Almost Home

I like to take the car when I travel to and from Kampala from my home in Arua, almost 500 kilometers away. When alone in the car with the driver I get to see everything and take photos all I want, like this highway in front of me.

The bridge in front of me is the sign I am almost home after a little over six hours in the road. Two more and I will finally be at the comfort of it.

Meantime, I enjoyed watching the clouds in front of me and marvel at the blue skies that welcome me back in the north of Uganda.

The Water Bag

It has been cold in Arua in the past couple of weeks, well okay for over a month now and for someone coming from the tropics its welcome season. I had enough of the hot weather that a little bed weather is all I need to enjoy my weekends in my house.

With the heavy downpour looming I am anticipating a nice soup for dinner or a chilly night covered with a blanket and a nice grilled sandwich while watching marathon movie of John Wick.

An Unusual Christmas Week

These years Christmas is low key.

Veneration of the Child Jesus

Four weeks ago I went back to work and landed myself in East Africa, Uganda to be exact. My work even took me to the north of the country, in Arua. When I arrived I knew that I will be spending the holidays away from home, that’s why I made connections to the only Ugandan friend I have … Silvester.

Sil and I worked for a year in Palestine. Living in Gaza for the whole of two thousand and sixteen, and I got to know his family. From the many stories we shared hanging around the house, for the lack of places to go that is not banned and the lack of other expats who do not have the same security restrictions as us, I got to know them as if we’ve met.

So when I arrived in Uganda, the second day, I met Martha, his beautiful wife and the latest addition to his brood of three boys – Michael. The little tot is special to me … he’s the namesake of my dad and both were born on the feast day of St. Michael September 29, eighty-three years apart.

Miguel and Michael

It has been decided much later that I will be spending the whole Christmas break in their house and with his family in Kampala.

Seguku hills

The view … sunset over Seguku hills in Kampala

In the outskirts of Kampala is where the Kasozi is raising their family. The house is exactly how he described it and from the photos, he had shown when he broke ground.

Coming over though was a bit of a challenge, having driven long hours from Arua that day, I was eager to just get to their home. We set off quite late than normal because of some last minute paper works before the office is officially closed for the holidays. We lost three hours from the usual six-morning rendezvous, we set off at nine and there were near mishaps along the way plus the mandatory lunch and shopping. We reached the city center at the peak of the traffic of Kampala and being the last to be dropped off I reached Martha’s home at ten that night.

I’ve been on the road for over thirteen hours. Felt like I traveled from Manila to Doha all over again 😳.

The house is over the hills, overlooking south Kampala and across other hills. Rough road and uphill I was just happy our driver was game despite the late hours.

The morning after

Martha welcomed me despite the time and showed me where I will be sleeping in the next two weeks – I am roomies with the boys VJ and Mattie, three and two years old sleepyheads. When they woke up they wondered who is there sleeping in what used to be empty bed across their room.

Sweet boys, I woke up with being addressed as Aunty followed by “how are you?” Two sets of eyes wondering who this muzungo is … the white-skinned aunty (although I am more brown than white 👩🏻‍🦱).

Riot everyday

The boys born a year apart are like twins. They wore similar clothes when we go out and copy each other all the time. But more than that they are frenemies. Always someone is crying and calling for mommy but when they are in good terms they are the image of bliss. A sweetheart if you ask me until one bites the other 🤭.

No they are not twins 😜

Good thing mom has the patience of a saint. Never saw her angry, stern yes but not angry nor frustrated. Wondering how some parents react when one and worst three are acting up together making a riot. Waiting to see what Michael is like when he turns two … it would be a noisy house over Seguku hills.

🙏🏼

I am thankful for this experience, an immersion I didn’t plan. In the Philippines, to experience 101 hospitality one needs to be invited to live in a Filipino house, rich or poor the experience will be profound. Same as I have here although I imposed my visit I am experiencing a holiday like no other.

Happy to meet Silvester and Martha’s family including their immediate extended family. It is truly wonderful to live a life like a local even though I am muzungo.

It will be hard to leave but will soon do before I overstay my welcome, but actually to return to work up north.

I Kep It A Secret

Cambodia was a good training ground for anyone who wants to venture into international development work back then. I started mine in early 2000 I Signed for Six-Months, and Then I Stayed for Six-Years in Cambodia, but I don’t know now.  The last two times I visited I almost didn’t recognize the country, so much progress had happened, and of course, I was happy.

The last time I visited the country was in 2015 it was so much different than when I left in 2006 and returned again in 2008 except for the capital Phnom Penh, it has always been crazy but with less traffic.

This time, I made sure that I don’t stay long in  Phnom Penh,  I was escaping the hustle and bustle of the city. I just wanted peace and quiet, away from the crowd, close to nature but not too far away from the civilization.

I was trying to get away from the stresses brought on by straight three months work during my time in Nepal. The initial fears of aftershocks to living in small tents for almost a month and living in a high rise (well only the 3rd floor) when you don’t know when the next shake will be.  I was escaping that to center myself again before going back to it one last time.

So I decided to be somewhere different from what I remember — I went to Kep.

The province is close to the beach that was developing fast but not as fast as its neighboring provinces of Kampot and Sihanouk Ville. Back in the days, we cannot just go there without encountering danger signs. Most parts of the region were closed off because of the landmines.  Kep was not a real province until 2008, it was still part of Kampot, and the safest place to visit back then was the beach side of the province.

So to be safe, I stayed not along the beach but close. When you enter Kep proper, just after the roundabout before turning to the right, I turned left and gone up a little uphill where Vanna Hill Resort was located. It’s away from the main road and away from the crowd but close enough to not be afraid to return late in the night from watching the sunset and enjoying a meal along the beach … alone.

(Dhidhak Collections / Nepal 2015)
Sitting on the balcony in front of my room … I have the cottage all to myself (Dhidhak Collections / Nepal 2015)

September – October was off season I am the only guest in the whole resort hotel. I rented the double cottage facing the sea and every day for the whole time I was there I wake up to see the sunrise and in my hammock to watch the sunset. I felt like I own it or at least I can pretend ha! ha!

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I enjoyed every amenities of the resort and really unwind. I am in the swimming pool in the morning and go around the town in my rented tuk-tuk in the afternoon.

When I am not eating outside, I can ask the kitchen to whip up something delicious for me. Traditional Cambodian food that I missed like Fish Amok and Cambodian Curry with seafood instead of the traditional chicken. But beware it can be pricey to order something for one, and those dishes are actually eaten with a company.

But no trip to the beach in Cambodia without the tradition of buying your fresh seafood in the market, having it cooked and enjoying them while watching people and again the sunset.

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The beachfront along Kep was so much different from what I remembered back in the days. Gone are the dirt road, dusty and potholed. It was replaced by wide asphalt road that connects directly to the highway.

There were also big hotels and boutique hotels, and some that have seen better days along the beachfront that caters to just about anybody who wants to spend a weekend in Kep.

 

I was tempted to visit and spend the night in the  Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island), but since it’s low tourist season there will be no one there with me, and the locals usually go home to the mainland in the evening,

My trip to Kep gave me the rest and recuperation I needed to go back to Nepal and finish off my mission and return home in time for the holidays.

***

Practical tips:

  • Get the van to Kep and arrange to drop you off your hotel. I took the bus going home, but we had a breakdown, and I arrived very late than my original plan.
  • Off peak season is always cheap and you can choose a different room than what you booked if you didn’t like it (at no cost for me but for you maybe with a little bit extra).
  • Eating outside is also cheaper than having meals prepared for you in the hotel unless you come in big groups.
  • Solo travel is always fun to do but be always on the side of caution. Book transport with the hotel at least they know the driver, and they speak English.
  • Carry small bills with you all the time – in local currency and in dollars.
  • Always smile, Cambodians are such friendly people.

Happy traveling!