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Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Here I am now. It’s the late afternoon of my second day in Phnom Penh and I feel alive for the first time since I’m here.
After a really long but smooth flight to Bankok, I nearly missed the next one to PP due to confusion at the gates.
I got picked up before the check out by Suon Soklaing, who gave me my visa (for 3 month), and then we picked up my bags and the helmet. My big blue rucksack was open ( the top bit), because one string broke. I don’t think, anything is missing though. Soklaing is one of the VSO admin staff, middle aged and very quiet. His English is not very good. He picked me up with the car. Only then, on the road with him, reality hit me. So many new impressions and things to see. There are no traffic lights but numbers counting backwards from 70 in red and green. So once your 70 (green) seconds are over , you have to stop. Once your red 70 seconds are over, you can go. And there are different lanes, but that don’t mean anything. Everybody drives as they like. Apperently there is a lack of Vitamin A in the Cambodian diet, so lots of people can’t see very well anymore. Lots of horns are used and of course, cars are allowed anything and motos and cyclists really have to watch out. It s very slow though and it makes an ‘organised chaos’ impression.
The first rule I have learned so far since I’m here is: Don’t stop when you cross the road. Because then you do something unexpected. Vehicles usually drive around you.

I then was shown the room and was offered rest. By then I felt so shattered, that I happily did that. My room is on top of the VSO office and it has two beds with moskito nets and two big fans. Bye then, I was completely soaked in sweat and could take a shower, with warm water! Cold water is only avail. Very early in the morning.

I also met a few other volunteers, one is actually here with Dengue fever, her name is Noel and she is a Health Advisor in Kratie. She felt this aching pain three days ago and couldn’t see properly. So she was advised to come to PP VSO office to have treatment and people around. A few people from different placements from Cambodia were here yesterday because they went today to different places. On Monday starts a puplic holiday so people are using this time to travel using the big airport in PP. Corine is going to Malaysia, Pam and her husband are going to Vietnam, Meghan is going to Laos and Eric is going to Bankok. I would have gone with one of them, but it was too short notice. So I’ll be all on my own with Noel over the weekend.

After I slept yesterday all afternoon ( not very well), I woke up very hungry. There is a supermarket just next to us, so I went there. It’s one of those posh ones, they sell basics there, but no fresh fruit or veg. So I bought a bottle of wine, some crisps, some instant noodles for dinner and some bread and tea and milk. So I had dinner, there is a little kitchen next to my room, and had some wine to help me to get tired. I talked to other volunteers which was very helpful and they said that they all came in a bunch of at least 20 people and they explored the area from day one and could help each other. They gave me really useful insight information and felt sorry for me. I hadn’t thought about that by then and I’m still ok with the situation.

This morning, I had a nice cup of black tea with milk and bread with cambodian marmelade. When I looked closer at the bread I could see, that it was starting to get mouldy. I was hungry and thought, give it a try where it’s not so obvious, and it was tasty. But then, just in the middle about my briefing about security and logistics with my country director Alice, I felt really sick and vomited twice. So I went back to bed for another 2 hours. I woke up feeling hungry and decided to find something else then in this supermarket next door. I must have looked really down, because Jean was still here and asked me what was wrong. I explained to her that I’m really hungry but I don’t know what to eat and where to get it from. She was so kind and said, no problem, I show you around a little bit. So she showed me good places and I had a relly good beetroot salad with walnuts for luch. I also bought some good bread.

After that, we returned to the office and I had a really useful meeting with the programme manager for health, Daniel. He’s origianally from Ethiopia and really nice. I had a good overview about the health programme and my role. I was shocked to hear that women who just gave birth don’t start breastfeeding straight away because they think it’s not good for the baby. They wait for 10 days and give newborns water from a bottle, which is usually not properly cleaned. As an induction method for pregnant women, they press on the belly and start the process pushing it out.
Patients have to pay one ‘over the table’ fee in the hospital to be seen and then another ‘under the table’ fee to the doctor himself. Corruption here is bigger then I thought. But apperently, things are improving a little bit thanks to money donors and dedicated people.

I’ll stay here in PP for another 5 days only, then I’ll travel by bus to Stung Treng with all my belongings. The journey apparently takes around 7 hours. I’m looking forward to that.
Meanwhile I’m supposed to have 3 hours language training per day, but the teacher didn’n know, so he’ll arrive on Monday. So I have now the weekend ahead of me and I’ll try to explore PP a little bit more. It feels a little scary on my own, but apperently it is kind of save. They sometimes do bag-snatching and I’m advised always to wear a helmet on a motorbike.They are lots of european looking people around.

The rain season started shortly before I arrived and it is such a relief, to have the rain around in the afternoon/ evening. There was a thunderstorm yesterday. So I don’t think I have to be too careful with water at the moment. Yesterday I had 3 showeres…
I had a mango earlier on from the mango tree in front of the office. Absolutely delicious. Very sweet and juicy.
I’ll go out now to find a Sim card for my mobile phone to be available and to take some pictures. I might also find something for dinner.

permalink written by  katja-horsch on August 5, 2009 from Phnom Penh, Cambodia
from the travel blog: first entry from Cambodia/ PP
tagged FirstEntry

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So it begins....

Darwin, Australia

This is the first entry for Mike's Top Gear Challenge and my friends Rob K. and Louisa will know what Top Gear is, but for the novices let me explain that Top Gear is a British TV Show where three British Hosts drive cool cars and have insane challenges that they perform with limited funds and other resources involving vehicles in foriegn lands. For example, one of the hosts converted a caravan (trailer) into a Blimp(!) and on another episode they drove cheap motorcycles from Ho Chi Min City in the South of Vietnam to Halong Bay in the North (over 1,000 Miles) in under 8 days.

So since seeing the show I have wanted a Top Gear Challenge and here it is!

In this country where the average price of a good car is probably 30-40,000 dollars and cheap ones go for 3,000 to 5,000 I must buy a vehicle that can carry myself and all of my bicycle gear from Darwin in the North back home to Melbourne in the South or across the entire continent over 5,000 kilometers for under 1,000 dollars.

My mission began today when I went to a local backpacker hostel and looked at message boards with "Car for Sale" notices. I had been led to believe that many cheap cars would be listed by backpackers desperate to sell before their visas ran out and they had to leave the country so I was very disappointed to see only 4 vehicles listed ranging in price from 3,000 - 7,500 dollars!

This looked like a tougher job than I had been led to believe.

I asked around and heard a rumor of an area out the way I had come in on my bike about 30 k away that the backpackers brought the cars to and waited for prospective buyers. I did not feel like a possible 60 k bike round trip today and someone told me cab fare was 70 dollars to get there so I wasn't very keen on that option unless it was my only possible choice. I racked my brain for another solution and found myself near a News Agent where magazines and newspapers are sold and inside I found a free auto listing magazine.

It only showed dealerships, not private sellers so I thought it might not be very useful, but one place listed called itself "Cheap as Chips Cars" so I thought, "that sounds promising!" The cheapest car in the ad was 3,000 dollars, but I thought I might be able to talk them down or they may have a trade in that was in bad shape they would part with for cheap so I called. The number I reached turned out to be the owner of the place and he was in Melbourne of all places so after I explained my bicycle trip and why I needed a cheap car he gave me a local number to call. The number went to a small dealership only 5 blocks from my hotel, but first I called to see if there was anything promising there. The saleman heard my story and said I should come down- he might have something.

When I got to the lot it was postage stamp size and crammed with cars, mostly in the 3- 5,000 range. I saw a very ugly sedan with no price and a blue station wagon that was filthy and had body damage all down its right side that also had no price. I gave my attention to the wagon because it would be easiest to carry my bike in it. It was as dirty on the inside as the out. It wasn't locked so I let myself into it, but I really did not want to sit in the seat because it was that crummy! I popped the hood and the engine was almost immaculate- new plugwires, new power stearing fluid unit, newish radiator...it looked exactly the opposite of the rest of the car!

By this time Rob the salesman came out and I said hello again. He told me he only had one car that had met my description of the dirtiest trade in on the lot and it was the wagon. The car was a 1996 Mitsubishi Magna Exec Station Wagon with a 4 cylinder fuel injected 2.6 litre engine, power steering, AirCon, and automatic door locks.
The windows are roll down style, which is cool 'cause less to go wrong. Under the dirt it was bascially light blue with big dents and damage streaks on it.

I looked it over, opened the hatch door and checked the spare tire compartment and there amongst crud and dead moths was a full size spare with tread and full of air as well as the complete jack assembly- another good sign.

Rob brought the keys and offered to jockey the other cars around so I could take a test drive as soon as he finished with some other customers who were picking up a car.

I started the old blue wagon up and it started right off, but idled pretty roughly...I gassed it and saw that the tach seemed to work and that the fuel gauge showed "Full"- Score! at the gas prices here a full tank is probably 60-70 dollars! I did a quick check on turn signals and lights and everything I could see seemed good. The other really cool thing about the car was that it had ten months registration still on it which is longer than I will be in the country and a big deal here.

By this time Rob was done and he moved the crummy sedan out of the way and I took to the road behind the wheel of a car in Australia for the first time. Driving on the left side was not difficult because I had been doing it on the bike for a month and over 2800 kilometers, but the mirror placement was weird- I was not prepared for looking to the left to see the rear view mirror and remembering that all the body of the car was to my left side was something I had to think about- not automatic at all!

I drove back to the Holiday Inn and parked across the street in the park and stopped and restarted the engine and it backfired a couple of times. It also seemed like the left front shock was weak maybe....I drove back to the dealership and tried to accelerate quickly and the car responded sluggishly and smelled of gas or something. When I got back I tried backing it up and succesfully got back into the lot. Rob and I talked for a couple of minutes and I decided I would take it and see what happened after he called his boss and came down to 900 dollars to meet my price (Under 1,000). Paid for the car and drove it back to the HI and then I walked to the bank and signed up for insurance for vehicle liability.

The system here is different than the US- when you register the car it also pays for all the liability you need if you injure a person. That is automatic. But it does not cover property damage at all. At the bank the clerk put in all the info about my car and accepted my answers about my driving record and I found out that my full property liability insurance was only $22.80 a month and they could automatically deduct it from my account- sweet! Now as an insured driver I went back to the Holiday Inn and looked at the mess litterally (MSPI) that I got myself into. I pulled some junk out and found about $3.00 in change in the car. To clean it was going to take a shop vac, 1,000 gallons of soap and water and about 6 hours I figured.

But I was a new car owner again for the first time in 4 years! Fun or no Fun only time will tell!

permalink written by  Mike_Veine on September 1, 2012 from Darwin, Australia
from the travel blog: Mike's Top Gear Challenge
tagged FirstEntry

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