Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Day 2

Our first family
Me driving (I broke the left mirror)

I am glad to be alive.
random Cambodia pic

Day 2
Early the next day we arose as the roosters crowed. We drank some more out of the “community water bucket”, gave the family some money for their hospitality and also some clothing to them since all they owned was the mere pieces of clothing they had on their frail bodies. As we get on our bikes we immediately see that they won’t start. Mike switches into problem solving mode. We take apart different pieces including the battery, starter and fuses box and do an in-depth detail job removing the copious amount of mud lodged into important parts of the moto. About an hour of detailing didn’t solve our problem so we tried another tactic. Together we all pushed one of the motos down a hill while Mike tried to start it as he and the bike gained momentum. After about 7 tries we have success! One down one to go. The second bike was in worse condition (possibly because I dropped it 60+ times in the muddy water). To get this one working we decided to “jump it.” Of course we didn’t have jumper cables but we had some metal wire which worked great (sort of). Eureka! It worked we have two working motos again! We were on a way to find “The Hidden Temple” we have been searching for.

Darker and Muddier
Every time Michael says “Whatever you do, DON’T fall in front of the Cambodians” (this embarrasses him), what do I do?… I fall! On our way out from our host family’s house I get stuck in the mud and fall. The kids then come and help me out (funny for them [and me] but embarrassing for Michael). The family told us that the rest of the way will be easier (Khmer will tell Americans anything to make us happy) but it was far from that. Our “Highway of Mud” led us into a thicket of woods that was dark, muddy, wet and full of fallen over trees causing us to find temporary paths that were more dangerous than the “established path” known as “The Ancient Highway” recommended by our guide book(established path, what a joke!). The path was worse on the second day and here is why: this narrow mud trail is mostly traveled by people on carts pulled by 4-6 oxen. Big, smelly overworked oxen with heavy wooden carts that dug DEEP into the mud causing unspeakably awful trails to form behind where ever they traveled .This revolting muddy trail led us to what we “thought” was the end of our journey an un-passable river.
The River
This body of water was about 50 feet across and 4 to 5 feet deep that no moto can drive across. I was secretly hoping this would be our opportunity to go back but God provided another way. As we explored the area we noticed three things. ONE, river water is better than no water. TWO, right after crossing the river we would have to go up a 20 foot- uphill-mud slip and slide. THREE, far away we could hear the faint sound of a motorcycle- our saving grace. Soon enough two police officers (with big machine guns) came and they helped us cross the river (of course they asked for a small fee). The 4 of us carried the bikes across the river and we all pushed it up hill! They tell us that we are about 1 hour away from the town but we soon found out that this is far from the truth.

It Gets Worse
After making it up the muddy hill we were brought into a new terrain. We still had lots of mud and water but now also we had really TALL grass. It was more difficult because with the grass there were trees that scraped our arms and legs as we went by. Also in this area were 100s of landmines left over from the Khmer Rouge (I encourage you to look this up if you would like to learn more). Rainclouds began to form that brought in a light sprinkle. We drove miles and miles through mud, water and tall grass and we start to feel as if we were in a survival movie or possibly a Vietnam War scene. We have no food or water, my wallet is gone, our motos have been going nonstop for 2 days, we were in the middle of nowhere with landmines surrounding us, our bodies were filled with contaminated water as well as a plethora of cuts, bruises and insect bites. And then it happened… a dead tree blocking our path causing us to take the “off-off road” route for a small detour where I get stuck like never before.
Mud of Torment (skip this paragraph if you have a weak stomach)
This detour around the fallen tree had a path like no other- I compare it to the smell and appearance of the inside of a humid barn containing ill cows with loose bowels causing their feces to gather. The appearance and the fragrance was like a combination of both fresh and rotting manure churned with sticky warm mud. The texture was like standing in 3 feet of wet yet firm thanksgiving dressing (I officially ruined thanksgiving for you- sorry). All of it had a suction quality that would grasp for our legs and feet and bikes. Mike, my moto and myself sat and sank in the mud of torment. So much force was necessary even to lift a leg. To get the bike out I tried to drive as Michael pushed. This only caused feces and mud to be splattered all over us while the bike remained stuck. To move on we had to physically lift the moto out of this turd pit and pull it out. A process of reaching deep into the squishy brown mystery mud (yes, actually grasping manure) to get under the tire and then lift with all of our strength just to move the moto a few feet. We did this several times until my bike was out of this misery.
Out of Gas
The deep suction cow crud swallowed the socks and shoes right off of my feet but I couldn’t let that slow us down. I am tired of this but not wanting to give up, with no shoes my feet receive the “sand paper” treatment from the passing thorns and brush. Nearly every inch of them had some sort of infliction. I began praying, thanking God for every 20 feet of path that was dry, free of thorns or that wasn’t like the horrifying mud we just barely escaped. Along our trail we saw another Khmer on a moto and he told us only 1 more mile until the town (do you believe him?). This encouraged us to keep going (we were still na├»ve thinking maybe only one more mile left). As we continued our journey Michael’s moto stopped, it was out of gas. Michael drank the cleanest creek water he could find and took off on my bike to get help. I was thankful to wait with the other bike. This was my opportunity to just sit, stop and pause. I sat there in the water that was building up on the trail as the rainclouds turned into a rain-shower. I prayed, worshiped God and drank the rain falling from the sky. It was a great break.

As Hard as it gets
While sitting I hear a moto in the distant. I yell out “Michael” and he yells back “Hello! Anyone?HELP!” Not knowing the severity of the problem I run barefoot and leave EVERYTHING behind. I cross over gully’s and ditches flooded with rainwater not knowing where “The Ancient Highway” has washed away to. Heavy rain has inundated our “faithful” mud path and the darkness prevented me from seeing “what was a path” and “what was not.” Not concerned with the potential landmines in the area I continue to make a mad dash until I see Michael. His bike is stuck in a pond and it would only come out by the both of us. We got it out and tried to find the road again. It’s now pitch black, the moto’s light isn’t working any more, one moto left behind with my backpack full of clothes, meds and everything else needed to survive and we are on the search for… for… for…ANYTHING, we are desperate! I sit on the back of his moto as I endure a muddy and dark ride. On the path to “who knows where” my bare feet rip as I ride without shoes or socks. After miles and miles we find the “normal” mud path and it eventually leads us into a meager thatch hut inhabited by a small Khmer family.

Contrast in families

Compared to the people we stayed with the night before this family had a much smaller hut, less of a welcoming spirit, and very little to offer. When we told them we would pay them to allow us to stay with them for the night they agreed. The man of the house said we could stay for $2.50 which was a huge difference from the first family who asked for $30. He was surprised when we ended up giving him a $10 bill on our way out the next day(more than likely he has never seen a $10 bill since he is a remote farmer that is very poor).Even though he had little to offer we were very thankful for all the we received. We had crud all over us so he allowed us to use his farm’s water to clean up. His water was collected by rain that filled up a hole that was dug in the front of his house (and of course the ground was covered in manure[aren’t you glad I added that small point]). With the rain water in the hole we bathed and drank plenty. The family fed us rice and wild vegetables they picked growing about the forest. Michael and I talked about heading back to find the other moto so we could get my backpack and we even attempted to do so but it was a lost cause because of the darkness. We forced ourselves to sleep as we laid without pillow, or blanket and while the people in the house stayed up late smoking tobacco they hand picked and listening to a wind up radio ALL NIGHT LONG! Far from our thoughts was the desire to explore “The Hidden Temple” we originally set out for when we began our quest. All we wanted to do was sleep, survive and somehow find our other moto- hoping and praying it hasn’t been stolen by thieves. We were also hoping and praying that it wasn’t being destroyed as it was unprotected by the rain, wind and agonizing mud path known as “The Ancient Highway”.
What will happen to our dynamic duo?
Will they ever stop smelling the mud of torment?
Will they ever drive on pavement again?
Will they be eaten by alligators?
Only time will tell.... Stay tuned for one more installment coming soon!
In the mean time check out this video I made on my moto journey:

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cambodian Moto Adventure (part 1 of 3)

A Blog of an Adventure
My roommate and dear friend Michael is getting married to a Khmer lady (his former language teacher) in a few weeks. As one final adventure in bachelorhood he and I rented some BIG MOTOs (Moto is Cambodian for motorcycle). They are about as tall as a pony and weigh well over 300lbs. Michael loves a rough and tough adventure and has his heart set on seeing “The Hidden Temple” of Central Cambodia. A temple hardly seen by foreigners like us. We can only get to this temple by the “The Ancient Highway,” a 45 mile dirt path from Angkor Wat Temple (well known tourist spot) to the very center of Cambodia (where most tourists dare not visit). Travel guides suggest that this “off road” path can be accomplished by experienced dirt bike riders during the dry season in about 2 hours. 2 THINGS TO NOTE- We are not experienced dirt bike riders and we were NOT driving in the dry season. To sum up the following blog: 45 miles of mud, 3 days without sanitation and 2 ponds of animal poo!

Day one

Covered in Mud
The first portion of the journey was great, a mixture of smooth and rough dirt paths both wide and simple. Our eyes were immersed in the beautiful Cambodian mountains, palm trees and wild life as we raced across “The Ancient Highway.” We were surprised when our peaceful path was overtaken by what looked like a small pond formed by this season’s rainfall (it rains about 5 times a week during the summer). To get across the pond we had to venture off road into the thin layer of grass that covered the deep foundation of sticky hot mud. Michael went through no problem and of course I got stuck. Michael knowing how to “unstick” a moto from the mud got behind me and pushed as I sat on the bike fully accelerating and… I made it out! In the pond next to us a couple dozen Khmer were swimming and they caught my attention when they started laughing at something behind me… and there Michael was covered literally from head to toe in the mud that my moto spun all over him! Needless to say he jumped into the pond with the Khmer.

Miles of Swamp
What we didn’t realize was that this one off road trail that curved around the pond was actually “The Ancient Highway.” This mud detour was only the beginning of MILES and MILES of a smorgasbord of mud, water, dirt and grass that makes up “The Ancient Highway.” We drove through mud that had every shade of tan, red, brown, grey and black imaginable. Occasionally the trail was dirt, emphasis on occasionally. The most common seen path were parallel rows of anywhere from 6 inches to 3 feet of water puddles with a foundation of mud underneath it. This type of trail was the easiest but also harvested swarms of killer mosquitoes the size of bees. Sometimes our “Mud Highway” did not have water puddles but rather only mud for its path where we had to use both of our feet as a way to balance so that us and the moto didn’t KERPLUNK into the slippery mud. Often the mud was really sticky and deep without any water above it where we had to drive WITHOUT stopping or WE WOULD BE stuck and WOULD HAVE TO push ourselves out (and end up a big mess once again). This deep sticky mud was my least favorite. More than 60 times me and my moto fell over. Imagine being eaten alive by bugs you never knew existed, scratches all over your arms and legs from the thorns and brush you are navigating through and falling over with your 300lb motorcycle. There is nothing worse than breathing in lungs full of engine exhaust as you are lying down on the ground with your overheated moto that is being cooled off by a puddle of murky forest water. Accumulating carbon dioxide mixed with “mud steam” into your lungs is plenty of motivation to not give up. Every time I fell I would use all of my strength to lift myself and my 300lb beast out of the mud. When lifting with my arms, back, legs and the top of my head (yes my head, kind of like a rhino) was not enough Michael would come over to help with the rest of the weight (which was more often than not).

Dead End?
After miles of jungle torture we come to a dead end- a HUGE rice field with a small mud stream on its border. After searching the area and scanning the acres of rice before us we determine that this stream is our road. Fortunately we see 2 Khmer guys and they show us how to use wooden planks as a homemade bridge so that we would not sink into the mud. Those guys helped us set up the planks, pushed us when we got stuck and lifted us out of the mud when we fell over. Michael being fluent in Khmer was able to talk with these guys about our situation and from them we found out that this is the correct road and that it only gets worse from here.
Are we “marooned” or just “morons”?
Hours go by, it’s getting dark. I am getting weak, hungry, and thirsty. We were supposed to be at “The Hidden Temple” A LOOONG TIME AGO. Bugs are biting me like crazy, somewhere on this journey my wallet fell out of my pockets. I’m cut, scraped, poked, fatigued and I keep falling over into a combination of cow feces and mud. My nursing instincts kick in which puts the reality check that our bodies are vulnerable out here to fever, influenza, pneumonia , diarrhea, fever, GI bugs, infections, amebas, malaria, typhoid, meningitis, hepatitis, West Nile, scabies, ticks, lice, and the list can go on. I begin to think- “How long are we going to be out here?” “Why in the WORLD did we take this route?” “Maybe we can leave the motos, walk and call an emergency helicopter to get us out of this mess!” I kept my thoughts to myself as I followed Mike who urged us to press on while we still had a little day light left.

Family of Angels
Just when I had almost lost hope we see a wooden shack on stilts in the distance camouflaged with the forest trees surrounding it. From the shack come some barley clothed children and their parents. The family of the forest takes us into their home and says that we can stay the night. They let us shower by taking a large bucket of water (water they collected from a nearby creek) and using a cup to pour the water on our bodies. Out of the same bucket and cup we drink lots and lots of water (step 1 pour water on your body, step 2 pour water into your mouth). My nursing conscience is put on silent, malaria or not I am going to dehydrate if I don’t drink something! They take our dirty clothes and began cleaning them. We sit around the fire together- Michael, me, the kids and the adults. We talk with each other, joke around and eat rice and a chicken they killed just for us. We were treated like part of their family and it showed (especially as ALL of us sat around in our underwear). About 4 or 5 of us piled into one room and fell asleep. They gave us a pillow and blanket which both smelled like pee. Fortunately I had my green zip up jacket (thanks to my younger brother Brady) that was tucked into my backpack. I didn’t know how the jacket remained dry after my bag fell into the muddy water so much. Regardless I was SO thankful to use it as my “pillow case” to keep me from smelling pee all night. I’ve never been so appreciative of such a common piece of clothing.

Will Trav and Mike make it to "The Hidden Temple"?
Will their motos endure such torture?
Will they even keep their sanity?
To be continued....

Within the next 2 weeks you will get the second installment of "Cambodian Moto Adventure"!!!!!!!! Stay tuned!