Again, we start early in the morning. For some reasons I do not get much sleep. We pack our stuff and have breakfast. Yet I do not feel like eating and seeing other people having breakfast makes me feel sick. We plan to ride all the way back to Phnom Penh, with a lunch break in Kampong Cham provincial capital. Bun Tach had warned me the other day that my front tire is broken and I need to ride carefully. In addition, we are uncertain about the state of Pongro’s bike, since it fell down many times. So we decide to go to the moto doctor before we head to Phnom Penh.
Those are my boots in the morning. They had gotten pretty wet yesterday, since they where filled with water several times when we had to cross creeks. Those are Meinl boots, equipped with a gore tex membrane which makes them water proof. Although those boots where outside all night while there where strong winds they are still pretty wet in the morning. Getting into them still feels like water is standing in them. I am somewhat surprised that it takes so long to dry those boots. And even of today, almost one week later, they are still not entirely dry, which I find quite disappointing. After all, what is the point of having water proof shows if they never ever get dry once they get water inside?
However, I do not manage to get my bike started when we want to kick of. We try hard but fail. So we ride with Pongro’s bike to the bike doctor and have the mechanic check the bike on the spot. With the assistance of the mechanic we manage to ride it to the garage. Here I learn that the suspension of my bike both in front and in the back is loose or otherwise needs to be fixed. Since they cannot take care of it here they advice me to ride slowly. And they don’t have a stand either. After a short look at Pongro’s bike they think it is ok and at any rate there would not be much they could do anyway. So we just fill up the bikes and leave.
Although I was told this bike has multiple problems it feels alright and gradually we increase the speed. For the first hour we ride back through the mountainous area with many hills and turns. When we approach the lowlands the road is getting straighter and after some time we travel with the top speed of those motos on the broad, unpaved road, mostly covered with fine red or white sand.
While we keep riding more than one hour I sort of expect that we reach Snuol soon. Yet it is only after 2 hours that we arrive there. Since we really ride fairly fast I seem to have misjudged the distance when we came. However, it is still early lunch time when we approach Snuol. We have a short break, drinking something, fill up the tanks and rest a few minutes. Funnily, since my bike does not have a stand anymore I look out for trees or signs to lean it against for the time being. However, I cannot see many suitable objects. I try a number of road signs and a bamboo tree but find them incapable to support my heavy moto. Only after a few minutes of pushing this bike from one object to the other I find a pile capable of supporting it.
Again, the road is in excellent conditions from Snuol all the way to Phnom Penh. We continue riding and with the paved road and less dust I feel more comfortable riding the bike fast. Not much happens while we ride through Kampong Cham province. Still, we are traveling with the top speed of those motos where the traffic permits it, which is most of the time before we reach the provincial capital. Hours go by and increasingly I feel very tired. Sometimes I have to wait for Pongro. On one occasion, only few kilometers before we reach the town I wait for about 30 minutes. When Pongro shows up I learn that his bike ran out of petrol. I check my tank and since it is only about 5 kilometers from here to the town I decide to try without refilling it. However, after about 2 kilometers I ran out, too. This is when it starts raining occasionally. It is not a big deal to get petrol, since there are small shops all along the road and most of them sell petrol.
We arrive in Kampong Cham and ride straight to the same mechanic where we had the bikes fixed on the way to Mondulkiri. The idea is to check those bikes and fix them to ensure that their state is acceptable to the shop where we got them. Not least this is a matter of getting a new stand for my bike. Initially, I am told that there are no spare parts available. Yet I ask them to check the bikes. Meanwhile I feel really tired and wonder whether I should go to the guesthouse and have at least one hour of sleep. Yet I agree with Pongro that we should better continue as soon as possible. So I go to a café opposite from the garage, while Pongro goes to get some food.
We arrived at about 2 pm. Time goes by and nothing happens. I see one of the employees at the bike shop leaving with my bike and wonder why he does it. Pongro does not show up. Then it starts raining and storming heavily for some time. Later it keeps sprinkling a bit. I keep waiting, talk to an American guy who is on his way to Sen Monorom. As it happens he has company of the moto driver who I went with many times on my last visit, not least to the hospital. So we spend some time talking with each other. The American claims he did the trip from Banlung (Rattanakiri) to Sen Monorom (Mondulkiri), which is actually considered one of the toughest in Cambodia even on moto bikes, alone and on foot in six day. He seems to be crazy enough to try it yet I am skeptical whether he actually did it. However, now he is on his way to Mondulkiri to do the trip the other way around.
After a long time Pongro shows up. He does not show much interest in how to proceed but I manage to go with him to the owner of the shop to ask what happened to the bikes. Pongro translates only reluctantly and it takes me some time to sort out that the owner found a stand somewhere and send a mechanic with the bike to fix it. However, he says this will take some time. I do not get more concrete information. It is frustrating that we have to wait hours just for a spare part after we had made such a good time. And increasingly it looks like we have to ride in the dark again. And finally I find it upsetting that the decision to bring the bike somewhere else was made without my agreement. Not least because a stand would have been readily available in Phnom Penh and I could have gone home while the shop takes care of it.
We keep waiting, now for more than two hours. Increasingly I get a sense of fever and regret that I did not go to the guesthouse to get sleep. The owner tries to comfort me, saying that the bike will be back in 30 minutes but it is not back after 30 minutes and not after one hour either. Shadows are getting longer, we sit in the garage, Pongro talks to everybody but to me and I hate the idea of riding at night. Once in a while it rains, although this is the height of the dry season. Finally, it is almost dark; the mechanic arrives with my bike. The owner proudly presents it to me. The new stand appears to be taken from a moto roller, looking pitiful and entirely incapable of supporting the weight of the bike. Despite this sad view the owner enthusiastically ensures me: ‘original, original’. I do not find this upsetting anymore but funny after all. This guy appears to really care for the satisfaction of his customers, although he failed to understand the actual need. I still find him sympathetic and he only charges me six dollars.
We leave Kampong Cham when the sun is leaving, too. We keep riding, now significantly slower due to the poor vision. Again, there is the nasty choice whether or not to open the dark visor of the helmet. In addition, after about 20 minutes it starts raining and the rain is getting stronger. We are happy enough to have jackets with us. Yet now it is really getting difficult to see anything on the road. Particular slow moving ox carts. Many cars ride without light. In addition, most vehicles are badly overloaded and in instances where head lights are working they are mostly not adjusted, so that approaching cars blind us constantly. It is impossible to open the visor in this rain, but the wet visor together with the blinding light brings the vision down close to zero.
Maybe after 30 kilometer we have a break. It is about 6:30 pm. We decide to wait for some time, hoping that either rain or traffic or both are getting weaker. We spend about half an hour under the reed roof of a shop at the roadside and than continue the ride to Phnom Penh. The rain is rather stronger than weaker. However, there are not as many vehicles on the road anymore. It takes us almost another hour to reach Phnom Penh. I do not expect the bike shop to be still open. Yet I give it a try, as I would prefer getting rid of those bikes rather today than tomorrow. We are happy and the shop is still open.
We have to wait another 30 minutes for the staff to count and check tools and spare parts. They pay attention to the bikes, too and I am prepared to explain the story with the stand. Yet I am surprised that they do not mention it. They do not object to the state of Pongro’s bike either, much to my surprise. I am told that, other than the broken battery I would have to pay for the mechanic bill, since those costs are not covered by the shop. I am happy with the prospect of being able to leave soon.
A few minutes later Pongro and I get on moto taxi and ride home without much farewell. There is no chance to take pictures while riding the bike and being tired and sometimes frustrated prevents me from doing it during our few breaks. So comes that I take only one picture the entire day.