

My phone buzzed, it was a Snapchat notification from my older brother, Rick. Blurry eyed, I watched the video. His daughter and my five-month old niece, Ellie, was laughing and giggling at her Daddy. In the background, I heard Rick saying, “hi, Bart!” in a high pitch voice as if Ellie was saying “hi” to me.

After feeling sick for the past two days or so, seeing a video of my smiling niece was a great way to wake up. I sent Rick a reply text through Snapchat and he responded immediately. Since he was online I called him on video. Rick was sitting in his backyard enjoying his new backyard lights after putting his daughter down for bed.

“Bart, how are you?” Rick asked. I shared with Rick that I was doing well but I was battling montezuma’s revenge. “Have you taken anything?” he asked. I replied, “I’ve taken pepto.” He then wondered why I hadn’t taken any antibiotics. I explained to him that I only had six pills of cipro and I was under the impression that you only take them if you’re in dire need.

Luckily, Rick’s wife, Julia, is a doctor so he gave her a call while I waited on the line. Julia said, “take the cipro.” With her vode of confidence, I popped a cipro and within a few hours my symptoms started to subside. I’m not sure if cipro works that fast or if it was “placebo affect”, but in retrospect, I wish I had taken antibiotics at the first sign of symptoms. (Thanks, Rick and Julia, for your help!)

With my stomach feeling slightly better, I ventured down the street to Sister Srey Café, a coffee shop along the river that I had been to earlier during my stay. The staff recognized me and showed me to a table. I ordered a poached egg, hash browns and bacon. I hadn’t eaten much in the last two days and I was pretty hungry. When the food arrived, as delicious as it looked, my stomach started to do somersaults. I took a small bite of the hash browns and realized I was over zealous with my order. I sat there for about an hour looking out on to the street. There was an artist outside, who had lost his hands during the Khmer Rouge regime, selling his paintings from a cart outside. Moto bikes were puttering by and a number of wide-eyed tourists were moseying along the street.

I managed to knock down the egg and a few bites of hash browns before I had to excuse myself from the table. I paid my bill and walked back to my guesthouse. On my way their I was offered a number of tuk tuk rides. Ordinarily, I politely decline and keep walking, but this time, I agreed to take a ride.

I decided it was going to be a “chill” day for me and I had read online that for a nominal fee you could spend the day at a nice hotel’s pool. I grabbed my swimsuit and met my tuk tuk driver downstairs. He took me an embarrassingly short way to Somadevi Hotel and Spa. I definitely overpaid, but it was still only a few dollars and I wasn’t up for a negotiating.

Besides two British women, around my parents age, and a couple, I virtually had the pool to myself. Most of the afternoon I spent reading about Luang Prabang, Laos, and Myanmar, my next two stops.

The clouds started to roll in and it began to rain. The British women, unphased, remained in the pool. I hadn’t been in yet so I jumped in and like my grandfather does when he’s at hotel pool, I swam up to the British women and struck up a conversation! They were very nice and it turned out that they were on a three-week group tour that had just come from Laos. “How did you like it?” I asked. One of the women replied, “it was quite lovely, but hot.” “Hotter than here?” They said it was, but made note that since it’s now May, it might start cooling off.

Everyone I’ve spoken with seems to say that April is the hottest time of year around South East Asia, which is so interesting to me because that’s definitely not the case back in San Francisco. On the positive side, it’s low season here so if you don’t mind the heat it’s a great time to be here because the prices are better.

I asked the women how they were liking their tour and one woman cheekishly said, “you mean, forced fun?” We all laughed and they continued to tell me about their Australian tour guide, how he treated them like schoolchildren, and how they were playing “hooky” from the group today to relax by the pool. I liked their style.

6:00 pm hit and I had to run back to my guesthouse to change before dinner with a friend I met through my old buddy, Roswell, back in Phnom Penh. She was in Siem Reap on business and when we met in Phnom Penh we agreed it’d be fun to meet up while we were both in town.

I popped another cipro and walked to Genevieve’s, a well reviewed restaurant on Trip Advisor. My “new” friend met me there and we had a great dinner. I asked her about her background, she’s Australian, what she did for work and what it’s like to be an expat. Before I knew it, I was almost done with my beef lok lak and it looked like she had hardly made a dent in her meal. If you know me at all, I tend to ask a lot of questions, but she was a good sport and entertained them all. When I realized she hadn’t eaten much I stopped asking questions so she could catch up.

It was still early, and I was starting to feel myself again so, we went to Asana Old Woden House for a drink. The bar was, like it’s name suggests, an old traditional wooden Khmer house built on stilts. The bar was under the house with big chairs and hammocks. There, we mainly talked about the NGO she works with and traveling — she spent six months after University traveling mainly around South America.

Her NGO works on removing “UXDs” from Cambodia. “UXDs” are un-exploded devices that were dropped during the Vietnam War. There’s estimated to be over 4.5 million “UXDs” and land mines still in Cambodia.

Her NGO trains dogs and Cambodian women handlers how to find and safely remove these bombs from the country-side. Apparently, “UXDs” are so common along the border of Cambodia and Vietnam that the people that live in those areas farm around them. They’ll even pick them up and pile them on the side of the road like they’re garbage. Blown away by all this, I asked her, “aren’t they worried they’ll go off?” She explained to me that these bombs were designed to detonate on impact and they only blow up if someone hits them with enough force, like running a plow into them or accidentally hitting them while shoveling.

I also learned that “UXDs” and land mines take about one-hundred lives a year, roughly 50% from “UXDs” and 50% from landlines, which is why the work her NGO is doing is so important.

She was in Siem Reap because her organization recently opened the first and only kennel, in South East Asia, designed to train dogs to find “UXDs.” Before they built their own kennel they were getting their dogs from Bosnia.

Until now, I had never been to a place that was still dealing with landmines and “UXDs.” I’m still trying to wrap my head around everything she told me about the bombs Cambodia, how corrupt the government is there, how the Cambodian boarders are shrinking because their bordering countries are “land grabbing” and the list goes on. I admire the work she’s doing and the work other NGOs are doing around the world. What I find really cool about her organization, besides the dogs of course, is how the NGO is training and empowering local women to solve this major problem.

I feel incredibly fortunate to be from the U.S. and am glad I’m finally becoming made aware of at least some of the many issues that plague our world today so I can do my part to help in the future.

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