Thursday, August 19, 2004
Phnom Penh to Skun - Day 1
My plan is to cycle out of Phnom Penh, up through Skun to Kampong Thom, and then hook north up to the Thai border at Preah Vihar. I've cycled most of the primary highways in Cambodia over the last 6 years, and am now keen to venture further out into woop-woop. What's out there? What will happen? Will I make it?
After Preah Vihar, and depending on the weather and the state of the roads, I'll head west to Poipet, and make my way back to Phnom Penh.
The monsoon has broken, and it's raining every other day, and I'm told the usual story: the roads around Preah Vihar are diabolical, and you won't get through.
We shall see.
Phnom Penh - Skun, 75 km, HWY 5, north-west out of PP.
I leave at 8 am and peddle out into the morning traffic. I'm on a new bike, Rooster, and am terribly unfit. Twelve months of sitting at home on the couch watching nature documentaries, and now I'm a slug. How many people have I told, when emailing me about fitness levels, to "not worry about it, get fit as you ride"? I take it all back, I was wrong. Get fit before you go.
I rode my old bike for ten years, and never had a problem, but now I've got a shiney new expensive model, and it's a beaut. But the weak link is me. No leg muscles, no mental focus and by the time I go over the Japanese Bridge out of the city, about 4 km from my guest house, I'm overheating so badly that I have to tie a scarf around my head to keep the sweat out of my eyes.
I stop on the top of the bridge and have a cigarette. That should help.
The road is sealed the whole way and is in great condition, and the traffic aint too bad, usual chaos, but light enough. Unfortunately, I've cycled this leg four or five times before in both directions, so I just about go to sleep as I'm peddling along, despite the green-on-green scenery and happy Khmer kids waving and shouting from the sides.
I've also got a Khmer pop song in my head, going around and around, and it won't go away, and by the 40 kilometre mark, where normally I should be just getting into my second wind, I'm flagging, puffing, straining.
Another 5 kilometres and the mental toxins are beginning to come out. Why did she say that? Who does she think she is? And deeper toxins. I'm back in school, I'm being hard done by, again. I am innocent, I tell you, innocent!
I get into Skun around lunch time. Skun is about as boring as it gets, and normally I'd have a quick lunch and head on to Kampong Thom, another 50 or so km up the road, but not today. I go to a cafe and order an iced coffee (kar-fay dook-toe tar-kok). I'm exhausted, and there's gotta be a million flies in this restaurant. Too late, I've already ordered.
I lie on my bed under the mosquito net and massage my thighs. My God, I'm so unfit. This is really painfull, and boring.
Frankie: So what is the shiny new bike? Is the Pump on a titanium job and loads of brightly coloured Lycra, looking like Lance Armstrong or is it gntleman pump on a penny farthing, sporting a drop handlebar moustache and a nice tweed jacker and plus fours – possibly a bit hot for Cambodia! Blog readers really need to know to conjure up an accurate mental image of Mr Pump’s extreme makeover.
Mr Felix: No, no, it's all relative, and not extreme in the least.
Mr Pumpy is somewhat of a low tech guy, and the old bike was a stable mid-range 26 inch Giant with no natty features at all. But reliable. No major mechanical problems and maybe 5 flat tyres in 10 years on the road. Not bad, and if it aint broke, don't fix it type of thing.
The new bike, Rooster, is also a 26 inch Giant, with front shockers and alloy frame. Maybe upper middle-class on the scale of things, but after the last bike, it feels like a million dollars.
Mr Pumpy also looks pretty straight on the road. I ran into a Polish cyclist the other week, who looked very groovy indeed - dreadlocks, Khmer scarf wrapped rakishly around his head, but he was a dill. One of those twenty-somethings, a newbie cyclist, who knows everything, and knows nothing at the same time. Mr Pumpy was glad to see the back of him.
Mr Pumpy dresses to blend: brown cotton shirt, grey cotton pants, and a simple blue baseball cap with an ape on the front - Planet of the Apes!, and make of that what you will, Frankie. Mr Pumpy chuckles to himself as he cycles along, with ape. Some folks say he's got a retarded sense of humour, but I wouldn't know about that.
But Mr Pumpy does have a light blue and yellow cap with MR PUMPY embroidered on the front, but he left it at a friend's place in Saigon 12 months ago, and is now on his way back there to pick it up.
He actually had two made in Malaysia at one stage, but gave one away to a beautiful blonde haired girl from Berlin. Unfortunately she went back to Berlin, and he never saw the cap again. Make of that what you will, also, Frankie, but Mr Pumpy did shed a tear or two over this. He's a sensitive chap.
OK, I hope that clears that up.
Mr Felix - Last Home Guest House, Phnom Penh, Tuesday 20/8/04
Posted by Felix and Mr Pumpy at 6:07 pm