Day 744, chronicle 099, Sihanouk Ville (N10°37.839′ E103°31.162′) Cambodia, 16 February 201208:25 am –
Although today is the 14th day since I started riding after the four-month stay in Italy (not thelongest dwelling, I stayed in Nepal for five months!), the feeling is that I never really stoppedand this second stage of travelling is in fact just the continuation of the first one. During theItalian break, I was busy telling my experience to voluntary and cycling associations, schools,friends and perfect strangers who, thanks to the local media, knew all about me. I got used tobe stopped in the street by people asking me the question “Are you the one who …?”. Withvery poor results, I also tried to find sponsorships and, despite the crisis, I was fortunate tomeet Enzo Longo, owner of a bicycle company (www.longobikes.it) in Ostuni. He built atailored made bicycle, personalized with my name, site of Travel For Aid and thewriting “World Tour”. But I think that the greatest success of my dwelling in Italy was torecruited Dr. Marta Santoro, who became my travel companion for the first five weeksthroughout Indochina. Marta, born in 1980,from same home town, studied chiropractic andworked in England for ten years where she covered hundreds of miles cycling.
With my new bicycle well packed and my temporary travel companion, on February 1, 2012, Iboarded the plane of Sri Lankan Airlines from Rome to Bangkok with a stopover inColombo. The arrival in the Thai capital was one of those moments when words can not fullyexplain the pleasure one is experiencing. Exiting the airport, I was soon hit by the 32 degreeheat and 90% of the tropical humidity, the first drops of sweat began to run inexorably frommy forehead along my temples. Two coughs reminded me of the wet smog of that city andthe pungent smell of people’s heavy breath of garlic were just the first signs of Asian cuisine.
Also a torrential downpour on the way to the hotel reminded me of the power of nature inthese parts of the world.
I was back into my habitat, at home! Meanwhile, Marta was like achild in an alien planet, surprised of all those things that are normal to me, and yet theyseemed new again looking at them through her eyes. That same day we went to get my oldbike, which laid abandoned for two years at my friend Enrico s house, to fix it and adapt it toMarta. The third and forth of February, waiting to get our bike back from the mechanic, wewent around to each stall in Bangkok eating chicken satè skewers, drinking coconut juice andsugar cane, visiting pagodas and markets. I have also met Mauro and Rosi, my formeremployers of ASCO Travel with whom we went to dinner at a picturesque restaurant on thebanks of the river Chao Phraya.
Sunday, February 5 at 10.30, after picking up the bike from the shop, we asked the guy totake a picture of us, then we headed south towards the Gulf of Siam. I chose the route alongthe coast to satisfy Marta’s desire to go to the beach and swim for the first time in her life inFebruary. In a couple of days we reached Pattaya and then we continued on busy Highway 3until Chanta Buri. We went rather slowly compared to what I had expected, but Iunderestimated the effect of heat on my travel companion. She was well fit and ready in thelaps of training (and test!) done in Italy in the previous months.
Added to this, there werefrequent instructive stops to closely observe rubber and cashew nuts trees, pineapple andtapioca plants. We also indulged in healthy swims in the warm water of the Sea of Siam.Given the climate and the tropical sun, Marta is doing very well and is improving day by day,thanks to her strong will and determination. On 10 February, we spent the night in Trat, lasttown in Thailand before the Cambodian border. In a guesthouse we met other youngWestern travellers who chatted with Marta exchanging impressions of these early days inSouth-East Asia. As an old resident of this town, I rarely take part in these conversationsexcept when I explain the historical and cultural reasons behind certain local behaviours thatsurprise the white travellers.
On 12 February, mid-morning, we crossed the border with Cambodia, leaving behind thecomforts well-developed, industrialised Thailand to take a step back in time and enter one ofthe poorest and the most troubled countries in recent world history. Roads become almostunpaved, furnished stores become huts where you hardly find water, but there’s always coca-cola! At the same time landscape becomes magnificent, with the lush tropical jungle,wherenature is no longer bounded by human activities like in the Kingdom of Siam. I alreadyinformed Marta that the 150 kilometres after the border would be the hardest of all the 1,500route in common, because we would be crossing the Cardamom mountain range.
To thedifficulty of the hilly roads, it adds the lack of places for refreshment and lodging . In fact, wespent the nights of 12 and 13 February respectively: in our tent in the pagoda of PhumiChrang village and in a hut in Sre Ambel. You hardly sleep in a tent, it’s more like restingallowing you to regain some energy.
Therefore it was a great pleasure to arrive exhausted inKampong Saom (Sihanouk Ville), where we remained for the last two days in a guesthousejust a few dozen meters from the white sands of Ochheuteal beach. Until next time.