TIO SE Asia: Ride In The Country Not A Walk In The Park
We had some cloudy mornings in Cambodia and relished the relief from the intense sun when we were out and about. The morning Chhay, our guide, proposed a bike ride among the rice fields dawned cloudy again. Good, so far! But by the time Chhay and Sel arrived at Maison Polanka, where Susan and I were finishing breakfast, it was pouring cats and dogs. I was about to call Chhay to find out if we were still on when they pulled into the driveway.
In a blink, the rain slacked significantly, so, yes, we were on. Our driver Sel dropped us at the bike rental place, where we selected our mounts. The staff asked my height and decided I needed a medium-sized ride. I pointed out that my legs are long in relation to my torso, but the bike they had chosen was mine, seat post raised as high as it would go. Chhay offered me a light- weight plastic poncho, but I felt better about my high-tech jacket, even though the rain was picking up again.
Chhay led the way out of the city, I on his wheel, moving easily through the chaotic morning traffic: trucks, cars, motorbikes, tuk tuks, bicycles. Are you familiar with the term “murmuration”? You know, how a flock of birds moves, turns, climbs without collisions? Well, that describes traffic in SE Asia. Mostly. And it worked for us.
Riding the blacktop streets, I missed the fact that the rear derailleur was stuck on the smallest cog. It became obvious when we got on the unpacked little roads, rutted and muddy with the rain, which was quite heavy at times. My 21-speed mountain bike was reduced to three, ranging from the middle of the set to the highest, not handy for trying to ride slowly through and around the slippery ruts, and further compromised by the cross-chaining in the lowest gear, which resulted in the chain slipping when I applied too much torque.
The foregoing is not a complaint- I was having a blast. Riding through the fields on the muddy roads in a warm rain was just part of the adventure. Chhay stopped at an outdoor market to buy some fresh bread. I thought it was odd to be thinking of a picnic in the rain at nine in the morning, but soon we were off riding again. Our next stop was a monastery. Again, I silently questioned the logic, until we stopped next to a pond full of catfish and Chhay began tearing off pieces of bread, tossing them into what became a frothing melee of big, hungry fish. He handed me half the loaf and we laughed as the big fish fought for the chunks, throwing up waves in the murky water.
We rode on for miles, staying on the clay roads, slowing for a farmer moving his two water buffalos to a different field, meeting or being passed by the occasional motorbike, getting muddier and muddier. I was caked from my shoes to the red, muddy stripe up the back of my jacket. That didn’t diminish my somewhat gritty grin.
After a few hours of this, Chhay asked if I was ready to head back to town. That was ok by me. Arriving at the bike rental shop we were greeted by bemused looks from the shop people: two bikes, two guys, covered with mud. I tried (successfully?) to get across the problems with my bike, then climbed into a tuk tuk, whose driver gave us a dubious look before providing a heavy piece of paper to sit on to protect the upholstery of his ride. I was soon dropped at the entrance of Maison Polanka, where the gateman pointed me to a shower used by the maintenance people. I showered in my clothes, then headed toward our suite.
Sus was enjoying a massage at the spa, so she missed seeing me in my muddy glory. I took another shower in my clothes, this time with soap. By the time Sus got back all traces of my adventure, except for the goofy grin, were gone. Time for lunch in the restaurant sala.
It tasted way better than mud.
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