Having been on the road for so long, it's easy to lose perspective about why we travel the way we do. Or maybe it's just a string of really long cycling days that has me a little less than enthusiastic about pedaling lately. In any case, chatting with our backpacking friends these past few days has served as a powerful reminder to be appreciative our bicycles and the unique experiences riding them around the world has afforded us.
Yes, our bikes are heavy, and hills can be hard, and weather can be blustery or hot or rainy or cold. But at the same time, we are immune to bus scams that could leave us stranded in the middle of nowhere, and we aren't at the whim of swindling tuk-tuk drivers. Perhaps most importantly of all, we never have to watch the countries we came to visit go flying by on the other side of a dirty window without getting a chance to stop and take it all in.
We leave our hotel at 6 AM, after waking up at 4:30 AM, after a scant four hours of sleep. Tyler launched a major new feature for a client yesterday, and was on-call during the 9-5 workday back home, which also happened to fall during those precious few hours of available sleep.
After being swarmed by bloodthirsty mosquitoes at dawn, we still manage to sport good moods in the face of a morning full of steep hills. We're mercifully not that sleepy, and the wind in our faces does a good job of keeping us that way. Exercise gives us energy, and we're happy to be pedaling.
We thank our lucky stars that it's cool out, that the day will be overcast, that we won't have an enormous spotlight of a sun baking us for our 110km day. Best of all, we're not at the whim of a bus driver; we're independent, and we can stop and go as we please.
Once the hills around Sihanoukville are behind us, the day passes with ease.
As we cycle through what has become normal scenery for us, I see everything in a new light thanks to the recent chats we've had with our backpacker friends. This land, which I already love, is all the more special because I know that if I was traveling any other way, I would not be seeing it. Riding through the crisp morning air, there are the masses of uniformed children walking and riding to school, all shouting hello to us, waving as we pass.
There are the women with baskets full of rice, which they dump onto a roadside tarp, the husks blowing away in the wind. There are rivers shining in the sun, children swimming, water buffalo gallumphing around in the mud, and chickens running willy nilly.
There are naked babies, mothers rocking their children in hammocks, and colorfully clothed girls sitting in a tree…
All of this makes for a Cambodia we probably wouldn't see any other way. Despite the downsides, I'm glad we're on two wheels.
As we ride, we're busy scheming about something we planned with Pete and Natasha yesterday. They are bummed about not getting the chance to stop in the countryside, about not being able to say hello to all the friendly kids, or the lazing water buffalo.
Since all of our favorite parts of Cambodian are mostly inaccessible to them traveling by bus, they've decided to meet us in Kampot, where we'll take them on a mini bike tour!
We want them to have the best possible experience, so we're trying to minimize common pitfalls. They'll have to rent some bikes, and we can use our extra bungees to strap their backpacks to the back. If their stuff is too heavy to be comfortable, we should be able to fit some of it in our roomy panniers.
We'll make sure to stop often for food and drink so they won't get too hungry or too tired, and we'll leave early, so they'll get good light for photos and the coolest possible weather. We even learn from a couple of friendly Belgian cycle tourists we pass that the ride from Kampot to Kep should be flat and beautiful, and only 25 kilometers. Perfect!
Over the past month, we've seen a lot of stuff hauled around on trucks or with motorbikes. Huge wooden beds being pulled by scooters, fifty people on a walking tractor, and more bicycles than I would have thought possible all stacked onto a truck. We've also seen motorcycles with gigantic pigs strapped to the back.
The pigs are still and quiet, and I honestly don't know if they're alive or dead. They aren't bloody at all, so maybe they're just sedated with ether or something? In any case, there are long baskets full of piglets or a couple of medium sized pigs. The enormous sows don't get a basket, and are instead strapped directly to the rear rack, legs up.
We have yet to capture this phenomenon, until today, when we pull over because there is a motorbike with the traditional piggie basket on it! The driver is stopped for a pee break, and while he does his business, I snap a few photos, then got a shot of him on his bike when he returns.
I am so stoked I finally got these pictures, even if the result didn't turn out quite the way I'd hoped (bad lighting). It's satisfying, knowing I've now collected this occurrence for all time, like a baseball card.
During the last ten kilometers, our appreciation of bike touring is greatly lessened, as usual. Fatigue takes over, and time slows to molasses-like speeds, as do our legs. We make it to Kampot at last, successfully find a lovely hotel, and tromp our weary legs back outside in search of dinner.
Tomorrow we get to see Pete and Natasha again!