Sister Soiree 2009: Thanksgiving Lobster @ Glover’s Atoll

11.26.2009

The frigate birds put on an impressive show as they hunt for their Thanksgiving Day meal.

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Our little band of travelers gather together for Thanksgiving festivities. Here we are, enamored with whatever Eric Bacon is telling as we drink our Kool-aid.

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We are joined by the inhabitants of the neighboring island, the Marine Park Rangers. And they bring  with them, Spiney Lobsters! They are clawless and full of tasty meat to dip in butter… I wouldn’t mind replacing T-day turkey with these more often!

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Not to be outdone, Beatrice whips up some yummy coconut meringue pies for dessert! That’s Becky behind her- she runs the resort that her parents own.

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Another night we had a ‘potluck’ and a ‘bonfire’ which had to be constantly tended to because all we had to burn was dried palm leaves and coconut husks. Jessie is enjoying her coconut full of rum, wishing we had a nice chunk of oak for our fire.

1913571_373104140787_6037515_nAfter all the food and rum, we’d head back to our 2-story, beach-front cabana and wish we had electricity and a fan. (J- do you still have that a Rainbow Bright sheet?)1913571_373104120787_2740218_n

Most nights we’d take quick showers right before bed in the futile hope that evaporation would make us cool enough to fall asleep. It was hot. And rainy. And there were 1 million hermit crabs.

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If you left the bread out in the kitchen, the tiny hermit crabs would nip their way through the plastic and nibble on your toast! They were tiny and left tracks in the sand every night.

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They wer also entertaining. One night we found the biggest ones and had a race to see whose crab would be the first to make it out of a circle we drew in the sand. Did I mention we didn’t have any electricity?1913571_373103975787_1858883_n

This silly hermit made his new home in a marker cap!

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If we had managed to keep the crabs out of our bread, in the morning I could make french toast!

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Check out the Conch-shell wind-guard we set up for  our propane stove. We also made eggs!

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The french toast turned out great! We brought NZ butter in a can but we didn’t have syrup… but we had the next best thing- Marie Sharp’s Mango jam! YUMMO!

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After breakfast the non-cook was on dish duty! The baked-on eggs had to be scrubbed out of the pan with sand. Luckily, Eric was there to keep things humorous.

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Let’s GO BAAACK for some more rustic-island camping! Who is in?!?1913571_373104105787_2200398_n

 

Sister Soiree 2009: ATM or the Cave of the Crystal Maiden

11.30.2009
It’s time to leave the island and head back to mainland Belize. Jessie, Carol, Eric, Whitney, Leslie and I shared a taxi from Dangriga where the boat dropped us off to the cramped, hilly town of San Ignacio near the border of Guatemala($35pp).
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It is low tourist season so we got hassled quite a bit but we found a get place to sign up for a cave tour. Mayawalk was so great. Owned by locals that have been doing tours for a long time. Many of the other places are owned my foreigners who constantly harassed us as we explored the city. Our guide, Martin was incredible. He was so knowledgable and passionate about the ATM.
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 The tour starts with a 45min walk through the jungle with a few river crossings. Martin tells us about the ATM or Actun Tunichil Muknal which has only been open to the public since 1998. It is significant because it was used by the Mayans for ritual sacrifices.
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We entered the cave through this hourglass-shaped opening and immediately had to swim 45ft through a cool cave pool. As soon as we got away from the light Martin had us hold on to the person in front of us walk in complete darkness. At one point, Martin plays us a song by smacking his palms on a series of stalagtites.
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There were all sorts of stalactites/mites and crystals in the rocks that made them sparkle in the light of your headlamp.
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We eventually came to the end of the cave tour (the actual cave kept going).
We had walked a half mile into a mountain and were under 600ft of earth.
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We hadn’t seen daylight for hours but Martin had a spotlight and would shine it on things so we could take photos. He also had to keep us from errantly stepping on a stray skull since they were only separated from us by lines of tape.
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 There were entire pots and shards everywhere. When the Mayans made sacrifices they would leave them in 3 different pots, all facing different directions.
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Nothing was roped off so you had to be careful in the dark of where you stepped. We were required to wear only socks to help preserve this gently sloping area created by mineral deposits.
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At the highest point in the cave we found the Crystal Maiden. Martin told us that he had lead tours for many anthropologists who have studied this cave and its well-preserved artifacts. This is a depiction of one of the Hero Twins who fought the Gods of the underworld and won! 
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The anthropologists taught Martin that the maiden was a young teen female who had most likely been sacrificed to Chaac the Mayan god of rain. But, the rain didn’t come and the Mayans moved on.  Over the centuries as water ran over the bones it left sparkly calcite crystal deposits.
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 Time to hike back out. What an epic day!

Sister Soiree 2009: Sunrise @ Tikal or Jessie makes a Tarantula friend.

 

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We part ways with our Glover’s crew and crossed the border on foot. We were welcomed into Guatemala by the falling ash of burnt trash falling from the sky. And all of a sudden we didn’t know how to talk to anyone! Luckily, that was last week and now our memories of Guatemala are much more fond. And our Spanish has improved… a bit. I never caught on that ‘nombre’ meant NAME because it sounded like NUMBER. I kept wondering why people were asking me for my number…

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Flores

We caught a minibus to Flores, about 2.5 hrs from the border, a cute little town on an island. We arrived at night and after finding Los Amigos hostel was full, found Dona Goya.

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Jessie reads ‘Water for Elephants’ in the Doya Gona hostel, Flores, Guatemala.

We didn’t make plans for the morning because I was still feeling a bit under the weather. Instead we went back to Los Amigos to have smoothies for breakfast. Yumm. They still didn’t have room for us. We walked the town a bit but it was so, so hot.  Time to make new plans.

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This is the orange lady who peels Jessie’s fruit just the way she like it- for $.25!

By lunch we had gotten antsy and decided to head off for Tikal, 1 hr shuttle ride from Flores.

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Temple of the Jaguar, where they buried Lord Chocolate with 16kilos of Jade jewelry.

We rented a tent with an air mattress for $10 each and dashed off into the park to see what we could see before it closed at 6pm. We found our way to the central plaza and climbed up the wooden staircase (you can’t climb any of the temples now) to watch the full moon rising over the Jaguar temple.

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The only other person there was Fransisco, the night guard. For the past 12 years he has worked the 6pm-6am shift with 2 other guards. His English was as poor as our Spanish, but when he kept telling us we had lots of time, don’t leave yet- we relaxed an enjoyed the moonlight. Then when we should have been leaving, he motioned for us to follow him to Temple 4- the largest temple in Tikal.

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Our new guard friend took us up to the top of Temple 4, where we met Jerry and Mitchell from San Franciso. It was just the 5 of us, on top of this bazillion-year-old temple, watching the full moon rise. Whew. Amazing stuff. As Francisco lead us out of the park, he stopped us at the clearing of middle of the largest temples, the ‘town square’ and motioned for us to watch him. He brought his hands together in a LOUD CLAP, which proceeded to furiously bounce back and forth between the temples making a noise like a hi-speed zip-line! It was fantastic! Apparently, the buildings were carefully places so that announcements made by the priests, standing on the temples, would be amplified.

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We headed back to our tent and were getting ready to go to bed without supper when our California gentlemen showed up and demanded we join them for dinner, their treat! We couldn’t turn them down and had a lovely time chatting about their birding and our travels. They were lovely! Off to bed now zzzz…..

Sister Soiree 2009: An Introvert’s Illness

introvertJessie got sick. It turns out that the sudden transition from non-electric island life to the bustle of San Ignacio (with a gaggle of exhausting extroverts) was a shock to the system of my introvert sister. (In 2009, J was an un-diagnosed introvert. Back then, she was just a girl who took naps with a frequency that rivaled most house cats.) Here we are, 3 siblings, practicing our napping.1077599_10153048570410788_99132229_o

When extra naps didn’t fix the mystery illness, we decided it was time to strike out into the unknown and see what magical cures the Pharmacia had in store. (Here’s me, in our $7.50 hotel room)

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Ooh! Look at all the choices!
1913571_374555335787_6325288_nJessie chooses the one with the best name… Chesty Cough Mixture!

1913571_374555355787_5824364_nHere goes nothing! In this photo, Jessie is experience the ‘Chesty Cough Mixture’s mentholated goodness!

1913571_374555360787_955906_nAnd here is the moment when J decides that she is cured and will never need to take that medicine again!1913571_374555375787_7881754_nCURED!

Just for giggles, here is the EXTROVERT care card. (In case you haven’t met me… I’m a classic extrovert.)extroverts1 (1)

 

 

Sister Soiree 2009: Semuc Champey and my first travel injury.

1913571_374738280787_625062_nOur next adventure was spending 6+ hours in a minibus from Flores to Coban on our way to Semuc Champey! I took this photo because it was the first street light we’d seen for weeks! The barely-floating ‘ferry’ was not my favorite…

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When we got to Coban, we got ate and switched vehicles for the next 2 hour journey to the small, mountain village of Lanquin. The jungle mountains were lush and humid.1913571_374738315787_7620492_n (1)

FINALLY, in Lanquin,  we were transferred to the back of a pick-up for 30 minutes of bumpy 2-track down into the jungle valley. It was dark by the time we arrived at the Los Marias Hostel.1913571_374738340787_1229879_n  Here it is the next morning.

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Speaking of mornings- Los Marias made us lovely breakfasts! It seems that fried eggs are a  breakfast staple, world-wide! The warm tortillas were a nice touch.Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 1.44.25 PM

During breakfast at our hostel, we met Nichola Cagey and Travis and together we swam through the Las Marias caves with candles.

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It was nearly impossible to swim while ALSO holding our candle- but our guide kept his dry and would relight ours after every swim.

22632_443389970701_6045759_nAfter jumping off the rope swing into the river, we headed to see the terraced pools of turquoise water that make Semuc Champey a (hard to reach) tourist destination. 22632_443390215701_3678223_n

The water was refreshing and full of tiny fish who gave your feet pedicures! Next, we made the hike up to the viewing platform. It was definitely worth the effort.11046808_10153551534349133_73477039343046187_oThe climb made us hungry, so we bought quite a few of these rounds of homemade chocolate from the little kids outside our hostel. They came in cinnamon, anise, cardamon and vanilla. You can see the handprint in the one Jessie is holding. Authenitcally hand-made!

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On our very last day in Semuc Champey- I almost broke my arm! (J- do you have a photo of the patch-job you did on me?)

Here’s the good/bad of how it went down.

The good news: our dorm was clean and nearly empty. The bad news: 0ur dorm room was at the top of a steep hill. The good news: there were wide, even stairs! The bad news: the stairs were tiled with decorative pieces of VERY SLIPPERY plates! The worst news: it rained the morning we left. I was doomed.( Here’s a gorgeous photo of the Cahabón River to build suspense.)22632_443390150701_6965053_n

That morning I was the first one packed up, so I headed down to put in our order for breakfast since our pick-up would arrive soon. Half-way down the stairs I lost my footing on a slippery tile and my feet flew out from under me as my heavy backpack yanked me to the ground. Instinctually, I put my arm out to brace myself and my forearm connected with the edge of a concrete step. I let out a loud scream, “F*%@$!!!” Jessie comes running out of the dorm, top speed, down the stairs and slips on the step and scrapes up her ankle. What a good sister. I’m still yelling as Jessie undoes the buckles on my giant pack and helps me up. We cleaned up the scrape on my forearm with soap and water, applied some Neosporin and taped a panty-liner to the wound since it wouldn’t stop bleeding. Then, we shoved breakfast in our faces and prepared for another full-day, multiple-vehicle trip thru Guatemala. Thanks to some TLC from my sister, the cut on my arm healed nicely. (You can still see the scar, but just barely.) Here I am, happily eating more fried plantain chips on our way to Antigua. I love my sister!1913571_374738270787_8107017_n

Sister Soiree 2009: Volcanoes and Lactating Fountains

When we last left you, Jessie and I were in Semuc Champey and I had taken a serious fall on some slippery stairs, nearly breaking my arm. Now, we were holding on for dear life in the back of a pick-up truck that was climbing up the 2-track, back to the tiny town of Lanquin. We were on the last leg of our journey, headed to Antigua. So was this D-bag tourist. Hungover BROS like this guy give Americans a bad name abroad. 1913571_374779955787_6045035_n

We finally made it to Antigua, home of the chromed-out ‘Chicken Bus’ and found our hostel.21968_386331710787_7626777_n

After getting settled in, we walked the streets of this UNESCO World Heritage Center. 21968_386331540787_931124_n

Angtigua’s lovely architecture seems to draw in the ex-pats… we immediately noticed that there was an overabundance of ‘things tourists like’ – we counted 12 coffee shops, a gym and a lovely town square with a fountain and trees full of twinkle lights. Loads of little girls tried to get tourists to buy crafts and postcards from them. (Ideally, you should never buy anything from a child when they should be in school.) 21968_386331470787_3650846_n

Upon closer inspection, the fountain is a bit…titillating.

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The fountain was built by Diego de Porres in 1738, who took his inspiration for the fountain from the Neptune Fountain in Bologna, Italy. Official, the fountain is named ‘Fuente de las Sirenas’ (Fountain of the Mermaids), but Jessie & I dubbed it, Our Lady of Perpetual Lactation. We are very clever.21968_386331495787_253649_n

As we wander the town, we notice that there ALL the travel shops have placards advertising a guided hike up Pacaya, one of the 3 active volcanoes near town. We sign up and go buy marshmallows. The hike is long, hot and terrible. It leaves in the mid-afternoon so you arrive at dusk when the lava is most impressive. I trudge on, the crunch soil shifts and slides under my feet. I am so slow that they ask me 4 times, ‘Wouldn’t I rather ride a horse? Only $20!)

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 1.44.50 PMFinally, we reach a vast field of cooled lava, speckled with tourists- there is no defined path and I am so far behind that I don’t know how to get back to my guide. I see a guy step on a ledge of lava that crumbles and he falls, deeply scratching his palms and forearms. BAH! The guide has to come back and lead me by the hand over to the river of lava! It was seriously impressive as it slowly slid by in a wave of oppressive heat. We did indeed roast marshmallows on the lava flow!

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(I just realized that you can see my bandage on my inner forearm in the photo above. Also, I just took that wicking North Face t-shirt to SE Asia!)

The next day, we wander through a market, looking for fabrics and we happen upon the Chicken bus depot! We loved the buses all decked out with chrome and spinner hubcaps.21968_386331695787_3672918_n

We also found a parade…21968_386331635787_7840551_n

And later that day, there was a live nativity scene complete with wisemen on horseback and a live baby Jesus.

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We randomly became part of a parade of kids dressed up like old people dancing through town.

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It’s Monday night and we’re mostly packed up and ready to head to the airport in the morning. We´ll be sure to post our favorite pictures when we get home ! (Like the photo of Jessie at the airport with a box of banana treats… that the worms got into. YUM!)   Instead, we’ll leave you with this sign. Thanks for joining us on our trip!21968_386331805787_6768576_n

I got to walk an elephant @ Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center!

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This is me & Lucky, walking hand in trunk through the Cambodian forest!

The people and sights of Phnom Penh demanded that we linger longer than Kate & I had originally planned.  Since we weren’t going to make it to Koh Rong or even Kampot, we decided to do something special… meet an elephant celebrity! We did our research and found a responsible place where the animals were treated well and NO ONE RIDES THE ELEPHANTS.P1050815 copy Just an hour drive south of PP is the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center and the permanent residence of Lucky the elephant. The center began as the national zoo and there were many war-torn years when the animals survived solely because the locals fed the animals in their cages. In 2001, the Wildlife Alliance partnered with the zoo and brought in more animals confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade. This darling Gibbon was raised with humans but kept on a chain that damaged one of her feet.

P1050912 copy   She came right to the fence when she heard her favorite keeper’s voice and she would throw you a concerned look over her shoulder if you stopped massaging her back. The Cambodian heat was intense (per usual) so we were ready for a lunch break and a rest in a hammock. P1050940 copy There were many local families with picnic lunches and small children who were entertained when Kate stuck her foot in the rice and I had a hammock malfunction.

Tourists can be silly. Children can be adorable.

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This darling girl just got a cool bath at the zoo picnic area!

 Some things are the same all around the world.

In my next post, Lucky the elephant paints me a T-shirt!

Just a Little Bit of History Repeating*: The Killing Fields

*This post will be upsetting to most readers because it describes a place where atrocities were committed. None of it should have happened but history continues to be repeated.

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After an emotional morning at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, our trip through Cambodian history continued to The Killing Fields. I was a bit apprehensive but with Kate by my side, I took a deep breath and walked through the gates. At the end of a flower-lined path is a tall, Buddhist Stupa- a memorial to the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime. This regal structure holds the skull of 5,000 Cambodians- a small fraction of the 1 million people who were killed on this site.

P1050522I expected this site to have the same heaviness as Tuol Sleng but I felt a difference here. The site is thoughtfully ‘curated’.  The Killing Fields were not left alone to testify to history- the memorial tower surrounded by bright flowers and shady trees lets you know; what happened in this place will not be forgotten. No one lost here will be forgotten.

P1050547The most exceptional piece of the experience is the audio tour where people tell their own stories about Choeung Ek in their own voices. This doesn’t make the experience less sad but I was grateful not to be left with my own thoughts.

P1050540The audio narrates each numbered stop along a path that meanders through the site.

P1050528The thatched roof (pictured above) shelters the area where a mass grave of children was found.

I left a friendship bracelet on the bamboo fence pictured below.

P1050529After 1979,  graves were emptied and the bodies reburied but due to the quantity of graves, not all were able to be excavated.

P1050534Even 40 years later- bones, teeth and pieces of clothing continue to work their way up out of the ground after a heavy rain.
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After a few hours, it was time to head the 11 miles back to our Phnom Penh hostel.

P1050519The road work and traffic slowed our pace but Kate & I weren’t in the mood for cheery traveler banter. We shared a ride with a couple who had purchased a touching book called, “First They Killed My Father.”  (You can purchase it on Amazon.)

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 10.34.51 PMThis book offers a look into the privileged life of a government official’s family in 1975 – when the Khmer Rouge evacuate Cambodia’s capital city. I read out loud for an hour- everyone was mesmerized by the story and I didn’t stop reading until our Tuk-Tuk pulled up outside the hostel. Read a bit for yourself: Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 10.33.13 PMScreen Shot 2015-04-19 at 10.34.19 PM

There is so much more to say about this day, but I will leave you with this happy glimpse into 1975.

Just a Little Bit of History Repeating*: Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

*This post will be upsetting to most readers because it discusses a terrible event that should never have happened but continues to be repeated.

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Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the Khmer Rouge evacuation of Phnom Penh. Tanks rolled through the Cambodia’s capital city and the population was forced to march back to the countryside to grow crops like the Chinese Communists peasant society. Below is a map of the  evacuation.

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Over the next four years, nearly 2 million people were exterminated as Pol Pot ‘purified’ the population. There are enough similarities to Nazi Germany that I can’t quite fathom this tragedy was still happening in 1979 not 1939. I visited Cambodia less than four decades later and the country is still recovering.

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One of the more noticeable results of the genocide is the absence of older Cambodians.  In 2014, the population was estimated at 16 million but only 9% of the population was over the age of 55! Today, the median age of the Cambodian population is 24.1 years-old.  In the States, it’s 36.8 years-old. One of the elders I met had a spectacular story of surviving Pol Pet’s regime.

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This adorable man is Bou Meng and I met him on a visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum or  Security Prison-21 (often called ‘S-21’). In 1975, S-21 was a Phnom Penh high school.

P1050482Tuol Sleng is a popular tourist destination for both local and foreign visitors interested in learning about Cambodia’s recent history and that history weighed heavy on me as I walked the corridors of this school.

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Most of the rooms of the school have been left empty except for leg chains or a steel bed frame but brick cells have been built into the classrooms of one of the buildings.

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Other rooms were filled with photographs like these, which documented each prisoner in a very systematic way. These photographs and detailed logs immediately brought to mind the comprehensive record-keeping done by the Nazis.

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The bendable, metal clips that these girls use to pull back their bangs are just like the ones I had growing up. I have to keep reminding myself that these grainy black and white photos were taken less than 40 years ago. Below is the ‘chair’ used for procuring uniform photographs.

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When the prison was liberated in 1979, a photograph was taken of the 12 people found alive that day.  Bou Meng and Chum Mey were two of the survivors who have written books about their experiences.  Chum Mey is also in a documentary on Tuol Sleng. (The tour guide is pointing to Bou Meng in the photo from that day.)

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Both men were spared because of a certain skill they possessed that could help Pol Pot. Chum Mey was a highly skilled at repairing machines for the armed forces. Bou Meng was an artist, which normally would have marked him for immediate execution along with the scholars; but his artistic talents were used to produce Pol Pot’s likeness. Drawing propaganda posters of a tyrant kept him alive.

P1050516It is remarkable that he voluntarily comes back to the place where he was imprisoned. He comes  to tell tourists about Cambodia’s history and I got a bit misty-eyed when Bou handed me his book. A big fat tear rolled down my face as he leaned over to hug me.