Saturday, March 8, 2014

In Transit

We sat on a bench waiting for the mini-bus in the morning.  Kampot's faded and worn colonial buildings remained stoic among the morning routines of the people in the neighborhood: the grandmother playing with her grandson, the thin man pushing the loaded cart of green coconuts, which would shortly have their tops lopped off to reach the juice through the pastel straw. 

The tuk tuk arrived  overloaded with European travelers with enormous bags.  A man emerged from the depths with tattoos peeking out from his tanktop, and forceful black frame sunglasses that framed skull nearly bald except for  with a thick set of dreadlocks emerging from the back.  The a sub-oceanic creature blinked in the morning sun's bright light, heaved the bag over a shoulder, lumbered to the bench and collapsed.
From "6 Ways to becoming a true backpacker" by Daniel McBane, #1- grow dreadlocks.

“We’re guests in the wild,” I would tell the people on our pre-trip briefings before we embarked to the wilderness. “Our job is to respect the locals, some of which will kill you if they are surprised.  So try to be  a good guest.  Be aware.  Clean up after yourself.  Respect the way things are done here.”   I dress primly when I'm on the road.

The van arrived moments later, and my traveling companion Sally and I played the “I’m in last” game.  As I slid the door closed, the tourist mini-bus inflated with an aura of transitional fatigue and dull boredom, self-importance flavored with a tinge of nonchalance.  We reached a junction and the driver muttered, “Here go to Koh Rong”.  I opened the door and stood to the side as the travelers exited.

A couple staggered out of the inside seats, stiff and limping.  The male had a fierce case of road rash on the shin, a large swatch of raw angry pink skin exposed directly to the sun.   His female companion took the worse for the wear, likely on the back seat of their rented moto bike.  Below her little denim shorts,  her leg wrapped in spotlessly white bandages from thigh to calf, abraded skin peeking out amid the splotches of purple mercurochrome trim around the edges of the wounds.  Her face had a few scratches, her eyes filled with the resigned slog of moving through a ceaseless itinerary when a more sensible idea might have been to sequester in a place with good supplies of clean running water, amply stocked pharmacy and shade. We loaded back in and headed east.

I counted the mile markers along the side until we reached the promised number of our destination in Om Chamnar.  The minibus slowed along and pulled out alongside the highway.  The horde of motodups descended upon us in a swarm.   Shortly after retrieving my bag from the back of the minibus, I placed it at my feet between my legs and began to negotiate.  An old man tugged at the handle  to claim me for himself, moaning words of Khmer that were incomprehensible in the moment.  His clothes were tattered and I was torn between the surprise of the gesture (I hadn't experienced this in Cambodia before) and the pressure to make a decision and get on our way.
The bus stop in Oum Chamnar, looking north.
In that moment the answer presented itself when  a vital young man pulled up in front of us with his moto and said, “I know.”  I agreed and hired his friend and within moments Sally and I were headed across the highway down the dirt road to the coast.   The two motodup boys chatted away alongside each other as I took the chance to smile at Sally and share the “I have no idea where we are going” look.  The breeze was cool and crisp, red dirt roads taking us to  We pulled into a rural school yard, a team of 15 3-year olds streamed out of the building, shouting “Loi Loi Loi (money money money”, their little arms waving to come up to meet us with keen and eager faces. Moments later, as I as I shook my head to the motodup, they stopped in a stunned silence and stared.  We stopped at another school on a second attempt.  I pulled out the dictionary to show “boat” and laughter pealed among us with brilliant Cambodian smiles about the "misunderstanding".  Once we were delivered, the boys wanted more money at the dock for the detour.

On the boat ride to the island  And then I remembered the words of the old man who tried to take my bag.   He was saying, “I have no money.  I want food.”and  I realized the motodup boys had likely taken us for a scam.


  1. The young and the fit edging out the old and firm. Even we can't escape it.

  2. Well, I think it was more about the fact that he was trying to grab my bag that got me a little defensive. But definitely a valid point.