Staying with Oly is wonderful therapy. First of all I can speak my mother tongue and relax for the weekend, secondly Oly is happy to do whatever I want and go wherever I choose, and then there’s Oly’s cooking …
The mad taxi ride from Sisophon for two hours due north on unsurfaced road is surprisingly comfortable. The front seat in the Toyota Camry is well sprung and seems to fit my shape (I bought the whole seat by paying double the fare, that’s 5 dollars instead of the usual 2.50 to share the front seat with another passenger) and the car flies along at 50-60kph with the suspension doing all the work aside from the occasional diversion by the driver around the bigger holes in the road. The net effect is of a vigorous back massage of the kind one can get in an airport or motorway service station by sitting in a massage chair and paying a considerable sum of money for 10 minutes. There were 4 adults and a child in the back seat and I didn’t feel at all guilty about my luxury and I was happy to have a seat belt and a good view through the rather cracked windscreen.
I was deposited at Oly’s door. He must be the only barang living in Thmar Puok so they seem to know where to go. Oly was up for immediate departure so, having chased down the road that morning after the bread man, he made up filled rolls for lunch, added two small bananas, two bottles of water and a packet of M&Ms (which remained remarkably intact at well over the recommended 22 degrees max storage temperature even though they had liquid centres when we ate them with lunch) and we set off on the moto.
Banteay Chhmar is 30 minutes north close to the Thai border, one of the numerous ancient temple sites dating from the period of the Khmer empire. The site is surrounded by a huge moat choked with lotus flowers and in places dry enough for cattle to graze, elsewhere suitable for fishing. We negotiated a price reduction as volunteer workers living in the province and ate our picnic among the ruins before we set off to explore.
We were well protected against mosquitos and avoided the snakes but chased after the butterflies and listened to curious and beautiful bird calls among the trees. I have described the need for protection in my last blog. This heritage site was also mined but has been cleared by another of the landmine charities working here – CMAC finished the clearance in June 2008 after just 4 months work. It shows how recent this was and reminds us there are many mine fields still to be tackled.
The perimeter walls are covered in bas reliefs of wars and exploits, gods and men, elephants, horses and chariots, war ships and exotic creatures, apsara dancers and all manner of designs. These carvings in the sandstone extend the full length of each of the outer walls which must have taken ages to complete. We located the famous 32 armed figure which seemed to have 34 arms when we counted. The wall builders hadn’t discovered some of the methods we would take for granted such as overlapping blocks to strengthen the construction and using a keystone at the head of an archway. Consequently there are many vertical cracks along the joints lines between blocks and many of the walls have fallen over.
We rambled and explored at will, clambering over the monument and recalling the days when it was possible to do the same at Stonehenge. Sadly graffiti artists and British Heritage have now banned access to visitors but I still have black and white family photos of my teenage brother and me posing on them to keep alive the memory of the good old days! Here we ignored the keep out signs where the workmen are doing restoration and we followed the corridors inside the walls where the structure is more or less intact.
After circumventing the site we arrived back at the main causeway to find wedding couples posing for photographs against the scenic backdrop. Four identical grooms and four identical brides. We couldn’t quite work out just who was marrying who and whether some were supporters of the lucky couple or whether there were in fact four weddings. No funeral though unless it was the pig on the back of the motorbike as we saw a dismembered pig in the market the following morning which looked as if it had died happy.
We explored three other temples that day arriving back in Thmar Puok just after dark. Some market stalls were still open and we were able to get the extra ingredients needed for Oly’s famous pumpkin curry – carrots, potatoes and pumpkin bought by the slice. So nice to enjoy food together instead of alone. Meals are not meant to be eaten alone. And they are meant to be enjoyed and we did just that. And I noticed for the first time in my life that eating vegetarian food doesn’t leave those annoying bits of meat fibre stuck between your teeth – sounds obvious but some pennies take a long time to drop!
This blog is a bit messy. Haven’t got the photos right and text incomplete. I was trying to polish if off this morning when I got a call to operating theatre and had to abandon it. Caesarean section for
a mother having her 5th baby but too big and obstructed labour. I almost knew her uterus would rupture if they didn’t hurry up but not sense of urgency it seems. She was in a lot of pain on the table. The uterus had ruptured. We rescued the baby but only just and then proceeded to hysterectomy as the uterus was beyond repair. Fortunately she had asked for tubal ligation.
So you see, it’s not all a blogging holiday!
But I am in Siam Reap tonight for the New Year and I’m so glad to be having a breather and talking my mother tongue again. And there were fireworks tonight. And I had an Indian and then an ice cream. And my friend Vinh will pick me up at 5 am for sunrise at Ankor Wat …