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Adventures of Auroraman and Cupcake Woman

The Resurrection of AuroRaman

Cambodia Posted on Mon, April 04, 2011 03:07:18

‘I’m not gay but I had to kiss you!’ – French dude, Bodhi Villa, Cambodia

Bodhi Villa is a renowned hostel, built on the Kampong Bei River’s edge in Kampot, owned by an Australian dude, Hugh. It has been described as, ‘The Hotel California of Cambodia’. Upon entering the grounds of the hostel, you walk through a trodden path surrounded by trees and fairy lights. The first thing you see as you walk up the steps,and go through the main doorway is the bar/reception area (the most important area of any self-respecting backpacker paradise).

The main reception area is built entirely from wood, with a couch seating area nearest the bar, a small stage with a sweet little pointed roof and then a large pontoon deck with tables, lights and benches, overlooking the river. We didn’t venture into the sleeping areas, but I’m reliably informed that they are decent, with a couple of rooms that have an open wall looking straight out over the water. In short, the place exudes a coolness without the lah-dee-dah upper-middle class snarf-snarf brigade that some well-known ‘traveller’ abodes have frequenting their properties.

As it was a Friday night, there would be live acoustic sets from a few of the regulars in the area and from Hugh himself. Friday nights at the Bodhi are infamous for their debauched atmosphere. A troupe of misfits, lost souls and wandering Indigo Children basking in the glow of fairy lights, moonshine and river reflections. Drinks at ridiculously low prices, free shots at any given moment and the smell of a particular type of herb clouding the air around us.

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We took our places at a table and were joined by two Irish girls, who we instantly got chatting to and sharing stories of our travels so far. The chat may have been short-lived had I revealed that something rather large, eight-legged and hairy was scuttling across the wooden railing we were leaning against and straight over my hand before disappearing into the night. I’m still not sure if I’ve ever told Stannie about that. Hugh kicked off the evening proceedings with a selection of covers and original material, to a very receptive crowd. He was followed by a group of local musicians who played some very sleek and bluesy Cambodian music, followed by some Western hits of eras gone by.

I could feel myself itching to get onstage at this point. It had been a while. I wanted to play my music to a new audience of vastly different cultures, skin colours and nationalities. We had booked our tuk-tuk for a certain time, and that time was running out. I went over to Hugh and asked if I could get on. Not a problem. I hobbled over to the stage and sat down with the guitar handed to me.

‘Hey, my name’s Ram and I’m from London.’

Cue people from various parts of our planet shouting out the inevitable , ‘aawwight geeeezer’, ‘apples n’ pears’, ‘OI OI!’ etc etc. Mugs. I went straight into my first song. Within the first couple of bars I got that addictive feeling of euphoria from knowing I was playing to an audience who were on my side. I finished the first song, people cheered, shouted, asked for more. I played a second, random couples started dancing in front of me, more cheering and whooping. I thanked the crowd. Hugh started banging on a big pan with a stick. One more, play one more! Oh go on then…

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Once I’d finished, I hobbled to my feet and received more adulation, love and appreciation in a 30-second period (very important for someone with self-esteem issues and a craving for the spotlight) from this eclectic mix of misfits and nitwits than I have in the last few years playing the UK toilet circuit. And not ONE person told me I was ‘good enough to appear on X Factor’. Screw you British music ‘scene’. Screw you. A rather handsome French dude, who had been receiving particular attention from the ladies all night, came up to me and asked if he could kiss me. I didn’t really have a chance to reply before he moved in and somehow managed to miss my face and plant a kiss on my neck. ‘I’m not gay, but I had to kiss you!’

I’d like to say we decided to leave in true God of Rock fashion and depart as soon as I finished onstage, like a young, Indian Axl Rose. The reality is, it would’ve cost us a whole extra dollar to stay behind as our tuk-tuk was waiting outside…

As we hastily made our exit before more attractive European men could molest me, one of the Irish girls rushed outside as we were getting into the tuk-tuk. ‘I can’t believe I sat next to you all night and you didn’t even mention you could do THAT!’ Another kiss, this time managing to catch my left cheek. That extra dollar for staying longer was sounding like a good investment. But like a young, Welsh/Lithuanian/Scottish/English/Irish and Scouse Yoko Ono, I was ordered into the tuk-tuk.

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However, the seeds had been sown once again. The Resurrection of AuroRaman had begun!

S+R xxx

www.bodhivilla.com



Kampotty

Cambodia Posted on Sun, April 03, 2011 11:58:10

The journey from Kep to Kampot is a short one by bus. However 10 minutes into our journey, our bus broke down in the middle of nowhere. The French guy sitting in front of us decided to take this opportunity to relieve himself at the road side. A few minutes later he rushed back onto the bus giggling nervously to tell us that he’d been mid-pee before he realised his private parts were right next to a giant spider web, which was housing a spider as big as his hand. Ram’s face lit up, finally a big creepy crawly to inspect! We went outside with the camera, and the French guy wasn’t exaggerating, it was as big as a man’s hand. Ram took some photos, but it was hard to get the size into perspective without photographing a person next to it – and there were no willing volunteers.

We were going to Kampot because we’d heard there was a good live music night in a place called Bodhi Villa on a Friday night. We decided to head to Bodhi Villa first to see if they had any rooms free, which they said they didn’t so we headed back into town to a place recommended by our tuktuk driver, Moliben Guesthouse. It turned out to be pretty nice there and the staff were very friendly and helpful.

Kampot is a surprisingly quiet town along a river, it’s main focus points are two bridges, named “Old Bridge” and “New Bridge”. It is also famous for Kampot Pepper, which I found to be quite enjoyable – despite never really liking pepper in the first place. We took a tip from our Lonely Planet guide and went to a Sri Lankan restaurant over-looking the river which apparently had a vegetarian menu. Ram is veggie and has been living off vegetable fried rice all month due to meat being in nearly every dish out here.

We settled down to a veggie Korma and a veggie Masala as the sun began to set over the river. At this time the road alongside the river became busier with whole families packed onto single mopeds making their way home for the evening. I also noticed that most women were already in their PJs at this point.

After dinner we set off to find an ATM, we passed a long traffic island bustling with teenagers hanging out. Two dogs suddenly jumped up and started snarling and barking at Ram. As they were not barking at anyone else, we think that maybe they thought he was a beggar with his crutches. The traffic island also featured a group of people doing outdoor aerobics to “Mambo Number 5” – this is the fourth time we’ve seen such a thing across Thailand and Cambodia, it’s almost tempting to join in… Almost.

Later that night we got our friendly tuktuk driver, Mr Hill, to take us back to Bodhi Villa, this is the point I let Ram take over the keyboard…

R+S xxx



Rabbit. Rabbit. Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit

Cambodia Posted on Sun, March 27, 2011 11:15:57

‘That looks more like a turtle than a rabbit’ – Cupcake Woman, boat ride to Rabbit Island, Cambodia

We said our goodbyes to Jasmine Valley, and made the short trip off the coast of Kep to Rabbit Island. We’d been recommended the island as a place to stay by our friends Ben and Jo back home, informing us that this almost untouched land mass 20 minutes off the coast was a romantic and peaceful paradise. Electricity ran through generators for only 4 hours a day and you were never surrounded by more than 20 people during your stay.

As our boat stuttered to a halt about 10 meters from the shore, Stannie, Sara and Rick studied the surroundings to plan an escape route onto land for their handicapped passenger. Although I am always loathe for anyone to label me a hero, I bravely decided that I would make my own way onto the beach, jumping off the side of the boat, landing on one leg into the water, then hopping like crazy until I hit sand. Whilst I could see there was genuine concern on the faces of the Politz-Damergi’s and Stan to my plight, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was hope of a comedic coming together of Indian body mass and unforgiving seawater in a most undignified manner. They can confirm or deny this, I stand by my story.

We set about finding accommodation for our two-night stay. By accommodation, I mean wooden huts on stilts, a stone’s throw from the water, with a bed, insect net and en-suite water bucket. We picked two magnificent looking structures next to each other, with matching mini-verandas overlooking vast ocean.

After a spot of brunch, and once Stan had cleaned up my injury-laden foot in the medical centre (our mini-veranda), we decided a light swim would be in order. I looked on forlornly as Rick and Sara frolicked around in the warm, inviting water, followed by Stannie.

Sod this. I’m going in.

I probably didn’t say ‘sod’. I’d like to think I’m a bit more down with the kids than that but I know my mum reads this blog. So ‘sod’ will be the preferred vernacular in this instance. Love you Mum x

With the A Team music escaping from lips, Stan and I skilfully set about building an airtight, waterproof contraption for my left foot. One plastic bag and hairband later, I too was gracefully gliding through the beautiful water, diving to the sea bed, breaching the surface like an acrobatic marine demi-god, playfully chasing Stannie further out to sea, blissfully unaware that the moment my left foot entered the water the carrier bag soaked through. She must’ve not put the hairband on correctly…

After our aquatic excursions, Sara and Rick lay out in the sun on a deck in front of their hut, whilst Stan and I snuggled on the hammock on our veranda. A rainstorm halted proceedings momentarily but the sun burst through the clouds once again, moments later. A bandage change and dinner later, and with electricity out at 10pm, we said our goodnights and went to dreamland.

The next day was pretty much spent as the previous. Instead this time, Rick and I made the bold decision to hire two large inflatable tyres. It’s amazing how much fun you can have with a rubber ring, even as an adult. Apart from when the tide washes it up onto shore, with a struggling, beached invalid sprawled across it, desperately trying to keep his foot dry. With the injury and general lack of any sort of dexterity (I’d also been carrying a bit of ‘holiday weight’ at this time), Stannie manfully attempted to get me to my feet with a semblance of dignity, as Rick stood about 10 feet from us, snapping away on his camera. ‘I would help but I’ve GOT to get pictures of this…’

The girls went for a massage further along the beach. Rick and I drifted slowly in and out of snoozes on our respective hammocks, in-between some light reading and looking over and nodding at each other in approval of our surroundings.

‘Could be worse, couldn’t it?’

Each patch of huts had their own family of dogs, and much to our delight, our matriarch had given birth to a beautiful brood of little puppies, of which we casually ‘liberated’ a couple to play with in our respective huts.

As you can probably tell, there isn’t a whole lot to do on Rabbit Island. This is precisely what makes it so wonderful. If we didn’t have aspirations of changing the world in some way or another, I could envisage the four of us could’ve quite happily spent a lifetime here.

After dinner and a game of cards, we once again departed to our huts after lights out. Only on this particular night, there would be a stunning array of lights around the island. Sara’s Mum had called earlier in the day to warn us that there was a tsunami hitting the region a few hundred miles away, and to stay on our guard. Had we been on the mainland, this wouldn’t have caused too much bother, but currently residing on an island at sea-level with little chance of any contingency plan, it was slightly unsettling.

A storm hit at about midnight. I could feel the almost horizontal rain hitting our bodies in the hut through gaps in the roof and walls.. Stan has never been overly enamoured by thunder, so I tried my best to protect her from the elements using bits of clothing and our bed sheet. Every now and then, the pitch black atmosphere around us would suddenly break out into white light, casting arachnid-shaped shadows across the hut walls.

We decided to check out Mother Nature’s show from our veranda. Even with the pounding rain and hostile wind, we were treated to a most extraordinary natural show. We gazed at the sky for what felt like hours, but was probably only a few minutes, cuddled together and inviting a few of the shivering canines to share our body warmth.

The next morning we made the trip back to the mainland. Stannie and I would spend one more night at Jasmine, whilst the Politz-Damergi’s were making their way back to Sihanoukville to visit Rick’s Dad. Having eaten lunch and then entertained a couple of cheeky siblings with a newly invented card game called, ‘Whatever Card The Kid Has They Win’, we embraced our wonderful friends and waved them off to carry on their own globe-trotting journey.

After an unsuccessful attempt to seek out and catch giant centipedes back at Jasmine, we ate another hearty dinner and chatted to a Kiwi family who regularly visited Jasmine. We found out they were personally funding a trip back to Kep for a Cambodian couple they had met in New Zealand. I won’t go into too much detail about the reasons for this so as to protect privacy, but as I am writing this having spent a few months in Auckland, I can tell you this type of generosity is not uncommon amongst Kiwis.

Further along the coast, Kampot would be our next destination. But for tonight, we lay in our bed surrounded by the noisy gibbons in the jungle and treated ourselves to a few episodes of The American Office, which by now, Stannie had her own lyrics to add to the theme music.

‘I aaammm going to the oooofiiiicce. It iiiiis, going to be fuuuun……’

Idiot.

S+R xxx



In the Jungle, the mighty jungle. Our heroes sleep tonight….

Cambodia Posted on Sat, December 18, 2010 20:07:02

‘Watch out for the killer caterpillars’ – Sara Politz-Damergi. Jasmine Valley, Kep, Cambodia

We arrived in Kep in the afternoon. Kep is a lovely, Southern coastal town against the backdrop of a rainforest, still fairly untouched by the tourist boom (although numbers are rising each year). A sight for sore eyes as we got off the bus. Looking tanned, relaxed and sickeningly beautiful, our great friends Rick and Sara Politz-Damergi greeted us. We exchanged hugs and kisses then made the short trip to our home for the night, Jasmine Valley.

The beautiful couple on one of their THREE wedding days

Rick and Sara had already been staying at Jasmine for the week and had regaled in its beauty and charm. They weren’t wrong. Jasmine Valley is in its infancy as an eco-resort. Set in dense rainforest and national park terrain, it houses thatched, mud and brick bungalows. Everywhere you turn, the energy, beauty and wonderment of our natural world jumps out at you. It is powered almost exclusively by solar energy, with great care being taken into using natural resources to build this most elegant of places.

Created and managed by Owen and Jasmine, a wonderful and happy couple, who exude their happiness and peaceful beings to the rest of the staff, they have created a Utopia inside a Utopia. The reception area also houses the bar, chill-out areas and a wonderful pool that fills up in the rainy season. There is a nature walk that the able-bodied (grrr) can negotiate to the tops of the valley, where you will find all sorts of wonderful plant and animal life. Heaven!

Rick and Sara had booked us into the largest duplex tree-house (for an obscenely miniscule rate) which is where we dropped off our bags. The ground floor housed a natural toilet, shower and bathroom area. Walking up the wooden steps to the top floor, we all gasped, including the Politz-Damergi’s, even though they had been in these surroundings for the past seven days.

To our left was a beautifully and ecologically designed bedroom area; to the right was the real piece de resistance. An open plan ‘living room’, complete with a hanging chair, table, relaxing seats and best of all, a panoramic view of the huge national park around us. Utterly, utterly stunning.

Having caught our breaths, we headed back to the main area. Rick and Sara got into their swimming attire and frolicked in the beautiful pool. For someone whom I remember having the most inordinate fear of spiders, Rick was unfazed by the two large arachnids lazing by the water’s edge. As the happy newlyweds playfully splashed around in the water, whispering sweet-nothings into each other’s ear, Stannie and I took pictures and relaxed in the swinging chairs. Stannie was really in her element. Always stunning regardless, this late afternoon she glowed with the essence of her surroundings and them dimples were deeper than I had ever seen for the grinning.

For the first time in a month, I held a guitar in my hands, and proceeded to play some tracks into the evening. Owen, as Rick had pointed out to me beforehand, has this unique soft whistle. The type that you could sit and listen to for hours on end. He absent-mindedly provided us with a backing track to our catch-up stories and merriment. We decided to order dinner, of which I requested the Khmer Vegetable Curry. Divine! Eating food is always eventful in the bar area, mainly because of Owie, one of the family dogs who resides at Jasmine Valley. Constantly on the look-out for nourishment and a bundle of unsuppressed energy, nipping away playfully at the merest hint of attention and causing minor-havoc with anything within a 6-inch radius of his mush. Oh and untapped bravado when squaring up to the disinterested, much bigger canines, peacefully trying to laze in the sun.

With full stomachs and catching-up out of the way, we headed back to our tree-house. Into the night we chilled-out, playing Michael Jackson Top Trumps, which Sara had never played before (and got alarmingly competitive about!), taking pictures of an almost silent and wondrous electrical storm and listening to the wildlife showing off their impressive vocal skills. The next morning, we would be heading to Rabbit Island, just off the coast of Kep. Sleepy time for us. Mating calls, mischief-making and general boisterousness from the gibbons in the jungle…

To sign this off, here is the Jasmine Valley Philosophy, as found on their website, www.jasminevalley.com. Please visit it and have a look through what they offer, how they are building the resort and also, what they are doing for the local Cambodian people they hire. And for God’s sake, please visit this incredible place at least once in your lifetime. Thank you to Jasmine, Owen and the rest of the fantastic staff at Jasmine. Oh and of course, Owie, the little rascal…

Jasmine Valley – the philosophy

We hope to create a place for travellers to relax – completely. We like to work with what the environment already offers and draw from that as inspiration. The Cambodian jungle, by the sea in Kep, offers a wonderful range of things to satisfy all senses. We think we’re on the right track, as, often, our guests find themselves relaxing in Jasmine Valley, reading, spotting wildlife, trekking, enjoying good conversation, rather than going out and ‘doing things’ that they had originally planned.

We build with bamboo, thatch and the earth on the property. Of course, other materials are also necessary, but we like the idea of building off the land.

We work with renewable or inexhaustible resources as often as practicable, such as solar energy for electricity throughout Jasmine Valley.

We also have a number of ideas we’re working on, to create educational and employment opportunities for Cambodian people.



A feast for Pearly Kings

Cambodia Posted on Sat, December 04, 2010 06:30:08

‘Thunder is the sound of the clouds banging together’ – Auroraman, Hotel Cara, Phnom Penh

Our trip to Phnom Penh in Cambodia was our first attempt at flying while Ram was on crutches. We were expecting it to be a nightmare journey as we tried to cope with our insane amount of luggage. However it turns out having crutches can be quite handy when facing airport queues.

The staff were always rushing to us to try and help me with the luggage and we were put in fast-track queues for customs and baggage checks. The only mini nightmare we had was queuing behind a man who was checking in a whole basketball team (Kuala Lumpur if you’re wondering).

The flight to Phnom Penh was nice and quick, while looking out the window we pointed out the fields after fields that were flooded from the recent rainfall (the news was reporting Bangkok was in the path of floods sweeping though Thailand).
– Embarrassingly, we later realised these fields were rice fields, the flooding was purposely done.

Another sight worth mentioning was a monk on our flight. Not only did he have an iPod around his neck in a Liverpool Football Club case, but he spent the whole flight chatting to a female passenger. After repeatedly being told as a female I couldn’t make eye contact with monks, I found this to be very confusing.

Arriving at Phnom Penh it’s self was very much like when I previously arrived in Thailand eight years ago. I must note at this point, although our experience of Thailand was very limited due to Peg Leg Jim, I was still able to notice the improvements made to the county since my last visit. I’m not sure “improvements” is the right word to use, it was certainly more westernised, whether that’s a good thing or not I can’t be sure. From a personal opinion, I preferred the old Thailand – who wants to visit South East Asia only to find it similar to the western world you left behind. Also, the exchange rate this time round was RUBBISH compared to my last visit! On a serious note though, it was a relief to notice the amount of beggars had decreased significantly – I’m hoping this is due to more employment and programmes to get people off the street.

Okay, lost myself there. Arriving in Phnom Penh was very much like my first visit to Thailand. On leaving the airport we had to fight off mobs of men trying to take our bags to their taxis – nothing aggressive, just very persistent. Once we decided upon a car to use, we set off into dusty Phnom Penh. One of the first sights we passed was a small temple, very much the same style as the grand Thai temples, but dustier. The roads were a chaotic tangle of cars, trucks, motos, bikes and mopeds – and yet it was as if each vehicle was a magnet of the same polar property, coming close to each other but magically never colliding as if it were impossible. Each lane of traffic had its own two way system, we very quickly had to learn to relax if it seemed we were going the wrong direction down the road – it was expected here, so other drivers would always be ready to avoid you should they need to.

Our cab driver was very friendly and chatty despite limited English. At one point he stopped for some petrol and a moped carrying a small child pulled up next to us, the girl delighted in waving to us through our window the whole time we were there – this was a small example of how lovely and friendly the Cambodian people were going to be to us for the rest of our visit.

Speaking of small children and manic traffic – the popularity of transporting whole families on single mopeds was quite a bit to get used to. Children as young as new-borns would be pinned between parents, or sat between the driver and the handle bars (usually slumped forward fast asleep, unphased by the situation).

We had booked ourselves in at Hotel Cara http://www.hotelcara.com/ for the first night, as it had a lift – this was our first experience moving from place to place with Ram in crutches. The room had a balcony overlooking some night clubs of Phnom Penh, it was getting dark by this point and we could see a very big storm in the distance. We stood with our arms around each other watching Phnom Penh change as the night progressed.

There were some pretty amazing purple lightning bolts flashing in the distance every couple of minutes. I remarked how unusual it felt to see the lightening so clearly yet not be able to hear it at all. Ram remarked “yeah, the thunder hasn’t started yet”. Puzzled I turned to him and said “what do you mean? They happen together”. Ram then laughed in my face, literally. “Don’t you know how thunder is made? Why do you think you see and hear them separately?”
“umm, because of the difference in speed and sound? Thunder is the noise created by the electric bolt….?”
“NO! Thunder is the noise of the clouds banging together”
I looked at Ram, stunned into silence, a couple of seconds later I found my tongue “are….you….joking….?”
Ram proceeded to laugh directly at me, he wasn’t joking, and he thought it was hilarious that I didn’t know this fact.

Instantly we forgot all about the romantic moment and fought each other through the balcony doors to our laptop that had free Wi-Fi. Ram won the race. He started the computer up and went straight onto Google, hiding the screen from me as he typed – already he was starting to doubt himself… It turns out neither of us were right, but one of us was a lot more wrong than the other! (In case you are wondering, Thunder is the sound made by the gases in the air around lightning, which are quickly heated and expand when a strike occurs).

Ram did make a good point though, there are some things you learn though kids’ books and cartoons that are not factually correct, but makes for a good story. You can live your life never questioning it until you say it out loud, poor Ram made the mistake of saying it out loud to a girlfriend who loves to repeat it at every given opportunity (sorry Baba xxx).

In the spirit of treating ourselves to a hotel (a habit that we got a bit too accustomed to doing over the following weeks) we then treated ourselves to the posh Japanese restaurant downstairs http://www.hotelcara.com/fusionsushi.html . We proceeded to order the two cheapest things on the menu. Despite being cheapskates, we were given a free selection of starters and free pudding, it ended up being a banquet for pennies – we almost felt guilty, but the full tummies and wallets distracted us from that.

That night Ram stayed up to watch a football match in the early hours of the morning on the room’s TV. I’m a very light sleeper and really struggle to sleep soundly with the TV on. Once the match was over, Ram went on to watch a movie from start to finish and then an episode of How I Met Your Mother. What we watched on telly is the kind of detail I’d forget when recalling a situation, however, these programmes were keeping me awake and lying there with my eyes closed I was building up a grudge to hold against Ram for as long as possible.

Once the telly went off Ram fell fast asleep right away, a skill I don’t have. As I lay there appreciating the silence and winding down into sleep, the clubs outside started blasting out dance music into the street at unbearable levels for what felt like hours. The grudge I had built up against Ram was now equally shared between the club for playing the music and the hotel we were staying in for letting us have this room. I am still holding that grudge, Ram had a lucky escape!

S+R xxx