Wednesday, November 22, 2017

CAMBODIAN DIARY - 2nd CHAPTER - Confusion in Sihanoukville

After today I think I should change my blog's name: Even after four days in Cambodia, I haven't said that loudly "bye" to myself. And the ongoing mishaps really keep on testing me big time.

Yes, don't frown. Mind you, it's a journey, not a vacation.

I want my life - and my travels, too - planned and organized just as booked.
My life - and my trip - don't seem to know...or they just don't care.

So today was meant to be a lovely day on the beach of Sihanoukville, Cambodia's Riviera. Whoop whoop, let's hit the beach!

A couple of days ago I had bought a surprisingly cheap bus ticket. Tix usually range from 8 to 12 Dollars (oh, I forgot to mention that: although Cambodia does have its own currency, everything is priced in US Dollars and even at the ATMs you can choose in which currency you want your money). So anyway, my ticket was 6 bucks. Was I suspicious? Not really, since prices vary here for no obvious reason. Well, in this case it turned out that there was a very obvious reason, but I've found out only this morning.

When buying the ticket, the lady recommended me to take a big bus instead of a van since I'm tall and would be more comfortable. Actually, she had a point there. I asked how much longer the big bus would take and was very happy when she said only 30 minutes: the van 3 hours, the big bus 3.5 - fine. Pickup by tuk tuk at 7, the bus leaves at 7.30; I expected to put on sun protection by noon, tops.

The tuk tuk picked me up a little late and took me to a bus station on the other side of town where to my surprise where exclusively Cambodians, I was the only Barang. Changing my voucher for a ticket, the lady at the counter told me - here again to my surprise - that the bus would leave only at 8.15 and that it takes 5 hours. Oops. The first ticket vendor doesn't seem to know about this, someone should tell her...
What about the sun protection at noon?! I was so longing for the beach!!

Rith Mony bus station. The lady to the right is just an extra, the bikes to the left play a major role.

Once the bus arrived, I was rather pleasantly surprised: It was actually big and in a condition that did not scare me. And there were only three of us - three adults that is plus a handful of kids. This promised to be a relaxed ride. I made myself comfortable, plugged my ears with headphones, off we went.
Yeah, but not too far. After only a couple of minutes we stopped at another bus station of 'Rith Mony' bus company (I guess that everybody that has ever been to Cambodia is cracking up laughing at mentioning that name). The driver opened the trunk where until now was only my suitcase and two bicycle helmets and started to load two motorcycles of a remarkable size - you must know that the entire lower bus level is a very high trunk and the passengers are sitting only on the upper level.
Anyway, so two motorbikes plus their owners and off we went.
Yeah, but again...for their customers' convenience, 'Rith Mony' seems to have many, many, many bus stops all over Phnom Penh and we seemed to stop at every single one of them.
Same procedure - two more bikes, but this time they have to heave also a big, big crate in the trunk, this sure takes some time. By then I was sure that my skin would not get that damaged by the sun this day.
You know what, I just spare you all the other stops that we had withing Phnom Penh's city limits - they were very similar, only the size of the crates varied.
Eventually there was almost no space left in the trunk and few seats were available and we seemed to be on our way.
Yeah, nope - for no obvious reason we parked suspiciously long at the freeway's shoulder with the motor running. It was very irritating. And unnerving. By now I had decided that I urgently needed to change my blog's name - I was so demoralized and tense - and as 'myself' as can be.
Why didn't we move, for Christ's sake? I asked around.
Well, since this was a very cheap bus (although I'm pretty sure that I've paid at least double of the actual fare) the other passengers were noticeably rather common people hence didn't speak one word English.
No answer to my 'why?'
Then I saw from the window that a tuk tuk brought a big, big motor that the driver initially had refused to take with him at one of the many, many stops we've made. But clearly the owner had convinced him during the beginning ride towards Sihanoukville so that we had been waiting for the motor to catch up with us.
And indeed - obviously it was the only thing missing since once the motor was in the trunk, nothing held us back to hit the road.

By then I had remembered Tina Uebel's wise words in her lovely book that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago: If you get mad when having a situation, the only thing that changes is that you got mad. I want to be a savvy traveller and a wise old woman, so I did my best to try to relax and even see the great chance in it to do something completely off the beaten tracks (yes, this bus was going so off the beaten tracks, all the other tourists here should be sooo jealous!), to travel like Cambodians do and not in an air-conditioned van with free Wifi (these are the 8 to 12 Dollar options, by the way).

Why not take a little break - life can wait.
The entire lower part of the bus is the trunk, by the way.

While I've immediately agreed with Tina on this wisdom, I disagreed with her on the fact that  travellers have to look like poorly dressed fools in useless cargo pants sweating under huge backpacks. They don't have to. I don't. But man, did I feel out of place in my dress with my brand-new fire-red travel bad elegantly spinning on four wheels. I was such an alien.

Before I came to Cambodia, I read that there are many accidents because the drivers are speeding. Well, on this bus, this was my least concern. We were slowly gliding - and sporadically bumping - along the road. Left and right occasional houses, huts, and stands, therebetween ponds and creeks with muddy, murky waters. Some of them half or completely covered with discarded plastic bottles, styrofoam bowls and shopping bags. Man, this country is drowning in plastic and styrofoam! I've never seen it in these quantities before - it's everywhere. And when I see ducks swimming between the garbage in these manure ponds and cows graze around it, I don't wonder anymore how all the micro plastic is entering our food chain. I might feel a little bit silly when I get home and do carry my sorted garbage to three or four different recycle bins. I will not be able to save this planet, that's for sure.

A very nice, clean part of the road.

As we kept on gliding and bumping along the garbage und filth framed road, I did what's best for a traveller: I was thinking and looking. The looking was much more pleasant than the thinking since the sight of Cambodia - always in combination with the past horrors that I'm reading about - made me sad. But there were also nice things to see like rolling hills covered with sumptuous bushes and trees, mellow rice paddies and buffaloes covering themselves with mud again the blistering sun. Everything was so...Cambodian. I looked around in smiling faces and smiled happily back - I will not change my blog's name after all.

One of many whistle stops as we approached Sihanoukville - a guy in a purple shirt gets on the bus and urges me to get off, this is Sihanoukville. Woaaah, wait a minute, this is a very dusty road in the middle of nowhere.
I want to go to the city center.
Yes, but this bus doesn't go there, you have to get off here, this is your final stop.
I still don't understand why a very dusty road is my final stop, but what can I do?! Somehow the driver manages to drag my - fortunately still pretty shimmery - suitcase from the motorbikes and they're gone. The purple guy is still there and miraculously he has a tuk tuk and is willing to take me to my guest house. Emphasizing his helpfulness he heaves my suitcase in the tuk tuk.
Waitwaitwait - how much?
15 Dollars.
No way.
I gesture to take my suitcase down. He stops me, asking how much I'd pay.
3 Dollars. Max.
No deal.
Never mind, there is a restaurantish hut, I can ask them to call the guest house.
Ok, 10 Dollars.
Nope, guest house calling it is.
What's your final price? he asks.
Five, and no further haggling.
This time he is nope-ing.
Ok then, I pull my suitcase from the tuk tuk.
Madam, madam, I make you price like local people: 30,000 riel (that's the currency nobody uses - and this amount equals about 7,50 USD).
Seven, I say.
As I sit in the tuk tuk and we figure out how to get to the guest house, I think that I bargained quite a good deal - less than half of his initial price, well done, madam.
On the other hand I'm pretty sure that he cut a deal with the bus people so they allowed him to drag me out of the bus into his stupid tuk tuk.
What did I tell you yesterday? "It is comforting that when you get screwed over in a country like Cambodia you at least can be sure that the money goes to someone who needs it", right on, madam, right on!

So the purple guy and I drive a little around Sihanoukville since he doesn't know exactly where the guest house is - and I'm not much of a help since I'm not from here. Finally we get there, I hand him 7 bucks and pull my suitcase from the tuk tuk for a very last time for today. Bye!

You think that's it for today? I thought so, too. Until the receptionist at 'Villa d'Artagnan' - later I learn that Adam is his name - greets me and opens our conversation with the information "Unfortunately we have no room for you - we had a water damage". And guess what I do. Just guess!
I start to cry. Sorry, but after the frustration having been screwed over so easily by the bus ticket vendor, the neverending, unnerving motorbike and huge crate heaving at I don't know how many stops in Phnom Penh, the partly very depressing sight of rural Cambodia with all that filth and the disheartening poverty, the pointless haggling with the purple guy - everything seems just so unfair. I'm exhausted, a little bit physically, but mainly mentally.
Adam is extremely embarrassed and keeps apologizing and pours me a nice lemonade. Now I'm also apologizing for being so silly to cry over something like this especially since they have already made arrangements for me at another hotel.

And this is where I am now. I really protected my skin well today. Because, guess what, as soon as I took out the sun protection to at least hit this hotel's swimming pool, it started raining.

I'm willing to give tomorrow a new chance.


Wanna know what happened before? Here is the first chapter of my Cambodian Diary:


CAMBODIAN DIARY - 1st CHAPTER - Commotion in Phnom Penh


Note to the curious reader: Like I did during my trip to Colombia earlier this year, in this Cambodian Diary I'm posting one chapter from every stop. At the end of the entire tour there will be an extended travel guide with all the relevant travel information including addresses, links etc. 
Until then, just enjoy my narratives and reflections.


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going up!





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