Thursday, 12 February 2015

Bigger than Ben Hur

The waitress who was setting tables in the restaurant downstairs from our guest house looked a bit surprised as we wheeled the bikes in between the tables and out into the street. 
We wobbled off up the road at 05.40am, through the crazily busy fish market (no mention of that in the guide books, possibly a bit early for your average back packer). As we headed out of town in the pitch black the headlights (optional extra) from the vehicles lit the road making the potholes look huge. The shadows we cast loomed up in front of us, making our panniers look about 8ft tall.

Just as the sun was coming up we found a roadside restaurant. Using 1 of our 10 words of Cambodian (along with a quick, and may I say, very good rendition of the birdie song) we sat down to a plate of hot chicken curry and some luke warm Chinese tea. Not bad for 6.30.

Beer, we blame the beer. Over sundowners the night before we'd agreed that getting the bus just didn't seem right. Were we going to duck out of every challenge? We decided a bit of a ride would do us good. The descriptions we'd read of the next section did make us both feel a bit nervous. it would have to be done in one hit as there was apparently no overnight accommodation available, maybe some food & drink stalls and not many people around to help if something were to go wrong. We also had varying reports on the total distance that varied between 100-160km.... I think it was stressing us out a bit, so much so, that whilst we sat there making our plan of attack we began to get a bit ratty with each other. "Well what shall we take with us?" "I don't know, we don't even know what's available" "Well if you could choose anything what what you take?" "I don't know..." We went shopping and ended up with $11 worth (thats equivalent to 2 lunches + 2 dinners) of shite, mainly sugary snacks and some water. That'll do nicely...

369 calories in to the ride (not watching the KM today) Kate got a puncture. Rear wheel of course. As we changed it the words of Ray Young, my old boss from the bicycle shop I worked at as a teenager replayed in my head "Did you check for the 6 inch nail in the true?" As I ran my fingers around inside, checking for any sharp bits I found the tinniest piece of wire stuck through the tread. How does that happen and why is it always to poor old kate? 
Did I mention the roadworks? I almost forgot about them! Only miles and miles of rough, sandy, broken road, thundering trucks and speeding 4x4's. it made for such a pleasant ride.

Will's No1 travel tip is to always wear a check shirt to disguise the dirt & creases. He does not however have much experience with 'self tanning' kits 

We managed to get some lunch of some sort in the little town O'Krieb. Anyone planning to cycle this road should know that despite there being way less towns and stalls along the road, there is still food and drink available as long as you like pork bone stew.

We sat there at lunch. We were about half way and it was noon. At this rate we'd not arrive in Stung Treng until about 6. We knew we didn't have to ride it. The local mini buses were around but looking at the condition of them, the way they were packed and the way they drove, we saw them as a bit of a last resort. 
This is a good one, honestly

We rode on. The formula for the afternoon was simple. Keep the sun on your left, keep pedalling and keep reminding yourself that this was the best option. There weren't many trees around. The Chinese have sent companies to cut them down for the timber. This is apparently illegal but they pay the corrupt Cambodian government (who made the rule up in the first place) good money for the high quality hard wood. The whole environment was pretty bleak. The heat, the dust, the poverty. It reminded us of the outback aboriginal places we'd visited years ago in the land rover. Funny, we were hot and covered in red dust then as well. Not much changes...

1000 calories clicked by. The sun started to loose its power. We were actually going to do this! Quick stop for a fresh coconut drink. More Haribo chewy sweets. A bit of ipod and hey presto, 12.5 hours after setting off and exactly 140KM ( thats 1466 for all you folks counting calories) under our dusty wheels we pulled up outside a guest house in down town Stung Treng. I walked up 4 flights of stairs to check a $12 room. Not good enough. We snooped about and chose a flasher looking place. "Only VIP room available, $20". "That'll do nicely my man". The water from the shower was stained red as it swilled away the worst of the day. Some food, some beer (don't get anymore crazy ideas) and a bit of a sit down felt great. We both actually felt ok. 
Now we know that 140km may not sound that much to some readers but bear in mind this was almost triple our projected daily average and half as much again as we'd ever done in a day.  Chuck in the dust, the gravel, the heat and the weight of the luggage and we think we did pretty well. We're glad in a way that we didn't know about the terrible condition of the road. If we had, we'd have probably taken the bus and that just wouldn't do would it?!

Daylight revealed the fruits of our labour as the town displayed its delights for all to see.

A quick breakfast - Not quite Maggies cafe is it?

Checkout the classy cheese board selection, this place is gourmet!

We did some washing ( it took 3 attempts to even begin to get rid of the dirt) and are now doing lots of lying on the bed in aircon comfort reading more book. Tomorrow is the ride up to the border with Laos. Another 80 odd Km plus some border faff, but for now, we'll just lay back and enjoy the day.

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