“If only you knew” said the slogan on one of the airport luggage trolleys accompanied by images of something as iconically Czech as rolling hills, forests, castles, medieval cities…. and I had no heart to read further as I was on my way out. I was leaving Prague behind with all its charms, bridges and looming towers, leaving it for who knows how long this time. I never know how long it’s going to be until the next visit and last time my period of absence from my home reached two years. Quite a long time may I say. Long enough to miss a couple of relatives by a few months and never see them again, long enough to notice the increasing snow in mother’s hair or father's head becoming shinier by the day. Nobody is getting any younger, time flies and if my infrequent visits of homeland ever taught me anything, finding the time to smell the roses would be it.
Picking up a local paper while sitting on a metal chair waiting for the call to board was a bad move. The weekend magazine addition seemed to focus on cycling and wine, two of my great passions, in one instance both at the same time: Cycling Wine Tours!!! It seems that drinking and riding is a fine combination on small country roads in my homeland! My heart cried out some more. Why did I not learn about cycling the Moravian hills and sampling local grape produce a little earlier??? I would have put the wise words of advice and all the research behind the article to a good use!
I had landed five weeks earlier with visions of perfect holiday, the perfect summer break. What followed can only be described as Ode to Summer as I remember it. Amazingly long days when 8PM is almost too early to think about dinner (my Italian friend will approve!). Fragrant mornings with sun appearing on the horizon like a giant red Strepsil, the murmur of a distant highway promising adventures of discovering new places. Deep dark forests offering the temptation of blueberries and wild strawberries by the handful. Buzz of insect and the smell of pine needles. A cold pint somewhere in a small country pub (beer cycling!!). Cycling alone, conquering hills for the sheer exhilarating reward of 50km/h downhill ride and possibly some flies in the teeth. It’s hard to stop grinning you see…..
Hello, April….Fast forward one year… and we’re back in Siem Reap where nothing much has changed...
Just as I finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic where the lady of my dreams talks about the power of actually finishing things (amongst other great wisdoms), I came across this old unfinished piece of my writing. An Ode to the Czech Summer. Perfect timing I say, I now have mere 29 days (and yes, I am counting days) to the departure to my homeland. This time my sabbatical amounts to two and a half months away from the Cambodian dust bowl. I am off to test the home waters and see what living again in the land of beer and knedliky would be like. I, for the first time ever, no longer feel that going home would be a failure or an embarrassing act showing that I have somehow returned with my (proverbial) tail between my legs. Showing to who? I don’t really know and I no longer care because nobody else really cares either about much more than themselves and what other people think of them....
Hence me going through the drawers and clearing out “old crap” (that’s a technical term by the way) and undergoing a self prescribed cleansing process in my current life, while at the same time providing endless entertainment for my cat. From initially moving to Cambodia with a little more than a backpack I am now surrounded by mountains of things but thankfully they are just things.
Should I stay or should I go? I have grown roots in this place and I am comfortable. I know countless friendly souls in this town and this is what makes living here great. My photography business is going well despite the low season which is upon us. BUT it’s now again the time of year when the temperatures climb to astronomical heights and power is often taken away from the people. Literally. Thank you, oh capable electricity board, for picking the hottest months for maintenance (or whatever you want to call this exercise) of the crumbling system. Thank you. It’s the time of year when the flip side of my “love affair” with Cambodia rears its ugly head more often than I would like. My swear word dictionary is quite impressive. It’s when I start to look further and seek other challenges and adventures. It’s been far too long. The world is a big place and I surely was not born to be stuck somewhere for too long, or was I?
After 8 or so years in the Kingdom there's a possibility that I have finally reached my expiry period, my best before date. The can that contains me and my sanity is ready to explode.
Of course there are positives, always! The wonderful, eclectic collection of people from all walks of life and corners of the globe who are doing amazing things with their lives is one giant ball of positive energy right there. Random over-coffee conversations. Lasting and fleeing friendships. People….
Watch this space. All will be revealed in July when I return to deal with reality and decide which direction my next steps will take.
And here we have July. It’s deliciously grey and windy with violent ribbons of rain falling at 45 degrees obstructing the view of my neighbours’ property. Nothing much to look at anyway, although they have gone all the way to triumph Joe Bloggs next door and have built two floors higher….
The mountains of “crap” have been reduced to just a few heaps, many friends have (perhaps unwillingly) gained more crap to their heap, I have shredded more paper than an office shredder on steroids and two of my four luggages are already packed. Once again I am counting the days to my departure and this time it’s final. I have my first time ever one way ticket out of Cambodia two days before my yearly visa expires.
The two and a half months in the country of my birth have worked their magic. There have been once again cobbled streets, mystical castles, archways, old buildings and trams that run every three minutes - so running to catch one makes you look like a fool in the eyes of locals. There have been friends - old and new, those people who care the most and mostly too much (parents we call them), there have been days of blossoming trees and days when you can hear the grass grow. There has been cold that gets to your bones but what better excuse can a girl have than that to buy a few pairs of boots? Also worth mentioning are crazy 1st world extravaganzas such as drinking water running from your tap and also flushing your toilet, working public transport system and no tuk tuk in sight, acceptable education and the fact that if you break your leg, there will be somebody qualified enough to fix it for you. And power. Power to the people!
While I will miss Cambodia and its charms, this time it’s a no brainer that I am almost over-ripe to leave and start the next chapter in my life. I will forever be grateful for the lessons learned here and for the kaleidoscope of friends collected while living and working here. The next challenge is to see how many of them can come and visit me in Prague, for I am the best guide to the most charming watering holes in the capital and beyond. There’s nothing like the local knowledge!
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.