The first few days in a new country, we grab every English speaking native we meet and beg them to teach us some basic phrases in their language. Though we have a phrasebook, there is no substitute for hearing a word first-hand. Then, we experience the sheer delight of completely botching our attempts to speak the local tongue while peoples' faces light up at our muddling.
We also focus on noticing the subtle things that make a new country unique, cataloging them in our mind, preparing to collect pictures of them like baseball cards.
Since the sun sets so early, and since we have a very long way to go to reach our destination of Siem Reap (*grumble grumble*… I wish we had our tent…), we start off in the wee morning hours, and bike all day long. Our snack and photo stops are much, much shorter than usual, but still, on this one-hundred-and-eleven kilometer day, we're getting a good start on our Cambodia photo collection. Here are some themes we've noticed here so far:
The Cambodian countryside is abuzz with people working and doing things. Unlike Thailand which was fairly quiet, save for food vendors and small cities, people here seem like they're actively working on their own survival day in and day out.
We watch fields being tended, and a mother pulling a couple of water buffalo back home, children in tow. Shimmering green rice paddies are filled with wading harvesters, and villagers weave baskets by the side of the road.
From these stone carvers, to blacksmiths making machetes in homemade forges… everyone seems to be working their butts off. There is so much activity!
It is unlike any I've ever seen and I can't wait to see the temples of Angkor for more examples of incredible Khmer architecture.
We pass numerous carved archways, temples with strutting stone animal-like gods, and sculptured fences like this one. To my highly undiscerning eye, it almost looks Polynesian.
Passing schoolyards, we're amazed at the sheer number of bicycles parked out front. When classes let out, we're in for a real treat, for we get to ride alongside hundreds of friendly Cambodian kids on their way home.
My favorite cyclists are the little children on very large bicycles. They can hardly reach the pedals, but they expertly race along at breakneck speeds on the shoulder and dirt tracks beside the road.
I also have a growing fondness for families riding together, sometimes managing to cram three our four people at once on to their slowly creaking machines.
I want to scoop them all up and take them home with me.
It is not at all uncommon to see women out and about during the day wearing matching top-and-bottom pajamas. Some are frilly, some are more practical, and some have cartoon characters. What I can't get over is how they don't seem to be hot wearing flannel from top to toe on this hot
summer November day.
The constant buzz of interesting things to look at has kept our minds from getting too discouraged about the powerful headwind and many, many kilometers before us. As the distance to our destination dwindles, we cheer as the wind dies with it.
When at least we've reached the outskirts of the city, we stop at a market for a final snack. Narrowly avoiding a dreaded bonk, the life return to our legs and brains as we snack on some strange sweet onion bread. Bolstered by a much-needed energy boost, we roll into Siem Reap.
Cue the search for accommodation, successfully ending in yet another great, clean hotel. Once we've lugged all eight of our panniers, my handlebar bag, and Tyler's rack-pack to the room, we collapse onto the bed. We're exhausted after one of our longest days yet, 111.11 kilometers. Phew.