We did it. We have crossed over. A plateauing of the learning curve perhaps, a changing from second gear to third. Maybe a small degree of mastery. A few lessons lessons learned, whatever you want to call it. We’ve had a good day.
We survived a 5:30 am start. A five hour third class train trip. Then we dodged both the Thai/Cambodia border scams. The normal one, with the fake visa office asking $30 and strangely friendly guard and gang of complicit tuk tuk drivers. And the other one, especially reserved for families where they try to charge for children’s visas, which are officially free. When you insist on not paying for free visas, they say ‘come on, just $5, you help me, I help you.’ In other words ‘Welcome to Cambodia, we are not ashamed to scam you.’
Then we managed shlepping** our bags through the three queues for arrivals, and onto the shuttle bus not made for people 6’2″. The bus station is a place exclusively for tourists in the middle of nowhere with money exchange services 25% worse than anywhere else. And then the bus to Siem Reap. It was one of the bus trips where I caught myself thinking, ‘I’ll just look out the window until we get to the main road’ and then half an hour later realise, this IS the main road, there’s not going to be some other road without potholes and cows and pink wedding marquees. And we will be doing 50km/hr all the way, which is both slow, and too fast for conditions.
The children have changed. They’ve become self-occupying. Both Chris and I read them a few chapters on the train. But on the bus in the afternoon they drew pictures for two hours; embellishing the sketches on the last remaining page in the sketch book, smaller and smaller pictures in greater and greater detail as the amount of blank paper grew less.
At the rest stop they ate, drank and weed on command and took the opportunity to learn a few words of Khmer from a little girl nearby.
The taxi trip would have taken 2 hrs but the bus took 3 1/2. We took the bus as we wouldn’t all fit in a taxi. I think the guys were trying to be helpful when they saved us all five seats in the back row where the aircon was almost exactly negated by the hot engine beneath our seat.
Sparky handled the day fine despite having a cold. She chilled out and enjoyed the rhythm of the train the cuddles the stories and the breeze. Baby Boy made friends with all the ladies. One undid her shirt and offered him some milk of her own. He laughed and snuggled onto me. He did some waving bye-bye practice out the window, helped himself to some coconut and slept the time away.
At immigration no less than three stern looking officials had broken into smiles and gave the children lollies. There were so many that I had to re-distribute them to the Irish and Japanese guys we were sitting with on the bus.
We drove on the other side of the road in Cambodia, you know, apart from all the driving in the middle. After the rest stop the children made up imaginary island countries complete with income generating activities and electricity supply. And a source of fresh drinking water. Each island had it’s own currency. Houses had fireplaces and grew hay for their cows and chooks. All the people on Tintin’s island sleep on hammocks. Cool! They talked and embellished and imagined….
We’ve talked to them about Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Meena spotted a cow which she thinks had trodden on a land mine, she said it had one leg missing. Signs lined the highway for the Cambodian People’s Party. Its like Thailand in all sorts of ways, but different enough to be clearly somewhere else.
Just like arriving in Thailand two months ago we are back at the beginning again. We are learning a few key words. Doing currency conversions in our heads and figuring out how things tick. No more wonderfully wheelchair friendly Thai songtheows. We figured out how to tie Sparky’s chair onto the back of a tuk tuk. Same same, but different, as they say.
A border crossing but also an attraversiamo of our own. We are starting again. But starting from a different place with children who’ve learned and risen a bit, as have we, I hope.
In the last hour of the bus ride we were all hungry and tired and drenched in sweat. But this time no one stressed out or lost the plot. We just sat back, chilled out and took it all as it came.
Attraversiamo. We cross over.
*I thought it about time for an Eat Pray Love reference.
**Shlep is an American word, I’ve been hanging out for an opportunity to use it, what do you think? Good, huh?