‘Hello! Hello! Hello!’
These words rang in my ear every day as we passed hordes of beautiful kids standing by the roadside, arms outstretched to greet us…
The group set an exceedingly fast pace for what seemed like a new adventure for some. Not designed as a competitive experience the enthusiasm to ‘hit the road’ was undaunting.
A typical day ran thus:
Up at 6am, breakfast of Omelettes (and more omelettes) and ready to depart at 7am. After an 18km sector the magic orange bus would whip past us and pull up ahead amidst cheers and woo-hoos. After riding in such humidity, the cold sliced watermelon and dragonfruit was divine. An esky of chilled water came out and we refilled our waterbottles.
This was the time to adjust the bikes, apply sunscreen, share the experience of the last sector. The weather generally held out but the heat was blistering and knocked us for six. Only once did we receive a downpour that hit with frightening ferocity. I couldn’t imagine being on the road during that.
Our preplanned lunch stops were always tasty Cambodian fare although my hunger had totally dissipated during the heat. This was to continue all week as a handy 6kg fell off my body!
Cycling sectors of 96km, 80km, 50km, 30km and 70km through villages, along highways, across rickety bridges, the pace was consistent.
It was a good time to be vegetarian. Stomach-turning sights along the way included (sorry) two drowsy sun-baked pigs strapped belly up to a tiny moped and fifty or so flapping skinny chickens strung by their legs to a bike. It’s not unusual to experience the damning food chain as explicitly as this every day.
On a lighter note, I can’t remember a bad word or happier bunch of people to have cheered us on our way.
A day before the ride set off we arrived in Svay Rieng Province in the extreme south-east. The Childfund office is located here and we were introduced to Sapir and his colleagues who were to guide us through the important work being done and where our hard-earned funds were going to.
Driving through the dirt roads and beautiful countryside en route to the school was a highlight of the trip. We had arrived at the good time of year to experience the intense green of the rice fields. It was imperative to get out for a short while and delicately make our way on foot between the paddies as local farmers and oxen ploughed the brown-slurred water.
The way the farmers had beautifully bound the grass stems ready for planting caught my eye.
We entered a school classroom where our Childfund group sat down next to the children. Sapir talked us through the project details before we got to know some of the children as they read to us. Wonderful moments.
Outside in the searing heat the foundation for our new school was well under way. Some of the Childfund participants even laid a few bricks.
In another classroom we presented our gifts to pupils who so endeared themselves to us when standing up and telling their names and interests. We also stood up and presented our name, birthplace and home.
Over the last couple of days we rode from our hotel in Siem Reap to the Angkor Wat complex. Although a shorter sector, the heat came into play. Unfortunately for us, today was a public holiday in Cambodia and we were siphoned into queues waiting to pass through the Angkor Thom gateway. The four enormous faces of Buddha and Kings looked on. I’ve never seen so much traffic here.
We rode a short distance to the Bayon Temple – an amazing 54 tower construction representing the 54 provinces of Cambodia. Multiple doorways and cool chambers gave relief from the heat. To enjoy the Angkor complex is to listen to stories of it’s construction around 1117 – a time when Cambodia’s empire was at it’s height.
Further along we entered Ta Prohm – the famous ‘Jungle Temple’ with massive tree roots prising open the boulders and threatening to engulf everything. We had ridden along a jungle trail to reach Ta Prohm and the cool forest air was exhilarating.
The final day was also one of the highlights. A 70km round trip to Banteay Sreay temple passing through villages and again children calling out to greet us, seemingly out of the woodwork. The riding was hot and at times strenuous but as everyone had discovered, riding with the ‘pack’ saved lots of energy and was fun. Those of us who stopped to take photographs faced a long lonely ride to catch up to the group. Occasionally front runners would overstep the mark and find themselves a little too far ahead after missing the stop – much to the delight of the slower riders.
Banteay Sreay is an exquisitely carved temple – actually older than the main Angkor temple. Cambodians believe it is the woman’s touch that has given the temple it’s beauty. Easy to understand.
So, no disasters, no-one fell, only one or two punctures.
A brilliant idea for a group adventure. The restaurant food was nearly always great, but most of all, the group dynamic simply worked and we will miss each other… until our get together in Sydney three months from now! I think we have started something good.
Thanks to Belinda at Inspired Adventures, Catherine from Childfund and all the participants: Bobbie, Zita, Karin, Teria, Tom, Adrian, David, Peter and Jake, Kirsten, Elyshia, Will and Adam