Monday, November 12, 2012

2012, Day 317 - Little prayers

It was well and truly dark when we woke up this morning.  There was only the slightest hint of the day to come when we walked out of the door to our hotel to meet Mr. Mony at five thirty.  We quickly piled into the van and hurdled down the road toward Angkor Wat.

The sun was just cresting the horizon was we stopped at Bayon.  Although we were there last night it looked totally different first thing in the morning and there were some shallow pools on the west side that caught the reflections of the temple and the sky above.  It was beautiful, I only hope that my photographs will do it justice.

We stayed around the temple as the color drained form the sky and around us we could see life stirring.  Bicycles went whizzing by as people rode to work and the monks began to appear, figured swathed in saffron beginning the day's work before breakfast.  In the distance we could hear the faint sounds of chanting.  Curiosity took hold and, with Mr. Mony at our side, wandered towards the monastery's housing.  Boys of no more than eight or nine years old sat in a small group waiting for the call to breakfast.  With Mr. Mony's help we learned that they are not residents, rather they are visiting Angkor Wat to see the temples and learn from some of the resident masters.

Soon they were making their way toward the open-sided hall on stilts that is their meeting area.  Breakfast was about to be served and some older nuns could be seen picking through fresh produce to find the best of what was being offered.  As they monks began to chant we decided to take our leave so they could eat in peace.  Down the jungle trail we walked, past their houses and the cats that live with them, to the point where we were dropped off and back into the van.

Our next destination was Ta Prohm, perhaps the most iconic temple with the notable exception of Angkor Wat itself.  Ta Prohm was built as a monastery and university in the late 12th century.  Unlike many of the other temples Ta Prohm is in almost the same condition as it was found with massive trees growing out of the ruins.  In 2010 restoration work was begun in earnest and the temple is changing but that is only to be expected, it need to be reinforced and rebuilt because so many people want to see its stunning beauty.  Ultimately if people are going to be walking through the site it needs to be safe.  Still, it is remarkable that such enormous trees (both silk-cotton and strangler figs) can grow out of the structure without the halls and rooms collapsing under the tremendous weight.  The engineering is exceptional the the finish work is beautiful.

We spent hours at Ta Prohm, dodging other sightseers, waiting for views to clear of people, at taking our pictures.  Mr. Mony was wonderful, he guided us to the best views, herded us to sites while they were empty, and giving us the history all at the same time.  I suspect we are some of the most challenging people to work with because it is like herding cats but Mr. Mony is wonderful.  There are times when I have pangs of jealousy because Araceli is able to keep up all the information while we often fall behind after finding another picturesque view.  One of the neat things at Ta Prohm are the carvings of dinosaurs that appear among all the other more typical iconography.

As we completed our circuit of the temple the heat was starting to get uncomfortable and the hoards began to descend.  Buses upon buses hard arrived and the relative peace was completely disrupted so we decided to leave and call it a morning.  Due to our early start we were all a little tired so we went back to the hotel to catch the tail end of the free (and delicious) breakfast and to rest for a few hours.

At three o'clock Mr. Mony collected us again to take us shopping.  We wanted to see what the quality good looked like and asked him to show us the places he thought were the best.  So off we went and started at the silver smith's store.  It was jammed with all sorts of beautiful bowls, statues, decor and jewelry.  Next we went to where they cast bronze statuary; while beautiful it wasn't especially practical to purchase but they had some cool large bells that I liked but didn't like the idea of lugging halfway across the globe.  Finally we went to another silk workshop.  They had lots of beautiful things but most were very contemporary and I though it kind of defeated the purpose of buying in Cambodia.

When we had lightened our wallets Mr. Mony took us by an artists collective where they train young people in traditional arts.  They did silk painting, weaving, lacquering  plating, carving, and casting.  It was neat to see where these skills are taught and they have a rather large shop attached that helps to fund their facilities.  I am sure that countless lives have been made better by the learning of skills which they can employ for a lifetime.

When we finished the four of us walked back to our hotel.  On the way we found a shop that sells accessories fashioned from old heavy duty bags like those for concrete, rice, and feed.  The owner was really nice and told us all about the items they make and she even invited us to her workroom where her employees were working a little overtime on a large custom order.  There is something very gratifying about seeing a local business owner with happy employees being met with success.

We returned to our hotel briefly to change clothes and head out to dinner.  Our plan was to go see a traditional Khmer dance performance accompanied by a buffet.  I will admit to being a little taken aback at the number of people, there was room for hundreds and the place was packed.  It certainly wasn't the beautiful and intimate performance that my sister Laura and I enjoyed in Bali.  Still, what the food lacked in execution it made up for in quantity and the dance performance was really nice.

Full and tired at the finish of dinner we headed back for another early night.  Tomorrow the plan is for Brian and Nicole to sleep in while Araceli and I go tomb raiding at Preah Khan, Ta Som, and East Mebon.  So until tomorrow!

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
17mm, f11, HDR and merged layers of 1/6, 0.3, 0.6, 1.3, and 2.5 sec @ 100 ISO

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