Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Napmonny, Cambodia

Friends: Another 106 miles down the road across Cambodia. I'm at the half-way point of this four hundred mile wide country. This last leg out of Phnon Phenh was all paved, the first seventy-five fairly good, but the last thirty-one an obstacle course of pot-holes. But the surface was hard and even, so I'm not complaining.

My great dilemma was whether to attempt it in one day for my first 100 mile day of the trip, or divide it into two easy days. I had come 48 miles to a town with accommodations by 11:30 yesterday. Another 58 miles in six hours of light was feasible if the road remained good, but that was a big IF. I went back and forth over whether to stay or push on as I sipped the milk of a coconut. It wasn't as cold or as tasty as the sugar cane drinks, but it was much safer to drink. I've picked up an intestinal bug and since the hygiene leaves much to be desired in Cambodia, I'm avoiding the sugar cane drinks. They are served in a glass that sometimes is still dripping wet after having been rinsed and washed in water of dubious quality. The other day a woman prepared one for me after she had just pumped gas for someone's motorbike. There was no hand-washing before she started crushing the ice for my drink by holding the ice in her petrol-stained hand and pounding it with a metal rod.

Anyway, I was in a weakened state with my digestive system not functioning at optimum efficiency. When I noticed a guesthouse across the street, I took that as a sign that I ought to stop and not attempt to push on. It was the right decision, as my half hour afternoon nap, my first of the trip, lasted three hours. I did make it to the next town in six hours this morning, but I doubt I would have been capable of that yesterday, and if I had, I would have really been wiped out today.

I was hoping Cambodia would be another Laos, picturesque with welcoming people. Unfortunately it has been more like El Salvador--grungy and dusty with no real distinguishing character. There are flies and litter aplenty. Some restaurants bring the eating utensils in a glass with boiling water to prove they are clean. One sidewalk restaurateur gave me a napkin to wipe off the spoon I was about to use to insure its cleanliness. The clothing is much more ragged and dirty than I've seen elsewhere on this trip as well. There is also an abundance of begging, from ragged street urchins to elderly women. At the Killing Fields Genocide Center eight miles out of Phnon Phenh there was a trio of ten year old boys begging to have their photo taken for a dollar. They wrapped their arms around each other then counted one-two-three and smiled. I didn't see any one take them up on their offer. The most aggressive beggars have been the amputees. There were quite a few at a prison, that is now a museum, where people were tortured during the Pol Pot era.

But the renowned Angkar Wat ruins 100 miles down the road might put a shine on this country. The country is so proud of them they are featured on the flag. Thanks to email I connected up with the Aussies Laurie and I biked with in Laos. They had had some bad luck and had interspersed their biking with bus and plane and boat trips. The highlight of their trip was the sensational tail winds of southern Vietnam that attract wind-surfers from all over the world. Andrew gushed how he had his bike at 34 kilometers per hour for over an hour, the greatest tail wind of his life. Also thanks to email, I was able to meet the founder of Phnon Phenh's Critical Mass, Jen from Melbourne. She and her partner Dan had been in Phnon Phenh for a year-and-a- half. Jen introduced the Critical Mass to Phnon Phenh this past July. It attracts about 40 riders to its monthly rides. Jen and Dan were able to explain many of Cambodia's mysteries, including the hard-boiled eggs with an embryo. They are generally ducklings and are considered a delicacy. I couldn't bring myself to eat more than the yolk. I must send this now as the electricity is about to go off here in the middle of nowhere. I already lost one lengthy version of this letter.

Later, George

No comments: