Lookin’ like a freak - Unchained Melody - CycleBlaze

December 9, 2023

Lookin’ like a freak

Roka Ar to Kampong Cham

Dear little friends,

The bikes got loaded up in our room and out the door we rolled, handed the key to the guesthouse owner, bid him goodbye and thumbs-up, and off we went. There’s a short driveway to the main road, so our room had been completely silent all night. It’s still startling to us to reach the road and just swing onto it, no waiting for five minutes for the traffic to clear, like it would have taken in Vietnam.

But no-traffic Cambodia does not mean everybody’s sleeping. At 6:04 am there were kids on bikes going to school, a lady out industriously cutting overgrown weeds with a machete, people eating. I feel so virtuous waking up at 5 and getting my butt out the door by 6 but here it’s just what everybody does with no smugness whatsoever. 

On this road there was a village at least every kilometer, of varying temperaments. One village might have an enormous temple complex with a school attached to the grounds. One village might have a mosque. X village has tons of trash lying about, Y village is spiffy-clean with lots of flowering plants. We stopped at a temple grounds and Bruce went inside to see what it was like. School was getting started and tons of kids were arriving in uniform to start their Saturday session. They found me waiting for Bruce and gathered shyly to stare in silence. My favorite, being stared at in silence. One older one asked where we were from and the youngers looked at him in admiration when I answered him.

Khmer temples have a distinct look to them. Tall pillars and very high roofs.
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Inside the temple.
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The temple grounds in this area are very nice and have lots of trees and flowers in them. You’ll ride by and see the students out picking up trash or pulling weeds. Students in Cambodia wear crisp white spotless shirts/blouses and black pants/long skirts. Most of them ride bicycles to school or get a lift on their parent’s motorbike. Older ones attend high school in the bigger towns so we saw groups of them, two per motorbike, flying by. It always kills me to see the girls in their long black skirts, the one in back sitting side-saddle, perfectly relaxed, no hanging on for dear life like I would be, just like they were sitting on a couch back home and not tearing down the road at 45 mph. 

We had about 31 miles to go this morning and because it was so pleasant and cool out at first, we were reluctant to stop and eat at the few restaurants we saw, something we came to regret at around mile 17 when we still hadn’t eaten. There were no soup places! How could this be? Soup is something eaten in the morning all over SE Asia, and it’s something that is safe for us to eat even in the most humble of roadside cafes, the broth is boiling away even if the chicken/pork/blood cubes/fish balls have been sitting out in the heat all morning. We eventually found rice porridge, very tasty, but how do you hide the blood cubes we left in our bowls? I hope the sweet dog got them.

I have come to love rice porridge, it’s super flavorful and comes with little savory toppings such as green onions and fried garlic. I don’t know what the Cambodians call the little X-shaped doughnut things but in Laos and Thailand they’re known as khanom. We rarely eat them but today we craved every greasy calorie we could get.
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John SolemX-shaped. 😆
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2 months ago
Season with fresh lime juice and a dollop of fish sauce and chili oil and it’s a wonderful breakfast.
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Yesterday had been blessedly overcast, no such luck today. The blue sky and sunshine were beautiful but intense, and eventually I resorted to trying out the new fishing hat I brought along, with flaps of cloth to cover my neck and face. I slather on SPF 50 in the morning but because I sweat so profusely it’s probably gone by 9 am. It was surprisingly cool inside my fishing hat, it’s kind of netted so I think sunscreen is still in order underneath it but the air moved through it really nicely. No doubt I look like a freak but then I look like a freak without a fishing hat on anyway. In Thailand all the cyclists cover every bit of exposed skin including faces so maybe I won’t look so out of place when we get there.

I know, it’s kind of terrifying. But it really keeps the sun off. If I didn’t sweat off my sunscreen I wouldn’t have to wear it, but there you are.
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Scott AndersonInstant classic. Everyone will want one now.
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2 months ago
Andrea BrownTo Scott AndersonI’m a trendsetter, always have been. So puzzling that more people don’t do things the way I do.
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2 months ago
Rachael AndersonIt looks very functional and stylish! I wear a bandanna around my neck to blow my nose.
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2 months ago

Bruce had a hard time today. I’m not sure if it was his bike or him, he said he felt like he was carrying a ton of weight on his bike, and maybe it was HIS hub that was the problem. His hub makes noise until it gets hot out, then it becomes silent. These hubs, man. Mystery machines. But perhaps it wasn’t his hub but his Bruce motor, I mean, some days I have no legs, and our ride yesterday was the longest yet I think. The heat is about five degrees above normal for here, maybe more. And we really haven’t eaten enough in the last couple of days. There are lots of factors that can make for a hard day.

These bridges with their slippery metal, bolt-studded floors are very exciting to cross.
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The gravel isn’t helping our day.
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The temple grounds offer shade and places to sit and rest. This very old building probably had some sort of upkeep in 2002, it’s far older than that.
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We have never seen anything like this little building in a temple complex. Super unusual and its purpose is mysterious.
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These guys, raising the roof.
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Now and then we catch a glimpse of the Mekong.
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As we tootle along we see the most outlandish things being carried on motorbikes or trailers pulled by motorbikes. But today’s winning entry was an entire furniture store parked by the side of the road. Mattresses, cabinets, plastic chairs, it was an astonishing amount of stuff being pulled by one beat-up motorcycle. Bruce stopped to take a photo, we went on a few yards and then suddenly, with a loud bang, the furniture store took a powder. People came running out of their houses, the whole shebang was listing dangerously on one side. It looked like the trailer axle had broken!

Moments, no, seconds, before the axle broke.
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Scott AndersonThat’s unbelievable.
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2 months ago

We stopped too, of course, and it just so happened to be in front of a little coffee stand so we had an iced coffee at a little table while neighbors came and went, commenting on the furniture store guy’s bad luck/common sense, little kids came home from school and ditched the school uniform for comfy soccer outfits, the furniture store got jacked up with some sort of repair in the works, maybe this was a common occurrence? We didn’t know. We put the leftover coffee ice in our water bottles and skipped out of there before somebody thought to blame Bruce for taking a photo of an overloaded motorbike trailer thereby causing a broken axle.

Yeah, dang, it was hot. We have semi-fond memories of Kampong Cham, 15 years ago. I don’t remember much about it, we had a room on the riverfront, there was a little carnival under the bridge, there was a corner bar/cafe where a bunch of old foreign guys hung out. The riverfront aerobics class had started at 4 am right under our window with very loud music.

None of that was the same, of course. One can surmise that the resident expat bunch had either moved on or moved up. It’s busier, there are nice restaurants and such on the outskirts but the middle of town seems pretty down-at-the heels. The guesthouse we checked out first was so ghastly we got the hell out of there and found another one that, while no palace, was decent and ticked most of our boxes. And just in time too because it was after noon and we and our bikes were cooking. We’d been lucky to be riding on the shady side of the road most of the time but it’s really hot and it takes it out of you. 

At dusk we ventured out for dinner. The hot deserted riverfront road had been transformed into a veritable buzz of food stalls, aerobics classes (good to see that tradition carrying on), and wall-to-wall, Vietnamese-grade traffic. It was incredible. Well, maybe not Vietnamese traffic, because there was still no honking. Kampong Cham had come to life! We ate at an overpriced restaurant that is associated with an NGO that trains young people that weren’t able to get an education. The entire time we were there not one other customer entered the place. Our food was good, it was clean, and we really hadn’t eaten well for a couple of days so we chowed down, had our US dollars rejected (!!!), paid in riel, and rode back to our hotel. 

Outside our window the bridge traffic crawled down the hill with loud braking, the air conditioner was wheezing over our heads, surprising in a supposedly “new” hotel, the vibe was off somehow. I was hoping to get us a day off tomorrow but I’m not too sure about Kampong Cham, it might not be worth it to hang here another day. We’ll sleep on that and then letcha know.

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Today's ride: 33 miles (53 km)
Total: 254 miles (409 km)

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Scott AndersonCompletely stunning day. Hats off.
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2 months ago