or Enjoy the Ride…
It was supposed to be simple, a straight shot to Thailand.
No messing around with bus schedules, no hiring a moto to take me from the bus stop to the border, no long lines at the border. Straightforward and easy…
I awoke early…
I awoke early and hungover.
We had celebrated my departure from the BOVA orphanage/school in true Khmer style… with beers… many beers…
The drinking marathon started just before noon, and continued till after midnight.
A great time, with drinks and food and dancing…
My internal clock woke me early, knowing that my bags were yet to be packed, and that I’d be operating at less than optimal speed.
I packed my bags sluggishly…
There was a knock at the door, the moto was waiting to take me to the shared taxi in Battambang.
I jammed the last things into my bag, devoured my breakfast and said a rushed goodbye (it seems the way of all my goodbyes).
We rode into Battambang and arrived at the share taxi staging area, where we were swarmed by drivers.
A ride had already been setup, a price set, so I didn’t have to deal with the translating and haggling that would be involved.
Originally I had planned to take a bus, but the family I was staying with had decided that I would take a share taxi. They like to take care of me, and at times make my decisions for me, it shows that they care.
In Cambodia a shared taxi won’t leave until it’s full.
I don’t mean full, I mean FULL.
So we waited until the driver had rounded up enough passengers to fill the car.
My Cambodian family knew that, being a westerner, I might not be as comfortable being jammed in a car the same way that Khmer people are. So they made sure to arrange the front passenger seat for me, and me alone (at a slightly higher cost).
The driver gestured for me to get in the car, apparently we had found enough other passengers headed our way.
As I sat there I watched as my fellow travelers piled in. 5 people we crammed into the back seat, sitting in laps. Then the driver got in. He shimmied half way onto the console while another man shared the driver’s seat.
He was gonna drive like that?
I initially felt guilty. There I was with a seat completely to myself while a family of 5 sat in the back and my driver didn’t even have a seat to himself. I had an impulse to offer up a piece of my seat, only to realize that we would have just found a new passenger to fill the newly “empty” space. It was probably for the best, I am a westerner after all, and we like our space.
We rolled out of town at a reasonable pace, fairly slow going in the city’s traffic. Then we reached the highway, and that when things began to get exciting…
I’ve been riding on the back of motorbikes for the last several months so the thought of a seat belt didn’t enter my mind.
That was until we hit the highway…
Our driver brought us up to speed, I didn’t look at the speedometer , it was better not to know.
We raced down the highway, which wouldn’t have been so bad, except for the plethora of other “things” on the road.
Grand theft auto wishes it was a Cambodian highway.
There were cars, there were motorbikes, there were bicycles, there were pedestrians, there were large trucks, there were small children, there were little old ladies, there were big potholes, there were ox-carts, there were cattle, and dogs, and chickens (oh my!)
If it had wheels, and even if it didn’t, it was using this highway, and we were dodging it all at a high rate of speed.
Swerving into oncoming lanes to pass a motorbike with a trailer full of lumber, or an elderly woman on a bicycle loaded with crates of produce, then mere moments before a head-on collision with a large Isuzu truck, swerving back into our lane, barely missing whatever we passed with our back end.
I had admit I was impressed by our diver, not only was he doing this all at break-neck speed, he was also chatting idly with the other passengers, and he didn’t even have a seat to himself.
Instead of sitting there clutching the dash, I decided to enjoy the ride.
That may not sound easy, but when you let go and realize you truly have no control over the outcome of the situation it becomes quite easy, and highly entertaining.
I just watched the madness unfold, and smiled the whole time.
I doubted that our driver would kill us, he’s obviously quite competent at what he does, and crying out “slow down!” (or the Khmer equivalent) would probably just have been a distraction, and he didn’t need anymore of those.
And if he did kill us, well there wasn’t much to be done about it now was there…
So we barreled down the road for the next hour and a bit.
We came to a turnoff and the driver took it.
This isn’t the way to the border, I thought.
I soon learned that my fellow passengers were not bound for the same destination, they’re just (sort of) on the way.
I didn’t mind, I wasn’t in a hurry. The scenery would probably be nice (and it was).
The road we were on became worse the further we ventured from the highway, until eventually it was more pothole than road.
At the time I thought it was the worst road I had ever seen, that thought would change before long…
In many places the “road” consisted only of a high ridge in the centre where motorbikes drove, and everywhere else the dirt had fallen or been washed away.
(When I say it was in the “centre” I should note that I only mean that it was between the extreme edges of the road, it swayed and swerved this way and that with no apparent rhyme or reason.)
Our diver was still managing to impress me, our pace was at a crawl, but he was deftly moving the car back and forth balancing the wheels between the ridges and the shoulders, saving his undercarriage from abuse.
We drove like this for quite a while moving deeper into rural Pailin province.
Eventually we arrived at the home of the family of five who were sandwiched in the back seat. We dropped then off, and I watched the happy reunion with the rest of their extended family. My smile broadened.
The driver hopped back in, this time with a seat to himself. And our last remaining passenger got in the back. We were off again.
Our driver decided that he didn’t want to backtrack the way we had come and therefore decided to press on and link back up with the highway at the other end of this road.
This would prove to be a poor decision…
We pushed deeper into the countryside, and the road continued to deteriorate, until it was little more that a dirt track.
I noticed that I hadn’t seen another vehicle, other than an occasional motorbike, anywhere in quite a while.
The driver was still amazing me, I wouldn’t have risked driving this road in a 4×4, and here he was tackling it in a Toyota Camry.
There were spots where large rocks were exposed, where the dirt had fallen away entirely, and to our driver’s credit there was rarely, very rarely, the crunching sound of earth colliding with undercarriage. He was good.
He didn’t actually know where he was going though…
He would occasionally stop and ask a local pedestrian where we should go. (I couldn’t actually understand, but the gesticulations were enough for me to get the jist of it.)
We pushed deeper into the hills, and I was appreciating the rural scenery, although a little thought came unbidden into my head…
We were in Pailin province, Cambodia, the last refuge of the Khmer Rouge, and the most heavily land mined area in the world…
(it was mined by the Khmer Rouge to keep out the advancing Vietnamese army, and was also mined by the Vietnamese, hoping to keep the Khmer Rouge locked in)
Well, best be staying on the “road”… hmmm… is this the road?
We kept pushing on (with an occasional backtrack).
We came upon a stream without a bridge, the “road” just went across at a ford. There was no other way to go, no way around, we were going to have to ford the river.
(It started to feel a little like Oregon Trail, except our wagon was a family sedan. Hopefully no one drowns, and thank god no one has dysentery!)
Our driver charged ahead, gave it all that little two-wheel drive car could give… We were pushing through…. We reached the second bank… We were climbing the other side…
We were gonna make it!….
Then suddenly the entire car slumped to the left. lost it’s traction, and slipped backward…
The driver gave it some gas, to no avail, he tried backing up, but we were now wedged at a strange angle, and our back end was blocked…
We were stuck…
Well, it was bound to happen eventually, I’m impressed we got as far as we did.
Although when I got up this morning I can’t say I expected to be lost in the Cambodian countryside pushing a car out of a stream…
We hopped out into the stream to push, and luckily we were near a farm and the men of the family joined us in our endeavor.
We pushed forward, we pushed sideways, we pulled up a large log, we pushed backward, we pushed forward and sideways again… and then we got it.
The car got some traction, the driver gave some gas, and the car jumped up the river bank.
We were free…
We said our thanks, hopped back in the car (a little wetter than before) and off we went.
Despite our predicament, we were all in good spirits. It was pretty funny after all, and it would make a great story later…
We kept following the dirt track that resembled a road for a while.
Then we saw a good omen… a 4×4 parked at one of the farms, the first 4-wheeled vehicle we’d seen in a long time.
And a little past that we saw it…
A real road, with cars and everything!
We all turned to each other with beaming smiles, looks like we were gonna make it after all.
We got on the road and eventually it connected to a bigger road, and a bigger one, and eventually we were back on pavement, and it wasn’t much longer till we hit the highway.
We dropped our other passenger along the highway, his friend greeted him with what I assumed was, “where the hell have you been??”
He laughed and began to tell the tale.
The driver and I continued onward till we reached the border. The driver apologized a few times on the way. I told him it wasn’t a problem. I was smiling broadly, an experience like that doesn’t happen everyday.
There was a lesson buried in all those events…
And more than just “don’t drive blindly into the Cambodian countryside”.
It’s “Let go, enjoy the ride.”
When I let go of some illusory control I may have believed I had on the events that transpired, and realized that, in fact, I had no control whatsoever.
I was simply a passenger on this outing.
I could have gotten angry, I got have stamped my feet and yelled…
But that wouldn’t have accomplished anything. The ride was dictated by the actions of others. I was not in control.
So why not just enjoy it?
Watch the lovely scenery go by,
watch the people going about their business,
laugh at the silliness of the whole situation,
and think of how great a story this will make later (perhaps I’ll even write a blog post about it).
Let go of the illusion of control.
Let go, and enjoy the ride.
So we arrived at the border, a little later than planned, but no harm done.
I said farewell to my skillful driver / guide / comrade.
I threw my bags over my shoulders, and walked into Thailand…
I was ready for my next adventure…
Ready, but completely unprepared…
The day and the adventure were far from over…
Stay tuned for the rest of this story coming soon.
and enjoy the ride!