19 People and a Chicken, by Raimon Portell

At noon the bus leaves me at a crossroads with no more attraction than heavy traffic and muddy streets. Kampong Thom is a stop along the way, a stop to avoid swallowing the journey from the mountains of northern Cambodia to Kratie, on the banks of the Mekong River. And my first mission is to solve tomorrow’s transportation. I don’t know which route to take to my final destination, I don’t know if there will be a bus that will take me there, I don’t know where the bus will be taken. Come on, I don’t know how I’m going to get out of Kampong Thom.

I scan the surroundings and ask a lady who has a few plastic chairs arranged on the sidewalk.

“I’ll sell you the ticket,” he assures me.

I look at her suspiciously, but she has already taken out a checkbook and hands me the receipt in question.

Siem Reap temples in Cambodia

Third parties

The next thing is to leave the luggage in a hotel room that I will have to share. I realize it when I see that, behind the wardrobe, a gecko appears with a head fatter than my fist. I only hope that their food is limited to bugs and mosquitoes, which are in abundance. And I take advantage of the afternoon to visit Sambor Prei Kuk, an archaeological site that I knew nothing about, just like the American pilots who dropped their clusters of bombs nearby. It was cleared of mines in 2008 and in 2017 it received the UNESCO World Heritage label.

The tuk-tuk (motorized tricycle) takes an hour to reach the site. And then I go into the jungle on a sandy path. It is surrounded by a catalog of tinder fungi, worms, those shy herbs that close at the slightest touch, butterflies for all tastes and dozens of temples. Of some, only a pile of rubble remains; others are literally taken over by vegetation, with fig trees sinking their roots into its bricks; the most complete stretch like conical chimneys, ready to send prayers to the heavens of Hindu Olympus. Built between the 7th and 9th centuries AD, they will be the origin of the towers or prasats that will characterize the later Khmer architecture. They took the model from the Indian Gupta art, which in turn had drunk from the Greek sculpture that Alexander the Great took to the confines of India. Thus, from goose to goose, those heads with mustaches and wavy hair that I find embedded in the decoration of a temple were reproduced here. And so, from goose to goose, my journey will continue.

I don’t know which route to follow to my final destination, I don’t know how I will get out of Kampong Thom

The next morning, from the start, I note with relief that the lady with the ticket is still in her place and that she is waiting for me. From a metal container, she pulls out a chair for her to sit on. She watches the passing buses until one catches her eye. She crosses the street and stops him. Come on, she tells me she, this will be mine. It’s full, but there’s always room for one more. And I travel a few hours south to Kampong Cham. There the bus empties. They tell me that I have to go up to another one, which is next door. We cross the imposing course of the Mekong and continue along its shore, now heading north. And another transport change occurs. This time it is a van, where we compressed nineteen people and a chicken.

And finally I reach Kratie, after eight hours, three transports and with the doubts of what the lady put on my ticket and how the different companies distribute their amount. Unfathomable mysteries that we can weigh, although the road has already laid out other truths that, at least, I will be able to grasp with my senses, such as river dolphins and glutinous rice.

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