Yesterday, we cycled over one hundred kilometers on less than four hours of sleep. As a result, we were so exhausted by the time we made it to Kampot that we fell fast asleep at the early hour of 7PM, practically nodding off in our dinner of fried noodles and fruit smoothies. Happily, this adjustment in our sleep schedule resulted in both of us being wide awake at the crack of dawn this morning.
As we pad down the wide, wooden, tree-like staircase of the peaceful Moliden Guesthouse, we are eager to enjoy a few iced coffees, and several hours of work in the attached restaurant. The breezy morning passes quietly with us writing together, waiting for our friends to arrive.
A few hours later, Pete and Natasha appear, fresh off the morning bus from Sihanoukville. After they've checked into their room, we have a look at the bicycles our guest-house has for rent. They are ridable, but they don't exactly inspire confidence. Most of the wheels are well out of true, wobbling this way and that; the brakes barely work, and all of the tires are practically flat.
As I try to figure out how the odd-looking air valves work, it dawns on me that tomorrow's 25km ride will perhaps be the longest distance these bicycles have ever covered in a single day. Yikes. In spite of the rickety state of their bikes, Pete and Natasha are really excited, and together we wheel their new transportation across the street where an old man inflates the tires.
Next up, we go on a test run, riding around town together, searching for a weaving workshop Tara found mentioned in our guidebook.
We get lost several times, asking directions from many people, and stopping for photos on every block. When we finally find the warehouse that is supposedly the workshop we've been hunting for, a bunch of guys are repairing cars in front. Though they point us to a building at the back, the location doesn't look promising.
Undaunted, we walk through the auto body shop. Natasha hesitates, then comes along, saying that if they were on their own, they wouldn't have had the courage to come to this place! Sure enough, the weaving workshop is tucked in the back. It isn't nearly as cool as Artisans D'Angkor, but luckily, our friends haven't been there yet, so they have a good time watching the spinners and weavers.
Continuing our ride, we stop at an independent clothing shop / cafe run by local women, to check out the souvenirs on offer and to order yet more iced coffee. Hanging out on the shady porch out front, we spend some time talking photography, as I explain to Natasha how white balance works.
Finishing up our exploration of Kampot, we pay a visit to the central market, where we dive into the fray, searching for fried bananas. Though we push through the whole thing and wind up empty-handed, the excursion is far from a total loss.
On our way out, we encounter the biggest elephant I've ever seen. It is HUGEEEEE, much larger than the ones we saw in Thailand. There is a wild-looking guy sitting atop the animal, as if he lives in the jungle and just came into town for a day to pick up supplies at the market. Which, actually, might not be too far off-mark.
Watching them lumber off into the sun, I feel very, very small. Here is a picture Natasha captured after she sprinted ahead on her bicycle to capture the disappearing beast:
For dinner, we pick a restaurant close to our hotel, called Jasmine's. It's run by a really nice, very talkative Cambodian lady named, surprise: Jasmine. We've barely had a chance to say hello when she launches into her life story, starting from when she was very, very poor growing up, to how she worked three jobs and saved like crazy for years while an NGO taught her English and paid for her to go to college.
She also tells us about her life now, and the English classes she recently gave up because the teacher is an over-the-top Christian missionary. Jasmine reports that he gives lots of lip service about his desire to help the Cambodian people, but the only lessons he teaches are about the Bible, ignoring the English curriculum which his impoverished students are paying for.
In one of these classes, a student tried to tell the teacher that he, and many other people present, were Buddhists, not Christians. The man coarsely dismissed the religion as being evil and wrong! Jasmine goes on to tell us about how no one stood up to him, or even recognized that anything was wrong with his teaching methods, until she made a fuss about it. And, as all four of us sit, silenced by the powerful, non-stop speech of this woman, I believe her.
Next, she throws her head back and laughs hysterically at the teachings of the missionary, saying, "He grades us poorly if we don't know that Jesus was birthed… what, from air? Ahahaha, from AIR!"
We're a bit blown away by the little Cambodian lady talking our heads off, but she's a sweetheart, and the food at her restaurant is delicious.
We barely got a word in over dinner, either to Jasmine or to each other, but it was a truly fascinating meal. When it was all over, we walked back to our guest-house and went to bed early. Tomorrow we take Pete and Natasha on their first ride! We're a bit nervous; I hope everything goes well!