Posted on February 3, 2016
I can’t remember a time in my life since I have been a licensed driver that a ride in the country didn’t excite me. It hasn’t mattered where in the world I was living just give me a car, gas and tell me to go. For me this is the time to wander. And wander is what I do. I am always up for a road trip and the fun and adventures that go along with them. Now that I am in Cambodia a moto ride is the way to go.
When I was a newly minted driver at sixteen years old a family friend told me that soon I would be sick of driving. I knew then that he was wrong and now almost forty years later I have the data to back up my belief. To this day when I run into him I remind him of what he told me and I tell him I am still waiting to get sick of driving. I guess for me it may be my therapy but I love it when I am going down a road I have never been on before. I don’t know what is ahead and I know once I find out the feeling will still be there because now there is something else new is up ahead. It just never ends.
In Cambodia it hasn’t been any different for me. I spend a lot of time on Google Maps as well as thumbing through old fashioned paper maps. I search, I look, I Google. It is an unending process that has opened up unlimited possibilities on what I will choose to do from one day to the next.
Here in Cambodia planning a route is a challenge. Looking at Google maps one would assume that all of those lines can be negotiated with little to no problems. This couldn’t be further from the truth. All of those lines are not made equal. Just because they may be the same thickness on the screen does not transfer to reality when it comes time to hit the pavement/dirt/sand/water.
Over a short time I have learned that although it looks like there are many roads criss-crossing an area only one of those roads would be considered ‘the’ road I would want to travel on. Even with that in mind there are times that my hands, feet and whole body sweat as I push my ‘street’ moto to the limit trying to get through places I have no right entering. But once I am there I always seem to convince myself that up ahead is something good or a better path. For some reason I prefer to continue rather than make a big boy decision and turn back.
I am still walking this earth and I still have all of my fingers and toes and not a single bone has been snapped in two in spite of all of the predicaments I may have gotten myself into. Yes, I bleed once in a while and I make it home in the dark with painfully overworked muscles, bugs on my face and dirt just about everywhere but nothing bad has really happened to me.
But it is precisely this need to see what is ahead or around that bend that allows me to be somewhere I otherwise would have never been. Today I headed out for a ride in the country on my moto. I had two or three remote temples in my sites but as always the road there would not follow a preplanned route. At times it would not even take me to anything that could be mistaken for a road.
On my moto ride I made my way down one of those deteriorating roads and I soon found myself sweating like a pig as I reminded myself that I should know better. I have been here before. Not the location but the situation. No matter how many times I reminded myself that it is probably best to turn around (which would be quite an effort in itself at this point) I still head forward.
Sand seems to be my worst enemy in Cambodia and I had plenty of it today. I was out in the middle of nowhere and I had a fishtail of gritty sand spewing from the back end of my moto as I revved the engine and spun the tire as I attempted to continue my forward momentum. I felt if I stopped I would be doomed.
This ‘road’ that I thought would get me to my first temple wasn’t going to fulfill its promise today. According to the map on my phone I knew there was a crossroad ahead and it is there that I will detour to a more suitable road. All I have to do know is keep the moto upright and keep moving forward. I know that crossroad is somewhere up ahead. Google says so.
After a bit of luck I made it to my first temple, Trav Temple. Somehow a guy followed me up the path on his moto without me knowing it. I was surprised to see him when I got off my moto. He didn’t speak any English and I doubt he ever guessed he would become my photo model when he first decided to follow me but he seemed to be fine with a little positioning here and there to get a good shot.
The temple is small and just off the dirt road. A school is off to the left and homes off to the right. There is little left to what was probably once a pretty impressive site to see.
For me it is times like this that make me realize how lucky I am to be able to explore areas most people will never see. It is the ‘journey versus the destination’ thing that brings me in contact with the people and the places that make it all worthwhile. All I have to do is pull over for a water, a Coke or maybe some gas for the moto and almost instantly I have people to photograph.
Whether there are few or many people when I arrive it is almost guaranteed that there will be more by the time I leave. It seems a middle-aged white guy is quite the attraction in rural Cambodia.
It isn’t very often that I get to go straight from Point A to Point B on a moto ride like this. I never know when I will detour or make a stop but I have my camera in my bag whenever it is needed. Some people may be a little shy in the beginning but once I get off one or two shots and start showing the results on the LCD screen on the back of the camera people almost line up waiting for their turn to get a picture. As I look around I see people across the street with a look of desire on their face wondering if I will get their image also.
I don’t even think I could count the number of things I saw or people I ran into during my one hundred and forty kilometer moto ride today. I saw a number of pagodas, monks, only one temple and more people than I can count. When I stop for a drink the neighborhood seems to come out for a look at the ‘barang’ or foreigner.
I used to get confused between a temple and a pagoda. A temple in Cambodia is a stone structure such as Angkor Wat (wat means temple) and a pagoda in Cambodia can be described as a Buddhist place of worship. Monks live at the pagodas and can usually be found wandering around, or more precisely checking out the barang walking around with the camera. At one pagoda I heard a number of monks chanting in a building hidden behind saffron robes hanging in the windows. As I was walking around the chanting decreased and I was able to make out the word ‘camera’ a couple of times. Apparently I was spotted.
At this point in my life I don’t think there will ever be a time when I will get sick of driving or riding around just looking at the sights. I know I won’t have a chance to get bored with the views and the people in Cambodia. There is always somewhere new to go or a different temple to seek out. Along the way I will see new people and a few people that remember me from a previous ride and they wave as I ride by.
Tomorrow I have plans for a moto ride out to a very remote area to look for some rock carvings from long ago. Very little information is out there about this area so I have to make a few educated guesses and estimations. Will I find them? Who knows. Will I enjoy the time trying to find them? Absolutely. Even if I can’t find what I am looking for I know they day will still be a success and I will have images to download when I return home.
And who knows. I may have the opportunity to make a few people smile along the way. How can that be a bad thing?