Uncharted Territory - This Time Tomorrow - CycleBlaze

January 6, 2017

Uncharted Territory

Uncharted Territory

We had studied the maps carefully as well as read cycling blogs from those who had ridden the only road between Kampot and Koh Kong, the Cambodian border town. There were few towns, a lot of hills, questionable road conditions and vast jungle on either side. Plus, it was very hot and humid. We could have done it but it didn’t seem like a very good use of our time and energy. We are not the type of cyclists who are obsessed with riding every kilometer of a route. There are interesting things that happen on other forms of transport as well. In the end we figured we would save four or five days if we simply took a van.

After our early morning papaya - banana - muesli - soy milk breakfast in our room we hauled all of our bags down the three flights of our hotel and waited for the van to arrive.

The man with the van, a friend of our hotel owner, arrived with several sleepy Cambodian passengers quietly sitting in their seats and a motorbike hanging out the back. The driver needed to re-situate the motorbike to make room for our bikes. He positioned the motorbike and our bikes so they were all sticking straight out of the back of the van, a position I never would have thought of or attempted with my lack of knowledge of knot tying. I dreaded the inflow of exhaust that we would be breathing the entire five hours of the trip.

I didn’t think I was in the way but I was carefully overseeing the securing of our bikes when the driver asked if we had had breakfast. He motioned that we could go over there and get breakfast. I patted my stomach and told him we were full and continued to “help”. But I’m glad I did because the tires of our bikes resting on the bumper was so much better than the way the driver was going to position the bikes. The chain ring bouncing on the bumper just didn’t seem like such a great idea to me.

The Cambodian drivers of vans are knot specialists.
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We held our breath for our precious babies.
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Andrea and I squeezed into the back seat so we could tell the driver to stop when we noticed one of our panniers falling out the back. The driver hadn’t packed them very well in my opinion. But, then, I pride myself as a Super Packer. When you collect as much stuff as I have all my life you learn how to pack things so they take up the least amount of space. But everything was fine and along the way we picked up more riders and their stuff wedged ours in even tighter.

As he drove our driver was searching his contacts on his phone, making calls and answering his phone constantly. I think he had a healthy business transporting stuff and people. People knew he would be en route and called him to be picked up here and there.

On the phone, driving.
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One time we stopped by the side of the road and waited. No one appeared. He drove down further, stopped and we waited. He called the person to get a more detailed description of where to stop. Several times we moved to a new place and waited. Several times he called them. Finally, as we sat on a dirt road waiting we could see a woman way down the road. She was walking normally, seemingly without a care in the world - certainly no rushing. Wouldn’t most people be concerned about making a van load of people wait? But this is the way of Cambodia or maybe any really hot country. Neither the driver or any of the passengers were visibly upset about having to wait such a long time for a nonchalant woman. The way of Buddhism? The way of Cambodians? I’m not from a culture as relaxed and this is good for me or anyone to experience. There was no promised time of arrival in Koh Kong. I needed to chill.

Women selling fruit and snacks at a major crossroads.
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Quail eggs are a popular treat on the road. Small bits of egg shells were flying into my lap the rest of the trip!
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Then we picked up another passenger and right away she was harshing my recently acquired mellow. She was a talker, a loud talker. She talked, no, she yelled into her phone much of the way and if she wasn’t doing that she was engaging the old woman next to her in conversation. I guess she figured she needed to yell for her to hear as well. Not all old people are hard of hearing and I could tell that the old woman was barely tolerating the loud woman. Eventually the loud woman was talking so loudly into her phone that I caught the eyes of every other passenger as they secretly communicated their amusement/displeasure. They were laughing with their eyes and they were happy to see that I was in the same boat, or, van as the case was.

We were not able to get out of the van to see what was going on here but I'm certain it wasn't a cock fight which draws similar crowds.
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Andrea watches as two enormous plastic cases are wedged on board.
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Meanwhile the driver was passing every vehicle on the road and increasing his speed as the trip progressed. We were all rather nervous about that. Seriously, he passed every single vehicle we encountered. He hit bumps that sent us flying about and me looking back to see how our bikes and bags were doing. Andrea and I exchanged glances and silently ran reconsiderations through our minds about riding the 150 mile stretch of Cambodian road on our bikes. But we also thought about a guy like our driver on the road checking his phone every three minutes and we on bikes on the shoulder-less edge. And the hills were a constant up and down reminder of why we had chosen the crazy van ride.

We stopped for lunch but the only person who ate was our driver. By the way he passionately downed his lunch it seemed he maybe hadn’t had breakfast. I bought a bag of taro root fried tempura style. At least we think it was taro root. It wasn’t potato as the woman had told me.

Our lunch stop spot.
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Taro root possibly.
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I liked our driver. He seemed to have a good heart, just a lead foot.
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Back in the van after lunch a little girl and I resumed our game of hide and seek with our phones trying to take photos of each other. She had a great sense of humor as I stalked her with my phone/camera. It was an attempt to distract myself from the irritating noisy woman’s voice (she sat right in front of me), and the possibility of our bikes and bags taking the grand leap out the back as well as the very real possibility of all thirteen of us dying in a head-on. The driver wouldn’t be number fourteen because he would survive.

Wily little girl.
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She was proud that she had finally gotten a photo of me.
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But this is traveling. There is risk in everything we do. You can kid yourself that there isn’t as you live a lifestyle you consider safe. You go out into your back yard after work to relax and unbeknownst to you a tick bites you and your life is changed forever. We all live dreams of everything going right. At the moment I was living the dream of our driver getting us all to Koh Kong safely especially that cute little girl whose life was still ahead for her.

Then the loud woman noticed that I existed. Up to that point she hadn’t noticed there were two foreigners behind her. It was apparent that she liked me and maybe wanted to somehow get to know me. She smiled enticingly and I wished we were closer to Koh Kong. I actually wanted the driver to step on it. The loud woman turned around several times to smile at me. I took to ignoring her and didn’t break my gaze out the window. She had to somehow get my attention so after some rummaging in her purse she offered me a stick of gum. I rejected her offer and wondered why she hadn’t offered any gum to Andrea.

The old woman the loud one was yelling at which she thought was normal conversation.
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Catching me taking her photo.
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When we finally got to Koh Kong Andrea and I felt more alive than ever as we put our panniers on our bikes and freely rode off. We did one big loop through the town of Koh Kong, were once appalled at the amount of trash everywhere, considered the town a dump of a place and decided spur of the moment to ride to Thailand even though we had always planned on staying a night in Koh Kong. The freedom of cycling!

It was 6.5 miles to the border. We were not feeling bad about what was about to be the shortest stay in a country in S.E. Asia for us ever. At Cambodian Immigration there was a long line of tourists. While standing there we counseled a very young, very green, Swiss guy to not pay any attention to the officials trying to extort $150 from him for a visa to Cambodia. We assured him the price for a visa was $30 but there would be a $5 corruption fee that he couldn’t get out of paying. But for them to try to get $150 was pretty laughable. He went back in to fight it out and he, of course, eventually emerged with a ‘thumbs up’ to us. No, it wasn’t going to be terribly sad to leave Cambodia, one of the most corrupt countries on earth. Four trips there in the last 16 years was enough for awhile.

At border crossings you never know what kind of vehicle overloaded with what kind of stuff you will see but it's sure to be overloaded. Here it's circular pieces of cardboard going to Thailand. Thailand no doubt has better recycling facilities.
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Standing in line at Cambodian Immigration.
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Every time we enter Thailand it’s a wonderful feeling. For one thing, there is no visa fee and never has been. The roads are smooth, the people are nice, the food is great, it’s much cleaner and more civilized and I can understand the language somewhat. Communication is a wonderful thing.

And into Thailand which for us always feels a bit more like home.
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We flew down the road even though it was quite hilly the 11 miles to Klong Yai, the first town inside Thailand. We found a hotel that had seen better days, like maybe in the 1970’s. We just needed a place to sleep and food. It was right downtown and as soon as we had killed a few mosquitoes in our dank room we ventured to the central market. We found a restaurant there that gave us huge piles of great tasting food. It was as if they knew we needed double portions!

Seriously, this hotel hasn't changed one bit since it was built in the early 1970's.
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Very basic accommodation but we were so happy to be in Thailand it hardly mattered. Plus our bikes could come inside.
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There's nothing like Thailand when it comes to good food.
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Back into great eating.
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Midway through our meal the national anthem (written by the recently deceased Thai King) played on loudspeakers over the market. Something happened that I hadn’t experienced in many years. I had told Andrea about it before but I never knew if she had ever believed me. As soon as the anthem began all motorbikes stopped in place, cars stopped, everyone, and I mean everyone, stood at attention. We stopped eating and stood with them. It was the Day the Earth Stood Still all over again.

This was our first day in Thailand since the King’s death and we were not yet accustomed to all the black clothing, the blackened billboards of his photos, the black ribbons on schools and certainly we were unaware of the solidarity and solemnity during the national anthems which play twice every day.

Thais loved their king. He was really their only king. No one has ever known another king in Thailand and certainly no future king can possibly ever attain such goodness or greatness. We felt honored to be included as participants in their solemn spontaneous ceremony. I felt sad for the Thais that a great era has passed and the future for them is unknown. Uncharted territory. But, don’t we all enter uncharted territory every morning after we have eaten our papaya - banana - muesli -soy milk breakfasts?

lovebruce

A charcoal stove, broom and King calendar store - all essential items for any home.
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Today's ride: 18 miles (29 km)
Total: 1,377 miles (2,216 km)

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