On my way to Cambodia, i had the chance to meet Donnie. He’s a 67 years old Canadian, who grew up in Alaska, and spent all his life travelling the US on his bike.
We started chatting on the minibus that took us from Trat to the Thai border with Cambodia: as usual, i love meeting up people with stories to tell. We shared some good travel memories and as he’s got to know it was my first time in Cambodia, he started giving me useful tips on local customs, food, how to avoid police scams and the usual travelling stuff. he’s been coming to Sihanoukville since the mid nineties, and fell in love with the country so much that he decided to rent a beautiful house just outside the centre of Sihanoukville, on a 15 years lease. As we got off the bus he asked if i wanted to stay one night at his place, so i could look for a room the next day, without the hassle. of course i said yes!
The house is beautifully set in the outskirts of the city, away from any tourist business. just local people houses, palm trees and a couple of general stores.
He’s been away for 10 days, as he went to Bangkok for some health check up: as soon as he opened the gate, his cat and his dog came to greet him.
Despite being 67, Donnie seems not too age: he definitely looks at least ten years younger. He’s been a gardener for many years and he likes to keep fit. I could’nt believe he’ a father, a grand father and a grand grand father.His garden is full of pots where he grows tropical plants, and he spends the hot Cambodian afternoons lazying on his terrace, listening to some old rock music or improving his Khmer reading from his copybook.
He decides to take me for a ride on his bike. We go to the main market as he wants me to sample some of the local food. As he starts the engine he says “Always turn your lights off…or the police will stop and fine you!”. Apparently the authorities find this disrespectful to the king. He tries to change all the dollars in local currency as he rather spend riels, but he always ride his moto carrying some 1 US$ notes with him: the police will stop you and often will find out something to fine you for, so a dollar will get them lunch.
After a nice meal in the market, on the way back to his house we stop to the local general store to get some food for the night. There’s no english spoken here, and he manages to get what he wants, while the Khmer laughs, probably because of his funny accent.
This little local shop looks beautiful to me. It’s set on a peaceful little road: chickens run around while kids are playing. Some nice Khmer music comes from a little transistor radio. this is real Cambodia and i could’nt be here without Donnie’s inside knowledge. Even the tilt is a piece of genious: a big pink school calculator 9probably the biggest i’ve ever seen, and a plastic basket with lots of different notes all mixed together.
We go back to his place on the beautiful sunset light. i can’t help taking few shots of the simple wooden houses and the rich vegetation. this is the perfect light to represent the peaceful atmosphere of this corner of Asia.
While he’s cooking dinner, i take my guitar and go down the road to play few tunes for the kids that are playing on the street. They seem to like it, especially the mouth trumpet. The dogs though, keep barking at this tall stranger making strange sounds.
After dinner, we enjoy drinking few chilled beer on the porch while the sounds of the Cambodian countryside keep us company. Tomorrow i will wake up and finally start my exploration of the new place, but after just one day with Donnie, i feel so much at home.