Kristine wanders

The musings of a wanderer......

Category: Cambodia

Sacred Places

During my time in Prague we wandered around the Old Jewish Cemetery and it got me thinking about all the sacred places I’ve visited during my travels. Places where the ugliness of humanity once carried out unimaginable horrors or mother nature intervened in tragic ways, and the different ways people pay their respects and mourn for those that died. In the West we commonly lay wreaths. Have moments of silence or hold candle light vigils. We visit grave sights and place flowers. We bow our heads. We say prayers. Wandering this Jewish cemetery many of the tombstones had rocks placed on the top, or coins, or notes. Some of the notes said “Love from Italy.” Or Florida, or France. Many of the notes were folded in a way that the messages were kept secret. Sealed messages of mourning to honour the dead. I was really moved by this tradition of leaving behind something to acknowledge that we have been there, and that the persons memory is carried on by the living.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I remember one of my first trips abroad and visiting Hiroshima and seeing the Peace Memorial at sunset. In 1945 an atomic bomb was dropped there and some 70 000 people were instantly killed. Today the bombed out remains of one building are all that remain and I remember the building being lit up at night which made the visit very moving and that there was an eerie calmness to the site. In my memories it’s silent except for the sound of the wind thru the nearby trees. I’m sure there were other noises, but all I remember was the light and the setting sun. Since then I have visited Ground Zero in New York City. I’ve walked the beaches of Sri Lanka years after the deadly tsunami that claimed the lives of nearly 37 000 people. When I visited back in 2010 nearly 6 years later parts of the coast looked like a war zone with only the cement frames of houses that were otherwise completely washed away. It was heart wrenching to drive through these small villages and meet people who had lost family members or even their entire family, their houses, and had no choice but to continue living on the coast- in many cases living off the very ocean that took so much from them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I remember in 2010 when I backpacked thru Syria. Crossing by land from northern Jordan and driving up to Damascus the oldest city in the world. I remember feeling very safe while traveling there- my best friend and I taking public buses to the UNESCO sites of Palmyra in the northeastern part of the country near the Iraqi border and Crac de Chevaliers just outside of Homs. Both sites have been massively damaged in the Syrian conflict not to mention the estimated 250 000 Syrians that have lost their lives. Last year when I was in the Maldives there was a massive earthquake that hit Nepal, a country I had visited the year before. I remember exploring the alleyways of Kathmandu stumbling across tiny temples and statues amongst the hustle and bustle of such a populated city. Much of it was damaged during that earthquake in April 2015.

Palmyra in Syria

Crac de Chevaliers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few years back I visited the Killing Fields of Cambodia where over 1 million people were killed by the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970’s. 1 million. In my lifetime. I remember wandering the memorial site and crying. What took place there was horrific and barbaric. Processing it made the air feel thick and my chest feel heavy. It’s unimaginable. And yet it happened. In recent years it has become a tradition to leave a bracelet to remember the dead at the site of one of the mass graves. Rocks in Jewish cemeteries, bracelets in Cambodia. Different acts and yet the same meaning- to bare witness. To mourn for humanities evil. All of these sites have the same things in common. They are sacred. They instill the visitor with a sense of disbelief and an overwhelming feeling of despair. Apart from my reference to Sri Lanka and Nepal all these events are man made. The darkest parts of humanity did this. And it continues to happen today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This post wasn’t meant to be depressing but rather to acknowledge the different ways around the world people pay their respects and remember the dead on the actual soil where nature and man has claimed so many lives. I also hope that it motivates you to learn about these dark periods of history and compare them to current events. To bear witness to what is happening around the world today. Lest we not repeat humanities mistakes. That we realize that a life no matter how far away or how different from our own is still a precious life. That it inspires you to get out there and see the world, as the world and climate are always changing and natural events can forever change the face of a place.

Misunderstanding…..

The first and only time I almost beat an Asian man’s ass was just across the border of Thailand in Cambodia, in the back of a taxi on route to Siem Reap. It was late at night, pissing down rain and visibility was maybe half a car length ahead of the taxi’s front bumper as the driver sped down the road dodging carts and motorcycles. Naturally, he was on his mobile phone¬† speaking Cambodian and telling someone the name of our hotel. Golden Mango Inn. He then slowly started to pull the car over to the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, in the pitch darkness. We had read horrible reports of the safety issues with crossing via land from Thailand into Cambodia via the Aranyaprathet/Poipet border crossing. Scams, robbings, and warnings NOT to cross after dark. And here we were crossing after dark. And in a car with a dodgy driver.

In my overly dramatic and active imagination this was the moment. The moment when all my awesome travel tales would come to an abrupt end. The moment where we would get robbed at gun point or murdered. Our bodies left in the dark night along a desolate road in the Cambodian countryside. The driver pulled the car to a stop and got out of the car without saying a word and went around to the trunk. He’s getting a gun I thought to myself, although I’m pretty sure I said this out loud to my travel partner who was also a little unsettled by the situation, but not nearly as crazy as me. All I knew was that if he were going to get a gun from the trunk there was no way I was staying in the back of the car like a sitting duck. It’s unclear to me why I thought that if he did have a gun the most logical place for him to keep it was in the trunk. But really, that’s besides the point. Everything from this point happened very fast. He got out of the drivers side, came past my door and headed for the trunk. Shit he’s getting a gun. I threw the door open and went around at him. He opened the trunk and because it was dark he didn’t see me at first. I lunged towards him as he reached into the trunk. He startled and said something in Cambodian. He then pulled out a…….towel. He pulled out a towel. He then mimed wiping the dirt and mud off the headlights. Shit got real. Real fast. He then shook his head, walked around me and proceeded to clean the headlights. I got back into the car and told my travel mate how I had bravely saved both our lives.

So several lessons were learned that night on the side of an unlit Cambodian road. I learned that even though I think it’s a good idea to head safety warnings and listen to advice from other travelers, you should also keep a clear mind. I learned that even though my instincts (and imagination) were clearly off I’m likely not going down without a fight. I also learned that I may have watched the Jason Bourne series more than maybe any one person should, but that my reflexes are none the less cat like fast. Our Cambodian driver I think learned the lesson to not pull over in the middle of the night on a back road without first indicating to your female passengers what it is you’re doing. He also might have learned that I was a bit crazy. But that’s a lesson I’ve taught more than just him over the years. Travel safely my dear readers!!

Have you ever WAY over reacted to a situation while traveling like I did? I’d love to hear about it so I feel a little less cray cray.

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