Monday, 7 October 2013

Checkpoint Charlie On The Go Style

Having an early start and no idea when we would eat again, I was delighted that the hotel staff agreed that I could take some goodies from the breakfast bar.  One cannot travel without afternoon tea, you know.  Having handed over my keys, I needed the washroom.  Down in the lobby, the ladies were next to the gents.  The swing doors into the urinals were like the saloon doors in a cowboy movie.  I was sorely tempted to swagger through and say, 'Get off your horse and milk it.'

Gemma and Gemma's Mum appeared, complete with bags, nebuliser and a range of medication which they were more than happy to share with other travellers.  There is no mistaking that this pair are mother and daughter.  Along came Frank and Tania.  I checked.  He had his credit card.  Finally, Nathan and Krystal appeared to complete Little Happy Family.  They were entitled to be later.  After all, honeymooners are allowed a little longer to linger in luxury.

Wind arrived, still smiling, yet there was the slightest hint of a good night out hanging over him.  To my relief, I heard that Rose and Loretta had made it safely back to the hotel, sharing a taxi with Krystal.  So our shrunken group boarded a shrunken bus with a large Mickey Mouse sticker on its side.  That raised a smile on some faces as we drew alongside  commuters stuck in the motorbike jam.  

This morning our journey took us past orchards of rubber trees and glasshouses filled with colourful, exotic orchids.  In hindsight, I would rather have gone there than the Cu Chi tunnels.  For many in the group, the short film presentation was distasteful and totally biased.  The only positive part was Nathan completing the whole of the hundred metre tunnel.  That was a first for Wind.  Most tourists came out earlier as did Gemma, her Mum and Krystal.  Dave was pleased that Gemma did not stay down long for two reasons.  She gave him her handbag to hold which made him feel a littlrle uncomfortable us she was asthmatic.  If she ha been unwell her nebuliser was on the bus and that would have been sa long way to go whilst holding it.  Credit due to her. She was gutsy enough to go down.  Nothing and no-one would have got me down there.  

I turned my head away from the methods of trapping soldiers and instruments of torture.  I cannot even read or watch anything about people controlling others without feeling sick.  Wind seemed to feel the atmosphere in the group and we did not stay much longer.  

And so we arrived at the Vietnam-Cambodia border.  Our guide led us thoughtfully through the exit procedures. Tania had a minor problem as they forgot to stamp her passport.  Oops.  Then Nguyen (Wind) led from the front for one last time.  We would miss him.  He had been a great guide, sincere and caring.  Hugs and kisses, then he stood watching and waving as we crossed No Man's Land with our new guide.  I turned one last time to wave but he had disappeared, blown away into the distance.  

Our new guide had a big, cheesy grin and a wealth of even cheesier jokes.  Sorting us into 'haves' and 'have nots' (as in visas, not money), he distributed forms to fill in.  Note to tour company, please go the extra mile and issue guides with pens.  It will cut down waiting time by at least half.  Clutching our passports, photo (one only and no photocopy needed) plus the twenty dollar bill, he soon returned.  I think at this point, he may have been offering the immigration official a little inducement to smooth our passage.  

On returning, our passports were returned and we were directed into the immigration building.  Now, I have been a good girl all my life, so it came as a shock to have my fingerprints taken,  not with the messy ink pad but a miniature photocopier.  Peter Pointer, Mary Middle, Ruby Ring and Tiny Tim all performed beautifully.  Tommy Thumb, the naughty boy, played up and refused to lie flat.  I blame it on an old trampoline injury.  The unsmiling guard showed me a simpler way to do it, rather than looking like a Twister competitor.  

All a tremble and wondering what they would do with my fingerprints, I dropped my passport hastily inside my waistcoat.  Emerging into Cambodia proper, Hubby handed me his passport.  Our documents like to nestle together in the same pocket.  Holy Moley, where had mine gone?  It wasn't in its usual spot.  I couldn't find it.  They would arrest me and keep me here.  Panic attack on the horizon and approaching fast.  Patiently hubby took me through the pocket routine one more time.  Upper, lower, inside and out.  Ah, there it was.  I love this thief proof waistcoat but it is a darned nuisance in times of stress. 

On our bus, our guide introduced himself,  Smey, Reaksmey or Mr Smee, as I have named him.  Perhaps I should not have had the cropped haircut.  He was unsure whether to call me by my First or Surname!!  

We were then given some 'do's' and 'don'ts' in Cambodia.  No pointing feet at people - that's Ballet Rambert excluded. No touching heads with hands - could give a Glasgow kiss then.  Shoes off when entering homes or temples - hope we don't visit any today.  My bamboo socks have been on for days now!

Mr Smee sounds just like the wedding planner in 'Father of the Bride'.  I just hope he doesn't ask Frank to do too much.  He spent the next ten minutes demonstrating a thousand uses for a Cambodian scarf.  Interesting but I was a bit shocked with the final suicide use.  Not funny Mr Smee!

Traveling on, it was interesting to spot the difference between the houses on this side of the border.  On high stilts, they looked as though they were cared for, unlike those in South Vietnam.  Being the rainy season, the large flat fields were flooded.  Tall sugar cane trees stood tall in the water.  Water buffaloes plodded or swam through the water.  

We stopped to watch a lady preparing rice for the forthcoming religious ceremony.  It had a lovely aroma.

Arriving at the ferry, we waited in the queue.  Young boys banged on the windows, begging for money.  A heavy pregnant lady balanced a large basket of small fruits on her head as she waddled past in the heavy rain.  Our driver went to buy the ticket ( and pay the bribe) to hasten our journey.  We watched, laughing, as a large cow foraged in rubbish bags.  Another cow joined on.  Moo-ve over darling.

And move we did, to the Frangipane Hotel.  Some of us have renamed it Fawlty Frangipane.  Our first room had Eau de Musty.  We didn't stay to unpack.  Allocated another room, we felt it impolite to complain.  The wet plaster in the bathroom, the brown ringed toilet stain and the lack of towels did not raise our hopes.  

At the evening meal, the chef had not grasped the concept of no fish.  He interpreted it as no meat.  Hence Gemma and Hubby were deprived of some tasty food.  

The saving grace on this first evening was the night view from the sky top swimming pool.  We did not swim as a butterfly stroke 'expert' was doing her best to empty the pool in as few strikes as possible.  Instead, we crept away for an eat night. X

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