Friday, 9 October 2009
Our Cambodian adventure didn't get off to a particularly good start. A phone call, while we queued at Heathrow airport, told us that Neil's son, his wife and two tiny children had been subjected by burglars to a gas attack while they slept. They woke up to find that all their possessions of any value had been stolen. Worse - the two year old toddler and six week old baby reacted badly to the gas and had to be rushed off to the local hospital. So you can imagine our state of mind by the time we boarded the plane. Better news waited for us by the time we got to Singapore. The baby had recovered consciousness and no one seemed to have sustained any lasting effects.
There are lots of reasons why this might not be a typical tourist theft. Cambodia has its share of those, but is still relatively safe if you are sensible. But organising Marine Conservation in places such as Cambodia is fraught with danger. Even though the government support the project, there are a lot of powerful people who want to keep the status quo. Foreign dredging companies taking advantage of a cheap supply of sand; foreign fishermen, who come to trawl the rich waters here - reducing the coral reefs to rubble as they do so. Off shore government patrols carry machine guns.
We continued our journey feeling relieved, but in a much more serious mood. Obviously there is more than the weather to worry about. Leaving Singapore in daylight we could see the weather systems we'd been warned of - gigantic cloud systems covering hundreds of square miles. This is a photograph of one of them at 38,000 feet.
This summer tropical storms have sluiced over Cambodia, one after the other. As we flew into Phnom Penh there was water as far as the eye could see in every direction, like an inland sea, with houses like houseboats marooned in groups in the middle of submerged farmland and roads. The original track of the Mekon River was just visible in one or two places.
The atmosphere, about 80% humidity, is a bit like being hit with a hot, wet flannel, and will take some getting used to.
I took some of these photographs on the road from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville (about three hours driving) on the southern coast, where we are staying in a room in a Cambodian house. The shower is cold, and there's a plastic bin under the sink to catch washing water which you then use to flush the loo - all very sensible ecologically!
There are palm trees, mimosa and a frangipani tree outside the door. We are tired, but relieved to be here. The door was double locked last night and tomorrow a policeman has been hired to guard the premises.
Everything here is done by 'moto' - from selling kites to family removals!
This afternoon we are going out to the islands to look at the Marine Conservation site and meet some of the volunteers.