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!


  1. Oh...I don't think I can wait to hear it all! Travis, my entire body aches with sympathetic pains just from your description. You are an amazing story teller and I am glad you made it out alive to tell about it!

    Michael Ann

  2. Love it! Hope you didn't get sick from the water. I can't wait to find out what happens next.

  3. WOW - can we please send a tv crew???

  4. Mr. Trav,
    I love this adventure story thus far!!!
    I'm so jealous that I've never gone on a REAL MAN adventure like this one.
    Can't wait to know "The rest of the story. Good Day!"

  5. You're a REAL MAN Trav!!!
    Can't wait to read the rest!