We have just enough time left to take the afternoon ‘off’ and Paruth suggest that we should all go to the mountain. There is a temple at the top of the mountain, and we still have one more day left on our temple passport tickets. Entrance to the temples is free for citizen. It’s only visitors like us who have to pay.
After work is finished for the day we shower and get ready for our evening visit to the mountain temple.
On our way out-of-town towards the mountain, we pass along the flood plain of the Tonle Sap lake’s high water mark. This extended riparian zone is densely populated and extensively farmed at the moment, as it is the dry season and all of this flood plain is fertilised and enriched each year by the silt deposited by the flooding. We pass a beautiful Lotus farm. We have to stop and stroll along the elevated wooden plank walkways. There are several little thatched shelters along the path, that you can rent these little private spaces for a fee to relax on an hourly basis. It’s a lovely scene.
We drive through what appear to be impoverished villages, with seriously cramped living conditions in very small stilted houses and shacks. Life looks tough for these people. We stop to buy some bottled water and a coconut to drink. Paruth tells me that the lady she has just spoken to tells her that food is in very short supply here just now. Everyone is hungry at this time of low water. There aren’t many fish to catch just now and not every one has access to sufficient land to grow rice.
As we travel on along the road, we pass a lucky family who obviously has some land, as they have their rice harvest all spread out to dry on a large blue plastic tarpaulin. The rice gets raked over a few times a day to expose all the grain to the air and sunshine to finish drying it all out before being bagged.
We arrive at the foot of the mountain, leave the tuk tuk and scale the 7,000 steps up the mountain (or so it seems) in the afternoon heat. We are here to see the sunset on the temple at the top of this mountain. When we finally arrive at the top I realise that there is actually a road that goes all the way to the top, as a couple of cars arrive while we are there. There is an ancient shrine just below the top. I presume that this might be the earliest religious site up here, but there is a little complex of brick and stone temples dating from the angkor period. They glow in the light of the afternoon setting sun.
There are a few monks living up here and it appears that there is an old orchard of fruit trees and of particular interest to me is the fact that there is a cashew nut grove up here. I’ve never seen a live cashew nut tree and these trees just happen to be in fruit right now. I know from reading and my interest in gardening, self reliance and whole foods etc, that the farming of cashews is a very poisonous business. The pods that hold the precious nuts, contain a toxic juice that burns the hands of the workers that collect them and shell them. Paruth tells us that the fruit that supports the nut is delicious and can be eaten raw. We pick some and eat them. The fresh fruit is slightly sweet, delicious, vaguely like an apple in taste, but softer and juicy, with a dry aftertaste. Quite dry! Everyone who eats the fruit, coughs a minute after swallowing. It happens to everyone who tries it. It makes us all laugh.
You have to be carefull to wash your hands after touching the juice, as it can be irritating and can stain clothes black.
We walk to the edge of the mountain and look down on the paddy fields below in the setting sun.
We travel back home and get some take away BBQ pork from a local restaurant. It comes with a basil sauce and some salad. No one seems to like the basil sauce. I finish my share and I am the only one to eat the salad.
NEVER EAT SALAD!
I know the rules, only eat well-cooked food and boiled water. But I’ve been here for two weeks now and nothing has happened so far, so I get slack. I soon pay the price. I’m up all night on the loo with the runs. I wake with a head ache and feeling very tired and weak. It’s food poisoning! I don’t even feel like drinking water, but I force myself too. It’s a good lesson. Never eat un-cooked food. As it turns out though, it wasn’t the salad. It was the basil sauce, as we discover. Paruth fed all the left over basil sauce and rice to her dogs after dinner and they both threw up and were very quiet all the next day, apparently feeling quite unwell.
I know how they feel!