19 Feb Unexpected stop in Chhaeb, about losing things and finding things
Jessica finally seems to feel a little bit better. It looks like she found her groove today, she pedals hard and strong. I on the other hand am quickly losing my mojo. I feel drained, my legs are hurting, even the skin on my thighs is aching. So far I have been lucky to avoid the big stomach issues in Siem Reap, today my luck is slowly running out. My guts are churning and cramping, I feel fatigued, and the muscles in my legs feel like they have molasses instead of blood pumping through their veins. Even my brain seems to be put on slow mode today.
Where I am usually last by choice to be the “sweeper” and just because I like to be taillight and like to be a motivation for Jessica, I am last today, simply because I could not go any faster even if I’d have to.
We planned on another long day of riding. The stifling heat is nothing unusual anymore, the road condition is nice and there are only a few easy rollers, but I am not feeling it.
Every few miles, I need a break and something cold to drink and to the dismay of my fellow cyclists I do stop several times, which makes for slow goings.
We stop at one small hut to buy water and bananas. Unfortunately, the older lady is trying to play us and asks for an exuberant amount of money, we decline and pull over at the next vendor for water. He states the common price for the water and coke. Then when we ask about bananas, he decides to just gift us a whole bushel…life on the road is full of surprises!
Several more coke- and tea-breaks later, we stop at another small shed for a drink. I pay for the coke, then I fiddle with the plastic bag of bananas, which is tight up on the back of my panniers. I get a few of the fruits out and hand everybody one before jumping back on the bikes…nothing unusual.
Several miles down the road, we reach the very small town Chhaeb. Since everybody is getting hungry, we find a place to eat. I look for my wallet, or better my little money pouch. It is not in my handle bar bag. It’s not in my pants pocket…actually, it is nowhere to be found. Not only do I carry money in it, I also have my credit and debit cards, as well as my drivers license and a few other things in it. Aware, that my head isn’t screwed on right today, I come to the conclusion, that I must have lost it or forgotten it at the last place to buy a coke…10 miles back.
I should have known better and Ron has told me numerous times before to separate the money from the cards. I really don’t know why I haven’t done that yet. Maybe, because sometimes I am a little bit too optimistic and think nothing bad is ever going to happen. After all I have left/lost it a couple of times before on this trip and I was always lucky enough to get it back. Somehow, I do not feel so lucky today and neither does Ron. He quickly takes off all his panniers, jumps back on his bike and races back to the small store.
The rest of us set up our chairs by the bikes, right in front of the place we were going to get food from. Since I feel pretty guilty having made Ron ride the extra miles (20 total), I have lost my appetite. Randy and Jessica are waiting for Ron to return as well. So we all just sit and wait, while people pass us by. Eventually a girl from the food stall across the road comes over to chat with us and to let us know, that she has food, rice, and eggs for sale, once we get hungry.
About two hours later, Ron reappears. Tired, disappointed and somewhat angry at the situation, he shakes his head. Apparently nobody has seen the pouch. He even tried to convey that he did not care about the money, all he wants are the cards and IDs. Still nobody came forward.
We know, we have to get into contact with our bank as soon as possible. Yet, we are pretty confident, that finding a place with internet in this remote little town would pretty much be impossible. Should we hail another ride to the next town? Unfortunately, it is getting late. We decide to grab a bite to eat so we could think a little bit clearer and have some very dry rice and fried egg at the food stall across the road. The girl speaks a little bit of very broken English. As we try to hail down a minivan across the road, she lets us know, that there are no more rides to be had today. Since our map shows no guesthouse in town, we ask her whether she knows of a place. Luckily she does and after we are done eating, she leads us to it.
It looks like a little farm in the middle of town. Geese, chicken and dogs are scurrying over the courtyard. She talks to the owner and tells us the price. We look at the rooms; they are little, dark, cabin-looking rooms with dirt floors. The walls are thin and we can see daylight through some of the wooden slats. There are no glass windows, just a set of curtains and wooden shutters keep mosquitoes at bay. Neither the lights nor the fans are working at the moment…supposedly, they’d be turned on later. The shared bathroom, aka squat toilet and rainwater-bucket-shower, are located behind the building; they come complete with a humongous, gnarly looking spider. At least the beds seem semi-clean.
We stow away our gear in the rooms, set up our mosquito nets over the beds, while Randy sets up his entire tent on top of his bed. Then we try to get a hold of our bank. We finally get to try out our new SIM card as an internet hot spot to Skype the office. While being on hold for what seems an eternity, I have to listen to all the Christmas-music-classics, which seem so utterly out of place at the moment. Once I finally get to talk to a real person it is just a matter of answering a lot of questions, before my cards are canceled. The new ones will be mailed to our home…not sure how we’ll get them. At last, the bank was able to confirm, that nothing extra has been charged on my cards, which is a huge relieve.
Since the fans are still not working in the rooms and the fresh breeze outside feels much better, we grab our chairs, a hammock and set up camp in front of our rooms. We buy a couple of beers from a street vendor just outside the gate before relaxing in the courtyard. As it is getting dark–just around six o’clock–the family starts up the very loud compressor and one of the girls comes running over, sneaks into one of our rooms and turns on the lights and fans…apparently, there is no electric during the night, the only power source comes from the compressor. To hide the noise of the loud machine, the house owners sit on their front porch, where most of their daily actives take place, and turn on their TV on super loud.
We sit and chat and listen to music. Eventually a pick up truck pulls up and we meet our room neighbours, a bunch of Cambodian soldiers. They look like they already came from a party, but are ready to keep partying and invite us to join them to go dancing at some night club a couple of miles away. Although it sounds like great fun, we are not in the mood to get in a car with a bunch of drunk young guys, and stay.
Then 21:00 rolls around, the owners shut down their super-loud TV and most of their lights. A shadow walks over to the compressor and within a moment it is silent around us. Our couple of lights go dim and we are sitting in the dark.
There are still many Cambodian villages where a lot of houses do not have electric, running water or plumbing…we are apparently in one of them.
Most people these villages only run a couple of lights, fans, and the family TV either on compressors or on car batteries. There are usually no refridgaretor, things are kept cool in huge coolers and ice is bought in big chunks almost daily and laundry is done by hand. The batteries seem to last for a couple of days, then they are taken to a local guy with electricity to get recharged for a small fee. It is not an easy life in rural Cambodia.
We are not too bothered by the situation and just gather our headlights and enjoy the evening with a couple of beers in our hands and mosquito coils around our feet before climbing under our mosquito nets for the night.
It’s a short night. Besides the dogs and geese making a ruckus, we listen to our neighbours coming home and trying to cook in the outside kitchen next to our room. Then the family of the house gets up around 4:00 to start preparing meals…yes, Cambodians are early risers.
We finally get up and start making coffee. While we sit ouside, Jessica is gathering her belongings to pack up. When she comes back out she asks: “Did you guys already cancel your cards?” And holds up a very familiar looking gray pouch.
Apparently, my money pouch was stuck in her bungy-net, which fastens her dry-bag and mat to her back panniers. Somehow, I must have clamped it under there absent-minded, while fidgeting with the plastic bag of bananas when we took a break the day before.
Well, like before I am lucky again, we just found out about my luck a little to late. At last, I finally separate my cancelled cards and IDs from the money and off we go.