Sea Legs

Well, tomorrow we say goodbye to Les Manguiers, Kampot and Cambodia and off we go to Hanoi. We’ve been travelling for almost two months now and this is a good time to review our trip.

TIME

In a lot of ways this trip is about time. All of us know what it’s like to be time-poor. Our family is very lucky in being able to choose to be time-rich. We can (as Rolf Potts puts it) “spend [our] time lavishly in order to create the life values that make the fire worth the candle”. Eight years ago, all of our spare time disappeared overnight when the girls were born. We’ve been heavily scheduled since, trying to fit (as we all do) parenting, family, work, school, hobbies and everything else into our lives.

Here, in our relatively unscheduled day-to-day, we’ve redicovered what it is like to find joy spontaneously.  We swim most days and have giggled endlessly as we prepare swim shows and jump from the rope swing. After dinner we’ve kicked a soccer ball together and then raced home on our bikes (this is my faviourite day ever! – Saga). Impromptu conversations with travelers give us perspectives and ideas about traveling and life that we wouldn’t otherwise hear. We read together voraciously and talk about the themes that come up in the books. We do some of these things back at home but we have to schedule them. Here, they happen as the day unfolds, often appearing as little pleasures that surprise us.

Here are some shots of some post-supper extemporaneous fun with dinner serviettes:

  

Starting our adventure with an extended 2-month stay in our little bungalow by the river has let us use our rediscovered time as we wish. We haven’t (yet) spent long hours riding on planes or trains followed by having to navigate our way through new places. This has freed us up to do the things we enjoy. And it also lets us be deliberate about how we live together as parents, spouses, kids; another big thing this trip is about.

SCHOOLING

This is our first gig as school teachers. We’ve enjoyed combining lessons from the Grade Three Ontario French Immersion Curriculum with lessons from the School of Life (Cambodian Edition). We’ve benefited greatly from the last-minute decision to bring along the big Math Smart Grade Three books. The girls love them. Support from some of the girls’ teachers back home has helped us keep up with the girls’ peers and locate online resources. All in all we have been able to handle teaching grade three. Grade four would have been a stretch but luckily, for us and the girls, we have the pros from Jackman PS for that.

FRIGHTS
No review is complete without a retrospective on frights. Here is our top ten list.

  1. Admitting Saga to the hospital
  2. Readmitting Saga to the hospital
  3. Seeing (and feeling!) Kampot critters’ mass migration to our house during the flood
  4. Mingling with water snakes during and after the flood
  5. Observing the terrifyingly ugly lizards that has been snuggling up in our reading nook from day 1
  6. A frog jumping from who knows where on top of Nigel’s head in the middle of dinner
  7. A gecko jumping, in a pitch-black bathroom, from Louise’s toilet kit directly into her armpit
  8. Riding bikes through Kampot traffic
  9. Going to the local market for the first time, feeling overwhelmed by the sights and smells (and the constant stares and occasional touches by well-meaning ladies)
  10. Looking over the cliff behind the old casino at Bokor Mountain from which prisoners were thrown to their deaths by the Khmer Rouge

WHAT’S NEXT

We’ll fly to Hanoi tomorrow. We’ll stay for a week and take in a water puppet show, spend a night in Halong Bay on a junk and move on to Luang Prabang for two weeks. After that we’ll be in Da nang for a month staying in a downtown flat.

We’ve really appreciated all your comments and ideas and advice and thoughts and shared experiences. Keep them coming. Thanks for reading.

And thank you, Kampot River.

 

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Medical Dispatch

Getting sick. It’s bound to happen.

With this in mind, as we were preparing for our trip we knew something would happen. We just didn’t know what it would be. We went to the travel clinic in Toronto and got all our jabs and malaria pills. We read other family travel blogs and picked up the recommended immodium, gravol, antibiotics. We had a bulky first aid kit from MEC lying around the house and, since there was room in our baggage, we even brought it along. Band-aids, tweezers, trauma kits, disposable thermometers, needles, syringes, afterbite cream (almost all gone), more bandaids. And then we set off.

This week, Saga has been fed through the wringer. Friday morning she woke up with a fever and generally feeling lousy. We hunkered down for the day, looking for lots of sleep and ibuprophen. Friday night the diarrhea started with trips to the toilet all night.

Saturday the fever gradually abated but the trips to the toilet intensified. We started calling home for advice every twelve hours from grandpa/our favorite pediatrician. Our plan A: keep an eye on Saga, get as much fluids and electorlytes into her as possible, take rest and ride it out. We identified the good local hospital and doctors for plan B: get help if we needed it.

By 1am Sunday, blood appeared in the stools and our patient was dehydrated. Diagnosis (from 11 time zones away): Salmonella or shigella. We hoped for salmonella, believing that it’s the lesser of the two. Off we went to a local hospital. Saga was put on a drip and had her tummy checked by the local MD. We were home by 4am, hydrated and happier (for the time being).

On Sunday our patient was able to drink some fluids and rest but all gains were reversed late Sunday night when she was no longer able to leave the toilet. Literally. By this time we were 72 hours in, our hero was dehydrated again and completely exhausted. So were her parents (exhausted).

We went to plan B; back to the hospital Monday morning. Although we got off to a shaky start (5 attempts were made before successfully finding a vein for the drip), the doctors did some tests, presribed antibiotics, put her on a drip and eventually diagnosed shigella.

It’s now Wednesday morning and everyone is back in our bamboo bungalow by the Kampot River. After 48 hours at the hospital, Saga is (almost) back to her normal self.

From our perspective, it was a scary combination (for those in the medical field, however, it might have been perceived as little out of the ordinary). Watch our daughter’s condition deteriorate before our eyes despite all our efforts. Mix in the physical discomfort of being tethered to the bathroom. Abort plan A. Escalate to plan B. Add sleep deprivation. Wait. Breathe. Hope.

They say that the greatest pleasure is relief from pain. Hearing the tuk tuk bring the patient home this morning was one of the sweetest moments. Saga gets the prize for being strong. Ida gets the best sister award. We are extremely grateful to our families who talked us through the experience. And the guest house staff was incredibly helpful and thoughtful.

We learned: make a plan and check it with a pro. Write it down. Review it as you get more and more exhausted. Figure out the local health resources: where the good doctors, hospitals and clinics are. Look after each other, making sure everyone in the family gets the attention s/he needs. Expect that everything will be ok.

Bokor Mountain Dispatch

It’s hot here.

We jump into the river and cool off, then five minutes later we’re hot again. Not sure about the rest of you, but when I’m hot my upper lip becomes beaded with sweat. And lately my upper lip has had permanent beads.

Bokor Mountain is located about 45 minutes from our house. It’s a hill station that, at the height of 1,000 metres, promises cooler temperatures. We went there today to escape the heat and visit local landmarks.

Bokor was first developed by the French in the early 20th century with a casino as the main attraction.  The French abandoned Bokor in 1972 when the Khmer Rouge took over the area. Bokor Hill remained a Khmer Rouge stronghold until the early 1990s. Our tour guide’s father is a former combatant (supporting the Vietnamese) who had spent several years at Bokor.

Our first stop was the 30m statue of Lok Yeay Mao, pictured below. Built in the last decade, she is considered a protector spirit for travelers along the southern coastal provinces of Cambodia.

A local photographer caught my attention, taking pictures of tourists and printing them on a printer, powered by a car battery.

Further along the road, the old decrepit original casino stands close to an old church. The Khmer Rouge used the former as a prison and converted the latter into a kitchen. The buildings command a view of Cambodia’s coastline and the church served as an artillery position. Both structures are intact and abandoned. The public is free to roam through them; grim places that seem full of ghosts.


   

The Sokha Hotel Group, owned by its parent company, Sokimex, has a 99-year lease on a casino complex on Bokor Hill. It has built a sprawling casino and a resort boasting luxury bars, accommodation and entertainment but (on the day we visited) no guests.

The girls helped cheer the place up.
  

In Praise of Peppercorns

After tasting probably the finest pepper in the world, we’ve realized that the generic pepper eaten at home is flavourless and uninspiring. We think we can do better.

PEPPER FACTS

Black pepper is the world’s most traded spice. Today, Americans consume more pepper than all other spices combined and pepper makes up about one-fourth of the world’s trade in spices.

Pepper has been around for ever; the plant is native to India and has been used in cooking since 2000 BCE. In fact, pepper was such a prized trade good that it was referred to as “black gold” and used as a currency.

Peppercorns come from a flowering vine in the family Piperaceae. The vine’s fruit is green when it’s fresh. Once it’s dried, we get black, red or white peppercorns. Pepper has demonstrated significant health benefits and is known to improve digestion.

KAMPOT PEPPER

Luckily for us, we’re in Kampot – practically the land of delicious premium peppercorns. Like champagne, Kampot pepper has a protected geographical indication, which recognizes the uniqueness of its key qualities. There’s a mystique surrounding Kampot pepper. Some people in the industry allude to the high quartz content in the soil as an explanation for its rich flavours. Whatever the reason, we’ve fallen under its spell.

In Kampot, pepper is ubiquitous. We’ve found it in everything ranging from curries and chocolate to  vinaigrette and vanilla ice cream. Battered and fried green peppercorns are also delicious. We’ve heard it’s great with fish and the Brits are bonkers for it on their strawberries.

ONE GRIND AT A TIME

We now have an entirely new appreciation for premium pepper. And, just as in recent years high quality salt has found an important place in the kitchen, we believe that the same is true for pepper. It’s black and white.

One of our next stops is Kerala, India – home of the Tellicherry peppercorns. We’ll be sure to report back on our experience with another of the world’s highest grade peppercorns.

 

 

 

Ida’s Post: Visting a Silk Worm Farm in Siem Reap

One of the things I really liked about visiting Siem Reap was going to a Silk Worm Farm.

We took a tuk tuk to the Silk Worm Farm during the second day of our stay in Siem Reap. When we arrived, there was a guide waiting for us. He was good at speaking English. He took us from room, to room, to room while explaining the process. This is some of what I learned.

First, a male moth and a female moth mate and as soon as they are done mating, the female lays approximately 300 eggs and the male dies. Then, when the eggs hatch, the female dies. It’s a bit sad, isn’t it? It’s like an orphanage for the worms.



Afterwards, the worms eat for 3 days/nights straight and sleep for 1 day/night straight. They eat mulberry leaves.


After a month of eating the leaves, they stop eating altogether. Then they turn yellow-ish and are moved onto a wooden tray that is designed almost like a maze.


While they are on the trays, they start working on making their cocoons, using their saliva. It takes almost a month for them to make the cocoons.

The outer part of a cocoon is the raw silk and the inner part is the fine silk. When the cocoon is finished, the moths chew their way out of the cocoons and the people who work a the Farm grab the moths and place a male and a female together (the male is smaller than the female) like matchmakers. The moths then mate and start the cycle all over again.

Separate from the worms, is the precious silk. First, the cocoons are put into boiling water to separate the raw silk from the fine silk.


It’s hard work (and we learned that the people who work there only get paid $4 for an 8-hour workday). Each cocoon makes 40 meters of silk. The silk is so fine. It’s thinner than a piece of thread used for sewing. You can barely see the silk threads; they’re so thin.



After the thread has been put onto big spools – in most instances using bicycle wheels – natural die (from rubber trees, mint leaves, lavendar and other plants) are used to turn the silk red, pink, yellow, green, blue and other colors.


Finally, the silk is woven into scarves, bedsheets, tablecloths, pillowcases – even covers for notebooks and pencilcases. I bought a beautiful silk-covered notebook and my parents bought raw silk scarves.

 

Ida and Nigel’s post: Temples at Siem Reap

We spent three days in Siem Reap. During that time we visited three temples and a silk factory. We’ll write about the silk factory in another post.

The largest religious monument in the world is Angkor Wat, enclosing about 400 acres. It was built to worship the Hindu god Vishnu by  King Suryavarman II in the early twelfth century. The temple gradually came under Buddhist control by the thirteenth century.

In the spirit of saving the best for last, we wanted Angkor Wat to be the final stop on our tour.

After visiting Ta Phrom Wat (Jungle Temple) on Day 1, we went to see Bayon, a structure with a multitude of massive serene faces and impressive bas-reliefs, showing historical and everyday scenes.

Here are some of the faces of Bayon:


  
The holes in the rocks were carved with iron chisels and held wooden pegs, used to move the rocks (with the help of elephants).

Here is an example of the bas relief:

On to Angkor Wat. People like to see Angkor Wat at sunrise. We woke up at 4h30 to get there ahead of the (huge) crowds.

The sunrise was really pretty. Here are some pictures. The first was shot around 5h15:


And then this one followed about 20 minutes later:

Inside Angkor Wat itself there are very steep stairs to get to the top of the towers. The stairs are steep to reflect the difficult climb to get to heaven.


Everything at Angkor Wat seems to be steep and reaching for the sky.

The statue of Vishnu used to be at the centre of the temple. Vishnu was replaced by a statue of Buddha, but preserved at the entrance to Angkor Wat:


It was a great visit, unlike anything we’ve seen before. One could spend a year visiting all the wats here but we found that seeing three of them, spaced out over three days, was just right. Ida and Saga loved it and enjoyed the pace. So did their parents.

 

Ida’s Post: Ta Phrom Wat at Siem Reap

We arrived at Siem Reap yesterday and will spend three days visiting the ruins and other sites.

Our first visit was to the Ta Prohm Temple, otherwise knows as the Jungle Temple becuase there are huge trees and their roots surrounding the rocks of the temple.

Here’s a picture of the temple from the outside. The temple is more than a thousand years old. It survvived the war (Khmer Rouge). Notice how big the trees are and that there is a tree growing sideways from the top of the temple.


Here are some close up pictures of the trees and the rocks.  Think Nature Gone Wild.



  

There  were narrow corridors that we could walk through.

And the stone was made of seomthing my parents describe as a porous rock.


Some of the walls and buildings have been knocked down over the years. Someone is putting the stones back together and we think that every rock is numbered in a gigantic jigsaw puzzle.


It is a beautiful place. Different than anything we’ve ever seen.

Kampot at Night

Our trip to date has focused on daytime events. We go to bed early and we wake up early. In the evenings, we usually have dinner until 6:30 pm at a table on the river. By the time we’ve finished eating it’s already dark. The sun sets so quickly here it’s like someone turns off the lights.  After supper, we ride our bikes (in the dark) over to our little house, greet the lizard that catches flies at the porchlight, and settle in for the night.

Alot happens here at night. The soundscape is rich. The rice paddies all around us are filled with the chorus of frogs and other critters. Here’s a recording from a few days ago: the critters were so loud they practically knocked me off my bike as I rode by. [I’m using a cumbersome app called SoundCloud: Fingers crossed that it works for you].

The other night we went for a magical boat trip on the Kampot River to look for fireflies. Our Captain took us upstream slowly in the dark for about 20 minutes. As we rode along we could see flickers of light in the tops of the trees on the shore. The fireflies were up high and disappeared so quickly that we wondered if they could have been stars peeking through the trees or if our eyes were playing tricks on us!

The Captain stopped the boat several times so that we could get a closer look at the fireflies; these stops brought more of the Kampot’s nocturnal soundscape to the fore. At our first stop, we floated gently into the riverbank. The sound of the reeds against the boat made us wonder what beasts were waiting for us in the water. The sound of the call to prayer from the local Cham community’s mosque drifted across the water and lapped up against our boat. At our next stop, on the other side of the river, there was a gentle chorus of tinkling bells that seemed far off in the distance.

Earlier posts have had shots of the girls’ classroom along the banks of the Kampot River. We have been able to see the river in different stages during our days. In the mornings, the river is a sheet of glass, as the fisherboats return home. In the afternoons, the wind typically picks up and the surface gets very choppy.  And in the evenings, our dinners feature beautiful sunsets and golden skies reflected in the waters.

I wondered what the river looks like at night and I’ve been wanting to try my camera for night photography. I like this shot. Even though it was pitch black, a minute-long exposure picks up enough ambient  light to capture this [ss: 58″; F2.0; ISO 1600]:

And finally, here is the sound of the boats that stream by as they head home in the morning after a long night of fishing.

Ida and Nigel’s Post: Name that fruit

We just returned from the market. One of the nice things about going there is that we can try new things, like fruit. Since we don’t speak Khmer, we can’t really ask any questions about what we’re looking at.

Today for instance, there there were piles of this fruit. We have no idea what it is.

Here is a picture of the mystery fruit: one is peeled, one is not.


It’s delicious. Sweet, juicy, sour, a bit bitter. And it contains a big pit.
We’d like to know if you guys know what this fruit is. If you can help, would you please tell us in the comment section?