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There but for the grace of God

Posted August 5th, 2008

dsc_3144.jpg We’d only been at the Stung Meanchey garbage dump on the outskirts of Phnom Penh a few seconds and already the first kids were running towards our truck and its load of fresh bread, oranges, apples and bananas.

Not much to be excited about from most people’s perspective but imagine spending day after day sifting through bags of rubbish with the sun on your head and nothing but the scent of rot and fires all around. And then imagine that you were born into this situation and you had never been outside the dump and its immediate community.

If you were a very lucky child you might be taken under the wing of a local charity and given a bit of schooling. But most likely the word “education” would mean learning how to find tin cans, plastics and wire that could be sold to support the family. Not much of a childhood and a situation where a bit of fruit just might seem like a slice of heaven. (more…)

Help us to help them

Posted August 2nd, 2008

Kids of Steung MeancheyWe are not often moved to make a charitable appeal but here in Phnom Penh and Cambodia in general it’s hard to avoid the poverty. This is a very poor country, hit by much recent tragedy, war and genocide. Despite this, the people are warm and welcoming and have quickly found a place in our hearts.At the bottom of the heap in Cambodian society are the kids who live and work in the Phnom Penh garbage dump, Stung Meanchey. Some of these kids are only a few years old. They and their families spend their days sifting through the rubbish, including some medical waste, to try and make a few cents to live on. They are malnourished, some to the point of starvation. They are sick. They need help.

On Tuesday August 5th, we are going out with an established group that brings fresh bread and fruit and free basic medical care to these kids. They feed 3 children for a dollar. We will be donating some of our own money and would be thrilled if you would like to donate too. We will personally be going to the market, buying and distributing the food. After the trip, we will return with photographs to show you where your money went.

Please, even if it’s just $5 U.S. dollars. That will give 15 kids a decent meal, a small bit of joy in a very sad life. If you’d like to donate, the best way to do this would be by sending money to our Paypal account and if you send us a message through the site or to our email then we will tell you how to do this.

We will take out the equivalent of everything we receive in U.S. dollars and use it to buy food on Tuesday. If you want to know more about the group we are going with, you can read about it here. The picture on this post comes from that site.Even if the money does not arrive with us by Tuesday, if you tell us you have sent it we will take you at your word and use whatever is ‘in the post’ to buy food for these kids.

Putting in the miles

Posted August 1st, 2008

139km Chamkar Luong to Phnom Penh

Another day, another long haul on the bikes. We aren’t sure where we’re getting all our energy from lately but we seem to be able to put in the kilometers and still have enough get-up-and-go to walk around in the evenings. Maybe it’s all the flat terrain or maybe it was just the desire to be somewhere interesting after looking at the outside of a dilapidated guesthouse some way from Phnom Penh. We probably could have gotten a room there for $5 U.S. but instead we pushed on into the capital.

Once settled, we treated ourselves to a supper of that old British favourite Bangers & Mash for Andrew and a hamburger and fries for Friedel. This is the first time in our two year journey that we really find ourselves craving home comfort food and it’s killing our budget. A meal in a restaurant usually runs us $13 U.S. dollars. We don’t know why always $13 U.S. but that’s the figure we seem to keep coming up with. It’s not a lot compared with home but when you’re trying to travel on the cheap it’s more than enough and that’s just one meal a day. (more…)

Just a little crazy

Posted July 31st, 2008

95km Sihanoukville to Chamkar Luong

“Don’t you want to take the bus?”

The receptionist at the hotel couldn’t quite understand why we would want to go to Phnom Penh by bicycle. Neither could the customers at the small restaurant where we ate breakfast.

“Where you go?” asked one woman in broken English when we rolled up our bicycles and sat down for a morning meal of sliced pork over rice and iced coffee. When we replied that we were going to the capital, a little over 200km away, everyone sitting at the outdoor tables shook their heads in surprise and some tutted and whispered to the people next to them.

In most countries of the world it seems the locals think us at least a little crazy for wanting to travel long distances by bicycle. Some clearly think we’re certifiable, ready to be hauled off by the men in white coats. We’re used to it now and find it amusing that this very simple concept is so foreign to so many people.

After breakfast we tackled the hills leading out of Sihanoukville – the only real climbs we’ve seen so far in Cambodia – and soon we were heading north on Route 4, a road built by the Americans that’s in fantastic shape. We were a bit nervous about this stretch of the trip because we’d heard that traffic was terrible with plenty of careless driving but maybe the rainy season has kept the vehicles away. We had the road largely to ourselves and the few vehicles that did pass us slowed down and gave us plenty of room as they went by.

We were warmly welcomed in the gambling den of a small town, where we ate a repeat meal of breakfast and watched as the men and women at the packed tables around us bet money over cards.

With lunch finished and our worries about traffic soothed, the next question in our minds was where to sleep. Unlike most roads in Cambodia, this one was strangely lacking in towns and we weren’t sure of finding a guesthouse within a day’s ride. We didn’t even know if the empty landscape would contain a temple where we could ask the monks for a place for the night. We were tempted by a deserted rest stop with covered picnic areas and toilets but decided it left us a bit more exposed than we like. And then, just a few kilometers on, we were surprised to see signs for bungalows. For $10 U.S. we were soon installed in our own mini house with a large bed and a balcony overlooking the surrounding countryside.

When we examined the menu in the attached restaurant we were glad we’d bothered to carry our stove and a few basic foods like noodles and sauce packets around with us because the prices were outrageous and then, just as we were staring in disbelief at prices of $5 U.S. for a basic dish, the waiter came and replaced the menu we were holding with another one. The new menu had all the same foods as the old one but now main dishes were going for $6.50 U.S. each. When you think that we ate an a nice Sihanoukville restaurant for just $13 U.S. including three beers, two main courses and two banana splits for desert and we can usually eat a filling street meal for maybe $4 U.S. total for two including beer you’ll see why these prices were way out of line. No matter for us. We slipped across the street, bought some eggs and fresh herbs and managed to cover supper and breakfast for just a couple dollars.

Monsoon Cycling

Posted July 28th, 2008

105km Kampot to Sihanoukville

Riding in a rain ponchoIt rained in the morning as we were packing our bags. It rained as we dashed to the supermarket to buy a fetching yellow rain poncho (really just a plastic garbage bag with head and arm holes). It rained as we crossed the bridge out of Kampot and past the first fishing villages along the Cambodian coastline. And then, just like the hotel manager predicted, the storm seemed to rain itself out by the middle of the morning. “It’s going to stop by 11am,” he’d said confidently, looking at the sky as we were loading up our bikes. “Can we get a guarantee on that?” we asked before he launched into a complex explanation of cloud formations and wind direction.

What he forgot to tell us was that the rain would soon start up again and keep going through the afternoon and into the night. We got a brief reprieve when we stopped for lunch and then the dark clouds rolled back in, bringing with them a headwind that turned our plastic-bag ponchos into rattling wind-catchers. (more…)