Bike Ben's Blog

Laos

Until next time…

Photos from the exhibition in Phnom Penh.

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Two months to the day since I rolled those last kilometers into Phnom Penh, I have had quite some time to digest the incredible experiences of my epic cycling adventure. It’s hard to put such a journey into words as each and every day was so different from the previous one, the terrain, the weather, the people, often the food. It’s hard to summarise such a journey, in fact, I don’t think I need to! I think what will stay with me the longest is just how incredibly similar we humans are, everywhere, what we don’t know about each other we are scared of, this is the cause of so much misunderstanding. Traveling gives us the perfect opportunity to know what we don’t have to be scared of. I’m often asked how it felt to arrive, to reach  my goal. As I cycled those narrow and busy roads through the buffalo lined, rice paddies and on to my destination I guess I felt mostly sadness that the adventure was over, no massive sense of achievement, just the end of the road….till next time at least.
I hope that you have been able to share at least a portion of the joy that this trip has brought me, certainly the comments I have received from so many have helped keep me going. I have loved hearing from you all! Let the next next adventures begin….


Thanks to your generous donations, around NZ$10,000 was raised. It’s not too late to DONATE to The Cambodia Trust

Waving “byebye”

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I struggle to concentrate on the road as small voices call from every direction, “bye bye”, “sabaidee” or as I reach into Cambodia “hello, bye bye”. I try to wave to each one like the queen on parade (or King maybe). Sometimes I have to strain my eyes to find the little voice coming from a tree, behind a bush or on top of a buffalo. They are anywhere and everywhere. Sometimes only a small hand can be seen above the window sill as the little munchkin peeks through the cracks in the wall boards. Where this enthusiasm comes from, I don’t know. The parents of the smallest children hold their hands to make them wave as I whizz past. It sure makes a passing cyclist feel welcome, though for me I have found it hard to get beyond this and really interact with the people, I feel too different or perhaps to alien to them. Some kids run in fright at the sight of such a hairy man on a bicycle, only to wave from a safe distance. Those adults who do speak English are not easy to engage and those that don’t quickly give up with the sign language or other means of communication. For me, SE Asia has been an incredibly easy place to be, almost to easy with nicely spaced guest houses and endlessly available food and drinks. I’m happy to have had company for most of my time here as it makes life as an observer more enjoyable. I think years of tourism have meant that all foreigners are seen just as rich people who can afford to pay for whatever. To some extent this is true, though with an interest in the people and places far beyond this, I will leave a little sad that I wasn’t able to find a door leading very far into their lives. This certainly is partly my fault as I have not made a huge effort to try to stay with them as I have done elsewhere in the past. But my confidence to do so usually steams from a feeling of mutual interest which I have not felt here. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that travel is not a major part of life and culture, so understanding what I am doing and why I am doing it is very difficult for them to understand.
With just a couple of days to go before I reach Phnom Penh, I start to feel the pinch of the end of an amazing adventure, my thoughts start to gather as I try to put my feelings into words.

 

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A Lucky Brake

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My hands desperately reach for the brakes, I pull hard but it’s too late, I swerve right but my left handlebar makes contact followed soon after by me as I hit the back of the vehicle hard. I quickly come to a complete stop, my main concern is my bike at this point. One of the j-bars hangs by the handlebar tape, the mirror is gone. In a bit of shock I speak to the driver before getting off the road. I find the broken mirror on the ground some meters away.
The tail light on the truck is smashed, I point it out to the driver and try to figure out how much I should pay him. 500 baht? Not enough? Hmmm, ok, $20? No, he indicates 3000 baht. Finally we settle on $40 and 500 baht. Only then does the driver point out blood on my arm and leg. It’s nothing major, I realise how lucky I am, could have been worse.
Racing across Thailand at about 25km/h, I look down for a second as a pick-up truck pulls in and stops in front of me, a perfect recipe for disaster.
With less than 2 weeks of cycling left to reach Phnom Penh, I start to feel that I’m reaching the end of this epic journey and the realities of normal life creeping back into my consciousness. But there are still 1000 km of road ahead which I will enjoy every minute of!

Thank you to those that have already donated to the Cambodia Trust, those who would still like to, please click on the link below.


Support a great cause: DONATE NOW to The Cambodia Trust

Lizards and Ladybugs

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“Falang, dey lib dis howd…” My brain works overtime, falang means foreigner so that would translate to be: “Foreigners, they live this house.”
The old mans bare pot belly wobbles as we walk slowly in the direction his stubby first finger points. My mission to find the home of a couple who invited me to stay some days earlier has been successful, but they are not home.
An hour or so earlier after a 115 km day I set off the centre of Vientiane to see what I could make of the poorly hand drawn map in my notebook. It wasn’t long before I was lost, I had all but given up when a building that could only be of Soviet origin appear, as the Russian Embassy was THE landmark to find on my map, I circled to building to find confirmation. Sure enough this huge monstrosity, perhaps the biggest embassy I have every seen (apart from the US consulate in Istanbul) was, in fact, the Russian Embassy. Right, where to now? An ex-pat couple out with the dog walked me the right road, just 150 m to go according to the map, perfect. Not so easy, I quickly realise that the 3 building on my diagram are in fact 3 of at least 100 house in the street. By now the last light has faded, I must try to call. A girl prepares something on a small wooden table by the roadside, I stop and ask (or point in such a manner) if she’s colouring her hair, no, stupid question, she’s bleaching her skin. I ask after foreigners, a close examination of my map later and a phone appears, the number is called but no answer. I search myself some more, a motorbike appears next to me and the boy indicates I should go back with him.
The pot bellied man, along with a swarm of kids, appears explaining how he’s studied English for 25 years, but has all but forgotten it. I understand something anyway. As I wait, they call the number again and again, a girl tries to explain with less than 5 words of English that her middle aged friend is single if I’m interested? I kindly decline. Finally, I’m taken to another place where a man speaks to me in good English explaining where I should find them, we walk in that direction.
Soon after, we arrive at the house which I thought was it 2 hours before, but wasn’t sure. To my disappointment noones’ home. I thank the entire street of locals for all their help and bike back towards town. As my eyes become heavy after a long day, I have a huge grin on my face just thinking about how much fun such a small thing, like finding a house, can b
e.

The photos are in a random order because of a virus I got on my USB key in Thailand.


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Luscious Laos

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The sound of loud rock music fills my ears, I round the bend and to my surprise find a band practicing loudly in a small bamboo hut near the road. Loudspeaker, guitars, drums, keyboards and the band are all squeezed into the tiny room, in this very primitive village, it’s quite a sight, especially before 8 in the morning!
As always, the children line the streets as we pass through every village to wave and shout "bye…bye…bye", the kids here are one step more enthusiastic than the Vietnamese children, they can spot a foreigner at 200 m from before they can walk, and begin frantically waving when I still need binoculars to see them. It is a wonderful habit and sure make it fun to roll through this beautiful country.
Two days of boat rides took us from the dusty roads of the north to Luang Prabang where you could happily indulge in all the comforts of home and eat like a king from the cuisine of almost any country (for quite a price I might add). The bike was calling louder than the beautiful baguettes on the street corner so it was time to again pack my bags and head for the final hills of the journey, and quite some hills they were too! Never ending it seemed, but after 10 km hanging onto the back of a truck, the monotony of 6 km/h disappeared as I hung on for dear life trying to avoid potholes and the roadside as we cruised uphill. Sharp corners would put me into the ditch so I had to let go and pedal frantically to regain my hand hold on the truck. With a soar arm and a smile I gave the driver a toot on my air horn (purchased in China, and the best thing since sliced bread) and a wave and set about pushing myself to make it up the last km’s to the town ahead.


Support a great cause: DONATE NOW to The Cambodia Trust

Supporting A Great Cause: The Cambodia Trust

Click on arrow on the right to see the next photo. All photos care of Cambodia Trust, all rights reserved.

It has been my intention to support a charity with this trip since the beginning, it has taken me this long, and extensive help from my friend in Phenom Penh to find the Cambodia Trust. This organisation fits my philosophies and motivations perfectly and I look forward to seeing how I can be involved with some of their projects into the future. Their work is encouraging because they not only give but also train locals which empowers them to continue their amazing work well into the future, with or without the support of the organisation. Their work coincides perfectly with my own in the medical field and my long-term interest in prosthetics and support for the disabled.

My trip has so far taken me from Budapest along the Danube to Serbia and on to Bulgaria. I then pedaled east through Greece to Turkey and on to Iran. I then took a short flight over Pakistan to India where I have just completed 2 months of tough cycling in the high Himalayas. I’m now 10 kg lighter and fit as a trout. Ready to move on to central China and then on to Vietnam, Laos and finally Cambodia. I have so far covered 6,000 km and plan to cycle 4,000 more before reaching Phenom Pen.

My trip will cover a total of at least 10,000 km through 11 countries and at least 100,000 m of mountain climbing. I have passed through areas speaking 15 languages and 8 religions. I will take more than 10,000 photographs and shake hands with an estimated 2000 people. I will drink more than 500 litres of water and just 6 inner tubes. My pedals will rotate more than 10 million times and I will replace my brake pads at least 3 times. Burning about 5,000 calories each day, I will churn through a whopping 1,250,000 calories during the 7 months on the road.

So, with all that in mind, please read more about Cambodia Trust and donate what you can, however big or small your donation is.

Thank you so much for your generous support!

Bike Ben

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