The past few weeks I have been trying to put my bike to use, and the rainy season isn’t stopping me. I have hooked up with some Khmer riders including my neighbor Peang (who is a guide) and my mechanic Peove. They have a crew that tries to go out every Sunday for what they call a “rally.” I try to tag along as much as I can. It is convenient riding with your mechanic who can fix any possible problem, as well as a professional guide, who has ridden all over the country.
Last Sunday morning eight of us set out westward into Kampon Speu province. Due to the decent weather (cloudy but no rain), we decided to ride out into the Aoral Wildlife Sanctuary, on the eastern edge of the Cardamom Mountains. Getting there was along a rural road common to much of the country – unpaved and unmaintained. Recent rains left large standing puddles that got us nice and muddy.
Riding in the countryside – especially with a large group – provides serious entertainment for the local communities. People come to the edge of the road to watch the show; kids are usually screaming at the top of their lungs and motioning for someone to do something entertaining like a wheelie. Those standing too close to puddles usually get an unexpected shower. If any of you remember those arcade racing games, the ones where you drove a dune buggy through some foreign country – that is the scene I am talking about. Here is a picture of Peove trying out a different sort of bike.
After about three hours of riding, we reached the sanctuary and entered a thinned out forest. This “sanctuary” has obviously been logged in the recent past. There were no large trees and little of the jungle-like underbrush you would expect in this part of the world.
We were obviously riding along a prior logging road. The road was good fun with numerous stream crossings. Everything was going great until we came across a swollen river. It was too deep to ford, so we attempted to carry one of the bikes across. This was working well until the current swept out the feet of one of the guys, sending him under for a second along with the bike. Luckily these dirt bikes are surprisingly resilient, they had it running only a few minutes later.
We followed another road that might we hoped would lead us to a better crossing, but all we found was an illegal logging camp. One of the riders, Sothea, posed with some gorgeous flowers that were in the area.
So we turned around and went back to the entrance to Aoral the way we came. The ride back was fun, though it was starting to get a bit dark before we reached the main highway. I was fortunate to catch a great sunset, complete with a family on their oxcart.
The ride back to town was along road number 4, scary in daylight because of the large amount of speeding buses, trucks, and Land Cruisers (returning from the beach) mixed in with the usual slow moving traffic of motorbikes, bicycles, and oxcarts. It was a white-knuckle ride due to my fatigue and the amount of traffic, but we made it back without incident.
All in all, it was a great day. I learned a new phrase in Khmer: Sabai, which means happy and klang, which means strong, evidently come together to mean: I am having a great time sabai klang klang.