Tuesday, March 4, 2014

25. The end of the road, for now!

The BMW securely stored: Friends of mine like to refer to it as my "steely-eyed girlfriend". 

My fantastic, five-months trip comes to a close, the motorcycle is safely stored with friends in their 'living-room' in Phnom Penh. 

I rode about 15,300 kilometers (9,500 miles) through Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. I saw fantastic landscapes, big and small exotic animals, and many accidents. I met some great and fascinating people who I will miss, and some who were downright weird, or scary (I won't miss those!).

The road conditions ranged from excellent to dismal, they were -in retrospect- all great adventures and experiences. From time to time the BMW took a heavy beating and I felt truly sorry for the motorcycle, but it did the job and never let me down. It was a great pleasure to ride this bike in such divers conditions. (I wish, though, that it wouldn't attract so much attention.)

A special 'salute' is in order for the tires I selected for this trip, the CONTINENTAL TKC80. This is an excellent (!) tire! Many people told me that they would wear out prematurely (Quote: "They will be bald before you have 4000 miles on them!"(End of quote) Bogus!) since about 70% of my riding was on asphalt or other pavement. The washable K&N airfilter is also an excellent, and necessary piece of equipment for a ride in such dusty conditions. The Thailand GPS data for my GARMIN/BMW Navigator produced by the Thai provider ESRI is excellent (equal to the GARMIN U.S. map, for example), the Laos and Cambodia data is sketchy so say the least.

I know by now also what I DIDN'T BRING and what would be essential, in case it would be needed!

Some of the equipment I brought with me was unnecessary (especially the heavy Packsafe was entirely useless), my 'medicine cabinet' was never used, medicine is readily available everywhere on the trip. Great enjoyment I got out of my Daytona Transopen GTX Enduro boots, although a shoemaker needed to repair them after my foot got trapped under the fallen bike. My riding jacket needs mentioning: The REVIT Airwave jacket which is transparent to airflow is excellent. It needed to get washed three times on the trip and dries over night. 

All TOURATECH equipment, from the aluminum side panniers (one of the latches miraculously "fixed" itself on this trip), to the side pouches mounted to the crash-bars, the Lexan headlight protector (which doubled as a Cambodia light cutout device for daytime riding!), the aluminium oil-cooler guard served their purpose very well.

Another piece of equipment is worth mentioning: It was caged in one of the TOURATECH panniers, bounced around on the bad roads, suffered through high humidity, or even rain (in the first part of the trip before the dry season fully kicked in) and still functions very well without complains: My HP 8440 laptop. Thanks!

I am thankful that I had the opportunity to experience so many amazing things.

To be continued!

I invite you to come back to this blog in mid- December 2014!

Until then: 
Safe riding, good luck, good health and so long. See you!

24. Last impressions from Phnom Penh

My time here in Cambodia comes to a close. Here are some last impressions of the street life in the city which some travel guide called in a recent publication a "sleepy metropolis". Well, the folks who bought the book will be in for a surprise. 

I had a great time travelling in this country. Despite the difficult political situation, the lack of a good road system, the lack of other important infrastructure such as medical care (and the lack of availability of tires for my motorcycle!), my time here was filled with the enjoyment of great landscape, the beautiful, mighty Mekhong river (The 'battery' of Asia!), a great French architecture heritage and the amazing Khmer temples, conservative, shy, yet very friendly local people who always wanted to help (not as xenophobic as the Thais!), and some new Western friends whose work here in the country I admire. 

I will be back soon.

Defunct ASEAN Universitry. I don't think I will apply for a teaching position here.

Teachers and students in a private school.

The Durian vendor.

It is not the newest model, but a Rolls is a Rolls. Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) at O'Roussey market.

"Professeur agrege."

Sisowath Quai and Tonle Sap river.

An old lady invited me to sit with her and her two kitties for a moment. She 'lives' in a 2.00 m x 0.60 m covered area at the gates of Wat Ounalom, Preah Ang Eng St. 

Let me just load this 200 lbs. bag of gourds and then we are ready to go!

Ground clearance is still OK.
Travelling with such an overloaded vehicle on SMOOTH roads would be already a challenge. Now  add in the deep potholes and rocks. 

Western style toilets are still uncommon. Most toilets in the country style are old French.

Two girls at the KIZUNA Festival at the Cambodia-Japan Cooperation Center (CJCC) at the Royal University Phnom Penh. All dressed up "Japan-style".

Cool hat.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Sonja Kill Memorial Hospital

23. Kampot Scenes 

Sea salt, fishing boats and relaxed rural beauty

One evening I hired a boat for a sunset cruise up the river. One passes by the bamboo huts of the guesthouses, sometimes build into the river on stilts, and lots of untouched banana trees and coconut forest. These guesthouses along the river all advertise that they have a "pool", meaning people can swim in the river. Although the water looks OK on superficial inspection, and no industrial settlement upstream do exists, I am typically careful with things like that. I rather stay in the boat. Swimming in the river in town is not recommended because of underwater obstructions.

Guesthouses upstream from Kampot

Fishermen going towards the coast
 At around 5 p.m. many small fishing boats travel down south to the mouth of the Preaek Tuek Chhu river and the Gulf of Thailand to spend the night on sea. These small ones are typically manned with two people, one who takes care of the nets, the other the captain, machinist and navigator.

The railroad bridge

Sweet doggy at my guesthouse, one of five. They play all day in the sand of the little private beach. What a tough life.

In town one can also see some larger fishing vessels. They are manned with 5 to 8 people, and have a large engine. After the ice and the fuel is loaded they are heading out. They leave much earlier in the day than the smaller boats I saw on the river, meaning they must travel farther out to sea.

The little sleepy town has four bridges: The old iron bridge, the new concrete bridge, the railway bridge and this one below, which connects the mainland to Fish Island, the location of Kampot sea salt production.

Colorful Wat on Fish Island.

Sea salt drying pans. One can see the "Fleur de Sel" on the left edge of the photograph. The mountains in the back are already deep into Vietnam.

Fleur de Sel.

Salt pan and barn.
The sea salt here is coarse and wet. It is a straight forward process of hand-scarping and collecting the dried salt from the basin ("pan"). The salt is stored in long wooden barns. The entire southern half of Fish Island is covered with the salt farms.

Farmer in his lotus pond.

Sea salt from Kampot

The roads around here are unpaved.

Salt storage barns.

Images below: Water buffaloes cross the road often all across the country. They are gentle, big creatures with a nice face, the proud possession of the farmers. They move rather slow, but one cannot be completely sure. Sometimes they seem to be in a hurry and start running unexpectedly - towards the other side, or towards you. Since this is a massive animal, the less massive motorcyclists has to give them the right of way.

Below is a young calf. It was noisy, seemingly complaining about something, a sound I haven't heard before. I waited until I was sure that it wouldn't start to run across.

This is how it is done: A few 2x4's under the rear seats of the mini-bus, a few ropes and the journey can begin.

This is my plant: The "Traveler's Palm", actually not a palm tree exactly, but in the family of the Bird of Paradise plants.

The last airplane flying into Kampot, a C-47, the military version of a common Douglas DC-3 of Cambodia Air Commercial was shot down on approach by the Khmer Rouge in October 1972. The aircraft was operating a passenger flight, all nine people on board were killed. Since then, the old runway is left to its own devices, the brush slowly engulfs the facility. I was told that at night on weekends it is used as a drag strip for the souped-up scooters of the younger population.

Old runway at Kampot airport

Restored row of colonial shophouses, now B&B "The Columns".

Kampot bus station.

The French engineers and their fascination with cast-in-place concrete structures.

Communal sport stadium Kampot.

Very close to Kampot on the road to Bokor Hill Station and Sihanoukville one passes by a brand-new, clean and appealing hospital compound. There are few health centers in and around town, and the referral hospital in Kampot, but the place to go for emergency and other care is the "Sonja Kill Memorial Hospital". There are no other facilities of that kind which provide international-standard medical care such as this clinic. Especially in light of the child mortality rate in Cambodia (about 10 of 100 children don't reach the age of 9 years.) Because of the difficult medical infrastructure in this part of the world it is also good if one doesn't have an accident in this area, on motorcycles, or otherwise.

Sonja Kill memorial Hospital Kampot

The hospital is named after the daughter of a husband and wife physician team from Germany, who died at an early age in a traffic accident. Dr. and Mrs. Kill's hospital foundation started with an initial, privately funded budget provided by the Kill family of 16 million Euros, yet more funds are needed especially to enlarge pediatric care.

The hospital is managed by Hope Worldwide, a medical charity out of Philadelphia. I will visit the hospital when I return in December.