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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

23 December 2010

Boat trip

22nd December 2010

We left Battambang today after a very relaxing stay at the Sanctuary Villa, and travelled to Siem Reap where we are staying at Dan’s other hotel. Dan (pronounced “dane”) is a seriously nice guy and a real entrepreneur; he’s a computer programmer who seems to have fallen into the hotel business, and he designed every detail of the Sanctuary himself. Not only that, he’s pretty much living there during the hotel’s first year to make sure everything goes well and the staff get the hang of things. I always expect the stylish hotels in developing countries

to be owned by absentee foreigners with big money, so it’s great to find one locally owned and locally designed with the owner always friendly and present.

Our journey to Siem Reap was by boat, down the river from Battambang and then across the vast Tonle Sap lake. So many people live and work on these waters, the trip was a parade of interesting images and glimpses of a way of life totally new to me. Many families call home a covered boat that we might think too small for a pleasure-cruise on the Thames.

The journey was rudely interrupted around elevenses when another boat crashed into ours. A big boat. Everyone on the left side threw themselves to the deck to avoid being decapitated by the prow of the other

vessel, which came into our boat at head-height and smashed through five of the wooden uprights that hold the roof up as though they were matchsticks. Our boat heeled over, but the other one slid away before it could capsize us. Astoundingly, nobody was hurt. The roof sagged badly, but the remaining three uprights were just enough to keep it up – even though half-a-dozen determined tourists insisted on returning to bronzing themselves on the roof.

As if this wasn’t enough, we then got stuck in the water hyacinths. This stuff clogged the channel in huge mats so that no water could be seen, and before long we were stuck fast. When the boat inched forward, it hauled with it a mat of hyacinth the size of a tennis court snared fast by the propeller.

The engine shrieked, then screamed, then screamed some more until the driver mercifully switched it off. The crew went over the side to cut away the tangled plants, and had to do this twice more before we reached the open waters of the lake. Tonle Sap is astonishing, so vast that we might as well have been at sea – there was no shore visible in any direction. And yet the lake is home to whole communities, living in floating villages with temples and schools. We stopped at one where the crew made running repairs, propping up the roof with whatever odd bits of timber they could find and nailing them in place.

Our final event of the trip was a praying mantis who leapt straight onto Maureen’s face. The poor thing was terrified, and Maureen was a bit worried too. It must have ended up on the boat when we strayed close to the bank and crunched through overhanging branches, so there was nothing for it but to keep the little mantis in a little box until we had crossed the lake and were once more near enough to undergrowth to let him go.

Now we’re in Siem Reap, and have just enjoyed a barbecue Khmer-style. Four hours of sleep last night and an 8+ hour boat ride today, I’m knackered.

5 Responses to “Boat trip”

  1. Dave says:

    Marauding boats, triffid hyacinth hybrids and praying mantis attacks, I suggest next time you take a relaxing cruise off the coast of Somalia in a vessel designed to resemble a faberge egg…

    Sounds like a fun cruise all that aside, and any amount of tribulation is worth a barbecue at the end!

    • shortclaws says:

      Haha. Okay, you’re on. This year around the world we’re going to wildlife hotspots, so next time we do a year of travel we’ll challenge ourselves and go for criminal hotspots. Six weeks in a Rio favela, and Maureen can wear a “he’s with the CIA” t-shirt.

  2. Jan & Barry says:

    Hi Matthew & Maureen,

    Love following all your adventures on your web site. Have a great Christmas & New Year.
    Looking forward to seeing your Mum & Dad in Spain next May when they should be able to give us first hand reports of their stay with you following their holiday down under.

    Love Jan & Barry

    • shortclaws says:

      Hi! Lovely to hear from you, and to know that the blog is entertaining enough to keep you following. We hope our visit down under with mum and dad won’t involve leeches and boat collisions! Hope you all have a lovely Christmas and a great New Year as well. We’re off to the pool now – it’s 32 degrees so we need to cool down. ; )

  3. Nessa says:

    Happy Christmas!!! Hope you are having an amazing Christmas. Will email you. Love Nessa & Tim xxx

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