Sunday, June 18, 2017

Kep Calling

Arriving in Phnom Penh we felt that we weren’t off to the best possible start. While in Bangkok, in our eagerness to begin the next phase of our existence, and do it by the book and follow the rules, we had attempted to get the long stay visas we wanted at the Kingdom of Cambodia Embassy and failed miserably. We were issued tourist visas and were told that they could be extended so we carried on with the flimsy plan we had already made. That was to check out the possible places we would like to live over the next month and in the order we preferred them.

On the plane we filled in new visa forms, hoping against hope, we might be able to have the tourist visas cancelled but that was not to be. We did however leave immigration feeling optimistic as our long-term visa application forms were both stamped for approval before we mentioned that we already had tourist visas…….. next time. There has to be a next time anyway since as usual we have left some luggage behind in BKK.

From the moment we were in a taxi and heading for the downtown area things just seemed to be signaling that Cambodia was a good decision. Familiar Asian vistas made us both feel comfortable and at ease. The heat however, after our prolonged winter in North and South America, took a little more adjusting to then we expected.

This is a reconnaissance mission of sorts and with our moods oscillating between total optimism and worry, we spent our time alternating between checking out the availability and prices of goods and services and returning to old haunts and sights as well as discovering some new ones.

Phnom Penh continues to hold its own in terms of attractions, traditions, businesses and sustainable, eco-friendly, conscious driven enterprise. Unfortunately the perennial problems of any large city are ever-present. Garbage, traffic and retaining the traditional architecture whilst allowing development to take place and provide long-term benefits to the local community, seem to be the most pressing issues from our point of view, and “Phnompers” is not alone in that challenge. We enjoyed the afternoon breaks from the heat, reading and swimming, well enough to allow ourselves the luxury of two extra days in the capital before setting out on our most important task.

Bussing out of Phnom Penh through near stand still traffic at a snail’s pace and amid swirling dust and sprawling incomplete construction sites on the outskirts, in a worn out, beaten up tourist van with an ancient air-con incapable of its primary function was a bit of a wake-up call. The roads, the conditions and the heat conspired to spur the driver into ever more daring attempts at overtaking and speed.

However at some point I simply forgot to notice as tiny villages, roadside vendors, pools of blooming lotuses larger than paddy fields, scenes of cows and water buffaloes, swaying palm trees, rice fields and the grinding poverty of tiny rural communities sent me into a nostalgic stupor. Memories of travel, adventures and experiences in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and previous trips to Cambodia flashed before me and evoked a sense of wellbeing and joy at the adventure we are now embarking on. With great fondness I recalled Luang Prabang, Pakse, Yangon, Bagan, Hoi An, Hue, Kratie, Battambang, Koh Phangan, Sukothai and oh so many more, sometimes blurring them together and struggling to identify where each event had occurred.  Thus lost in nostalgia we suddenly arrived in Kampot and were taken aback to discover that we would now have to wait another two hours to complete the last 20 minutes of our journey to Kep.

With no say in the matter, we were left to wander the streets, find water and a quick, light, late lunch and marvel at what we could recognize among the great changes that had taken place since we had last spent time in Kampot in late 2013. Those two hours were enough to convince us that this was no longer a place on the list of possibilities. Kampot seemed to boast more foreigners than locals in the old town sector near the banks of the Mekong at least. To our eyes a great number of them also seemed to be the long termers we wish to become but we do not wish to become part of an expat set!

At twilight we arrived in Kep and stared open-jawed at the ocean. Thrilled at the cool ocean breeze easing the all-consuming burden of the heat, we stepped into a tuk tuk and were whisked away to our budget ‘resort’ hotel. Our late arrival meant we dined poolside and availed of the air-con to rest, knowing the following day we would begin exploring in earnest.

Eager to make the most of time and none too sensibly we set off on foot about mid morning. Knowing Kep is small and spread along the coast we wrongly assumed this would not be too daunting a task. The market was our first stop and while it cannot compare to the huge variety available in Phnompers, it was, in Ian’s words, “Better than we expected and not as bad as we feared.” Thus encouraged we continued along the linear strip following the coast and called in at the first two houses for rent signs we stumbled upon. The second of which contained the manager of our hotel, who was as surprised to see us as we were him. By midday we were lured back to the hotel by the pool and the prospect of a swim. That was the second poor decision of the day. We emerged very refreshed and with the first dose of sunburn in about five years to add to the morning’s near heat stroke!! Time to review our Aussie upbringing and a practice a bit of sun smart behaviour.

The following morning we were clever enough to decide to take a tuk tuk to the second of the hotel manager’s properties but came away disappointed that four of the five properties we had looked at were no more than glorified hotel rooms with a bedroom, bathroom and small kitchen space but no living area at all. The remaining one with an upstairs outdoor space was indeed an apartment but located above the open pit for car maintenance at a garage. Not exactly a location we would consider ideal.

Still Kep has appeal and we were going not to be disheartened after only two days. The very next day we happened upon a sign in the Kep Coffee CafĂ© that was advertising houses for rent and was posted directly above a sign calling for English teaching volunteers. It seemed a good omen with both on our hit list and we made arrangements to see a small, new, well appointed house that would have been perfect, if it didn’t transpire that the current occupant has since decided to continue to rent it.

Therefore the search continues but we feel even if we haven't exactly found the house, we have at least decided on the place to live and something will eventually come up. There was a reason Kep was the top of the list and we have confirmed it’s our kind of small community and even made a few new friends in the past few days. I’m glad to say all but one of them, are Cambodian too. The sea breezes in the evenings providing welcome relief from the heat is something none of the inland towns we were considering can offer and the calming effect of the sound of the ocean has its own appeal and is reminiscent of the first home Ian and I ever shared in Port Noarlunga. 

We took ourselves to Kampot for a one night stay and discovered that our first impressions formed during our two hour wayside stop were not too far off the mark and although there are the many more sophisticated cafes and restaurants and plenty of goods we won’t find in Kep we will be happy to access them regularly and live elsewhere. It at least confirmed for us that Kep is where we want to try to make a go of things.

After only two weeks in the country we feel we are making good progress but there is still a long way to go before the dream becomes a reality.  

Next stop is Phnompers en route to Bangkok.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

oNe PhOtO a DaY MaY 2017


MONDAY 1st WINDOW: These ornate but often tiny windows are an essential part of the ancient architecture of Cusco. This one is too small to enable anyone to actually stand on what appears to be the balcony but the window is often open and people peer out into the street below especially when there are parades and street performances as there have been today as it is a public holiday for May Day / Labour Day and celebrations abound

TUESDAY 2nd NO FILTERS: We had the perfect day weather-wise for our ten hour guided bus tour from Cusco to Puno. These Inca ruins in the Archeological Park at Raqchi were one of the included stops and a fascinating addition to the insights we gained at Machu Picchu. This shot is exactly as it was taken with my phone: no filters, no cropping and no edits of any kind

WEDNESDAY 3rd SKYLINE: Where the water meets the sky at Lake Titicaca, it creates a skyline of serenity, which sharply contrasts with the bustling chaos of Puno town. Our first glimpse of the lake this morning didn't disappoint but at 3,800 meters the going is slow and we are still acclimatising

THURSDAY 4th INSIDE MY HOME: This was a difficult one since we packed up this lovely home in Thimphu and left on Dec 31st and have been living out of suitcases, staying with friends and family and travelling ever since. After four months of adventure and five countries later, we are still loving it. So it's an archive shot of our much-loved living room in Mothithang Thimphu where so many dreams took flight and happy memories were created.... a hotel room simply isn't a home

FRIDAY 5th ON MY PLATE: at breakfast this morning was this selection of fresh fruit: Peruvian passionfruit, peeled prickly pears and kiwi fruit.

SATURDAY 6th NATURE: As an Aussie the desert and beaches are the nature I am most familiar with but the majesty of the mountains always leaves me spellbound. Years in Bhutan admiring the Himalayas has taught me to appreciate their beauty and the possible terror they can hold. The Andes are another formidable range. This was the view from The La Raya viewpoint on our way into Puno 4 days ago. At 4,335 metres above sea level it its the highest road pass in the country and the hint of snow on the peak just adds to the allure of nature’s mountains as far as I am concerned. Funnily enough this shot reminds me of the paramount pictures logo

SUNDAY 7th WISH: My only wish all day has been that we would sail through immigration both out of Peru and into Bolivia at the land crossing Kasani and that is exactly what happened. We also got the bonus of this beautiful view as we checked into our hotel on Lake Titicaca

MONDAY 8th PAINT: after several attempts we did find the vegetarian/ vegan restaurant Hostal Joshua, recommended to us in Puno. It's unmarked and in an unlikely location but we were seated at a table by the wall that someone had taken a lot of trouble to paint this mural on. Again things come full circle and "om" blessings appear

TUESDAY 9th STAIRS: The rough-hewn, rock stairs leading to the peak of Isla de Luna on Lake Titicaca this morning, look as if they are leading directly to the clouds

WEDNESDAY 10th I LOVE….. : to travel and this latest adventure has been a reconfirmation that the best travel experiences prompt one to recall previous adventures and inspire new places to visit. Today we climbed to the lookout point over Copacabana and Lake Titicaca and marvelled at the views

THURSDAY 11th EYES: We have seen these knitted masks in both Peru and Bolivia and even saw people wearing them in a street parade in Cusco. Hanging here among other textiles and souvenirs the eyes almost look real

FRIDAY 12th WIRE: The tangle of wire above is mind-boggling here in La Paz. Everywhere you look there is overhanging wire and I am constantly trying to avoid getting it in photos. In less than 48hours in the city this is the fourth worker I have seen grappling with the electrical and telecommunication wires. Luckily we have not experienced any blackouts or electrical problems but it must be a nightmare for the workers. Makes me grateful for the predominately underground cabling and uncluttered views we enjoy in Adelaide

SATURDAY 13th FREE CHOICE: Returning from the Mamani Mamani Gallery where we saw countless examples of Roberto Mamani Mamani’s work we spotted this mural on the wall of the central market in La Paz. It was painted and signed by him in 2012. His work is significant in its use of Aymaran indigenous tradition and symbols. It therefore seemed appropriate to see an indigenous woman walking by at the same time. I love the simplistic, geometric quality of his imagery

SUNDAY 14th QUIRKY: These llama fetuses hanging on the stalls in the Witches Market in La Paz are not only quirky but also creepy. Bolivians believe they bless the construction if buried beneath the foundations of a house

MONDAY 15th BEGINS WITH A: In this part of the world it just has to be Alpaca

TUESDAY 16th STREET ART: This lovely simplistic street art in a back alley caught my attention a couple of days ago. I'm thankful I took it now as we will be in a bus all day and all things going according to plan back in Peru by nightfall

WEDNESDAY 17th CLOUDS: We have crossed the temperate tundra through the Andes this afternoon and there has been an ever changing display of clouds but this ominous cloud above the volcano in the late afternoon seemed to be an arrow head pointing to our destination- Arequipa

THURSDAY 18th PASTEL: South America is a place of bright, bold colours and this had me stumped for a while today but then we stopped for a late lunch early dinner at Omphalos Vegetarian Restaurant and these pastel pots with herbs growing in them were on the wall of the lovely open courtyard

FRIDAY 19th LEARN: Today we took a day trip to Colca Canyons specifically to see the Andean condors. My heart sank when the guide said that sometimes there are none to be seen but I am trying to learn mindfulness and positive thinking so rather than dwell on his words I focused on the fact that it was a beautiful day and the condors live there so why wouldn’t we see them and we did. I learned that they are majestic and that it is very difficult to capture them when you are so in awe of seeing them

SATURDAY 20th MUSIC: The music we have heard most often in Peru is created by the panpipes and this is a photo of a painting we saw today of a player. However when I looked up "Ayarachi" I discovered both the drum and panpipes are used for this type of music and the accompanying dance and it is mostly performed at festivals or funerals and seems to belong to the Quechua ethic group

SUNDAY 21st MEMORIES: For me my significant memories are the places I have lived and travelled and the people I have met along the way. I hold them in my heart and revisit them through the thousands of photos I take and keep and often look at when I recall specific events and experiences. Maybe that’s why there are almost 50,000 photos in my computer these days

MONDAY 22nd SOMETIMES I.....: look at the completely incomprehensible menu and think well it's all vegetarian so take a wild guess at what it might be and try your luck. After a scary plane ride to the capital and equally hairy taxi ride downtown to arrive at the oddest hotel yet in Peru (think Fawlty Towers and prime real estate in faded glory) why wouldn't dinner be a Spanish guessing game

TUESDAY 23rd SIMPLICITY: After spending so much of our time at home disposing of possessions and downsizing, I have resisted the urge to buy souvenirs in Peru until yesterday. This baby alpaca open weave burnt orange scarf was simply too good for me to resist. Bold single colours and quality yarns and fabrics are certainly me and this is the simplicity of style I adore

WEDNESDAY 24th HAT: Ian wearing his new Peruvian Panama hat looking out over Plaza San Martin from our room in central Lima

THURSDAY 25th LINEN: This is the monogrammed bed linen in the hotel we are staying in in Lima. The really weird thing is there are two hotels with almost the exact same name and now that we have stayed in both we know they both have the same monogrammed linen and towels but are completely different establishments. Our devices even connected on arrival at the second one so the Internet passwords are also the same. Hotel Belen and Belen 1084, what's going on here???? Love a mystery

FRIDAY 26th QUOTE: This quote has resonated with me for years. It makes me more mindful and appreciative. Today we leave Peru and I am reflecting on the many moments that have taken my breath away in this beautiful country. The photo is of the harbour at Copacabana, Bolivia, where we spent 5 days admiring the views and sunsets just 2 weeks ago

SATURDAY 27th SHOP: I'm not big on shopping and airport shops are the worst. We spent several hours in the George Bush Airport in Houston today. I guess markets and bookshops are the exception to the rule. I pottered about in this bookshop today but escaped without purchasing anything

SUNDAY 28th DEPTH OF FIELD: the beautiful living freesias on the table in sharp focus in front of the print of the Brooklyn Bridge hanging on the wall in McKenny's lovely West Hollywood apartment. I love that the Brooklyn Bridge is an iconic image I have long admired and enjoyed. I even chose it for the only postcard I purchased in NYC

MONDAY 29th I WANT TO EAT THIS.....: scrambled eggs with onion, baby spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, red capsicum and cheese served on crumpets with Vegemite is a rare Aussie treat for this nomad on the loose. I definitely wanted to eat Ian's famous big breakfast served in West Hollywood this morning and certainly did

TUESDAY 30th IN MY HAND: are my passport and the currency we will need in the next 24 hours. Leaving our travel phase behind and as Peru fades slowly into the background of beautiful travel memories, we enter the next stage in our nomadic existence. Moving on with a positive outlook and optimism

WEDNESDAY 31st SOMETHING RED: Well maroon is deep brownish red, so I think it counts. This is an oryx, the symbol of the Qatar Airline. We are in Hamad the International 5 Star Airport in Doha. After a smooth and uneventful 16 hour flight, we now just a couple of hours to wait and another 6 hour flight and we will be back in our old stomping ground in Bangkok