Posts Tagged ‘transportation’

Cambodia travels:On the road to Siem Reap and more..

May 3, 2013

The ride to Siem Reap is along the Tonle Sap river and would end up close to the Tonle Sap Lake. We are going northwest. Battambang, considered to the ‘colonial gem’ of Cambodia (and once a part of Thailand) is further west and south west of Siem Reap.”Seim Reap” in Khmer means Siam defeated, and Siam was the old name for Thailand!Apparently Thailand wanted to claim the Angkor Wat temples as theirs. It is amazing that such a name has survived all these years.077084073After the initial stoppings to eat and shop or use the restrooms, the bus driver keeps on driving and I am eager to look in my tour guide book to place where we are on the map.  The whole bus is nodding off but I am not sleepy. I decide to look outside. I notice houses on stilts and ask Sol about it. “We have very heavy rains here and the land gets flooded, so people here build their houses so it is high off the ground” he says. I notice something else that is quite charming. Every village we pass has an entrance like a gateway. Some are more elaborate than others. The Cambodians like to adorn their small quiet villages. I love looking outside and watching the people and their world. I am reminded of parts of India, especially rural India.We pass a big city, Kompong Khleang with shops and automotive repair shops and lots and lots of cement and clay figurines.  I see signs for Dam Dek and know we are close to our destination.

Soon we are speeding through the city and outside the city limits we get to our hotel, The Frangipani.  Sol gives us an hour to check in and says he will be back to take us to one of the temple complexes today.  The hotel has a beautiful garden and we slowly trudge our way to the rooms and deposit the luggage. The sun is bright and I feel warm and sleepy.

Cambodia travels: Le Lotus Blanc and on the road to Siem Reap

April 25, 2013

069 070 071066That afternoon we stop at Le  Lotus Blanc (The White Lotus) for lunch.  This is an NGO  run by the French and has a store as well where they sell products like clothes,bags made by destitute children and some of their parents. We are  requested to first go to the store area and watch a video.  After the genocide, when several charitable organizations entered the country in the early 80s, they found children living on trash heaps.  Some of these children were rescued by a French NGO called Pour  un Sourire d’Enfant  ( For the smile of a child) and this center was started where the children were sent to school and also trained to work in the adjoining restaurant.  I look at the bags and scarves and pick up  a few; one of my cousins buys an outfit for her daughter. After half an hour we walk to the restaurant next door.  The whole place looks beautiful with a lovely garden and blooming flowers outside.

This is another beautiful sunny day and the smiling faces of the young gentlemen serving us lunch warms us up. The morning mood slowly lifts from our faces. First they serve us a thick squash soup and follow it up with some excellent fish with vegetables.  The young servers speak halting English but their smiles and demeanor  win us over. We hang around in the gardens after eating and then it is time to get back to our hotel.

Today will be our last day here and then we  leave early morning for Siem Reap to see the famous Angkor Wat temples. We rest for awhile and then the avid shoppers want to spend time looking around. So we all go to the central market area in the tuk tuks. I am struck by the beautiful flowers in the market area and we walk around. I find another NGO shop selling stuffed animals made out of cloth. I buy a cute looking rat  and my cousin buys an octopus. We decide to have a simple dinner at one of the riverfront cafes. Lunch was heavy so a simple soup is enough and we go back to the hotel.

Early morning, Sol is ready with the van and driver.  We have a quick breakfast, check out of the hotel and get on the road. We stop first to buy, corn and a lovely purple fruit called milk fruit.  The vendors are right on the side of the road, like they sell in India and Sri Lanka. One of my cousins has an endless supply of snacks so with the fruit , corn and snacks we fill ourselves. We stop at a big shopping open market to use the restrooms. I am shocked and fascinated to see the women selling spiced and fried insects!  The are also selling big sized melons that look like overgrown cucumbers.We pick up some pineapple and coconut water and get back on the road.

Cambodia travels: boat ride on Tonle Sap

April 13, 2013

054050057060If you look at a map of Cambodia you see two major rivers : one is the Mekong and the other is Tonle Sap. In fact, the river Tonle Sap near Phnom Penh becomes a mighty lake before you get to Siem Reap where the famous Angkor Wat temples are located. Sol decides to take us on a boat ride on the Tonle Sap River the second day.  We see the breakfast area crowded with tourists from Australia, Europe and parts of Asia. We wait till the crowds thin down to find tables to sit at. After breakfast, we all wait outside where I see something quite private.  A young child and adult bow to a monk who is blessing them.   It is not something I would see openly in the streets of India. Sol comes in the van to take us and I remember the expression for good morning so I say to him and the driver, Arun sus dei. They grin back to acknowledge the greeting.

“We will pick up our lunch from the same restaurant and take the boat right there” says Sol. It is a beautiful sunny day and we walk into the  restaurant that looks so different in daylight. The lunch is packed not in plastic containers, but in straw baskets! The containers look so beautiful, some of us want to carry them back to India. Sol and the driver help bring it all to the boat as we get in. The boat has a lower and upper deck with chairs and we all pile in and sit down.  Some of my cousins take out their i-pads to play Scrabble. Some want to climb to the upper deck. I just want to laze around and see the shore as we take off.

We see areas in the water with plastic bottles and realize that these are nets with floaters to mark boundaries where people are fishing for fish, shrimp and other sea creatures.  People , young and old seem at ease moving around in water.   The houses along the shore look modest dotted with a few temples here and there.I see a mosque and realize there is a small percentage of Muslims here. The breakfast, the sun makes us all sleepy and we nod off for an hour….

Soon Sol wakes us up letting us know we will be getting to a village near the river. Sol says that  they make silver ornaments here. Some cousins are curious to see them and buy a few. On the way I get distracted by little children riding motorbikes and bicycles. I am always interested in children wherever they are so I stop and they start saying a few phrases in English, “How are you madame?  What is your name?” Cheeky little darlings! So I ask them their names ( very difficult for me most of the time) and ask them why they are not in school. They smile and of course change the subject to India , my clothes etc. ( In Malaysia they start singing movie songs and want to know about the actors in Bollywood) Sol hurries us to the silver factories. The women are honest and tell us it is silver plating on brass pieces. We watch them work and then get back to the boat, where lunch awaits us: chicken satay, toasted spiced vegetables, rice, and baked fish along with a fruit to eat, bananas. OK, one more opportunity to snooze before we get back.

Guatemala diaries: Rio Dulce contd.

April 3, 2013

379356( My second post carries the first  half of this trip) We get off at Livingston.  I see Cacao plants for the first time here.Then Arty tells us about the food in this area which is very good and points at the menu on a van.348350‘Garifuna food is great” he states.So how come we never got to try it? As we walk near the port area we see a washing area that reminds me of how we used to wash in India before we had washing machines there. Here they seem to use oval-shaped concrete basins to wash and then rinse clothes.  We walk along and see them selling spices that go with rum and listen to music in a small cafe where we have some good coffee. The Canadians find some good rum here and take a couple of swigs perhaps to deaden their senses before getting back for the ride on the river??  I am not so scared to get back on the boat to a place called Aguas calientes. Apparently, you  can dip in a hot spring and also go to a sauna.  We get to the place and are not too impressed with the not-too clean pool they call a hot spring. The water is certainly warm but not worth going in so most of us decide to sit down at the little restaurant there and have some pan de coco ( coc0nut bread) and talk to the woman who has a little boy there.  Suddenly we see schoolchildren rowing boats on the river. “They are returning from school!” I am shocked and ashamed of my fear of the water to see small kids rowing boats on their own. The woman shyly states that she plies a boat here all the time. We wait for the Canadians to return from the sauna which they say was more like a cave.  We are now ready to go to lunch further down.  We will be going through El Golfete, the broader part of Rio Dulce and will take 45 minutes to get to lunch.  Arty places the order as the boatman takes us there. We see a big restaurant where the owner has his own fish farm and we have a splendid meal of fish, rice and veggies. I have never seen my husband attack a fish with such gusto!! Then we get frozen choco-bananas for dessert. Some of us wash it all down with the local brew Gallo. Arty tells us that tonight we are going to stay at a hotel right in the middle of the river.

Guatemala diaries:Amatique bay resort

April 3, 2013

286345As the driver takes us to the hotel, Arty warns us that it is far from Puerto Barrios and would take at least half an hour to get there. My heart sinks because I am waiting to hear from my son if the money has been sent. Chicago has had a major snowstorm and he is having trouble going outside his house. Just our luck. This means if we do not hear from him we might have to wait till we get to El Peten where Tikal is . That would be the final place, otherwise we have to ask someone in our group to lend us money. We walk into the hotel which is very beautiful; each separate cottage will be a room for each of us.( We do not take any pictures because we are fretting about not hearing from our son.) We check in and wait;no calls. I want to go for dinner, when suddenly Arty calls and says that my son called his number and I have to go into the city to pick up the money in 1 hour! I get one of our friends from the bus to come with me in the taxi that takes me to a mall in Puerto Barrios. Talk about a  swanky mall in a dodgy city. We walk from bank to bank till we find the right one ( I feel like I’m in a Woody Allen movie) and get in by 6:15, only 45 mins to get it all to work. I am the first one in line but the nasty woman recognizes a friend in the line and takes him in first. I want to scream but I do not want to alienate her. She is flirting with the guy!  He finishes his business with her, giving her a lovely smile and takes his own sweet time to leave the chair. I walk in , start talking in spanish and give her my name and my son’s name. She gives me a paper with the amount in quetzales and says I have to now stand in line at another place there! Luckily there is only one person ahead and now the time is 6:55. Why do I need so much drama in my life?  I get the money and we leave, oh that was close!

It takes another 45 mins to get back. It is 8pm in the night and I am glad we resolved this problem and glad that I had someone else in the taxi with me. We eat at the restaurant and I plan to go bird-watching the next morning to give me something special to do.”Yeah, only you would think of getting up early as a gift” is my husband’s retort. Before going to bed, I send a thank you note to my darling son who saved us.

The next morning, I really get to appreciate the beauty of our resort. And the gentleman who takes me ( the other 3 individuals were too chicken to get up at 6am) is a sweet, well-mannered young man who talks about the beauty of nature and you can see he loves his country. We spend an hour looking at the different flora in the wild and come back to learn the names of certain birds I had seen in my travels so far in Guatemala. ” That is a Moctezuma, a black bird with a yellow fork-like tail, this one is of course a macaw, you must have seen it in Copan” he says as we go through the list of some birds I remember seeing. We share coffee and I depart for breakfast. I have an Amatique Sunrise for breakfast. It is actually very good, reminding me of the food at Wishbone Restaurant in Chicago( a flour tortilla, wrapped in black beans, spice, tomatoes and onions and drizzled with sauce and cheese). Arty hustles us all to leave and we put all our bags in the van and follow him to take the boat to Rio Dulce.

Guatemala diaries: back to Gautemala city

March 30, 2013

167244I remember the movie Sliding doors.  It deals with parellel worlds and the woman has a chance to relive experiences and discovers something by going home earlier.  Sometimes I wonder if I could have changed that moment by taking the wallet from my husband sooner. But now all I can do is to take our passports and think of what needs to be done immediately. My husband and I decide to go to the hotel and hope to make some phone calls to the credit card companies and maybe email our son to send some money to us. Fortunately for us, we had some money in my purse, the passports were still there. Simba, Hedda and Jennie do not wish to leave us alone even though we want them to finish the sights in Antigua.” Oh, No, this is terrible, we would feel awful to leave you alone, let’s go back together.”  Once we get to the hotel, I can see my husband being his efficient self calling to cancel all credit cards. Meanwhile, I am able to reach my son through the magic of technology( all you youngsters will never realize how amazing life is today with androids, i-phones etc. Greetings! I come from the age of no computers and am still marvelling at our exponential discoveries with micro-electronics, nanatechnology  and all the rest of it.)  He assures me that he will send the money and we decide to pick it up at Puerto Barrios ( in 2 days) 

We finally urge the three of them to go sight-seeing and I eat something in the dining room.  Casa Santo Domingo staff have been stellar throughout all this, letting us use their phones without a murmur and even helping us dial through. We have to send a letter of thanks to the manager letting him/her know what a classy staff they have there.  Meanwhile, our bags are patiently waiting for us.

By all this time, Simba comes back and we are ready to get back to Guatemala city.  It is a quiet ride back and we thank Simba for all his help and bid goodbye to all 3 of them at Hotel Barcelo. Then we get back to our hotel and send some emails and go to bed to get up really early for the next phase of our trip, onwards to Copan, Honduras with the new guide , Arty.

Guatemala diaries: Hotel Atitlan to lake Atitlan

March 27, 2013

113116109The gift shop at the hotel is truly amazing( the prices are amazing too but we are assured that the quality is top notch) Of course the great shopper husband goes a little crazy buying for our grandsons and other family members. I have a good time chattering away with the saleswoman in Spanish. I notice that Spanish expressions like”Hijole” are not common in Guate, I have to curb my Mexican spanish here(and forget my chilango spanish too!) What excites me is the fact that people are forgiving when I make mistakes  and are so gracious when I speak the language. We leave the gift shop and I meet the Spanish couple from the gardens; they are also touring the country from Barcelona. Paco and Juaquina are thrilled to continue talking in Spanish having great trouble articulating in English with the other tourists in their group. We go to our room that is  charming and sit down to journal. There is one thing that is a bother though; we keep moving every morning to a different hotel and this particular one is so lovely with the gardens, I would have loved an extra day here.

That evening we go to Santander street in a ‘tuk-tuk” where the guy speaks impeccable English. ” Lived in Chicago for a few years, but had to leave……” he says, I understand why. The shops are exciting and we bargain and buy more little outfits for the grandchildren.  Meanwhile it is time to meet the women, Jennie and Hedda from our group at Bombay Cafe. We go in expecting great food and I order something that is supposed to be an authentic Guatemalan dish, called vegetarian version of pepian. I am thoroughly disappointed with uncooked vegetables and a fairly OK tamale. This means I will not trust everything Lonely Planet tells me.  We keep going out to do more shopping and I tell myself ‘no mas!’ 

Next morning, our packed bags are put in the van and we are hustled to the dock area in the hotel garden. Slowly I get into the boat and we have others besides the four of us. There is Simba, another tour guide, Arty and his 6 tour group; Paco Pena ( he does look like the famous Spanish musician) and his wife are part of that group. Simba tells us that after Antigua, Arty will be our guide and he will depart. I will miss the gentle lion.

Arty is a chatterbox; the moment he finds out that I speak Spanish, he keeps me busy talking. I enjoy the scenery and feel glad that I am not seasick. Well this is a lake, and I should be fine. What a beautiful place! We are surrounded by mountains and some of them are volcanoes. I breathe in the cool air and admire the blue water and greyish -blue mountains all around.  Soon, Hedda decides to steer the boat and my husband is vowing that I do it when we are returning. You are crazy ! I am barely OK sitting in a boat and he expects me to steer it?? The boat ride is not too long and we see women washing clothes near the shoreline, white-billed ducks called pato de poc  and get down at Santiago de Atitlan.

Guatemala diaries:to lake Atitlan

March 26, 2013

094095098108Landed in Panachajel, close to Lake Atitlan. The lake area is a popular destination for tourists and all the different Mayan communities live close to and around this lake. Panachajel, where we are, is crowded with foreigners, especially white people and has some interesting store fronts.  We get to the restaurant called Casablanca  which has pictures of Bogart and Bergman but also a motley of photographs of Mayan women, abstract art and some pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses added for good measure. There is even a painting of Mother Teresa hung on the walls around us already crowded with different pictures.  The food is delicious and we learn that the owner is from North America, what else?! We are close to Santander street and plan to come back in the evening for food at Bombay cafe( I have already checked out Lonely Planet for some restaurant suggestions) and some shopping. They have ‘tuk-tuks’ here; what we in India would call’autos’.  Simba takes us to our hotel through a bumpy, gravelly road to a beautiful hotel on the lake called Hotel Atitlan. The gardens are absolutely gorgeous and I see a couple in the garden who need someone to take their pictures. Simba leaves us to remind us to be ready in the morning for a boat ride on the lake. My husband is waiting to shop at the big gift store right there in the hotel and takes me in.