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Category Archives: Music

Travels with Pavel: 10 February 2005

Lazy day. Woke up to loud Khmer pop or rock or whatever it was from the next room. Lunch was in a quiet restaurant overlooking a valley of cashew-nut plantations. Cashew fruit is quite juicy if without any particular taste, if you must know.

Pavel and I decided to leg it to a nearby lake, the area’s main tourist spot. We walked along unpaved roads – this place won’t see tarred roads for a few years yet, I think – and we were cloaked in the red dust every passing vehicle left in its wake, dispensing “Hello!”s on the way.

The entry fee to the lake had quadrupled from that mentioned in the Lonely Planet to US$1 for foreigners. Locals had to pay only 300Riels. Not such a bad deal compared to the Taj Mahal, which simply rips foreigners off when compared to the prices Indians pay.

Like any regular tourist spot now, the children ran the show – taking running jumps into the lake and making as much noise as possible. So we found ourselves a quiet place almost bang opposite the entry point and all the noise. The Boeng Yeak Lam Lake is actually formed over a volcano, several hundred thousand years old and the blue of its waters are the deepest I’ve seen anywhere. They seem to have a character to them, that is sorely missing in the pale blue and sunny sky above.

Yeak Lom Crater Lake

I’ve the dubious distinction of having to be saved twice from drowning – a couple of thousand miles to the west, as the crow flies – in the Bay of Bengal. But the lake seemed harmless, no sudden undercurrent to pull a nasty surprise and where we stood was a line of bamboo poles tied together headed some distance out into the lake. I decided to be brave (with Pavel the lifeguard around) and thrashed my way to the end of the bamboo line in terribly inelegant breaststrokes. Ok, but I felt like a winner anyway. So there we were, Pavel and me, hanging onto bamboo in a volcanic crater lake in the middle of Indochina and talking about more things and places Czech. Totally cool.

We walked back again in the red dust but this time with a thin silver moon hanging in a sky that had built up some character through the day – it was a lovely shade of pink-magenta. Back in our rooms, I watched a violent cartoon called Samurai Jack and then for the first time on TV, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. I’d only read that always in comic strip form as a kid.

Travels with Pavel: 9 February 2005

The bus to Kratie advertised as leaving at 10:30 in the morning, left at 10:20. Fortunately, we’d gotten to the bust station early ourselves. On the way we took in Kompong Cham’s small-scale celebrations in town for the New Year of the Rooster – dragon dances in front of each house or shop and children throwing fire-crackers at each other.

It was more of the same flat landscapes for much of the route, except this time we caught sight of rubber and tobacco plantations as well. Getting to Kratie and finding the mini-bus to Stung Treng full, we braced for the first “real” ride of the entire trip. So far every long distance trip had been inside a/c buses donated by South Korea or whoever. Now we would have a nearly 10-hour long trip on the back of a pick-up truck, sitting on an open tailgate.

There were about 20 souls in the back of the pick-up including a Frenchman named Laurent Jeanneau with whom we sat at the tailgate for the entire bumpy, dusty road. After a while, we were reduced to 16 people including three small boys. The Khmer farmers kept up a steady chatter through most of the trip commenting on Pavel’s one-glass shades that he’d managed to break before the trip had even begun.

The ride was exhilarating as far as I was concerned, the first time I truly felt alive, lurching about at the back, having a few close calls in the beginning. During a particularly murderous stretch after dinner break, I often had my butt floating up to a foot above our tarpaulin covered seat. Or maybe it was just the driver driving faster after a good meal… and in the dark. Pavel and I had been on empty stomachs throughout except for a baguette each for breakfast. But I loved the trip and was glad to have done it before this route was black-topped and a/c buses (from South Korea, naturally) came to dominate.

Laurent was an interesting guy, a professional musician – electronic music was his specialty (listen) – he’d recorded tribal music from all parts of the world, including India. He was returning to Cambodia after some nine months following an earlier nine-month stint in Ratnakiri. He spoke Khmer and was returning to take a local tribal artist to perform in France. We spoke quite a lot of the politics, history and societies of the peoples of the region of which he was extremely well-informed.

Finally at about 11 in the night, we landed up in a Banlung that had gone to sleep but still produced two moto drivers out of nowhere. In the event we just walked to a smart little place nearby that offered a striking contrast to the Bopear. Banlung Guest House offered a TV and attached bath plus dusty white sheets at US$5 for doubles. It was two in the morning before I fell asleep – there was Michael Corleone carrying out his first hits, Santino getting killed at the checkpoint and Michael marrying a beautiful Sicilian only to have her blown up in a car bomb. The music of The Godfather (listen) is just so hauntingly beautiful, apt in a strange sort of way for the inky darkness and night sounds outside our windows.