Biking Bad Cambodia : the movie

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Here is a short movie on this two-weeks biking trip!
A few shots from here and there, to give a feeling of the land.

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Sihanuk

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This is the last day of the ride, and clearly the hardest! We did more than 100k again, and reached the town of Sihanuk.

  

There was an air of competition this morning as we were getting ready for this last day. Robert was willing to beat me again, and Nils was certainly interested in finishing this trip first too πŸ™‚ We left Kampot early to cover the long distance before the usual 4pm.

  

The first bit proved very tiring to me : my legs had accumulated a lot of fatigue, and it was mostly uphill for the first 20+k. We were going along a mildly busy paved road again, following the coast going west, but not close enough to enjoy it. I tried to stick to Robert and Nils but couldn’t. I was really tired. We finally reached the first stop, at a monastery, once again with lots of children around.

  

Strangely, but as is often the case, my stamina came back after that, when I was getting used to the action again. The roads were a bit easier, and we did the next 20k much faster. Another monastery, many young or a bit older monks around. I found the closest I ever could to Ikkyu, from the great Japanese comic novel.
 

As we were going rather fast, we didn’t stop for lunch on the next small town 10k further, did a micro-break, and went on for another 20k! We changed road and plunged into rolling hills, a low and dense forest, and absolutely no one around! Another country again. We were actually skipping the busy road to Sihanuk and going another way.
  

Going up and down, up and down, was a real challenge under a pressing heat, and it became even more so when I had a flat tire! I tried going on, then walking, thinking maybe the stop would be close, but I got caught up by the van trailing the group, and the mechanic changed the wheel in a couple minutes.

  

After this much needed break, in the middle of nowhere, we did yet another 20k, still rolling, and with some much steeper hills! We were going back into civilization, as some houses and factories were appearing again. And we reached the ocean! We were almost done. A long white beach, sadly littered with crap, was in front of us.

  

The last few km’s of the trip were done entering Sihanuk, through a very poor area, with wood and steel panels shack houses, and then the industrial port. There was no real race at this stage as we were in the city, reaching our final hotel of the trip!

  

As I write this, the rain starts to pour down so hard it blocks the view out of the balcony πŸ™‚ Tomorrow is a free day around town, I’ll use the daily post to collect my thoughts on the culture shock, as I did in the US.

  

The last blog theme I have planned is teaching about love. It’s the complement version of the first one, learning about love, where you give your children a vision of what it is and what it means. That’s a situation I hope to live someday.

  

On this subject I can only speculate a few items that I have in mind, and that would guide me. The first one being of course that, as children reproduce what they see, you must be a role model on this point as on any other. That means that you live and experience love, as a couple, and as parents, the way your children can take example of you. Which means in turn that you are confident and stable enough in your couple.

  

I also think that you have to give them a positive view of life. Life in the modern world is complex, and it’s not changing anytime soon. You have to approach this with a mindset of opportunities, of discoveries, of encounters, and value love as a rewarding method, and a sure fire way of being happy in life. Even if there are certainly risks, they need to be taken, and you have to love like you’ve never been hurt.

  

Finally I think a discussion about what love means, what caring about someone means, would be necessary. I never had a formal parental lesson or discussion, but I feel that it is critical in a child’s upbringing. Such a subject would need to be done over time certainly, and probably with children that have started to mature a bit about feelings and other people. But it all depends on how they grow up πŸ™‚

Rabbit island

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Today was almost a rest day, as we spent the morning on an island, and cycled just a few km’s to Kampot.

  
Kep, where we stayed overnight, is being developed by Cambodia to become a tourist area, with many beaches and islands. A large road is under construction, that we used to leave the area after lunch. But before that we took a small boat to the nearest island, in front of the village : Rabbit island.

  
We stayed there for the morning, enjoying the beach, the warm sea, and almost no other foreigners around. As for me, I can’t stay put for too long, doing nothing, laying on a towel. I become restless pretty quick. So I did a tour of the western coast of the island, swam a bit, and finished my current book (a historical review of the Black Plague in 1348, fascinating).

  
This time each one chose what they would have for lunch, I chose shrimps again, and eating by the sea is really fantastic πŸ™‚ Then we walked a bit to another area and took the boat back to the mainland. From there we did a short 25 km’s to Kampot.

  
We did a quick stop to have a look at the white elephant cave, a limestone cave, and then a detour by the sea, to view salt fields, and a small Muslim community – the country is overwhelmingly Buddhist of course.

  
Tomorrow will be the last cycling day, and the longest! Although just a few more km’s than yesterday πŸ™‚

  
The subject for today is long term relationships. In my opinion this is the hardest and most rewarding experience at the same time. On this topic I will simply comment the best summary I have ever read on the subject : a post of the “Wait but why” website, on picking your life partner. The url is http://waitbutwhy.com/2014/02/pick-life-partner-part-2.html

  
The post starts by reminding us that a life together is a collection of simple moments, mostly not memorable, and not great unique days. Living together with someone is sharing the day to day routines, which can be fantastic if you fit well together. To be sure of that, the author sticks to three major factors.

  

The first one is an epic friendship. Do you like to spend time with the other person ? This is true of all friends, and with this one person, it must be even better : talking about everything, never getting bored, having fun, always being stimulated, always discovering new things or learning something. This part always improves over time, as living experiences together builds the friendship.

  
The second bit is a feeling of home. Do you feel at ease ? Do you trust each other ? How well do you communicate ? Do you accept the other person as they are, with their flaws ? Do you have a good vibe ? Overall, are you comfortable together ? This can be tricky sometimes, depending on what happens, but you need to be able to land back on your feet.

  
Finally the third part is a determination to be good at marriage (this is a US website and marriage is compulsory πŸ™‚ ). Meaning that you are ready to invest in the relationship and make the required efforts to keep it rolling. Fights are inevitable, life is complex, but how do you get through the fights ? Do you respect each other ? This is strongly linked with the previous point with accepting and respecting the other one.

  

Kep

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It was an intense day! We did quite a lot of great off-road, and pushed the limit to over 100kms!

  
We had an option today, depending on weather. In any case we would be going down to the coast in Kep, but that was on paved road or off-road. The second option would have been tricky with rain, but it had the attractive prospect of visiting a pepper farm. So of course we went for it – and we didn’t get any rain today.

  
Before getting any closer to this farm however, we had a whole morning on paved road, and a bit busy all the way. Three segments of around 20k each. The scenery remained more or less one of small villages, large factories, rice fields. For the first bit, Boeun let loose the dogs of war, pushing speed to the max, and I got distanced by Nils and Malcolm, as it happened last week! But I wasn’t too far behind. We continued pushing until lunch break, at a small restaurant along the road.

  
For the morning breaks, we didn’t stop at monasteries, rather the equivalent of small chapels, just like yesterday afternoon : small open air buildings, with paintings or statues of Buddha. For the more elaborate ones, the donors are listed and detailed. On the second break, we were right below a school, and as it was 11am, children stared pouring out, on foot or on bike πŸ™‚

  
This dad was waiting for his kids to get them back home on motorbike. I see a lot of dads along the way, caring or playing with young kids, or carrying them around. That’s really comforting.

  
After lunch we hit the off-road, and it felt like another country! Small steep hills typical of south east Asia, corn fields, pastures, cows… And much fewer houses and people than usual. It was also a great riding experience, on a small, firm and smooth dirt road, slaloming between puddle and going up and down at high speed! This was very intense until the pepper farm, located a bit uphill. Everyone’s legs were caked with orange dirt πŸ™‚

  
The pepper farm itself was a quick visit. Apparently this part of Cambodia is famous (since the French colonies) for making good quality pepper, either black or white, or red. The black one had been left in the sun to dry for two weeks, the red one just a couple of days. And the white one is the red one boiled and the skin peeled off. They don’t produce a lot but sell it for a premium. There’s a lot of manual work involved. They use natural fertilizers : cow manure of course, and bat manure! So this is bat pepper πŸ™‚

  
At this stage we could go on on bike until the hotel, another 17k on top of the 88 we just did, or call it a day and finish in the van. Peer pressure pushed half of us to keep going πŸ™‚ It was a speed competition from the start, and Robert beat me at the last kilometer. I had secured a healthy lead, and didn’t see him coming back. I had been too arrogant, as is my divine right as a Frenchman!

  
Tonight we went to a seafood restaurant, a nice change, and a great crab curry!

  
Another couple days of cycling, another couple subjects to go after this one : mending love. Or, how to emerge through crises.

  
In a long term relationship, there are difficult moments. I have never seen or heard different, and that would even seem strange : life is complex, and life in a couple even more so. Communication, understanding, trust, events, anything can slip at any moment, willingly or not. What matters is how these moments are lived, and how they are experienced upon, to make the relationship stronger.

  
In my previous personal story, nine years long, we had quite a few difficult sequences, even leading to temporary breakups a couple of times. As the previous post said, it is a matter then of putting your ego or the relationship itself first. Do you think the first of the latter has more value ? Can you take some distance to what happened, place blame where it should and not elsewhere, differentiate between outside events and real mistakes, assume your own responsibilities ? All of these points are critical to get through on top, and it takes some maturity to process them correctly.

  
After that, the main question is about forgiveness. Can you forgive the mistake ? Was it acknowledged ? Truthfully ? Were amends done ? Did you, and the other one, learn from what happened ? Did it make you stronger ? Are you able to accept apologies and start again ? I’m not a Christian believer but it like the concept of forgiveness : we all make mistakes, what matters is to recognize them and learn from them. This is how you keep growing and become more mature. As a couple it is a major test, and at the same time a major way to improve the bond.

  

Takeo

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Today was a normal cycling day of 70kms, no visit, easy enough after the rest, even if we got hit by rain again.

  
We left Phnom Penh early by van to avoid all traffic and started to set up a few kilometers south. All the team is back on the bike ! Some had had pain issues, others fatigue, other digestive problems… Everyone was feeling better and would cycle at least during the morning.

  
We quickly left the main roads to follow a canal, then a railway, then a canal again. During this part, it was the first time that we really left any string of houses behind us. We passed a few villages next, but clearly split from each other. The dirt roads were good enough, no problem to progress.

  
As leaving the city took some time, we stopped in the middle of nowhere right after the second bit, in a small village. Boeung had proposed that we eat with local people, real local food for once, which was very attractive to everyone. So we set up as local Cambodians would, and enjoyed beef, rice and vegetable.

  
And as we started eating, torrential downpour struck us again πŸ™‚ In a matter of minutes, the earth was flooded. We changed plans and stayed on the paved road for the rest of the trip. We passed quite a few large factories making clothes, just as workers were leaving, or a giant rice mill. After another short break, we reached the small town of Takeo.

  
We’re already half way to the coast, but will now turn west to reach Sihanuk in three days.

  
On today’s menu is : maintaining love and relationship. There isn’t much I would say about this one. In my experience, it is simply a matter of a constant investment. A fulfilling relation with someone is the most difficult, and most rewarding you can live. It is a constant struggle between your ego (doing things the way I want) and the relationship itself (doing things together).

  
I’ve read that couples with more than one negative interaction for five positive ones are doomed to fail. It also depends on cycles : at some point things are tougher, and you have to keep believing, and make it through. I’ve also read that it’s even more important to be there when everything goes well, and be supportive of success, than when things go wrong, which is less obvious. The article was titled “will you be there for me when everything goes right”.

  
Love to me, like all feelings, is a muscle. It needs to be worked upon, cared upon. It can grow painful, get hurt, and even have a cut through. But it can always be cured, be banded, and then get some exercise to recover after some time. Nothing is definitive in human relations if we want it. It’s a matter of investment, hence of effort in the present and rewards in the future.

Phnom Penh

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This was a rest day today, to visit Phnom Penh. We saw a few historical sites, and I did a tour of the city center, plus had a massage!

 

 
This day of rest was really welcome : my legs were starting to accumulate fatigue after five days of cycling, sometimes in tough conditions. It was a good break and will help doing the second part of the trip, from the capital to the coast!

 
The team planned a few visits, and some free time. We first went to visit the royal palace, very close to the center. It is a large group of city blocks, with closed streets, high walls, and impressive buildings. The roofs especially are striking, with several layers, as in Japanese temples for instance. The whole palace atmosphere is soothing, with the perfume of trees and flowered in the air. We entered the silver pagoda, with a floor of pure silver (although oddly covered with a carpet), and lots of gold or silver Buddha statues, one of them weighing 90kgs, as the guide was happy to repeat.

 
The second visit was a lot grimmer : we went south of the city, to the Choeung Ek killing fields. This is where the Khmer Rouge regime disposed of about 9000 people, in mass graves, after killing them bluntly on the site. Touring the site was unsettling enough, especially the tree where they were smashing the babies before throwing them in a dedicated pit. A commemorative building regroups a few remains, with the various methods used for killing with simple tools or pikes. When it comes to mass killings, the imagination has no limit.

 
We went back to the city for the third visit : the camp S21. It was a school transformed by the Khmer Rouge into a prison and an interrogation site. Torture was also routinely performed here. Whenever the prisoners were of no use anymore, or already dead, they were sent to Choeung Ek. The school buildings were very roughly transformed into large or small cells, used by various types of prisoners. Very few people survived the place, and two of them remain here during visits, as living memories. It’s particularly grim to choose a school to turn into a torture center, but the Khmer Rouge did not care a lot about details.
  
After such a troubling set of visits. We were set free (so to speak). I had a quick rest and went to visit the town by myself, doing a large 8 around the hotel north and south. Hong Kong is the only other Asian city that I know, but I felt right at home, with the bustling and chaotic traffic, cars parked everywhere, small shops and bars, and the smell of fish, meat, vegetable and garbage all mixed together. The open air market by the hotel was particularly vivid and reminded me of the visits I did in HK 15 years ago. I came back along the river, already very wide at this stage – and the city is still far from the sea! To conclude the day I had a great massage (without the happy ending), should have done that before.
  
So, while I was mostly resting or visiting, I was thinking about a point that’s been troubling me for long. Can you fall in love after a long time, like a few months ? Is there not a timeframe, where you should have made the jump already ? As in my case the fall happens pretty fast, it is an unusual thought that it could take such a long time.

  
However, apparently, it can work like that : a few months, even a year, before the mind lets go of the reins, and takes the dive, with the heart guiding him into the pool. As I have no personal experience in such a situation, I can only speculate. I suppose that, if a long burgeoning period is necessary, it is because the person has a lot of barriers to overpass – or, more precisely, the other person has to pass all these barriers!

 
After more (a lot more) thinking about the current situation, I can also speculate, with a high level of certainty, that this is linked to a strong need of reassurance. Some people seem to request that many if not all their concerns be addressed and discussed, and even lifted, when sometimes they are not entirely into the other person control. When you have a number of layers of protection for your heart, and they all need to be peeled off, it can take a long time. But patience and resolve are my cardinal virtues πŸ™‚

Mekong

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Today we followed the Mekong river for 80kms, until Phnom Penh, on tough and tiring mud roads, but with a happy ending!

  
Leaving Kampong Cham a bit later than usual, it was another overcast day, with rain looming on the horizon. So I put on the rain gear and prepared for that. We followed the river all the way, but it can be only seen from time to time, mostly when we passed small to very large bridges, with the Mekong on our left.

  
The paved road quickly gave way to a dirt road, laced with mud. At this stage the goal is to avoid the potholes filled with water, and not get creamed by mud too much ! I was a bit worried about my stamina, as my legs were aching a bit very early on. The rhythm of cycling on such roads is very random, with a lot of focus needed on all details.

  
The road was becoming more and more difficult, blocked with construction engines, small useable paths, and at other times, filled with rocks or deformed by engines. We were not going very fast, probably less than 15km/h. So the second stop turned into the lunch break, sometime after noon, as we were getting late. We did all our stops in monasteries along the way, filled with children as always.

  
The arch at the entrance of this monastery is covered with the names and donations made to the temple. Many children were in the area, Jennifer and I gave them our lunch box (sandwich and fries, unusual for the country!), and so we made a lot of new friends at once!

  
The road was still difficult on the third leg, but not as much. It was a bit smoother. There was always quite a bit of traffic, always houses all along the way, and of course children waving at us. It is really unbelievable to see wooden shacks side by side with modern houses, and all so far out of towns or villages.

  
Right at the third break, as we were getting closer to the main road and the capital, the rain started falling very, very hard. It was a choice of going to the planified stop, or getting all in the van. Six of us wanted to keep going, and I was one of them. Cycling under warm rain is fantastic, especially when you don’t have to worry about your gear! It was another happy rain puddle session, me getting brown from the mud, and wet to the bone πŸ™‚ We reached the main road, as close to a highway as it can get here, and there was still small shops all along! How many drivers get to stop here, so close to the city?

  
About 10kms from Phnom Penh, we stopped and got all in the van, to avoid the city traffic. Approaching it was another experience by itself. Small houses gave way to small, then larger factories, and then to construction sites of shopping malls, luxury condos, etc. And a hundred meters later, a group of metal shack houses, right by another furnace factory. This went on for a few kilometers, then we entered the city center, with a chaotic traffic as it is expected to be.

  
I wrote down for today : preventing love voluntarily or unconsciously. Could be like a strange question, except that it is one that buzzes around for me, for quite a few months πŸ™‚

  
As a direct question, I know very well that it is possible to prevent oneself to fall in love. I had this direct experience a few times. I voluntarily chose to avoid any romantic feeling, when I suspected that 1. romance was out of the equation anyway for the other person, 2. there was a mismatch somehow, or that a strong difference in character that would get me crushed, and 3. the current relationship was good already and more fruitful. So, even for someone like me, who seeks and needs love to live, it is sometimes better to avoid it entirely, and possible to achieve it.

  
From that point on, I assume it is even more possible to do it unconsciously. The subconscious is much stronger at directing subtle feelings like love, to provoke it or quell it altogether. What can be done voluntarily, when it concerns the inner persona, is done by the unconscious with ease : it has all the local connections and can work 24/7, even when you sleep or think about something else.

  
But why would it do that ? Logically, to protect oneself. If it evaluates that there is a risk, or if it not at ease with a situation, it will send the fire brigade and drown the starting fire at once. Then you are left with an incomprehensible feeling that something should have happened, but did not, and you don’t know why.