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Mary Ann's Solo Trek Into the Cambodian Jungle

When Sow Soc’s remorque stalled in deep sand, he said, “Go with the policeman. He will guide you the three kilometers to the temple.”

Reluctantly, I left the protection I had come to feel with Sow Soc. The policeman and I walked in silence for a kilometer along a wide path before he announced, “We take short cut.” Whoa, I sure did not like this idea, but followed him down the narrow jungle trail through the dense foliage. About 45 minutes later the dense jungle growth parted, and there in a clearing stood the incredible red-sandstone temple of Banteay Srei, “The Jewel of Angkor.” The intricate details of exquisite carvings are world famous.

Usually, ruins leave me cold, but those at Angkor are truly magnificent. There is a mystic charm in the detailed bas-reliefs and in the ever-smiling faces on each spire of the “Apsaras,” whose smile resembles the enigmatic smile of Mona Lisa, in the portrait by Leonardo da Vinci. I lingered for two hours photographing, then said to the policeman, “No more photographs.”

He said, “Goodbye.”

I corrected, “You and I go now to village.”

He said, “I guard temple all night. You go now on trail. Sun is low.”

Oh joy! Be brave. I started off alone through the jungle. If I ever felt vulnerable and alone, this was it. As I gingerly trod along, I brushed aside the huge leaves of plants encroaching on the narrow trail. The foliage seemed to have grown since I passed this way only a few hours earlier.

I’m glad I was unaware of what our GIs in Vietnam were taught in survival training: that cobras come out after sundown to lie on warm jungle trails heated by the day’s sun. As I threaded my way through the dense growth, I thought of the saying, “Ninety percent of people live vicariously through the other 10 percent.” I wished I belonged to that 90 percent.

Suddenly, I came face to face with a boy about nine years old casually swinging a machete almost as big as he was. Wheeeee! Just in time as the sun was setting. But he was going the wrong way! In sign language I made it emphatically clear that he was going to turn around and guide me to the village. For this he would receive 100 riels. He got the message.

The world was once again all right when I found Sow Soc.

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