My first date with Eddie was short and sweet and … incomplete. Let’s say we ran into some problems having to do with Cambodian bureaucracy.
Today I had a second date with Eddie and we had a much better time. All issues have been remedied.
He’s a nice kind of fellow. Talkative, with a matter-of-fact sense of humour and he’s grounded. In a way. One has to be, having lived in Cambodia for more than a decade and being considered part of the inventory. On the other hand, he’s not grounded so much as he most likely spends more time in the air than on terra firma.
Now, of course, dates with Eddie were no ordinary dates. Eddie took me flying!
Microlight flight has been on my Cambodia Bucket List for as long as it has been on the scene but somehow I never got to do it. Despite the fact that I worked in tourism for 3 years. Yes, old boss, if you are reading this, take note :)
I have heard much good feedback and could not wait to jump on board with my camera. Eddie is an accomplished photographer and aside from breathtaking aerial shots of all things Cambodia (which are worthy a coffee table book or two!) he also takes great photos of wildlife - big and small - be it from the air or with feet planted firmly on the ground, stuck in bushes or knee deep in mud. I am a big fan of his work.
I was lucky to be able to join Eddie on his private expedition hence we covered an unusual route. I was lucky that I could have borrowed a lens that almost tipped us over the microlight weight limit and gave my arms a good workout throughout the flight. For gear heads: I was shooting with a Canon 6D and Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5 - 5.6L IS II USM lens stripped off the lens hood and camera off the eye piece to remain as streamline as possible. Still, manipulating with this roughly 2.5kg beast in a confined space I could get photography registered as extreme sport after just an hour. And I was only joking about the weight limit, we had plenty of room for more pies.
The exhilarating feeling when taking off is probably the closest to my dreams of flying, without the flapping hands and maybe just a bit faster. What precedes is a safety check of runway, machine warm up, strapping of my body into the cocoon pod neatly tucked behind the pilot’s seat, placement of headphones and microphone finished off with a helmet with full-face visor and throwing my slip on sandals overboard (read: Eddie’s car which is locked) because anything that could potentially fall out and hit the propeller in the back would be trouble. Big trouble. So I was flying barefoot. It doesn’t get any more free than that! The grin remains on my face just thinking about it. Cellphone photos, unless your device is somehow glued to your hand or strapped to your wrist like a point-and-shoot camera, are out of question.
Eddie would know everything about the different faces of Cambodia in different seasons. The rainy season has its obvious draws with everything green, whereas now, during the tail end of the dry season we fly over patchwork of cappuccino coloured plots of land, cows roaming in the dust and looking up, the lake shrunk to its lowest levels in years which is a worrying thought. The edges of its murky waters are lined with giant arrow-like fish traps making for a great photo opportunity. In the already bright morning light the scene is almost devoid of colour but there are soft hues of pinks, oranges, greens and many shades of milky brown. People are small dots recognisable by distinctive waving gestures. Eddie always waves back and I do too when I am not too busy shooting and taking the scenery in.
So, is shooting easy from the up there? Not really. Well, it’s easier with smaller cameras, medium sized lenses and point-and-shoots. But with a long lens and a very confined space plus obstacles in the form of wires and other controlling gear, gadgets and devices it’s hard to frame and compose the scene. Also considering that Eddie’s microlight, which I have renamed Giggly (see registration on wing), travels at roughly 110km/h it can be compared to shooting from a fast moving speed boat. So it’s essential to “crank up” the shooting speed to roughly 1/1250 sec or faster if zooming in to eliminate shake as much as possible, while leaving all other settings for the camera to decide. Also don't forget to activate your image stabiliser. Because most cameras have their shutter button on the right it’s generally easier to shoot scenes to your left and Eddie is well aware of this making his flight path the most convenient for your photographic needs. The fact that full head gear is worn makes it hard to frame the scene through the viewfinder so often I had to adopt the point and shoot approach with only a tiny fraction of the scene visible through the viewfinder from about 10 cm away from my right eye. But the benefits of having such a long lens outweigh the limitations by a long shot - pun intended. The zoom cuts out scenes nicely, showing all the interesting patterns on the ground, gets closer to people and their habitats but it’s also possible to still get a decent wide angle shot when focusing on the horizon at 100mm. Small point-and-shoots and wide angle lenses will have the limitations of losing all the interesting details and not being able to get to the scenic stuff close enough.
Needless to say, it’s important that you arrange your settings and focus buttons on your lens before take off. There is little room for fiddling about and if you don’t know your camera well enough to change shutter speed by a simple scroll of your finger, learn it first before you go up and try to shoot - if photography is your main objective. If you just want to take things in with your eyes, that’s just fine!
We travelled approximately 120km during one hour and some minutes as a bonus thanks to Eddie’s clock running 15 minutes fast. A clever way to buy some time! We waved to the smiling faces of Kompong Khleang and Kompong Phluk, flew over thickets of greenery, which, shaped as rectangles, suggested the presence of ancient temples or remains thereof. The maximum height achievable in local conditions is 250 meters but often we would be cruising at much lower altitude, not only seeing but also smelling the thick waters of the lake! That’s what I call enhanced experience!
One hour in the air allows for a pretty good look at what surrounds us here in Siem Reap. It’s a way of getting your revenge on this pancake-like land with only a few hills breaking up the monotonous straight line as far as the eye can see. Shorter flights will offer a taster of Cambodia from air with varied routes in all directions, the lake being Eddie’s favourite. You are likely to see temples, herds of buffaloes, solitary cows, patches of rice fields in different stages of planting, harvest or rest, vibrant fishing communities on stilts or afloat and get a tingling buzz of adrenalin in your limbs when you touch the ground again. I fear it’s very addictive, this sort of thing.
Hurry up and book a flight. The fish traps will disappear soon as the seasons are about to change. Mind you, you can’t really lose. Later, with rains, the land will be soaked and glistening in the sunshine, shoots of young rice blinding your eyes with incredibly vibrant green and you may have to de-saturate your photos in processing to make it more believable.
Direct bookings can be made via firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone on +855 (0)92 533 269.
I have granted several important people in my life the right to smack me in the gob if I ever mention getting another pair of shoes. Ever.
I bought a pair of Birkenstocks when in Europe and find them extremely comfortable and easy to slip on and off which immediately had me thinking that another pair would be a great idea. Because you can’t have too much of a good thing, right? So I already started to browse the internet for different models and think of a suitable mule to bring them over.
But it is not to be.
The magnitude of my shoe issue was revealed today.
I have a handy shoe rack outside my apartment where I keep most of my shoes, easy to reach and grab on the go. While I was away, two months’ worth of dust and dead insect have settled on them; the rack is of the woven rattan variety and therefore exposed to all elements of Cambodia including dust from nearby building sites.
My shoes deserve better and so today I decided to clean my footwear and I refuse to call this procrastination. It may well be, though.
I resisted to count how many pairs of flip flops, slip-ons, Mary-Janes, Crocs (sorry, Fashion Police, but they have moved on and developed models that actually look good and you can wear them in the mud when it actually DOES rain here…), trainers, boots and other shoes I have. It’s too daunting to admit that once I came with a backpack of essentials and some years down the line I have so much $**t that I could easily fill a container… A rough guess would be around 25 pairs. I wear maybe 5 at most and only one pair at a time. Mind you, not always. I have been known to stumble out of my apartment early in the morning and one glance at my feet pumping the pedals of my bicycle two blocks from my house showed my right foot in a pink Havaiana and my left was clad in a green flip flop of the same make and fit. Easy mistake in dim light. Such a trend setter….
At least I got my left and right right, right?
My issue doesn’t stop with shoes. Handbags are fairly high on the list and I blame Sakura (the second hand store just around the corner from my house). I also blame Sakura for my wardrobe bursting in seams and my recent trip to Czech could also have something to do with it. I purged and gave away two bags of things, even from the kitchen cabinets just recently, trying to offload on the material stuff and breathe easier, but the next day I went to Sakura… again. I confessed once and I will do it again - I am a Sakuraholic.
But who is there to judge us how much stuff we should surround ourselves with (or in)? Compared to the standards of the “village elders” aka my parents I live a very simplistic lifestyle. They are mostly surrounded by books and while there is nothing wrong with that, on the contrary actually, their issue is with space alone - not a single book can be moved out of place as the whole structure would be destroyed and nothing would ever fit again. Thanks to this “system” I can, even after decades of leaving home, safely find my favourite books which are still in their same old place.
I often work from home and find that disorder and too much “busy” space around me leaves me unable to concentrate. So I clean and tidy up and procrastinate. When working from an office I can deal with “creative mess” no problem. So there is a clear divide between personal and working life.
The internet and other media bombard us with conflicting information - how to reduce clutter in our lives, how to master this Japanese art of keeping your space “clean” and the next thing you read is about embracing all your clutter and loving it the way it deserves. Bottom line - we are all different and if you are happy in your environment, why change it, why conform, why follow some trend when it’s in conflict with your inner peace?
My fridge is the leading example of minimalism. I should change that but we have power cuts.
I collect earrings. And jewellery in general.
I have very few books because they exist in non paper form.
I have TV but never watch it so that should be the next thing out of the door.
I have a soft spot for cups and mugs, specially with dots, but the cat breaks them so I steer clear.
I rotate my wardrobe and unworn items find their way to donation bins.
I have two feet and around 25 pairs of shoes. So what?
I am a (reluctant) slave of technology - but about that…. some other time.
….the thing is, I can’t run to save my life. I can barely run to catch the bus and thankfully I have never been chased by a wild beast. The bus catching issue relates to my life outside the Kingdom, and we are all safe here in the Kingdom when it comes to beasts because, well, they have all been eaten. Here in the Kingdom we also don’t have to (or should not have to) run to and/or from anything. For this we have the never-ending line of tuk-tuks forming on every corner backed up by their moto driving friends all keen to take passengers. Despite of this I do see people running. Crazy souls. In the heat, sweating, dripping messes. Some of them run along the river, some on the busy roads taking in lungs full of dust and exhaust fumes, risking their life to end up under the wheels of a Lexus or Hummer driven by evil lunatics on mobile phones. The bravest run during the hours us mere mortals are either sleeping or finishing our last drink as the sky starts to grow pale in the east.
One early the morning I saw a couple of people running the gravel paths of the Royal Gardens. Nothing extraordinary here you may say and actually, what a pleasant place to go for a jog! But, to my amusement these sporty souls were running backwards! Was it to see how far they have already run as one friend explained with a cheeky grin on his face? Maybe! And well done for not falling over, evidently they have their route memorised or maybe they have eyes in the back of their heads.
Some run really fast. Some are barely making their legs move dragging their feet behind (I sympathise with those). Some seem to have a steady pace and I bet they can go forever, effortlessly, without any evident marks of sweat (I hate these the most). The question looming in my head, every time I encounter a runner, is: have they just left their house and are they therefore full of energy and therefore running so fast? Are they at the end of their resources and thus barely surviving? What stage of their run are they at? I always (used to) look like I was dying, absolutely not mastering the art of breathing, not knowing how to carry on through “the wall”, puffing, bulging eyes, stitch hurting like a bitch (it rhymes!), face the colour of a boiling lobster and death on the tip of my tongue which was on the top of my chest. I find very little that is enjoyable in running. But it must have been fun watching me….
There is a funny relationship between me and running. Scarred from early school attempts to tackle the compulsory 1,5km oval within a given time limit and almost always failing I still have periods when I secretly fancy becoming a runner. They grow scarcer and scarcer the older I grow, though... And I find that these feelings overcome me only when I find myself in cooler climates. Here in Cambodia sweat comes naturally so why bother producing more? Still, I would kind of like to belong to the community of runners. Going for run to clear ones head, to exercise, to become fit. That sort of thing. But then I always have something better to do, like spend endless hours online.
I can sprint. No, let me rephrase - in my younger years I COULD sprint. I played basketball and I could make it through a game because it wasn’t just about running around. I dread treadmills. They should be called dreadmills and I could count on the fingers of one hand how many times I have engaged in the funny activity of running on a moving rubber belt, indoors, trying to listen to music or mindlessly watch some nonsense on TV. I am simply not a gym girl, it’s as plain as that.
I am an outdoors girl. I will walk, I will cycle and I will swim and there are almost no limits to how long for or how far. But running and I are not friends. So I hereby invite all of you crazy runners out there to share your secrets with me. What is it that you get out of it? How do you keep going? When does it become fun and not just a survival instinct? What do you think about when you run? Do you run alone or with a friend? Should I wear not one but two sports bras at one time to prevent myself being knocked out by my …ehrm, knockers?
Who knows, one of you might inspire me enough to maybe even buy a new pair of running shoes. The old ones (which were still “like” new) fell apart due to lack of use, crappy glue, suspected fake Adidas badge (despite having been bought in the official Adidas store) and the climate. Or maybe only just because of lack of use.
.....needless to say, I have absolutely no images related to running.....
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.