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Published: March 12th 2008
We visited the floating villages on Lake Tonle Sap, having a much needed temple break, it was unfortunately midday and I felt almost febrile with the intense heat. The rural poverty hit hard, the people have nothing, living in homes made from wood slats that balanced high upon bending wood stilts which was built over the river, these fragile structures were built high to protect their homes when the rains come which floods the lake, in dry session the lake is around 2700 sq. km in rainy session it swells to 12,000 sq. km, some homes had rope as access.
The smell knocked my nasal senses sideways, the mouth only breathing technique I often use was not an option either; the rancid smells choked me either way. The smells came from the very same famous Tonle Sap lake which is the largest lake in South East Asia and the most important commercial resource of more than half the fish consumed in Cambodia, it is meant to work in harmony with specialized eco systems set up within the numerous floating villages, with its huge traps and nets, it is also meant to be a 'fresh water' lake, but I question what
they mean by 'fresh' as it stank to the highest heavens and looked like thick melted Caromac. Surrounding this lake on dry land the kids ran naked, playing with hoop and stick.
Today it was cooler and we were getting the early boat and moving South, this buzzing village was waking up and coming alive. A small naked boy of two and a half years old played alone with a small family of fish. Another boy held two halves of the same plastic bowl under both arms, and then simultaneously scooped dung with both halves, but he could not work out why it was all falling to his feet. The boat was meant to be some kind of speed boat, it was no such thing, Motodups are basic elastic band stuff. 20 young girls tugging on us as they tried selling breakfast of 2 bananas, 1 bread roll, one triangle of laughing cow and a bottle of water at $2.
The open aired boat that rides on a lot of open breeding ground water holds many a species of insect with beating wings that attach themselves to many a nationality who ride these rivers. I had my own
personal entourage of midge fly things, swarms of them clung to my sweating skin, itsy bitsy things hardly visible and full on dengue carrying mosquitoes, although it is not wet enough, luckily but technically 'potential carriers. I had to cover myself with spray then my hoddie that was too damn hot to wear normally. I had to wear it back to front so the hood covered my face, as I was getting eaten alive. The boat trip was fascinating and educational in many places. We cruised past humble homes, men brushed teeth using this fresh Caromac coloured lake water to rinse. School boats took the kids to floating schools, floating corner shops, with floating litter bins out front, floating bin men, floating laundrettes, clothing and hardware stores, water taxies that tried to catch up with us to off load its fare.
Old ladies hiked up sarongs ready to jump aboard, because our boat didn't actually stop it glided at 3 knots per hour. I waved as kids everywhere were instructed to 'wave to the tourist' which they did, little voices shouting 'Hhheeeeellllllooooo' coming from every wind direction. Monks balancing on long boats blessing the sick, the heat passive swung
in carefully positioned hammocks, women with folded arms nattered amongst themselves in individual little boats with piles of clothing stacked behind them yet to be ironed, random flower boxes balanced on the wooden sides in a garden fence kind of way.
Every floating village has a church; I went inside Chong Khnies Catholic Church, otherwise known as the karaoke church as it was a karaoke parlour before that, it was small and well maintained. It regularly gives charity services for the poor; it can hold a congregation of about 70 people. We were dropped off at the fish, bird, crocodile, souvenir and snack floating boat. Many kids had limbs missing some were due to land mines or illness, this affliction becomes their meal tickets. The kids are encouraged to beg for money, by holding their severed limbs in full view, wrapping pet snakes around their necks and looking sad eyed and destitute.
I noticed a Korean man acting like he was the God of wealth 'n' tease, as he paraded around with a stash of cash, it was not appropriate behaviour, the kids became hysterical jumping up to grab cash from his just out of reach raised teasing
hands, the kids end up punching and kicking each other, he was laughing,he should know better coming from a communist country with much poverty, it was shameful to witness.
For about 5 slow miles the boat boys had to push and pull the boat and us in it with long paddle sticks away from shallow waters and rocks. We then ran out of water as the lake was no more. We all got off the boat and were told to climb up the muddy bank then pile into any one of three trucks the size of a hall way rug. A German man pushed past me, he stumbled and lost his footing as he ran up onto the back tire of the truck to get a good seat near the driver.
I was perched at the tail end of this small truck on top of the entire luggage the suspension was tragic as I bounced from the sky to the earth with every dip in the road. At some points we all had to get off so the truck could get through the steep dips in the dirt track of a road. We drove through fields and then
more fields. Branches randomly slapped the German across his face, this was deeply satisfying. It was a very long day to say the least.
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