A Bridge Over Troubled Water.

The boys arrived in Sangkhom, a small town further along the Mekong, with just a little trepidation. They had visited the friendly workaday settlement four years previously, and had loved it for it’s exquisite ordinariness.

Paul rarely liked to journey backwards, much preferring the surprise and adventure of the soi less travelled. Quite often somewhere revisited had lost the very essence of why one returned, tarnishing both the return trip and the original stay. It was always a risk.

Fortunately very little had changed in Sangkhom.

On pulling in to the two-horse town they’d noticed a new ATM outside the local supermarket but that seemed about it. Fortune still seemed to smile down sunnily on this little stretch of the great river.

At first sight at least.

They were, however, to discover that was certainly not the case. The real riverine tale being a steady stream of sadness and survival.

As they entered the little ‘Buoy’s Guest House’ and crossed the precarious rickety bridge to the small island to which their dilapidated hut creakily clung, the familiarity of their surroundings were at once entrancing. Paul recognised the even tinier shack across from what was to be theirs on this occasion, and was immediately reminded of an evening they’d shared on it’s verandah with a gregarious Gallic couple. They’d inhaled some herbal tobacco together and laughed into the star-studded night as Paul hazily revisited his schoolboy French.

The fat yellow dog was also still padding around amicably, although her hips now appeared to have seen better days. Paul knew the feeling!

And Buoy, the smiling, ebullient proprietress, was still there to welcome them effusively into her home. No need to show passports on checking in. And beers and such were to be taken from the open fridge and written down into book number ten. The number of their shack.

Probably far too frequently!

Paul and Andrew adored an honesty bar. It was so refreshing in every way.

But something at ‘The Buoy Guest House’ was not the same!

The Boys had arrived on a rather special day. It happened to be the very day on which they’d fallen for each others dubious charms, twenty-six long years ago.

Paul thought of it as a milestone, though he was well aware his partner sometimes considered it more of a millstone!

They celebrated in the afternoon with bottles of honest beer and some honest downtime.

The earth didn’t move, but their shaky accommodation certainly did!

 

Later that day, as the boys bravely crossed the bridge of sticks back to the main house, they twigged! It was a different bridge. It was longer and lower than before.

It also leant a little to the left, much like Paul!

 

They then spotted the crooked concrete pylons which had once held up the restaurant. Unevenly sprouting from the river bank like a contemporary Stonehenge.

And the main house, they now realised, was half the size it had been on their previous visit. They knew at once, the earth had certainly moved for Buoy.

They discovered this joyous and spirited lady was also marking an anniversary, yet not the kind most people were eager  to reach. She explained that three years before she had lost her husband to a massive stroke, and shortly afterwards, half of her home to the mighty river in a single stroke.

The wet season had brought with it tragedy,  her husband and livelihood went violently downstream to join that great spiritual estruary.

It was heartbreaking, as the boys learnt how the Mekong had changed it’s mood during the last few years, growing angrier and more ferocious than ever before. Buoy, having lived on the river all her life, had never witnessed the ‘Mae Nam Khong’, as it is known in Thai, behave in such a torrid way. She was certain the current situation was due to global warming. But there were darker forces at work too.

As the Mekong snaked it’s way down from the Tibetan plateau, through China, Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, before escaping into the sea via the majestic delta in Vietnam, it’s ancient course was being irrevocably altered.

There was now a veritable deluge of huge hydro-electric damns. Great ‘green’ projects that did very little to help the farmers on the verdant plains downstream.

As the Chinese government intermittently flushed these monstrous constructions in their own national interest, little interest was being shown to the thousands of villages who saw their once fertile fields inundated with mud and thereby rendered useless.

Masses of farmers had flooded to join the urban mass in the growing cities of Bangkok and Phnom Pen to work as building labourers.

Growing condos instead of cabbages!

It seemed the vegetables making the big decisions upstream didn’t give a damn.

They could only build them!

Paul also discovered that there was an ambitious plan afoot, headed by none other than China, to blast a vast channel through the Mekong all the way from Yunnan, a province in it’s south west, right down to Luang Prabang in Laos. Thus creating an artificial,  all season waterway capable of carrying 500 ton cargo vessels.

He thought of the incongruity of these giant ships which were to set a course and dwarf the beautiful Buddhist temples, he and Andrew had previously delighted in, situated along the shoreline.  Gigantic steel river monsters washing away thousands of years of antediluvian  beauty in an instant with their giant wake.

A tsunami of slime and greed!

He wished the world would awaken to the disaster that was already taking place. Mankind was getting itself into very deep water.  He’d read of the growing consensus which predicted that in just ten years time the natural habitat of the mighty Mekong would be entirely washed away. Completely destroyed. And there would be no way to turn back the tide once this precious waterway had been dynamited to damnation!

A turbulent point that has got much of the Thai population,who will be affected by this blasted idea, close to boiling point.

Things had certainly changed beneath the surface in Sangkhom, and right along the Mekong’s exotic serpentine journey. And now it was beginning to bite back.

Paul knew one only had to listen to Buoy to realise the evidence didn’t need any buoying up. The rising waters and their now frequent tempestuousness were proof in themselves that the plimsol line had been crossed.

He was, for once, very glad he had trekked backwards, as it had enabled him look forwards. But the future was not bright. It was not orange. It was sludge grey and stultifying.

He silently cursed the Chinese and the equally ignorant President ‘Chump’ for their reckless and shortsighted view on the level of the disaster. They were ignorantly allowing this watershed moment to drift on by  He was sure they would rue the day when they had tampered with the globe’s natural plumbing. They, after all, would also be submerged when the waters rose.

And Paul knew for certain that he would not be drowning in pity on their behalf.

Neither would the beautiful buoyant Buoy.

Damn fools.

Hot Stuff In Kampot.

Kampot, a charming riverine Cambodian city, famous for it’s pepper, used by top chefs the world over, and it’s quaint nineteenth century, french-colonial architecture.  It may be tired, but a Notting Hill designer would charge a small fortune to replicate the effortless gallic chic that pervades this place.

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A faded but resplendant touch of french Indochine, that captivates it’s visitors like a talented Parisian tart on the Rue Pigalle.  We  are completely caught up in the limbs of this seductress, exploring each avenue of shuttered shopfronts with an almost salacious delight.

We, however, are not residing in one of the more high-falutin establishments on the left bank.  Non.  We have elected to stay at Captain Chim’s.  A much more local kinda place, downtown near the bus station !

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After meeting the Captain and his lovely shipmate, Ria, we waited for our room to be cleaned, or built, whichever happened first.  After convincing Ria that we really didn’t mind having to share a ‘big bed’, (Andrew assuring her we would go ‘top to toe’), we met a marvellous character by the name of Mick.

We learnt that Mick, a wild, beautifully blue eyed, rough around every edge, type of bloke, had been in the Royal Marines for twenty five years.  We also gathered that he taught Katami, the art of fighting with a Samurai sword, plus almost every other form of vicious combat one can imagine, mostly using unspeakable weapons.  We then learnt he had been into battle on more than one occasion, worked tirelessly as a merciless mercenary, and now lived in the Cambodian countryside building houses out of giant lego and growing radish.

He also told us that we were staying at one of the best places in town, and if we encountered any trouble we should inform Captain Chim immediately, who would be more than happy to have the perpertrators punished.

Apparently when the local baker was robbed of some dough last month, the two guys kneading in the kitchen, caught up with the thief at the next roundabout.  They then proceeded to turn him into a human doughnut – plenty of oozing jam and a hole through the middle and everything ! Let’s just say, after they’d proved their point, he didn’t rise.

It’s not just the pepper that is volcanic here, the locals are a spicy mix too.

After eventually checking in to our room, for practically a peppercorn rent. A fiver a night! We headed to the river and happened to find ourselves in the ubiquitous Irish bar that we always seem to discover in these slightly sketchy Asian towns.

Before our stout was even contemplated, there was a loud crash and a female tourist came off her moped right in front of us. She lay in the road, her head bloody whilst ours were still settling!

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It took a while, but eventually she was moved onto the pavement, and surrounded by concerned and fascinated Cambodians, she began to revive.  There followed a fiery debate between the cyclist and the onlookers as to what had actually occurred, which  we decided to stay out of, not wanting  to throw more pepper into the Kampot.  It was a sufficiently heated already.

Later that evening we met our ex-marine mate, Mick.  When I asked for a photo, he was happy to oblige.  However, he made me assure him that I would not publish it on Facebook, it seems there are some cyber folk out there who would be more than happy to unfriend him.

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I promised him I wouldn’t, and as a thank-you he showed me one of his special moves, that ended with him almost karate chopping me in the neck!  As I felt the breeze from the wake of his substantial forearm cut across my gullet, I heard Neil, the Irish landlord, chastise my ex-navy buddy,

‘No martial arts Mick. Not here!’

As I took a very deep breath, feeling fortunate I had avoided a partial tracheotomy, Mick apologised, his baby blues full of contrition.

‘Sorry’, he said, ‘that’s why I got barred the last time.  Some cunt wound be up and before you know it he was on the floor with a fractured collar bone and a broken nose.’

When he left for the loo moments later, I told Andrew to lay off any of his wind-up jokes and to just smile and be compliant.  My nose is, after all, odd enough, and I love the shape of my husbands.  I didn’t want either of us taking any risks. We didn’t want to put Mick’s nose out of joint!

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Today, after a visit to the pepper co-operative, and a walk along the beautiful riverside into some jungle, we bumped into Mick at Captain Chims.  He has invited us to his house in the foothills of The Elephant Mountains for a bar-be-que and sleep over.

He is so interesting, and charming, that we are both, irresponsibly tempted.

Albeit, slightly apprehensive that any dish he may happen to serve up, could be a little too spicy, even for our seasoned palates.

Looks like we may have to take his invitation with a pinch of salt, and leave the pepper alone.

 

On The Trail Of Ho Chi ‘Mean’ !

A good expedition always requires careful planning – much like sex when one gets to middle age – so I’m told!

So with just six weeks to go before Andrew and I pull on our back packs and front out some of the lesser known dives of South East Asia, (both marine and otherwise),  I thought it was time I planned a vague, kind-of, voyage.

This route is always used as a guide, never rigid or over-itinerised. That would preclude too many accidents occuring along the way,  most of them happy.

If I left the mapwork to Andrew we could end up anywhere.  Geography is most definitely not the strongest point on his inner compass.

He is still of the opinion that Switzerland is in Scandanavia, despite me regularly pointing out the difference between an Elk and an Alp!

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A Moose.                                                                          A Matterhorn!

Plus, with Mr Kennedy in charge, we could end up with anyone!

There have been numerous occasions, during our past travels, when my partner has got us partnered with some quite unsavoury companions.  Stuck up the Mekong with not even  a paddle for comfort!

Still, a little of that kind of thing makes for a whole lot of adventure.

At times.

So, in an attempt to not get ‘Shanghai’ed’ in Hanoi , or banged up in Bangkok, I have acquired a biro from the ‘Chino’ shop, (only appropriate), and begun to draw an unsteady path through that exotic and unfamiliar part of the world which shimmers, jewel-like, between India and China.

Indochina.

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Our Rough Passage!

Anyone that knows us, has probably noticed, that we spend quite a lot of time on the piste. This time, we plan to stray much further off it!

It is always good to check out a new passage.

Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam – maybe even China (if they let us in).

Well, with no slog, there is no blog.

With that in mind, as well as including the obvious places on the touristic ‘bucket and spade’ list, I have also sneaked in a few more, shall we say,  simplistic spots.

With what I have planned, elements of the journey could be renamed  ‘The Ho Chi Mean Trail’.   Or ‘Angkor What !!!’

These should provide a few colourful moments.  I have never thought it a good idea to rest on one’s rucksack.

When taking a trip,  I would always favour a Captain Hook over  a  Thomas Cook.  After all, for  a performer, there is very little difference between treading the boards and walking the plank.  Both precarious occupations where one is surrounded by sharks and pirates .

So easy to go overboard.

And barrels of make-up!

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Pieces Of ‘No.7’ !

Andrew and I are firm believers in dipping our toes into uncharted waters.

Even if one gets the odd bite, it’s usually well worth it.

 

67cb9ecc-c8c6-426f-a85d-8ebb00cade7dThis part of the world.  The land colonial France forgot, is unfamiliar to us.

So we are intending to get off the beaten boulevard and hit the rue less travelled.

 

Nothing tepid, for we’re not trepid.

In truth, we just love getting into hot water.

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It’s how we got where we are today!

Wish us ‘Bonne Chance’!