Drunk locals with one leg have little credibility when pointing you to a mine field

18 Feb

By Matt (with commentary by Dean)

Ride for Cambodia: Day 4 Travel Update from Tbeng Meanchey to Siam Reap

Today was a particularly dynamic day in comparison to those prior. Because so many things happened throughout the course of the day, I think a list of bullet points will be suiting. It is worth mentioning that with the type of riding we are doing and the given terrain, the Daelim City 100 may not be the most suitable vehicle. Apparently, it’s a “good moto, but poor-man moto”. We’ve had our share of breakdowns, but in a country where the most expensive repairs would be hard pressed to eclipse $20 and a 3 hour repair time, it fits the bill. After all, they cost +/- $550 each with a buyback arrangement of around $500, if they are returned intact (which is left to be seen). We are now spending a full day in Siam Reap, home to Angkor Wat. It is our plan to visit the religious site this afternoon, prior to departing the city Sunday morning. For the next leg of our trip, Dean has built a GPS map from Google Earth imagery, as the area is largely uncharted. Interestingly enough, he informed us last night that streams and trails are nearly indistinguishable on the satellite pictures.

• The most magnificent thing happened this morning. Dean asked the day and everyone was collectively unable to remember that it was Friday. In terms of everyone’s expectations, the trip is most definitely meeting one of its intended goals. However, we are constantly reminded by Dave and Dean that Ride for Cambodia is neither a tour, nor a vacation.

• Our first major engine repair took the form of a top-end rebuild on Paul’s scooter. It had consistently lost power and drivability until it would no longer idle nor accelerate properly. The repair took a few hours and $8.50. My scooter barely escaped the same fate when a valve adjustment restored compression to the weary warrior. That being said, this trip has proven that the mechanical condition of our scooters can change much more rapidly than the beautiful sunny weather of the Cambodian dry season.

• Upon arriving at a temple on the way to Siam Reap, we were met by a group of scarf wielding salesladies with a passion for the aggressive sell. I’m not sure how this helped to rid us of our unwelcome pursuers, but Sam and Paul felt led to portray themselves as outwardly affectionate to one another. This apparently offended the modest sensibilities of our captors who quickly fled.

• We went truly off road for the first time, as opposed to areas where roads had been created but left unfinished. When we turned off the dirt road, we were immediately met with a plethora of obstacles in the form of rice paddy barriers made of dirt and rocks. For the most part, they had been previously traversed, though most proved quite formidable to our street-intended scooters. It was humorous watching the group as we attempted to cross each berm, frequently ending in a stranded position atop the mound.

• At one point, we came across a stream which, after having waded out into it to check the depth, was decidedly much too deep for our scooters to cross. We were quickly greeted by a man with one leg who motioned into a lightly wooded area seemingly suggesting that it was safe to circumnavigate said water by that course. This trail was accompanied by a sign stating that the Germans had cleared it of mines. However, not very far behind that sign was another, much newer sign which clearly suggested that mines yet existed. We were collectively struck by the irony of a one-legged man giving directions through a possibly still lethal mine field. We turned back.

Inserted by Dean

I was a little hesitant at leading the gang into the rice paddies, (knowing that some of Cambodia is still land mined), but I figured that the trauma the rice tractors do to the fields should have set off any unexploded mines long ago. We bumped and crashed our way back and forward searching for a track marked as route 66 on the gps (someone has a great sense of humor huh!), with the gang initially laughing hysterically, but eventually a little hot and bothered by the chaos.

At risk of really pissing off the gang I persevered one last time looking for the track, and sure enough there it was, initially along the top of the mounds that separate two fields, but eventually it crossed a stream and we found a real track.

It was great going and lots of fun for about 15km until we reached the first water crossing – too deep to ford.

“now that was a lot of fun!” contributed Gary

“lets carry them across” suggested Laurence
“I wanna ride across” – Matt is crazy and will try anything.
“those air intakes are lower than the water level” – Sam was thinking the same thing as me
“there’s always another way around these things, the locals sure as hell arent riding through it” I countered, a little sad to be dampening Matt’s enthusiasm, but not keen on filling a bike motor with water so late in the day.

After a quick search and helpful advice from a man living nearby, we rode right past the man’s hut and around the water back onto the track.

“cool, we’re going to do this” I thought, all excited about the prospect of riding into Siem Reap from the east, on the road that runs straight past Angkor Wat!

More fun on the sandy track and then another water crossing. Once again there were different opinions about how to cross, the group a little tired by now, and then the slightly frayed nerves were set alight by the “warning mine field” sign just off the road.

I back tracked a little and was met by a very drunk villager who wanted me to ride into the field with aforementioned sign. He seemed convinced it would be ok but I was still really hesitant – oh did I mention he only had one leg. Well, he only had one leg.

Ignoring his advice I continued back until eventually I found a another established track spearing off the one we were on, this one led to another one, which eventually led back to route 66 but on the other side of the water.

I doubled back again, a little worried that the gang might have moved, and found the drunk amputee now trying to talk to the rest of the gang, some of whom were obviously worried about the mines, and rightly so. I assured them that I had found another track that would take us around this water and we set off, but not before several worried looks were exchanged. At the fork in the road we stopped for a moment, I wanted group agreement before proceeding.

“hey I just wanna check that everyone is cool with continuing, I don’t want to push someone into doing something they arent comfortable with”
“um yeah I suppose” – Dave
“yeah I guess…” – Paul
“Hell yeah” – Matt
“Um… ok” – Gary
“I’ll do whatever everyone else does” – Laurence
Sam was at the end of the row of bikes so I couldn’t hear him, but the shoulder shrug was enough for me to tell he was a little worried, but would follow regardless.

The blank expressions made my mind up though. I checked with Paul and Dave, the two other most experienced riders in the group, and after a moment they concurred in turning back. It was 5pm so only another hour of light, we had a long way to go on single track where we would most likely encounter more water, and Gary’s bike was fading fast so he was worried with good cause.

“ok then, lets pull it, back up the track the way we came, we’ll leave this one for next year” I yelled through the helmet.

Paul explained it well

“mate, I hate turning back as much as anyone, but in these situations you need to consider that we have little water left, no food, mobile phone service here is patchy and we’re tired so decision making is poor. Then if someone falls and hurts themselves it will be really bad. There have been 2 water crossings and probably will be more, and it will be dark in an hour. If we were fresh and had all day then we could do it for sure, but right now this is the right decision”

Actually the right decision would have been to turn back an hour earlier! The road home was totally dark for the last 30mins, after which anyone thinking we should have continued was well and truly convinced that it was the right choice. Live to fight another day.

Good team work R4C.

• Another humorous aspect of this jaunt off road was my close encounter with terra firma. There were many areas which were covered in deep sand. It was funny to watch as each of us struggled to make our way through the treacherous hazards and to wager who would be the first to fall. My appearance at the end of the trail, similar to that of a sugar-coated doughnut, was indicative not necessarily of the winner of the unspoken wager, but most certainly the loser.

• As dusk descended upon the greater Siam Reap area, we were still on a highway which was becoming busier with each passing minute. As we passed a very large truck, my scooter began to sputter with ever increasing frequency. Somehow, I was able to proceed to a filling station a few miles further down the road (Cambodians beside the road with whiskey bottles filled with fuel) as the scooter breathed its final breath.

• Finally, our group experienced its first death shortly after nightfall in route to our guest house. Gary’s scooter died in dense rush hour traffic and refused to start once again. We, however, fought the good fight and soldiered on to the guest house in Gary’s stead. Upon arrival, Dave valiantly returned to the scene for a post-mortem recovery of the brave scooter’s remains. At this time, the rest of us, with heavy hearts, consumed a frosty beverage in honor of our fallen steed. I will update later on the less than $10 repair which will most certainly breathe new life into it

No refrigeration needed. Farm fresh chickens


The driver and scooter loaded up and ready to go


Everyone here in Cambodia is super friendly


Waiting at a "gas station" in Cambodia for them to refill their coke bottles fill of fuel


Nice Cambodian kids everywhere


Friendly people!!


The Temple District Ride For Cambodia Team


Riding through CLEARED minefields


We're riding through rice patties hoping that the minefields were cleared as described


Uncleared Minefield that blocked us from going around the deep water crossing


Too deep for scooters, a local with one leg was telling us to go back and take the alternative route just past a closed gate behind the sign that said "DANGER: MINES"


This guy was stumbling on a main dirt road near Siem Reap trying to give us directions


After finally making it to the guest house, we were welcomed by this sign next to the bathroom.


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