Kratie, Cambodia

August 12-13th

Northeast Cambodia is flooding.  The Mekong has spilled over its banks.  This isn’t strange in and of itself because the river naturally expands and contracts with the seasons, but it’s worse this year than usual, and on the eight hour journey between Siem Reap and Kratie we saw a number of houses underwater.  I felt my own privilege more strongly than I have at any other moment of the trip thus far.  I could (and merely sixteen hours later, would) get on a bus and leave, while their crops and houses disappeared.

We switched from the big bus to a smaller, more mobile van for the last couple hours of the trip.  There were only a handful of us going all the way to Kratie, and the smaller van would have an easier time navigating the poorer roads.  We were three western women piled in with our belongings, while three young Cambodian men sat up front and occasionally looked back and whispered to each other and giggled.  With the windows open and Spanish dancehall tunes blaring, we sped past people swimming, wading and boating from the road to their houses.

I teamed up with the two young women I met and we visited the local temple at the top of a ‘mountain,’ where we met a young man who took us the scenic way back to the entrance, meaning a curving forest path.  As we delved deeper into the surrounding forest, he grabbed a big stick and cautioned us to stay close.  Snakes! he said.  Oh, great.  We survived, however, and watched the sun set over the gorgeous horizon on the tuk tuk ride back into town.

I didn’t have long in Kratie.  The next morning the girls and I organized a tour to take a boat and see the endangered Irrawaddy river dolphins.  There are apparently only seventy or so of them left, making them a bit of a tourist draw.  I don’t know what effect our touring has on them, to be honest, but the money goes to helping protect them and do research about their disappearance.  I would hazard a guess it has to do with river waste and industrialization on the Mekong.

As we walked down the (flooded) path to our boat, our boatman was bailing it out with a tin can.  It’s funny the things that no longer alarm me in southeast Asia.  It was a peaceful forty minute boat ride to the part of the river where the dolphins are known for staying.  Since we went early we were lucky enough to be the first ones out there, and the dolphins, indeed, made their appearance.  I loved the noises they made swimming circles around the boats.  Unfortunately my photography skills leave something to be desired.

But I was equally struck, if not more, by the image of crops half submerged in the water, hundreds of yards from the ‘coast’.  Drowned corn and dying dolphins.

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