Sunday, December 22, 2013

10,000 Kilometers

look hard, it says 10,000 km!
I’ve pedaled 10,000 kilometers! That’s right! It happened today leaving Cambodia on my way to Vietnam, 95 kilometers into my day.  Wouldn’t you know that right as I hit the big 1-0-0-0-0 I saw a little guy on a motor scooter selling ice cream sandwiches (literally a baguette with ice cream in the middle and condensed milk on top)?  Yep, you betcha, I had one, two actually! The lady there with her kids treated me to one as well.  I must have devoured it so quickly she thought I could use another or maybe she knew I was celebrating a special occasion.

So 10,000 kilometers on a nicely paved flat road today in Cambodia….I made sure I found a way to document it.  Gathering sugar canes and coconuts for the ones and zeros was too much of an effort, but it crossed my mind in the morning.  I inscribed 10,000 in the read earth on the side of the road and had a few kids take my picture.  Later on that evening I had a beer and cheered to the occasion!

You might ask, how do I feel after all the kilometers?  Strong, excited, and proud.  I’m doing exactly what I’ve wanted to do for a long time coming and I can’t believe how well my trip is going.  Physically, I don’t think I’ve been in better shape and every day I get a little bit stronger.  Mentally, I've gotten tougher as well and continue to be an optimist even in the most hopeless of situations.  There are days I like to stop a lot and look around and visit places, and do fewer kilometers.  Other times I enjoy a good ride and even keep a nice pace,  and can keep going for more than 120 kilometers.  It’s a good thing it gets dark early, because I would probably opt for riding and riding into the night on some days.  I love being on my bike!

10,000 kilometers is about a third of the way into my trip.  Hard to believe that 20,000 kilometers await me from here until next October.  With all the kilometers comes many stories, great memories, interesting scenery, and lots of learning about others, myself, and the my surroundings. 

From kilometer 9,600 to 10,000 I’ve been in Cambodia, the northern part, on my way to Ho Chi Minh City.  Cambodia, what a comical country!  At first the nice smooth tarmac and light traffic amazed me just after entering, but day 2, the potholes and dusty roads had me frustrated.  Thankfully today the roads were better and I hope the same is true for down south.  Regardless of the roads this country is funny.

The woman in her pjs there treated me to my second ice cream sandwich, absolutely delicious

First of all, women of all ages, and the majority of them wear their pajamas all day long! That’s right!  People think Americans have a bad reputation for their sloppy dress, but these women wear their pajamas on the motor scooters, to buy groceries, at their stalls selling things, it is amazing! They actually don’t look sloppy, as their pjs are long sleeve with bright floral patterns.  However, I’m wondering if they wear their pajamas all day long, then what do they wear to bed at night?   Remind you it is about 32 Celsius, or 95 Fahrenheit, in the heat of the day here, luckily they aren’t flannel pjs!

I still think they could get more on or in this van

Secondly, the buses here, or “mini-buses” as I’d call them are packed to the brim.  They use a mini van similar to the Volkswagen Wagon (but another brand) and pack in the people.  There are probably 3 or 4 bench seats and one up front for the driver.   The maximum capacity per bench is four, so a total of about 20 people would be a modest calculation?  Kid you not, I’ve seen probably 30 or 40 people crammed in the buses.  But that is not all they are carrying.  They pass you and off the back they have a huge bulging heap of goods tied down with rope, sitting on a rear rack.  Goods include motorcycles, mattresses, furniture pieces, and/or several of each.  But wait, there is more.  If the mini-bus is really going to take advantage of the trip they are making then there are anywhere from 2 to 5 people on top of the bus, roof surfing on the top of the van.  It’s no wonder I’ve seen a good handful of these busses stopped along the side of the broken down, a flat tire, no tire, lost good collection, motor problems,…you name it!  I do love saying hi to the car roof surfers, they are my favorite and holler plenty to keep the ride entertaining!

There are the van surfers, a national sport here in Cambodia

What else do I enjoy about Cambodia? The food!  The coffee isn’t as thick as Vietnam and there isn’t condensed milk, but the beans are from Laos, I believe, and deliciously roasted.  Unfortunately only western type hotels or restaurants serve it.  But out on the road, there are plenty of new enticing beverages from fresh pressed sugar cane juice on ice and ice shavings with flavored syrups and condensed milk. There are also heaps of fresh coconuts for juice, another delicious drink. Pickles are a frequent condiment or side when you order any food, and I’m a pickle lover, so that is a nice surprise.  Sticky rice is still available and it comes in bamboo shoots which is the most ingenious invention and the perfect way to transport this energy packed snack.  The rice is mixed with some beans, sugar, and coconut shreds on the inside.  Bananas were grilled in Laos and Vietnam, but here they are fried and even more yummy in Cambodia!  Today the ice cream baguettes were new for me, what an invention!  There are some new fruits in this region including delicious and sweet melons to huge pomelos, and this fruit I have yet to identify by name and just saw it for the first time in it’s natural form today (rather than all cleaned).  I bought one hunk, but the lady threw in two more, she could see I was enjoying it.

Flavored ice shavings with condensed milk, how can you go wrong? 
Sugar cane juice. It works miracles when it is hot and you have a long day ahead of you

That’s what you notice about the people here, they don’t always seem like they are trying to invent the price for the pfalang.  You see Cambodia has two currencies, Riels and US dollars.  Everyone knows that 4 Riels is equal to one dollar.   You can pay in either or both, they don’t care.  They can’t try to cheat you out of money because the exchange rate is such an established standard that it doesn’t have an influential or annoying role in the tourist role.  They still charge us more than the locals, that’s standard anywhere over here. 

My new favorite fruit. I wish I knew the name (notice the lady in pjs and two other in their bottoms?)

Before I mentioned the women wear pajamas all day long, so then it is no surprise that I find the people laid back, friendly, and pleasant.  The kids are saying “hello, good-bye, and thank you” in English and not Cambodian, and lots of times their parents are even more forward in greeting me.  I still hear the word pfalang from kilometers away and life hovers around the road as it did everywhere else in SE Asia.  Everyone is selling something from their home or a small thatched hut.  But, the Cambodians put their motos to good use and sell a variety of products off the back basket.  In other countries, motor scooters specialized in one good, steamed dumplings, fresh fish, or meat for instance.  Here, the motor scooters have a huge selection of goods.  Yesterday I bought hard-boiled eggs, sticky rice, and fruit, all off the same motor scooter.  To the lady next to me, the driver delivered her fruit and vegetables from the local market. 

Typical Cambodian house/ store?!?!   That's a gas station out front, buy a bottle and fill up

It’s a good thing I will have more time to spend in Cambodia.  Today I crossed over into Vietnam to go explore the Mekong Delta for the next week.  Vietnam, I never thought I’d let out a sign of relief as I entered this country, but I did miss my well-equipped Nha Nghe’s with hot water, wifi and free toiletries.  After the delta, I’m back in Cambodia, along the coast, up to the capital and then over to Siam Reap (Angkor Wat) and then to Thailand. 

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