Sunday, February 28, 2010

A 10 Hour Trek and the Waterfall

By 9:30 am, ten of us were waiting outside Globalteer to be picked up by a minivan with a mysterious destination whose three hints were: mountain, temple and waterfall. Excitedly (especially after two cups of Cambodian coffee a.k.a. crack cocaine), we piled into the van and began our lengthy trip to the countryside. We had no idea how long it was going to take or where we were actually going, besides the fact that a certain French Marc had booked the trip and it involved a trek. The journey to the mountain seemed slightly interminable and once at the mountain, significantly bumpy to the top.

As soon as we arrived and before the entrance to the temple, there were little shops selling all sorts of random goodies, including animal bones and horns, jewelry, unappetizing meats, scarves, prayer beads and coconuts. They were all selling the same stuff and I was wondering how they survive with so much competition in this place that feels like the middle of nowhere.

Along the steps up to the temple, a line of beggars, mainly women and children, as well as land-mine victims were very happy to receive a few hundred riel from the "barang" (white people). I managed to snap a few shots and Tim, the doctor who speaks Khmer, talked to a man who explained that he lost his leg due to a land-mine explosion and begs to be able to feed his family of four. It was definitely a sorry sight, but they were all quite smiley and sweet despite their misfortune.

At the top of the steps, in a little wooden shack, perched on the rock and on wooden pillars, there was a giant Buddha lying down and various shrines surrounding it. It was nice, but we were more impatient to get to the waterfall. Not knowing how, we managed to acquire a nice tour guide lady and a few small children who took us around the forrest, showing us different photo op sites, such as the elephant face in the rock, which we could not understand for the life of us until she took a photo of it and showed us how the rock formation looked like an elephant. It was slightly awkward when she was pointing to the boulder repeating "elephant, elephant." We thought she maybe had confused the word "elephant" with the word "rock."

In the forrest, we passed many small Buddha shrines in random pockets and eventually met a Buddhist monk who was sitting in his little shaded area, offering blessings for a little money. He agreed to let me take his photo and then blessed me with beautiful words that Tim translated later on. Apparently, I shall return to the US and meet my husband... It was a very peacefully spiritual moment and later on in the day when I slipped off a rock in the waterfall and fell flat on my back, I was convinced the blessings of the monk had saved my life, because not one bone had been scratched.

We swung off a branch, Rambo-style, tripped over a couple twigs, noticed some gorgeous butterflies fluttering by and excitedly made our journey to the waterfall.

By the time we got back to the small market area, we were all starving and had of course not even thought to bring any snacks. The only food there were the botulism-infested meats, coconuts and some sort of egg dish. Most of us decided we had absolutely no intention of getting sick, so some stuck it out, I had a coconut water and others went into the risk zone. However, we arrived in a small village area where I spotted some bananas hiding behind a man sleeping in a hammock. Instead of thievery, which we were jokingly considering, we asked our tour guide to find us a bunch of bananas. We were saved!

After the long trek in the sun, we finally arrived at the waterfall and could not have been more in awe. Down hundreds of slippery wooden stairs that could have broken through at any point, and across big rocks that we had to carefully climb, the distant sight of the waterfall turned us into giddy little creatures. It was magnificent! The waterfall ran from a few hundred feet into a small area of clear, clean, shallow water, surrounded by rocks and huge trees. It felt like a special secret that only the locals knew about. Kids were splashing around in the water and everyone was swimming in their clothes. Cambodians are very conservative and as soon as they saw us "barang" take off our clothes to reveal skimpy bikinis, they all started to stare and laugh. I was wondering what they would think if magically plopped onto a nude beach in Greece or Spain.

We quickly jumped into the long awaited water and swam to the waterfall where we took a hundred photos with Tim's underwater camera and had the time of our lives. It was seriously amazing.

The kids we had accumulated stuck with us all day. We weren't sure why or where their parents were, but they were so adorable and we wanted to take them home with us.

At the waterfall, Anette and Stine, my favorite Norwegian buddies, coincidentally ran into a Khmer woman they had spent the day with in Phnom Penh at a birth clinic. Out of ALL the places in Cambodia, it was a seriously bizarre re-encounter - what a synchronicity!

After a couple hours enjoying the magnificent scenery, we trekked back to the area where our minivan was supposed to be waiting for us. He... wasn't. Anxiously, we waited for over an hour and a half. The only person who had the driver's number had a battery-less phone and could not retrieve his information. Only two of us even had cellphone reception and Tim and his girlfriend decided to walk to the other parking lot hoping the driver would be there. He wasn't either. So we sat there for an hour and a half relishing sundown, cracking jokes about who was going to sleep in the wooden hut for the night, playing with the kids and being thankful that there was one shop in the entire forrest area right where we were, randomly selling beer and Pringles. As soon as two of the volunteers suggested we walk to the other parking lot area where Tim and his girlfriend were, my intuition told me that our van was going to show up as we were walking down the road. Sure enough, it did and we were saved!

As the minivan took off, the children started to run after it, waving and smiling. I wanted to cry it was so adorable and somewhat sad. I was really wishing we had given them more money, but no one seemed to have small bills. I wish them as beautiful of a life as possible, they were so sweet.

The ride home seemed a lot quicker and I spent most of the time with my head out of the window taking experimental photos of the moon and the sights along the road.

What an amazing day. I'll always remember it.