Death by Cambodian Breakfast
I was on the bus from Pnom Penh to Siem Reap Cambodia when I felt it; a slight gurgling followed by a cramp. I hoped it wasn’t third world food poisoning. I’d read stories about tourist busses driven by mad men across foreign terrains. Adventure travel gone horror travel. And here I was, living the dream/nightmare.
The guy next to me, an ex-pat from Australia named Brian, offered me a tiny mandarin orange. I refused politely since another excrutiating cramp was digging in.
“These buggers get stuck with their fat girlfriends from back home.” He said with orange peel stuck to his lip. “They come here for the temples and the guys realize they can have a beautiful seventeen year old for forty dollars a night. Here they are with their complaining cows “there’s no toilet paper! I’m tired of tuk tuk drivers! All I want is a hot shower. There’s a Gecko in my room!”
“I had these two girls back at my hotel,” he continued. “What a deal. I think I got them both for fifty, and I had them doing some amazing shit mate, like licking eachothers buttholes n stuff. All you gotta do is tip em. Most guys come here they’ve never had ass in their life, but here they can fuck to their hearts content. Ahh, money. But that was back when I was new here. I’m not into whoring any more. You gotta get it out of your system though. Are you sure you don’t want an orange?”
“No I’m good thanks.”
“Did you know the Cambodians can be fined if they drive in the day time with their lights on?” He said.
“Yeah.” He swallowed another mandarin. “Only royalty is allowed to use their lights in the day time.”
“Yeah. But they don’t use their lights at night…because they’re afraid it will attract ghosts. There’s no fine for that one. That’s Cambodian logic.” He leaned back and closed his eyes. It took him all of two minutes to fall asleep.
We came off the main road onto a dirt one littered with potholes full of oil and other miscellaneous fluids. This was the main highway to Angkor Wat, temple city for the ancient kings of Cambodia, now a Discovery Channel Disneyland trip for tourists like me, complete with luxury toilets and Coca Cola sold by nine year old girls. Outside the bus window there were farmers whipping cows with sticks to hurry them down the road, moto-scooters and tuk-tuks jockeying, old-ladies with face masks selling too-ripe bananas and warm Angkor beer from lawn chairs in the traffic dust. I went back to playing Fruit Ninja on my Iphone, adjusted my money belt and closed the overhead valve to my air-conditioner. I was slightly uncomfortable.
We parked at a rest stop and I ordered an omellette on rice. Cambodian cuisine doesn’t compare to Thai in quality or flavor. I got half way through and head to the toilet. I barely had my ass above the squat seat before the entire contents of my bowels burst forth like Smaug from the mountain. I hung up the spray nozzle and head back for the bus. It was going to be a long ride with no toilet. There’s a fine line between tropical paradise and third world cesspool. All the West needs is a permanent power outage and we’ll be eating our pets and selling our babies.
I dozed in and out of consciousness as the luxury bus passed vehicles at one hundred kilometers per hour, occasionally swerving into oncoming traffic and beeping the horn always. It may have been a private joke between the driver and his friends but The Fast and The Furious starring Vin Diesel was playing with volume near max on the twenty seven inch lcd screen at the front of the bus.
When we reached Siem Reap I pushed through the crowd of ravenous tuk tuk drivers as they hollered “You need ride? Tuk Tuk? Where you go? You need room? You need Massage? Boom Boom? Marijuana?” For once, I did need a Tuk Tuk. I did not need a massage, or boom boom, or marijuana. I needed a toilet.
My Tuk Tuk driver dropped me at the guest house, I payed the seven dollars for my room, emptied my bladder, turned on the fans and attempted to sleep. I slipped into it easily and awoke early in the evening in a cold sweat. I rushed to the toilet and spewed liquid from every orifice until finally exhausted like a compressed accordian, I layed down and fell asleep once more. I woke up thirty minutes later and repeated the process. It was eleven pm. By one thirty am my lips were parched even though I’d ingested nearly two litres of water in two hours. I Googled the answer and realized I needed rehydration salts or risked mygraines and death. I stumbled down to the front desk but it was closed. All I heard were lizards on the walls squeaking out mating calls. That’s what I should have been doing, out there, in the Cambodian nightlife, not stuck in here dying of thirst.
I shuffled half-dazed outside the front gate and saw a girl talking frantically to a huddle of Tuk Tuk drivers. She looked at me with desperation. “What’s the matter?” I asked.
“They don’t have change for a twenty.”
“Of course not.” I said.
“If I could only get change.”
“How much do you need?”
“Do you have a dollar?”
“Of course I do.”
I handed her a dollar and she hugged me. “Do you have any re-hydration salts?” I rasped. She looked at me, scratched her cheek and said, “You know, I do have one. I have one left in my room. I’ll get it for you.”
I got back to my room and ripped the bag open, nearly spilling the precious minerals onto my cheap linen, dumped the contents into a cup and filled it with warm bottled water. I drank the life saving nectar, layed back and slipped into feverish dream where dozens of ancient Cambodian ghosts instructed me on how to regain my strength for the rest of my tropical adventure. “Lay like this, go back to sleep” they said. Every so often I would open my eyes and look to my passport to make sure the Cambodians in my room hadn’t pulled a fast one and stolen it; but the door was locked and I was alone. I repeated this process a dozen times throughout the night.
Three kilometers away, or a three dollar tuk-tuk ride, was a beautiful, dead city built seven hundred years ago by many forgotten kings.
I wished I had one of those mandarin oranges. They looked so good.
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