Black coffee in a clear glass cup to start the day.
Morning in Phnom Penh, I showered in the comfort of relatively warm water, re-rolled and re-packed the contents of my bag and checked out of my hotel. Outdoors, in the street-side restaurant shade, I drank more coffee and awaited the arrival of the minibus to Siem Reap.
The night before, my friend Aaron joined me to travel this leg together. After being a solo traveler, his company has been refreshing. Over an outdoor dinner on the riverside that consisted of fish “amok” (coconut milk-based curry) and fresh vegetables, steamed rice and Pimm’s, I heard of his travels and stories: Muay Thai kickboxing training in northern Thailand, working on a farm in Australia and learning to surf were pieces of his travel fabric.
Now he would join me for Angkor Wat and a week-long, non-spa-tier yoga retreat on the outskirts of Siem Reap.
The minibus left Phnom Penh at 2pm with 11 passengers and the driver. The road was paved as we headed north, and I lost myself in thought as I watched the green landscape of rice fields and small villages speed by through the window frame. Cambodian music played softly over the radio — a fitting soundtrack for the ride.
Within the hour, paved roads turned to dirt and gravel, and the smooth ride was nearer to a 4-wheel-drive experience. Bulldozers criss-crossed the road, and mental recalculations quickly ratcheted up the hours to our estimated arrival. “At this pace, we won’t get there until tomorrow,” said Aaron. But our spirits never dipped. Really, how could they?
As I switched my gaze back to the side window, I saw another minibus tending to a flat tire and I wondered if we would experience the same fate. More bumping along …. It was hard to resist the thought, and I knew I shouldn’t put it out there, but the chances were pretty good: “What are the odds we blow a tire?” I said to Aaron.
After about an hour of being tossed back and forth, we emerged onto good paved road. There were fuel stops and bathroom breaks and one excellent food stall stop for dinner about five hours into the trip — hot soup noodles and other items to choose from, like crickets and beetles and things I was more interested in taking pictures of than taking hold of…
Back on the road, the sun had gone down and stars were beginning to light the night sky when the irregular thud-thud-thud rumbled beneath us — the back left tire had blown. For the next hour or more, all passengers tried to help by holding flashlights and watching for traffic as the driver expertly managed to work the jack and change our shredded tire.
A Cambodian man talked to us about the work he does in agricultural
planning in Siem Reap, and in the next breath he was joking about the movie Kung Fu Panda. Two French women smoked cigarettes, and local men passed tools to the driver like a AAA OR.
Finally road-ready, we piled into the crowded minibus. Almost in unison, everyone began swatting and slapping at the infestation of bugs that had been drawn to the dome light through the wide open sliding door. None of us could well see what they were, but the best solution was to open the windows and get moving to blow out the flying visitors.
We reached our destination and all thanked our hero bus driver for his good skills and good nature. This day was nothing but a great day.