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Tag Archives: moto-rides

Travels with Pavel: 12 February 2005

It started out as a beautiful blue-sky day with van Gogh clouds, but here we were at a small hamlet on the way back from Voen Sai. We had taken a very bad fall with a gear change I’d executed with less than perfect timing on the accursed mud track that passed for a road. Both of us had bruised left legs and missing flesh to show and the bike wouldn’t start again either. A passing moto driver with another tourist behind him – that’s what the smart tourists do, get the locals to do the driving – stopped and helped start our moto. I’d like to say he got it started with an almighty kick to the engine, but that only happens in the movies.

We only went another 15 minutes before the moto stopped again this time because we ran out of asang or gas! Talk about planning. So after explaining our problem to a few passing moto drivers in the hope of being helped again, two boys on a moto finally volunteered to get us a litre of fuel from the nearest place selling it. And off they rode with the 3,000Riel. They did not allow either of us to accompany them nor did they take the 5,000Riel that I offered them just in case, just 3,000Riel exactly needed to pay for one litre.

And so we waited, washed our wounds and waited until Pavel had the sense to flag down a passing French couple who generously let us have half a bottle of their fuel which a local helped us transfer from one moto to the other. And we were off together till we finally found a place to refill. No sign of the boys yet but as soon as we had refilled and were barely on our way, who should we see tearing down towards us, but the two rascals.

I was still ready to believe that they had been well-intentioned even as they stopped the bike after having zipped past us. Pavel had only to motor back to them for them to promptly hand back the money we’d given them. Pavel thought that the expression on their faces said, “Please don’t beat us!”

Anyway, we were once again very fortunate, thank God – atheist or no atheist. I was beginning to curse my luck but except for some lost skin, I think we came out of the situation pretty well and I’ve seen worse. Pavel, meanwhile, is cooking up a real cock-and-bull story to explain or injuries back in Taiwan by stretching the facts of the day a little.

Primary among them was our running into a young chap holding a machete waiting on the road outside the chunchiet cemeteries – the burial forest of the Tompoun tribe. We were on our way out of the forests, me at the front, when I saw him. His expression was… well, he wasn’t smiling, let us say. So I tucked the moto key into my pocket and freed my hands for action if necessary with a funny feeling going round and round in my stomach. I walked right up to him – not that I knew any tricks to make machetes and other sharp objects disappear or anything – but the man stood right in the middle of the path exiting the chunchiet. So well, I um, I gave him my best smile and my impression of what I thought was a Khmer “hello!” – “s’sday!” And well, he smiled back, machete and all, only to switch back to no-smile mode when Pavel emerged out of the thickets. Now that I think of it, Pavel might have saved my life again for the umpteenth time on this trip. What’re the odds of a guy with a machete being charmed by my smile? We got out of there in a real hurry.

Earlier, we had made our way to Voen Sai on the banks of the Tonle San river, through marginally better roads than yesterday’s – yes, despite the fall later – crossed the river by ferry walked up and down a bit, sat by the river at somebody’s private landing. And while Pavel went for his obligatory swim, I went walking westwards to look for the Chinese villages with the “fine houses.” I saw them, wasn’t much impressed and went back across the river again to begin the real excitement of the day.

Back in our lodgings, clean once again, we had a long chat with Mr. Hak who has 14 acres of land in town on which he wants to build a joint venture hotel with foreign investment, preferably from Pavel and me. I gently steered the conversation to other matters as we discussed the bright prospects for Ratnakiri as border posts opened north to Laos and east to Vietnam in the near future; the numerous NGOs investing a lot of money in the areas – up to US$100,000, some of them; the several Indian traders – about 10 of them, Laurent said he’d seen two – who sold stuff like mosquito nets, cloth and medicines, I think, round the year. Mr. Hak also spoke some about the travails of the Sam Rainsy Party – other main parties are the Cambodian People’s Party led by Hun Sen and the Funcinpec Party – due to which there was American and UN pressure brought to bear on the Hun Sen government. Mr. Hak and his wife had previously worked for NGOs in the area which was what had given them the opportunities to travel. He now ran a driving school and sundry other enterprises. Was also once secretary to the former governor of the province. Big fish, this guy.