Asia | South East Asia | Cambodia | Eastern Cambodia | Kratie – Day 25 – Kratie, Cambodia
The low sun gilds the silty waters of the Mekong River as we cut them just north and out of Phnom Penh, riding the roof. This is a liquid artery of Asia, beginning in the icey heights of some Himalayan hideaway, several thousand kilometres in length. If plans unfold as I envision, the Mekong is likely to be a fixture in my life for some time to come as I ply its broad expanse north – as people have done since the invention of boating. Ultimate destination along the Mekong … um, ? Hopefully passage to Laos eventually, although at this point I still have no confirmation that it’s possible or legal to cross the border up there. Time will tell.
At this early stage of our voyage, the river has ballooned to a girth of a couple of kilometres, pregnant with the rainy season. On the near (eastern) bank trees are the obvious feature, sheltering and shading a continuous run of small dwellings. In the grey silhouetted distance a wat (temple) pricks the morning with its prang.
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A little while later now, we have turned into the sun. Along the near shore, a couple of hundred metres away, little white ghosts loop and float just above the water’s surface, billow with the prevailing breeze and then dip into the river. Gauze-like ghouls, the mesh attached to great hoops, the hoops completed by a long pole-handle, the pole-handle swung up and then plunged into the river by a fisherman standing hip deep, in the hopes of netting lunch or more; this tableau repeats itself every dozen metres or so. The riverbank itself has now become a 10 foot mini-cliff of raw dark earth which can do nothing but be further gouged by the uncompromising river’s implacable flow. Over there, to my left, an armada of low-slung long, dark, wooden boats carries fishermen somewhat further afield than their ghost-wielding brethren.
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Now, well past sundown, the deep tympanies roll their sonorous solos across the sky, cued by sudden brilliant cymbal-flashes, arcing through the blackness, and to the approval of the steadily applauding rain. This is the second such performance since my arrival here in Kratie several hours ago. The first cut short a relaxed but sun-steamed sipping of a fruitshake cooler smoothie (known here as ‘tikaloks’) across the steet from my hotel on the east bank of the Mekong. The dark sky and the swirling wind combined to send everyone scrambling and temporarily cooled the mid-day sauna. But Kratie is so layed back that even the thunderstorms seem to relax the throttle as they pass through.
It’s a simple out-post with the expected central market and a host of NGO offices which oversee any number of programs for lifting north Cambodia. For the most-part the local people seem quite non-plussed by the presence of what, by my estimation, seems to be no more than a dozen or so travelers.
I passed the late afternoon with a walk along the river during which I had a warm, if simple, chat with some bashful teenagers as they arrived for their supplementary english classes, the privliged set whose families can afford to send them to extra-curricular studies. All over Cambodia, english is seen as the ticket to a better life. And, truth be told, it is these days. Those foreign based NGO’s pay much better than Cambodian average wages for the services of interpreters and other english-capable staff. For better or worse, it is the lingua franca of our times in many parts of the world, even when not the local first language. Further along I had a friendly discussion with a Chinese national who is commited to managing road improvement projects for his company for the next three years. He will be flown home once during that time to visit his wife and kids. Still, I expect he will have no shortage of work for as long as he likes in this country.
In the hotel lobby/dining area (same thing) this evening I hooked up with a German couple and a Dutch couple and arranged a run up the river for tomorrow, hopefully to eye-spy the rare Irawaddy fresh-water dolphin reported to inhabit the river in this vicinity.