“Madam….” she leans closer towards me over the check-in counter and I can see her precisely drawn eyebrows, the very berry lipstick which clashes violently with the bleached tone of her skin and the pale yellow uniform….”your bags are 32.9kg in total" she continues in a whisper. “Your airline only allows 30kg, madam”.
Why, thanks for that reminder, I of course know that.
“Yes” I say, "it’s eight years of living in Cambodia, you see” and I try to charm her with a pathetic smile hoping that it will work the magic and she’ll let me get away with my packing sins. But she’s tough and I end up discarding one pair of fairly heavy hand made leather shoes, they clearly were made in Cambodia to stay in Cambodia, near Angkor, the place of their birth. The only consolation is the fact that during the period of the last however many years I did not wear these hand made shoes in question once. Money well spent yet again. I also take my travel tripod out of my main luggage, reassemble it in one piece again and strap it to one of my hand luggages which, I am sure, in combination with the other must weigh good 18kg….. With moderate reduction of weight achieved I am finally let off to pass the joyful crew of Cambodian customs. I wish I could take photos with my eyes: blink and snap, I have you, Mr High Ranking Official, with your eyes closed and nodding off while the queue of those who are leaving the Kingdom of Wonder is growing steadily.
My Official practices his friendliness by screaming at a confused Chinese tourist in a mixture of angry vocabulary and snorts not belonging to any language in particular. Then it’s my turn and because I know the drill of leaving my fingerprints on files every time I depart and come back, I am released with a mere grunt and a thud of “departed" stamp in my passport.
I would not leave in any other way than with a bang, so seeing a dramatic sunset spilling across the western sky sends the corners of my mouth upwards and the few dotted planes on the tarmac of Siem Reap International Airport become giant bird-like silhouettes in an apocalyptic movie. The fact that our plane is delayed means one thing - a storm somewhere between Siem Reap and Bangkok. Indeed, in a few minutes the darkening drama of the sky is criss-crossed with angry flashes of lightning promising a great, end-of-the day wet season show. We are seated, seat belts securely fastened, hand luggage stowed in the overhead locker or under the seat in front of us, window shades up, armrests down and seats upright - ready for take off. My Spanish co-traveller looks nervously out of the window and by now the contours of all outside objects are smudged by horizontal streams of rain reminiscent of a very de-saturated Monet painting. He quickly mutters a prayer and I see his right hand fly over his chest in a cross-like fashion, top to bottom, left to right. It’s nice of him to send good wishes to us all.
It’s a bumpy and somewhat noisy take-off and I wonder if I am the only one who’s questioning the strange noises coming from underneath while seeing my life flashing in front of my eyes. Or could that be the lightning? I can't be sure. But then we reach cruising altitude, burping churning clouds are left underneath us and we are smoothly cruising to Bangkok.
Here’s it’s a pure “joy" of a four-hour wait but as a seasoned traveller I amuse myself by endless people watching, the occasional stroll on the polished floors and swapping one seat for another trying to find the spot with optimal temperature - it’s always either too hot or in a direct blast of an arctic blizzard from mighty aircon units.
A nervous-flyer friend of mine wished me an uneventful flight and that’s exactly the category of flights where my journey from Bangkok to Dubai would fit. Two wines down, several attempts of watching a movie and aching neck from embarrassing dozing positions, the giant metal bird brings all two floors of passengers safely to glitzy Dubai where everything is big and triple shiny, giving me a head spin. Then I figure out that coffee may fix some of my issues and I head to purchase one such concoction. Disappointing in taste and strength, I think of the many Foxy coffees I’ve had which sent my heart racing after the first sip. Shoes too big to fill one could say! Needless to say I pay a price which would fetch a small house in the Cambodian countryside and am given local currency back for my US$ payment - I call this a lose/lose situation but at least by now the caffein is already starting to kick in.
Dear Dubai, yes you, who look like an enormous sea of glittering diamonds from the sky, I have a bone to pick with you. Why are your toilet seats heated or have I just dreamt it? Why? And why does the drinking water fountain spit tepid liquid? Not hot enough to make tea, just unpleasant warm, yuck! And why do I get my hands scalded by water nearing the boiling point in the restrooms? Mind boggles. It’s 35 degrees Celsius outside at 5am and the guts of your airport are only just a wee bit cooler I estimate. Absolutely no need to heat things up!
While roaming the long corridors searching for available and working plugs I finally find a seat next to a source of power for my juice-hungry devices - but the seat is not mine for long. I get pushed out by a small boy who assumes that it’s OK to press his butt cheeks next to mine. Under more caffeinated circumstances I’d probably laugh but this morning I let the cheeky bugger have the seat, move away with a grunt (I eat kids for breakfast!) and hope he doesn’t grow up thinking it’s OK to push people (read women) around. I don’t want to generalise but….
It’s an endless parade of weird and wonderful outfits here presented by people of all shapes, sizes, ages and skin tones. There are overwhelming hair dos and hair completely hidden, huge eyes made up with tonnes of heavy make up, men clad in white, corporate suites and the occasional dreadlock and elephant pants too. Oh and did I mention unruly children? By now my tepid water I tanked into my bottle has cooled down to a room temperature which must be good 25 degrees, so it still tastes like &^%*. I am on my way to Gate C23 where my flight to Prague takes off in about 2 hours.
And that’s all easy and pretty uneventful too - how flights should be. The waiting game with my two heavy pieces of luggage is a winning one as both turn up, even though there is a good gap between them. I wonder what their journey has been and am grateful that I don’t have to fill in forms for lost luggage. Once more I am violently thrown into the life I once knew, then I got to know it again and before the day is over, Cambodia seems like a distant dream. It’s amazing how quickly we adapt to new situations and circumstances.
And now - sleep. Horizontal, undisturbed sleep on terra firma - until next time Cambodia, you shall remain in my heart forever.
anna bella betts
Never still, always on the move, looking for the perfect capture... Cambodia is currently my home, presenting endless opportunities....
In this blog you will find no profound wisdom.
Just accounts of daily life, sometimes about photography, often about wine, occasionally about travel adventures and sometimes about nothing at all.