Archive for February, 2012

Diario de nuestra escapada a Borneo (20-23.02.12)

Esta entrada es un diario sobre nuestra escapada relámpago e inesperada a la isla de Borneo (la parte indonesia), del 20 al 23 de febrero 2012.

Aún nos quedan en el tintero las entradas de Bangkok, Myanmar y Singapur, pero esta aventura ha sido tan intensa que queríamos publicarla cuanto antes para contarosla. Esperamos que la disfruteis!!

Este mini viaje a Kalimantan (asi se llama la parte Indonesia de Borneo) ha sido todo una decisión de última hora. La semana pasada estabamos en otra isla de Indonesia (Sulawesi) y conocimos a una chica holandesa que iba a venir aqui unos días. Nos dijo que el Parque Nacional de Tanjung Puting, en el sur de Borneo, era bastante accesible desde Java y entonces nos picó el gusanillo, y empezamos a investigar cómo hacerlo.

Venir a Borneo era un sueño para nosotros, por el hecho de que es el único lugar del mundo (junto con Sumatra) donde todavía se pueden ver a los orangutanes en su hábitat natural.

La isla de Borneo, tanto la parte de Indonesia como la parte de Malasia, tiene varios Parques Nacionales donde se pueden visitar orangutanes. Lo especial del Parque Nacional de Tanjung Puting es que se puede recorrer por el río mediante las embarcaciones tradicionales, y vivir en ellas lo que dure la estancia.

Esto permite observar a la fauna desde el barco y además ofrece una sensación de crucero por la selva realmente inolvidable. Al contrario que otros parques de Borneo en los que los orangutanes son totalmente salvajes, en Tanjung Puting hay tanto orangutanes salvajes como orangutanes “rehabilitados”, es decir, aquellos que nacen en cautividad y son entrenados para volver a vivir de forma libre en la selva.

Aunque nos hacía tanta ilusión visitar Borneo, siempre habiamos pensado que era muy complicado y bastante caro. Curiosamente, organizandolo desde Indonesia, todo ha sido muy sencillo y bastante económico. Mandamos un email a una pareja que conocimos en Laos y que también habían estado aqui y nos contestaron esa misma tarde mandándonos el número de teléfono de su guía. Le llamamos y en menos de 24 horas, el guía nos organizó los vuelos y el tour de 4 días/3 noches en Borneo!

El día 20 volamos desde la ciudad de Surabaya, al este de Java, al aeropuerto de Pangkalan Bun, al sur de Borneo.

Llegada al aeropuerto de Pangkalan Bun en el sur de Borneo

Allí nos recogió Isy, nuestro guía, un chaval de la zona de 32 años y con un inglés impecable. Desde el aeropuerto, tras hacer cuentas con él (al encargarse él hasta de los billetes de avión, lo había pagado todo él!), nos llevaron al klotok, un barco de unos 10-15 metros de longitud y dos pisos donde pasaríamos los siguientes cuatro días recorriendo el parque nacional por el río. Como le habíamos dicho al guía que preferíamos compartir gastos, él encontró a Martine y Melodie, una mama francesa y su hija de 10 años, que viven en Jakarta, y que también le llamaron el día anterior para hacer el mismo tour. Ellas llegaron por la mañana y nosotros a mediodía, asi que las conocimos directamente en el klotok.

Vivir en el klotok ha sido una experiencia maravillosa. El klotok va a una velocidad lo suficientemente lenta como para poder disfrutar del paisaje y de los animales que vamos viendo, pero suficientemente rápido para que corra esa brisilla estupenda…

En el klotok, además de los cuatro pasajeros y el guía, va el capitan (Andy), la cocinera (Lastri) y otro chico que ayuda en lo que haga falta (a arrancar motores, encender la ducha, poner y quitar las onas, etc). Nos tratan estupendamente. Nos preparan el desayuno, la comida, la merienda y la cena, comida indonesia como arroz con marisco, pescado a la parrila con ajo y salsa de tomate, “soco” (sopa de verduras), típicos fritos de aqui como pasta de maíz frita, “tempe” (masa de judías de soja frita) o banana frita, además de la fruta fresca, ummm…, todo riquísimo…además de darnos agua, refrescos y café cuando nos apetece. Por la noche extienden cuatro colchones en la cubierta del barco y ponen las mosquiteras para que los numerosos bichillos no nos molesten…Nos quedamos dormidos al sonido de los grillos, y nos despertamos con el cantico de los pájaros…es verdaderamente una de las mejores experiencias de nuestra vida.

Posando en la cubierta del klotok

El tiempo a acompañado muchísimo y aunque en teoría estamos en temporada de lluvías, sólo hemos tenido un par de buenos chaparrones monzónicos, pero a la media hora ya estaba luciendo el sol otra vez…una autentica gozada de tiempo, aunque a veces no parábamos de sudar de la humedad, sobretodo cuando andábamos por la selva!

Afluente del río Senkoyer que lleva a Camp Leakey. El color rojo oscuro del agua es el color original del río. Las partes en que el río se ve marrón, en realidad, están contaminadas por la minería

Entre los animales que hemos visto desde el barco, además de mariposas del tamaño de un puño, libélulas rojas y escarabajos que parecen sacados de un catálogo de decoración, dados los bonitos colores…;destacan pajaros como águilas, faisanes, martines pescadores y muchos otros pajarillos de infinitos colores de los que desconocemos el nombre; reptiles como cocodrilos (nos costó avistarlos, pero al final conseguimos ver a un par de ellos!), un lagarto monitor, y por supuesto mamíferos como macacos o los raros monos narigudos (proboscis), que son super graciosos con sus tripotas, sus anchos muslos y sus narices colgantes en forma de berenjena (el macho dominante de cada clan se distingue por tener la nariz más grande, algo que supuestamente, atrae a las hembras).

Macho alfa de mono narigudo (Proboscis monkey) en un arbol al lado del rio

Macacos, muy abundantes en el Parque Nacional de Tanjung Puting

A lo largo de este río, hay además tres estaciones de alimentación para orangutanes, donde una vez al día (cada estación a diferentes horas) ponen plátanos y leche para que los orangutanes vengan a comer. Nosotros hemos visitado dos de estas estaciones (Camp 2 y Camp 3), pero es sobretodo en la favorita de nuestro guía, y ahora nuestra favorita también: Camp Leakey (Camp 3), es donde hemos pasado la mayoría del tiempo.

El primer día llegamos a Camp Leakey a mediodía (la hora a la que ponen la comida en este campamento es a las 2 p.m.) y nos quedamos un poco decepcionados al ver llegar a unos diez barcos con un grupo grande de turistas. Nuestro guía nos metió por un camino alternativo por la selva, para evitar ir en fila india, y eso estuvo genial, había árboles por todos lados, lianas…las raíces se multiplicaban y en el suelo había mantos espesos de hojas, además de todo tipo de insectos, algunos totalmente nuevos para nosotros…Era la primera vez que atravesabamos un bosque tropical y fue toda una experiencia.

Selva tropical en el Parque Nacional de Tanjung Puting

No obstante, al llegar a la plataforma de alimentación, fue como llegar a un espectáculo de zoo, con por lo menos 60 o 70 personas allí mirando, hablando alto y haciendo bromas sobre los orangutanes…Como digo, un poco decepción al encontarar tanta gente, pero para nuestra alegría, al cabo de 20 minutos o así, el guía del grupo grande (al parecer era un crucero organizado), les dijo que se tenían que ir y nos quedamos casi sólos con dos o tres grupos más y sus guías!! Eramos como 10 personas o así. Y de repente, como si los orangutanes de repente se empezaran a sentir más a gusto, empezaron a llegar más mamás orangutanas con sus bebés y orangutanes jóvenes ya independientes (los hijos no se independizan de la madre hasta que tienen unos ocho años).

Tut, de unos 35 años y su hijo Tor, de unos tres años, en una tierna imagen

Riga en la estación de alimentación de Camp Leakey

Uning y su hijo, Ukrain, en una pose divertida

Uning comiendo un trozo de madera. Atención a cómo se sujeta sólo con los pies!

Entre ellos llegó Persi, un orangutan macho de unos 10 años que es coleguita de los guías. Normalmente viene porque sabe que los guías siempre la acaban dando algún cacahuete, lo cual les encanta porque se sale de su dieta normal de frutas y leche. Estuvimos con Persi casi una hora, los guías jugando con él, escondiendo cacahuetes en nuestros bolsillos para que Persi los encontrara…y los encontraba siempre el muy pillo!! De repente se tiraba al suelo y se tumbaba con la cabeza apoyada en los brazos (una postura muy “humana”), mirándonos con unos ojitos…era una auténtica ternura.

Persie, macho independiente de unos 10 años

Esa noche, el guía nos llevó a hacer una caminata nocturna por la selva, viendo ranas, hormigas enormes y lo más impresionante para nosotros: tarántulas!!. Las tarántulas hacen sus madrigeras en agujeros super profundos al pie de los árboles, y los guías, para hacerlas salir, meten una ramita super larga en la madriguera y las atraen moviendo la ramita como su fuera un insecto. Entonces, si hay suerte, de repente sale la tarántula, que es tan grande como una pastilla de jabón de las grandes, y empieza a atacar a la ramita!! Nos quedamos impactadísimos, ya que en nuestra vida habíamos visto una tarántula en vivo y en directo y es que son tan grandes y tan peludas que no te crees que sean de verdad!!

Tarántula saliendo de su madriguera durante nuestra excursión nocturna

Ayer por la mañana amanecimos cerca de Camp 2 (Pondok Tangui) e Isy, nuestro guía, nos dijo: “venid, quereis jugar con un orangutan??” En seguida le seguimos saltando desde el a la plataforma de acceso y vimos a lo que se refería. Allí estaba Marco, un orangután de unos 10 años que estaba sentado en mitad de la plataforma, al lado de Camille, otra joven turista francesa que habíamos conocido el día anterior. Marco era más tímido que Persi, e intentaba mantener las distancias, acercándose sólo cuando veía que teníamos un pedazito de plátano para él en la mano. El resto del tiempo lo pasaba observandonos a unos metros de nosotros, bien sentado en la plataforma, bien tumbado en una de las ramas que sobresalian de la jungla. Ha sido increible sentir a los orangutanes tan cercanos y poder interactuar con ellos así.

Iván con Marco, la mañana que amaneció al lado de nuestro barco

Esa mañana fuimos a la estación de alimentación del Camp 2 y vimos a un par de mamas orangutanas con su crías, pero no pasó nada especial. Estuvimos hablando mucho con Camille y su chico, Chris, de Canada.

Bebé orangutan (hijo de Unyuk) de unos 2-3 meses de edad

Colorida ardilla que también quería probar el festín de plátanos de la estación de alimentación

Después de visitar Camp 2, Isy nos preguntó lo que preferíamos hacer por la tarde. Una alternativa era ir al Camp 1, que no conociamos, donde los orangutanes son más salvajes (según él, ya que no están tan acostumbrados a las personas), o volver a Camp Leakey, donde probablemente habría más acción. Al final, decidimos volver a Camp Leakey y vaya si fue una buena decisión, ahora os contaré por qué.

De izda a dcha, nuestro guía Isy, y nuestras dos compañeras de barco, Melanie y sus mama, Martine

Al volver de Camp 2 al barco, empezó a llover muy fuerte durante una media hora, es decir, el primer tramo de trayecto de Camp 2 a Camp Leakey. Luego se despejó y mientras comíamos en el embarcadero de Camp Leakey cayó otra corta lluvía torrencial. Era gracioso porque el personal del barco baja y sube las lonas cada vez que empieza y para de llover, y tienen tanta práctica que lo hacen a toda velocidad!

A eso de la 1 p.m., salimos del barco para accudir a la estación de alimentación a las 2 p.m.

De camino, cual no fue nuestra sorpresa, al encontrar a una mama orangutana (Petá), con su cría (Petra) colgando, agarrando a una turista de cada brazo para que la ayudaran a andar. Era una escena super tierna, la orangutana al ser más bajita que las turistas, parecía una ancianita a la que se ayuda a caminar! En realidad, lo que le pasaba a esta orangutana, según nos contó el guía, es que ha visto hacer esto a su madre, que es una orangutana rehabilitada y de contacto cercano con las personas y copia el comportamiento. Los guías me ofrecieron coger de la mano a Petá un rato, y, con Melodie en mi mano izquierda, le tendí la mano derecha a Petá. Ésta no dudó ni un instante y la aceptó, y a asi fue como viví una de las situaciones más surrealistas de mi vida. Andamos unos cuantos metros cuando Petá paró en seco, se soltó de nosotras, y fue directa a coger a Iván a dos manos. Iván se asustó bastante, en parte porque Petá no deja de ser un animal, y un animal super fuerte, y porque no se sabe cómo van a reaccionar. El guía le recomendó que siguiera e hiciera lo que Petá quería, pero Ivancillo estaba tan incómodo (la orangutana le llegó a agarrar el brazo con uno de sus pies para que la cogiera totalmente), que al final por medio de cacahuetes conseguimos darle esquinazo.

Petá agarrándose a nosotras con su hija Petra colgando. Una pena que no conseguí sacar una foto de Iván cuando se agarró a él a dos manos!!

En la plataforma de alimentación, ese día había menos gente (el grupo grande del crucero ya se había ido de la zona) y pudimos disfrutar del espectáculo de ver comer a un par de mamás con sus crías con unas cuantas personas más. Entre ellos, estaban Drew y Frederik, un par de jóvenes, estadounidense e indonesio, respectivamente, que parecían saber mucho de orangutanes…

Sonso con Tut y su hijo Tor

De repente, llegó uno de los ranger, cuidadores de la estación, corriendo y diciendonos que si queríamos ver al macho alfa, que estaba en el centro de información de Camp Leakey. Evidentemente, esto es algo que no se ve todos los días, asi que todos los presentes salimos a toda prisa hacía allá. Cuando llegamos, nuestros ojos no podían creer lo que estaban viendo y a nuestras mandíbulas les costó unos segundos volver a su posición normal. Allí estaba Tom, el macho dominante de Tanjung Puting Nacional Park, sentado en mitad de la hierba que rodea a la caseta del centro del centro de información, con Siswi, la hembra dominante, a unos metros de él.

Cómo describir a Tom? Bien, si ver a un orangutan normal ya impresiona, ver al macho dominante, realmente te deja helado! Debido a los esteroides, que aumentan a niveles altísimos cuando un macho se vuelve dominante, Tom tiene la cara super redonda con enormes papos a cada lado, y una papada desconumal que le llega hasta la barriga. Su embergadura es de ,más de 3 metros y su peso es de unos 150 Kg. Los brazos son enormes, como los de alguien que realmente se ha pasado llendo al gimnasio, las manos como dos veces las nuestras, y todo él está recubierto de pelo naranja y marrón. Según nos contarón, Tom tiene 29 años (nuestra edad!!) y todos los bebés orangutanes que hemos estado viendo son sus descendientes. Ningún otro macho puede fecundar a las hembras de esta zona, tan sólo él. Como digo, Tom estaba sentado en la hierba tranquilamente, observando a la gente con carita de bonachón y de no querer moverse de ahí en un buen rato.

Tom descansando en frente del centro de información de Camp Leakey

De repente, se oyó un ruido de hojas en los árboles a nuestra espalda. Todo el mundo se dió la vuelta, pero inmediatamente alguien gritó: “correeeed”. En un segundo, se hizó el caos. Al volver a girarnos, vimos a Tom corriendo a toda velocidad hacia los árboles que se encontraban justo detrás de nosotros, y evidentemente todo el mundo salió despaborido en todas direcciones. Si sentado ya impresionaba, Tom corriendo fue un espectáculo que nos dejó a todos de piedra. Una masa naranja de 150 kilos sprintando en tu dirección es algo que no se ve muy a menudo!

Tardamos un par de minutos en darnos cuenta de lo que realmente había ocurrido. Con cautela, todos nos dirigimos hacia donde Tom había ido, los guías y rangers en cabeza. Tom estaba de espaldas, al lado de los árboles del camino. El ruido que habíamos escuchado había sido la llamada de una de las hembras, una especie de chasquito hecho con los labios, algo al parecer tan irresistible para Tom, que no pudó contener la urgencia de ir a aparearse inmediatamente. Decepcionantemente, el acto no duró más de un par de minutos, pero las bromas sobre lo ocurrido duraron mucho más.

Tom caminado por la selva

Después de este acontecimiento, Tom se incorporó apoyando sólo una mano en un árbol, la otra en la cintura…Era super gracioso y por supuesto nosotros seguimos haciendo bromas, ya que lo que acababamos de ver nos parecía todavía increible. Al rato, Tom se subió a los árboles por encima de nuestras cabezas, que increiblemente y gracias al sentido del equilibrio de Tom, no cedieron ante su peso, mientras Siswi, la hembra dominante, nos deleitaba con sus miradas socarronas y dulces mientras se hacía un colchón de hojas y se relajaba justo en frente nuestro.

Siswi, hembra dominante, de unos 29 años de edad

Al cabo de un rato, Tom bajó de los árboles y volvió al centro de información, donde muy educadamente hizo entender a los cuidadores del parque que era hora de comer. Los cuidadores le sacaron un balde de arroz con leche y Tom se tumbó, agarrandolo con los brazos, para disfrutarlo. Al momento aparecieron Siswi, que pidió permiso a Tom con gestos antes de sumergir la cabeza en el balde, y Tut, la mama de Tom, con su otro hijo Tor (probablemente hijo-hermano de Tom), que sin ni siquiera preguntar (a una madre se la respeta hasta en el mundo animal), también sumergió la cabeza en el balde. Al termirar el festin, tanto Tom como Tut y Tor desaparecieron entre los arbustos, pero Siswi se quedó holgazaneando entre nosotros.

Por si todo esto fuera poco, al rato nos enteramos que Drew y Frederik son en realidad productores de cine, y que habían venido a proyectar por primera vez un documental que han hecho sobre Tanjung National Park. El documental, Born to be Wild, se estrenaba ese mismo día en Jakarta y en unos meses estará a la venta. Es un film en IMAX, con planos preciosos, y combina la historia de los orangutanes rehabilitados del parque con la de un grupo de elefantes rehabilitados de otro parque nacional en Kenia. Drew y Frederik nos invitaron a ver “la premier” allí mismo, que era para lo que realmente habían venido, y nos pidieron silencio porque lo que realmente querían ver era la reacción en los orangutanes. El documental nos gustó mucho, lo más especial es ver un documental sobre el sitio que estás visitando en ese momento, porque normalmente nosotros veríamos este documental en casa y pensaríamos: “ojala pudieramos ir ahí”, pero en este caso, ya estabamos ahi!! Lo más gracioso fue que Siswi apareció en la sala de proyecciones y se sentó en la puerta, prestando atención total al documental. Nadie pudo aguantar la risa, porque de verdad esta orangutana tiene gestos y expresiones super auténticos.

Parte del equipo del documental Born to be Wild, con la estrella, Siswi, en el medio

Para rematar el día, al regresar al klotok, pudimos ver uno de los animales que llevamos deseando ver desde que hicimos la “experiencia del gibon” en Laos. Al llegar al embarcadero, vimos que Boy, uno de los tres gibones de la zona, estaba sentado tranquilamente en frente de los barcos. Los gibones son primates de aspecto curioso, con caras expresivas, en gran parte gracias a sus pobladas cejas. Otra de sus peculiaridades son sus brazos extremadamente largos, que les ayudan para hacer saltos espectaculares de rama en rama, a una velocidad asombrosa. Es muy dificil avistar gibones en su habitat natural, debido a que son bastante tímidos y a su constante actividad por las copas de los árboles. Hay gibones de varios colores, y Boy es de los gibones más bonitos, con pelaje negro, ojos castaños y cejas blancas. Si alguien se anima a ver el documental Born to be Wild (proyectado entre otros teatros en el IMAX de Valencia durante unos meses), podreis compobrar la agilidad de Boy saltando de rama en rama.

Boy, el gibón que encontramos al lado de nuestro barco

Ya en el klotok, no podiamos dejar de pensar en las vivencias de estos últimos días, la suerte que hemos tenido de poder venir a ver a los orangutanes en su habitat natural, y en la esperanza de que estos maravillosos seres no se extingan, de que seamos capaces de preservar su hábitat para que sigan siendo una realidad y no solamente un bonito recuerdo.

Pequeño bebé orangutan jugando en la estación de alimentación

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Kampot…and our friend Darren (06-08.01.12)

Kampot was in my mental list of “must-see places in Cambodia” since I saw some pictures of this place on the internet when reading about the country. It seemed such a charming and beautiful place, with lovely country side and small villages scattered around it! Just by looking at these wonderful pictures I fell in love with the place and I promised to myself that I’d try to visit it during our Asian trip.

Iván and Son with the local children or a village nearby Kampot

We got to Kampot in the late afternoon after a bus ride from Phnom Penh that took about 3-4 hours. Kampot is a riverside town located in the South of Cambodia. It is 25 Km from the sea, the closest seaside town being Kep. We did not stay in the town itself, but on the other side of the river, 15 minutes walking from Kampot, in the place managed by a Belgium guy called Olly. We got one of the four bungalows and immediately went to have a swim in the river, which you can access directly from Olly’s bar!

A little after sunrise, sitting in Olly's riverside bar

Back in Kratie, the first day we arrived to Cambodia, we had met a nice Canadian girl in the guesthouse. She had already visited Kampot and she recommended us to contact a local guide called “Rugby”. She said that she had spent a fabulous day around Kampot with him and we decided to call him that same night. We were a bit sceptical about hiring a guide because we are really used to travelling on our own and sometimes we find it a bit odd and difficult. However, “Rugby”, or Darren, as he introduced himself, was totally different and we were extremely happy to have called him!

Darren came to meet us to Olly’s Place the morning after. He had a motorbike, and recommended us to rent one for us for that day. After driving Iván to the closest motorbike rental place and coming to pick me up at Olly’s, the three of us started exploring the countryside. I was going with Darren on his motorbike and Iván followed us with his.

Ivan happy with his kroma on his rented motorbike

Beautiful and extremelly nice people of a village near Kampot, where Darren brought us

Girls playing by the sea side near Kep

Darren spent the whole day with us and we showed us some of the most fascinating places around Kampot: the salt fields, a rural village where we got to meet some of the friendly families (and a lot of really sweet children!!), the Phnom Chhnork cave with a 7th Hindu temple, a market where we tried some of Cambodian food and where we bought our first kormas (local scarves which everybody in Cambodia wears!), a pepper plantation (we never imagined that our so much used pepper grew like this!) and the seaside town of Kep, where we visited the famous crab market and where we saw an spectacular sunset (one of the most stunning sunsets we have ever seen!).

Salt field near Kampot

7th century hindu temple inside a cave near Kampot

Sonso with a Cambodian kroma in a pepper plantation near Kampot

Close up of the pepper plant in a pepper plantation near Kampot

Crab fishermen and women in the Kep market at sunset

I forgot to mention that in the middle of the day, we met a very nice French guy (Christophe) on his rented motorbike, who joined Darren, Iván and I for the rest of the day.

On the way back to Kampot, we even had the chance to see a traditional marriage (the dry season is the official wedding season in Cambodia). The party can last several days and there is food and music all night looong.

Cambodian wedding

The best of all was the local people. At everyplace we stopped, people were so smiley, friendly, generous…the children were very shy at the beginning, but after ten minutes with them, they started smiling, playing and running all over us. In one of the villages, they kept on bringing flowers to me and putting them on my hair. It is unbelievable that people here, even having so little (sometimes they had only one set of clothes and walked barefoot) they shared everything with us: when we met people who were eating, they wanted to share their food with us. Cambodia is a country where you feel really welcomed by its people and this is one of the best things when you are travelling.

Friendly mum and daughter from a village near Kampot

Cute little boy from a village near Kampot having his breakfast

To end the day, Darren brought us to a local “bungalow local restaurant” where we ate excellent Cambodian food (everything from pork, fish and veggies) and where Darren made us try all the local liquors: ginseng wine with fresh coconut juice, palm wine and rice wine. And as the local tradition says, once you are served a shot and you cheer, you must finish it! In total we drank 3or 4 bottles of these local (and really strong) spirits, and as you can imagine, we all went to bed a little “happier” than usual :o)

Not only Darren showed us all these incredible places around Kampot, but he did it in such a way that he made us feel more like friends than like clients. We got along pretty well and after a couple of hours of having met each other, we were making a lot of jokes to each other and having a lot of fun together. Darren was so generous that when we said good bye to each other, he gave us two presents: a key ring with the shape of a shrimp from Kep and his own cap for Iván. We will never forget this amazing guy.

Thank you Darren for making us spend the best day in Kampot and probably one of the best days in our entire trip!

Sonso and Darren testing local rice at the end of the day

Terrific sunset in Kep

Look at the reflexions on the water!!

Phnom Penh and the shadow of the Khmer Rouge (05-06.01.12)

Some people decide to skip the capital of Cambodia because the main sights of these city are simply to hard and difficult to see or accept. Of course Phnom Penh is not only about the horrible regime of the Khmer Rouge, also called the Pol Pot’s Regime because of the name of its leader, but at the same time one cannot visit Phnom Penh and without learning about the terrible facts that occurred in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979.

We arrived to Phnom Penh in the mid afternoon after a three hour ride from Kompong Cham. The most interesting event in this trip was the stop at a local service area where they were selling deep fried criquets and deep fried tarantulas (uggg!!). After a kind local woman insisted, I had the courage to try a tiny little piece of criquet (it just tasted like oil because of the deep frying…), but I did not dare to try the tarantulas…Apparently, in Cambodia, they are a delicatessen and therefore expensive, and this woman told me that the legs are crunchy and that the best part is the main body, which is full of delicious liquid (uggg again!!!).

Girl eating deep fried snacks: criquets and tarantulas, at a roadside stop between Kompong Cham and Phnom Penh

Following recommendations found in the net, we booked a room in a place called Blue Dog Guesthouse and I have only good words for this place. The guesthouse is owned by a man whose main job is making wooden frames in the ground floor of the building where the guesthouse is located. The man is really kind, but the girls at the reception are really some of the friendliest staff ever! We loved our room in Blue Dog, newly painted and with high ceilings, and we enjoyed a lot the common area, a big room opening to a balcony with TV, lots of DVDs and comfortable chairs. Another great memory of Phnom Penh and of Blue Dog is the delicious coffee with sweet milk and ice…it tasted amazing at any time of the day!!

Iván enjoying an ice coffee with sweet milk in a local bar near our hotel, Phnom Penh

By the way, maybe I also have good memories of this place because while we were there I got some presents by the “Three Holy Kings: Melchor, Gaspar and Baltasar” (Spanish tradition instead of Santa Claus, which consists on giving the Christmas presents the night from the 5th to the 6th of January), who despite the far distance this time, they knew how to find me!

Sonso with her "Three Holy Kings" presents

But focusing on the sights of Phnom Penh, there are two places which give evidence of the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge regime: the Tuol Sleng Museum and The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek.

The Tuol Sleng Museum was a high school until the Khmer Rouge transformed it into the biggest prison of the regime, calling it the Security Prison 21 or S-21. Prisoners or simply people suspected to be traitors to the regime were brought here to be interrogated and tortured. The site has been converted into a museum to testify its cruel past, but most of the area has been kept as the Vietnamese found it in 1979 when they liberated Cambodia from the Kmer Rouge. Everyday there is a projection of the documentary Bophana for free. The documentary it is interesting as it tells a true history of a young woman who fell in love with a Khmer Rouge leader and the consequences that they had to pay. However, the sound was kept so low in the projection room that we could hardly hear it, unfortunately.

After the movie, we joined a German traveller whom we had met a few days before while crossing the border between Laos and Cambodia, and an Australian guy and we hired one of the guides of the museum to show us around the prison and tell us its stories. This is a great way to visit this museum as the personal stories that these guides can tell you are even more shocking than the site itself. Besides you support the guides, who are local students trying to get an extra income.

Tuol Sleng Museum, Phnom Penh

Most of the rooms of the different buildings are empty and you can see the cells where the prisoners were kept. Some of these minuscule compartments still have blood spots on the floor giving testimony of the suffering which the prisoners had to go through…Some rooms have pictures of prisoners and staff of the prison. Some others have paintings made by one of the seven survivors, who just died last year, in which many of the facts he experienced are shown. Finally, there are also some torture instruments at display.

Toul Sleng Museum, Phonm Penh.

The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek is located about 40 minutes away from the city and it is difficult to think that this quiet and beautiful area in the countryside was scenery of the mass killing of thousands of people. In contrast to the German extermination camp, people did not come here to labour. They were just brought here to be killed. Trucks of prisoners from the S-21 prison arrived at night with blinded eyes. They were downloaded from the trucks and they were killed with knives or with the sharp edge of the palm trees (bullets were of course too precious to be wasted on the people).

Shredded piece of cloth at the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, Phnom Penh

At the entrance of the Killing Fields, you can get an audioguide in your language which explains the story of the place and gives the testimony of some survivors. It is an excellent audioguide and the whole tour takes a little more than one hour. Scattered along the fields you can still see pieces of clothes or bones which continue coming to the surface. The care takers of the place have decided not to make more diggings and keep the site as it is now, leaving the rests of all the people here resting in peace as they deserve. The Memorial Stupa is a monument erected in memory of the people who suffered and died by the Pol Pot’s people hands. It has about 8000 skulls on display, showing the diversity of targets of the Khmer Rouge, both in terms of sex and age.

Killing Fields Choeung Ek, Phnom Penh

Finally, beside the fields, a small building explains a bit more about the Khmer Rouge, its methods and it gives details of the ongoing trial of Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch. Duch was the manager of the S-21 prison and he is the only member of the Pol Pot regime who has recognized the crimes committed, including the killing of children and babies by smashing their heads against trees, and who has apologized in public and who has recognized his responsibility for these crimes. All the other members never recognized that any crimes were committed or that they were involved in any.

We were told to be careful in Phnom Pehn, because apparently it is not the safest of the Asian cities. However, everybody we talked to or crossed our paths with was so kind and helpful that we have great memories of our stay in the capital.

Phnom Penh also has a wide riverside avenue which fills with people strolling, playing soccer, skating and dancing every evening.

Riverfront avenue of Phnom Penh at dusk

There was a good vibe in the air the evening that we visited it and we decided to have dinner there: Phnom Penh noodles from a sweet street vendor woman and delicious ice cream in a terrace by the river.

Street vendor selling Phnom Penh noodles (0.25 cents of US$!!), our dinner that night

It was interesting to see this other part of Phnom Penh, which besides its dark past, has a promising future due to the genuine kindness of its people.

Sunset over the Royal Palace of Phnom Penh

Cambodian Mekong towns (03-05.01.12)

Previously in Triptoes: Our two friends had to go through one of the most feared nightmares in SE Asia, the so called “Border between Lao and Cambodia” :o)

Since we already heard a lot about how tedious this border was, we wisely decided to break down the long trip all the way from Laos to Phnom Penh. I can not even think how long it had to be for those doing the whole trip to the capital or even to Siem Reap!!

Anyways, our first stop in Cambodia was the city of Kratie. We got there during the late afternoon but just in time to be more than positively surprise with our hotel (Balcony hotel) and to enjoy the amazing sunset over the Mekong River.

Ivan and I enjoying a beer over the sunset in Kratie

One of the good things about down beating experiences such as the Lao-Cambodia border is that they make people bond a lot. We met a lot of nice people that day and had a lot fun too. Two of those people were Ben and his wife Irina from Belgium. They did not booked a room in our hotel (by far the best in town) so when they were leaving we suggested that could share the room. Really, it was a huuuuge room!!! And they were very happy to do so. We became some sort of buddies and teamed up the following day to go visit the Irradawy dolphins.

The next day we got up early and went looking for the dolphins. They are the main attraction of Kratie since there are not many places (habitats) where these intelligent mammals can still live. They are incredible cute and you can feel why they fascinate so many people. Clever and playful, you can really feel how they look at your eyes like kind of sizing you up are trying to find out what you are up to 

Ben and Ivan in the boat to see the dolphins

Irradaway dolphins near Kratie, Cambodia

The dolphins made our day and after this great experience we packed up our stuff and head to Kompong Cham, our next stop following our plan to break down our trip to the capital, not before enjoying and amazing papaya sandwich (or two) on a baguette.

Little girl doing her homework in the office where we waited for the bus

Kompong Cham was very nice surprise. It was a rather neat city and again, the views over the Mekong River were just stunning. Walking along the river on a fresh evening is just wonderful. Besides, the place is well equipped with nice restaurants and many activities to enjoy in the surroundings.

The life is always connected to the river in Cambodian Mekong towns such as Kompong Cham

Unfortunately, we only had one night to enjoy the place but as usual Sonsoles got the most out of our time, no matter how little it is. So the four of us decided to get a boat and visit the Prey Chung Kran weaving village and Wat Maha Leap. Both places are worth the visit but the boat ride here is an incredible highlight itself. They are about 20 km away from Kompong Cham and after a fast ride on the main river we turned left into a subsidiary of the Mekong and continue for another 45 minutes. The scenery is just brutal, and the “Apocalypse Nowish” landscape is beautiful.

Prey Chung Kran is a very small village where everything has to do with weaving. We were kindly introduced by the locals to the different process of creating the different types of fabric. From here, they supply these fabrics to all around the country. It was our first contact with the omnipresent kroma or typical scarf.

Woman weaving silk scarves in a village near Kompong Cham

Lovely girl in a village near Kompong Cham

Wat Maha Leap is one of the most sacred temples in the country since it is one of the very few wooden temples that had survived over the years. The atmosphere here is very special and the temple is beautiful, especially the dark wooden columns painted with golden motives. Although it is such an important place very few tourists adventure all the way here, so the whole temple was just for us.

Beautiful wooden temple of Wat Maha Leap, near Kompong Cham

Beautiful wooden temple of Wat Maha Leap near Kompong Cham

And to top it all, when the day was ending we just happened to be in the right place at the right time. The sunset from the boat in the middle of the amazing Mekong river was one to remember forever!!

Sunset in the Mekong, Kompong Cham

The next day we left to the capital but before that, we did not want to miss the chance of visiting one of the biggest bamboo bridges in the world!!! And they build it every year!!! Just beautiful!

Wooden bridge in Kompong Cham which is built every dry season

Children going to school in the Mekong side street of Kompong Cham

We would like to thank Ben and Irina for sharing these two fantastic days with us! They are such a kind, generous, fun and interesting couple that it was a pleasure to travel with you! A big hug from here!!

Odyssey in the border (03.01.12)

The whole day to do less than 200 Km? Lots of waiting time and frustration, as well as funny moments? Yes, we are talking about the border crossing betweenLaosandCambodia.

We started this odyssey in Don Det, where we bought a bus ticket to the Cambodian city ofKratiefor 18 dollars each. At 08:30 a.m., together with many other travellers, we waited for our boat to arrive to Don Det’s harbour. From there we crossed to Ban Nakasan (5-10 minutes) where we had to wait for about an hour for a bus to come. While we waited, the same people who has sold us the bus tickets advised us to get the Cambodian visa with them. They had all the forms ready for us to fill out and they asked for 30 dollars each. But we read that the visa were 20 dollars! “Do it yourself at the border, but there are lots of people and a long queue and bus will not wait for you”, was the answer of these guys. We were really angry with the way this people threaten us. How the bus cannot wait for us, if we have paid for the tickets? Almost everybody, except for a few other travellers and us, got the visa through this people. We, however, decided not to contribute to this mafia and to do it ourselves at the border.

Finally, when the bus arrived, we were driven to the border (20-30 minutes), where there was nobody but us (surprise!) and were we got our visa much faster than the people who had done it with the mafia. Moreover, we had to wait for their passports!! Isn’t it unbelievable??

Anyway, finally we paid 28 dollars, instead of the 20 dollars that the official visa cost, and the extra 8 dollars went directly into the border officials pockets: such as “1 dollar to measure your body temperature”, or “ 2 more dollars to get the stamp” or “2 more dollars to get the signature on the visa”. As we say in Spanish: “un cachondeo”…Everybody was pissed off, but what to do?

After waiting for about 30-40 minutes for the other people to get their passports, the group was split into a big bus and a minivan, where we went. We drove about 30 minutes more and the minivan stopped at some road bar. There we waited, and waited, and waited…we did not know what or why…and nobody spoke English. Finally, someone came and we drove again, and this time we did not stop until the first Cambodian town: Stung Streng. Some people got off there, and the rest of us got into the big bus which was waiting for us there (?).

The bus was so crowded with people (and everything else, including bicycles), that we had to sit in small chairs on the corridor of the bus.

Iván in the “middle row” on the trip from Slung Streng to Kratie (the quality of the picture is really bad, but at least you can see how it was!)

Actually, as far as we saw, this is the way most people in Laos and Cambodia travelled, but the annoying part was, that we were charged A LOT for this trip and that the organization and the way they treated us was really bad.

The staff of the different busses and minivans was really rude and they treated us like animals, but I want to believe that it is because us Westerners are also rude to them many times, because everybody inCambodiais so nice and friendly, that I refuse to believe that they are just like that.

Despite the difficult day, we ended up meeting many other travellers that day and we laughed a lot of the whole situation, so when we think of this odyssey a big smile come to our faces.

Anyway, we finally arrived to Kratie around 4 p.m., with time enough to check-in in our hotel and enjoy a beer while the sun was setting under theMekong…

 

Lao food

This post is all about Lao food!
 
We did not know what to expect regarding Laos gastronomy, and we were afraid that the food would be dissapointing after loving so much the Thai food…
 
However, we found that Laos has its own cuisine and even though it is not as famous as the food in its neighbour country, we found it to be pretty good indeed!
 
Apart from the usual fried noodles and fried rice with vegetables, egg and/or meat which are eaten in almost all Asian countries, Lao has some typical and delicious dishes such as the following ones:
 
Sticky rice (khào nîaw): this is Lao national dish! It is cooked by steaming the rice in bamboo pots and it is served in small and beautiful bamboo containers. Lao people make rice balls with the fingers and dipp them in the dipping sauces (see below).
 

Dipping “sauces” (jâew): made with roasted tomatoes, roasted eggplant, peanuts or chillies, they are eaten by dipping sticky rice in them.

Sticky rice and a set of jaew in a fancy Luang Prabang restaurant

Algae from the Mekong (khai phun): dried, seasoned river moss that it is eaten as snack or with jâew and sticky rice. We saw it in Muang Ngoi and Luang Prabang.

 

Papaya salad (tàm màak-hung): made with shredded green papaya, lime juice, chillies and garlic pounded in a mortar.

 

Làap: cold meat salads made with chicken, pork or fish.

 

French bread (baguettes): eaten for breakfast with butter and jam or sweetened milk, or as a sandwich any time of the day, they are delicious!

 

Barbecued chicken (ping kai): chicken and other meats are grilled during the evening in many street stalls and restaurants. Women usually come with grilled meat to sell to the passengers of buses or tuk-tuks when they stop in the villages.

Chicken cooked with herbs and lemongrass

 

Beerlao: the national beverage and the best Asian beer that we have tried so far. Lao people are really proud of it, and with a reason!

 

Lào-Láo: rice whisky which is consumed all over the country. The best one is the one made at home by the locals. We tried it in a village close to Muang Ngoi and we managed to buy some (literally by the back door) in Muang Ngoi itself which we drank for Christmas dinner.

 

Lao coffee: strong black coffee with sweet milk.

Lao coffe (black coffee with sweet milk) from a street stall
 
And for dessert: sticky rice cooked in coconut milk and served with fresh fruit such as banana and pineapple.

 

Croissants and other French pastries are found in bakeries in Luang Prabang andVientiane.

Don Det (02-03.01.12)

At the beginning, when we were planning the trip to Laos, we were going to fly from the capital, Vientiane, directly to Phnom Pehn. But finally, because we do not really enjoy flying and because crossing the two countries overland would be cheaper, we decided to take local buses to get from Northern Laos to Cambodia. And so glad we did! In that way we had the chance to stop by the Southern part of Laos, a place called Si Phan Don, literally, “four thousand islands”.

View of the Sunset Boulevard from our bungalow in Don Det

The place is called like this because in the dry season, the Mekong river recesses and thousands of islands all over the area suddenly emerge. As you can imagine, the landscape is stunning. However, the thing that I recall the most is the relaxed atmosphere that has taken the whole place.

As mentioned in the last post, we took the night bus from Vientiane to Pakse. By the way, if you have the chance to take this bus, do it! It is the best night bus of the whole Asia, especially if you are two persons. I will explain: the bus has double beds for two persons, so I am sure how the experience is if you travel alone and you have to sleep so close to someone else who you do not know. But as we were two, and a couple, we loved it! A small tip: it is better to get a lower bed rather than an upper bed. We got a huge double bed for a bus (maybe 120 or 130 cm), together with pillows, bed linen, bottles of water and some cakes. We were prepared for one of those nights in buses where you do not get to sleep so much, but when we arrived to Pakse, we had to be awaken and we would have wished that the trip would have lasted longer!

But coming back to the four thousand islands, when we arrived to Pakse, and after changing bus station, we took a tuk-tuk to Don Det (around 3-4 hours), one of the permanent islands of this peculiar archipelago. We were not sure to which of the main three islands (Don Khong, Don Det or Don Khon) we should go. According to the guidebook, Don Khong or Don Khon would have been better choices for a relaxed stay, while Don Det was more like a party place, similar to Vang Vieng. However, following the recommendations of some people, we finally decided to give a try to Don Det.

Children rowing a long tail boat in Don Det

The tuk tuk left us at a village called Ban Nakasan and from there, a small boat crossed us to Don Det. In Don Det, we rented a couple of bikes and loaded with our four backpacks (yes, we ARE crazy), we went to find a nice bungalow. We cycled to the area of Don Det called “sunset boulevard” where we found a nice and simple bungalow for 20000 kip (around 2 euros!). The place was really basic, but the views were amazing!! We were so happy that we decided to do nothing but enjoying for the rest of the day! We cycled a little around, read on the hammock, had lunch at the restaurant by our bungalow, had a nap, drank coffee with sweet milk and crushed ice (hummm, delicious!!), had a swim on the little beach by the “harbour”, enjoyed great Indian food and called our families with skype.

What a wonderful day! Every time I think of Don Det, I feel like coming back…I really liked this place, and it was not the “crazy-party” place that the guidebook described. It was all pretty calm and extremely beautiful. Moreover, we met a couple of French people who were staying in Don Khon (supposedly quieter) and they said that there had been loud music every night, and that everything was more expensive and not as nice as Don Det. So you should never trust the guidebooks, but listen to the travellers’ advice.

In the evening, we saw the sun setting from our hammock. Fishermen were coming out in their boats for the nights fishing and it was beautiful just watching them throwing their fishing nets to the water under the warm sunny light of the afternoon.

Sunset over Four Thousands Islands

Fishing boat at dusk in Don Det

There is still plenty of things to see around Don Det that we didn’t have time for, but isn’t that the perfect excuse to plan our return to the four thousand islands??

Ivan and I in the Sunset Boulevard, Don Det