It’s been a bit of a roller-coaster since Sara and I landed in Southeast Asia. It’s become a bit of a joke between Sara and I that this near-death experience or that particular brush with mortality is one of the “top 10” ways to die. But after what should have been a relaxing and invigorating weekend at the beach (more on that later), I’ve decided that perhaps this list is truer than we originally thought. So, in the spirit of Travel channel lists of a similar sort, I present to you Brekke’s Top 10 Ways to Die in Cambodia.
10. Hydroplaning in a vehicle of any sort - The monsoon rains are sudden and last for quite a long time (think multiple hours). Paired with rather unkempt roads and rather uncouth drivers, hydroplaning is a sure way to “loose the mortal coil” as one might say. A car out of control could take out not just the passengers, but also passing motos, bicyclers, pedestrians and unwary cows. Because monsoon rains are only once a day though, hydroplaning makes number 10.
9. Infected bites, cuts, abrasions, lacerations, etc – after the tragic implanting of sea urchin spines into my right heel this past weekend (more on that later), I became acutely aware of the health risk that infection poses to most Cambodians, and to ex pats living and working here. With less than adequate facilities dotting the country, any kind of open sore or wound has a high likelihood of being easily infected. The tap water here isn’t potable (which means we can’t drink it) and while it’s not too terrible to wash in, if you don’t want to swallow it, you don’t want to wash a wound with it. Since we hope to avoid open wounds at all costs, infection is only number 9 on our list.
8. Attack by roving bands of she-hes - according to British Dave, as opposed to Aussie Dave, bands of “she-hes” (we’re not exactly sure what he meant, but we guess that they were transvestites) lie in wait for tourists in bars. While Sara and I have never experienced this, Dave was quite adamant, and had battle wounds to prove it. Apparently, he had been lured into a room with one of these wily bands and had to jump out a glass window in order to escape. He had several deep cuts and a bad burn form where he jumped on a speeding moto in his get-away. If he wasn’t so embarrassed by the story I would have thought he was lying to me. So, because you never know who you’ll meet in a bar, the she-hes make number 8.
7. Drowning in a boat on the way to or from shore – Sara and I had plans to go snorkeling one of the days on our beach trip (can I just say epic fail) and in route to the island the rains hit (in the morning!) and I think we very nearly drowned. The normally peaceful ocean turned grey, warm salty water was smash into our little dingy from the sea, cold water was pelting us from the sky. As we strapped orange life-vests to our shivering little selves, I remember thinking “this is a crappy way to go, out here in the middle of nowhere ocean, no one knowing where we are.” And then the motor of the boat died. Because only the grace the Almighty got us through that storm, death by drowning hits the top 10 list at number 7.
6. Abduction by the Khmer Rouge – while we have been lucky to have had our travels be (mostly) uneventful, the Khmer Rouge is still a significant threat in parts of the country. So, visiting the majestic mountains that rise out on the horizon is a no-go for these rather bumbling Americans. The rebels tend to stay in their mountains; as long as we avoid them, they should avoid us. But, because of their bloody past and unsure future, the Khmer Rouge lands just shy of the top 5 at number 6.
5. Unexploded landmines – Cambodia has the most unexploded landmines of ANY Southeast Asian country. Because there are so many of them, people routinely die from stepping in the wrong spot. Off-trail hiking is illegal in Cambodia because so many tourists have died over the years. And, if the landmine didn’t kill you and you survive the substandard medical care (think back to number 9), you inability to get work will probably result in death by malnutrition. The CMAC landmine detection and detonation training center is about a mile from the IRD office in Kampong Chhnang and routinely interrupts our meetings with small explosions. Because landmines are undiscriminating and can cause multiple death scenarios, they make it to the top 5.
4. Malaria medication – As Sara unfortunately discovered this past week, mis-prescribed Malaria mediation can be just as painful – and potentially lethal – as contracting the disease itself. Malaria medications have a variety of side effects, including: constipation, diarrhea, fever, hallucination, vivid dreaming, bi-polar tendencies, depression, gastritious and acid reflux. If you can survive your medication, then you’re doing well. Because Malaria medication is suppose to be preventative, and is mandatory for travel in Cambodia, it ranks as the number 4 way to die in Cambodia.
3. Malaria and Dengue Fever – if you stop taking your Malaria medication as a medical intervention, you then run the risk of contracting the very disease you were trying to prevent. Not to mention Dengue Fever, which there is no prevention for except to spray down with bug spray and pray. And don’t think OFF Deep Woods will be enough; I have learned the hard way that it merely dissuades already passive mosquitoes. The really persistent ones pay no mind to the spray. Day or night, mosquitoes present and pose a real threat, especially to foreigners who haven’t acclimated to the climate and to the prevalence of the diseases. Because of the unavoidable effects of Malaria and Dengue fever – whether preventative measures, or unfortunate contraction – this pair of diseases comes in third on our top 10 list.
2. Diarrhea – this unavoidable reality for all travelers to Cambodia is still the number one killer of children under the age of 5. Coupled with malnutrition, diarrhea is a leading factor in why there is an alarmingly high <5 mortality rate and why so many children are stunted and have growth and development problems. The prevalence of contaminated water is a direct cause of diarrhea. What’s more, as the monsoons set in, what is known as the “diarrhea season” hits like…well, you know. And, this unsavory sickness doesn’t just strike poor village farmers; your intrepid explorers are not immune to illness. Undercooked foods, vegetables washed in contaminated water, the side effects of Dengue, Malaria and Malaria medication all cause achy and incompliant bowels. Diarrhea – like landmines – is an indiscriminant way to kick the bucket (while on it). Because it pays no mind to social class, gender, nationality or job description, Diarrhea comes in as the second best (?) way to die in Cambodia.
1. Car accident – if any of my previous posts didn’t already give it away, car accidents rank as the number one most-likely and best (worst?) way to die in Cambodia. You may survive abduction, angry ocean waves, upset intestines and blistering heat but in a country without traffic laws or traffic police, death behind the wheel is unfortunately a high probability. Not to mention the whizzing moto drivers, riding helmetless through busy Phnom Penh streets. Due to poorly maintained roads, a frightening lack of accepted traffic laws and the sheer swarm of people on all manner of transport, death by car accident (or tuk-tuk crash, or moto catastrophe) is the number one most likely, best and worst way to die in Cambodia.