Another day, another dispatch. Travel is nothing if not a long and painful lesson in new experiences and the painful consequences for my fragile little self. In the last few days, I have learned at least two new lessons. These little nuggets of wisdom are, I believe, rather universal in their application and lesson-imparting wisdomnicity.
Lesson number one is sunburn. I can now state with absolute authority that Cambodian sunburn is not substantially different to its foreign counterparts. The fact that it was sustained during the comparatively exotic and heroic experience of riding atop a boat scooting down the Mekong taking photos of Cambodian wilderness does little to mitigate the fact that walking around (nay, hobbling around like – in the parlance of Sam – a pigling) has been something of a humbling experience. Thanks to the presence of surprisingly good medical care and vitamin E enriched sunscreen – plus a cold bath courtesy of Kelly, Sam and Katherine. I am now feeling a good deal better than I deserve to be.
(Update to previous paragraph) It is now S-3 (Sunburn day plus three) and my left leg is now so badly blistered as to make many science fiction horror films hang their heads in shame. The first aid kit supplied by my mother (whose use, sans medicine, I once had the temerity to wonder about) is now serving me fantastically. With the third degree burn patches applied to my left knee, the pain relief is palpable. I am now also able to return to actually sleeping a whole night without waking up in pain. Always a positive step when sleep in general seems to be rationed to short, often drunk, few-hour interludes. I had contemplated bandaging both legs completely once the right one began blistering as well, but this would interfere with the regular application of vitamin E cream and Aloe vera which I believe to be so necessary to my survival of this ordeal. I say believe because a cursory inspection of burn sites A and B (my left and right legs, respectively) has indicated conclusively that my applications of topical gel are now really only affecting the outer (and very, very dead) dermis – making the whole procedure more for my psychological benefit than any real pain relief. The significant reduction in the pain in my legs this morning is more likely a result of the death of tissue than any real result of my judicious medical response.
Leg became more painful. On the prodding of my self-appointed mom for the day (Jonathan) I went to the hospital to get checked up. The doctor’s face on seeing my sunburn confirmed that my injuries may perhaps have been more serious than I had realised. I was subsequently offered a ride to the main hospital in Ho Chi Minh city in an ambulance, which was politely declined in favour of a cheaper taxi ride. Arriving at the hospital, I found myself referred to the burns unit where the specialist and two nurses proceeded to gleefully cut my blisters with scissors, squeeze them dry and lather me in disinfectant and bandages. This procedure was repeated two days later (sans blister cutting) and with the addition of antibiotics. I am now largely recovered and out of harm’s way, although my legs are now a red, peeling mass of dead skin. Gross, but medically harmless.
we duly accepted and spent the rest of the subsequent night in a rather thrilling little place I like to call my mind
Once night in Siem Riep, we had the fortune to dine italian at a pleasant little place called Happy Herb Pizza. No I am not joking. Yes, that is what it sounds like. Our rather enthusiastic host asked if we would like a super happy table pizza, which we duly accepted and spent the rest of the subsequent night in a rather thrilling little place I like to call my mind. In between time compressing and decompressing, locking ourselves in our room for our own safety and mass paranoia as to whether we were the only ones reeling from the effects of happy, or whether others in the group had it too, some degree of fun was, I am informed, had. It was obvious that our pizza had most likely been overhappied at the point where, walking down the road to the backpackers after dinner, I had the strange sensation of walking through a road we had seen in our earlier voyages to Laos, rather than the road we were actually on. This, plus the bizarre feeling that some steps would take minutes to complete, while some took only fractions of a second, led me to deduce that perhaps something beyond alcohol or flu medication was currently at play. This reasoning was to be reinforced throughout the night as reality became completely bizarre and I found myself waking up throughout the night with increasingly random and (were they not happening to me) funny thoughts. In the light of morning, and sharing stories, it seems also that the dream I had had of running into a karaoke/massage bar that night in search of singing and finding instead a terribly seedy (by Cambodian standards) brothel – was not in fact a dream either. The bright colours of the outfits worn by the women holding numbers in the lineups while the well-dressed young men picked them were not, as I had been led to believe, karaoke singers – though I have little doubt that, had we wanted to, they would have sung. That would have been a terrible waste of whatever money they would have cost, however. Thankfully, I recall realising at the last possible moment that we had been ushered into a VIP suite and so, realising our immediate financial jeopardy, had been able to usher the group to safety. All except for Katherine, who had gone to the brothel loo and was forgotten there until she surfaced to find us gone.
Don’t get me wrong – I would wholeheartedly recommend the happy experience to other travellers, but with the proviso (in the strongest possible tone of voice) that you simply order a basic, happy pizza. Do not supersize it, do not add extra happy, do not make it euphoric, do not ask for a special toy. These are all rapid paths to Alice’s wonderland, punctuated with bright lights, tuk tuks and adventure, except that this way round, the adventure will have you. And hard.