Wed 28 Nov
Tonight is one of the most auspicious days of the Khmer year, Moon Day, when families have a special gathering at midnight, offerings are floated along the river, and most years the water festival is celebrated. Unfortunately, the moon is covered by thin cloud, so is not shining in its full glory, but beautifully lit, by candles, are lotus flower offerings gently and gracefully floating along the river. As we walked back from dinner, it only.seemed as though tourists were about, but somewhere locals must have been placing and lighting their offerings. This is similar to what I remember of this day last year. On every bridge, there were many women, who have appeared today selling the ready made offerings, how lucrative, I do not know. At least everything they use is organic, so won't cause too many environmental problems. However, everything else is thrown away to lie and rot, or not depending on its composition, the offerings are many centuries old and the only choice then was to use natural things. I was very pleased to read on BBC World the other day that India has completely banned the use of plastic bags, another nation that lived by plastic, hopefully the UK and Cambodia will soon follow suit. Plastic is very new here, and sadly not too many people appear to be aware of the long term problems it poses when needing to be discarded.
Earlier today I read through last week's blog and was shocked to see every time I had written the word 'b****' when referring Dani's dog, other than the first letter the rest had been deleted and asterisks replaced them! When did that happen, and who is censoring what I write?
This morning was one for practising the cycling, a ride to Tonle Sap, round the bottom of Phnom Kraorm, back to Grace House via the red road and then a repeat before cycling home. A distance of about 30km, I think. Home a delightful shade of orange, with orange hair and eyebrows, I do wonder if I'll ever get clean again.
This afternoon, Phearom came and collected me on her moto to take me around Phsar Leu, the local market, I've never been too confident about going in there myself. As it was afternoon, it wasn't too busy, but it was till difficult walking about, as there are no limits as to where motos and vehicles can go, so as normal, forever on ones guard.
Thursday was supposed to be a serious day of training, but when asked to go out for the day I changed my mind, but did worry that I had made the wrong decision! This time in a tuk with Alan, Alison and Tom accompanied by Alan, Bridget, Phearom, Sana, dani and her husband Chroung in the land rover we visited Beng Melea. A very pleasant day wandering up, over, through and round the ruins off the enormous 10th century built temple. The trees gave sufficient shade to make it nearly sweat free, and the lack of tourists at the outlying place gave an air of peace and tranquility. Even the sellers at the entrance accepted 'no' reasonably gracefully. We were back in time for me to go and collect all my bits for 'bike ride' and then go for a quick, practice ride. The timing device was attached to my bike, and to add a touch of professionalism to the day, I bought a proper cyclists top! Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any padded cycling shorts. The evening was spent at the Warehouse quiz, raising funds for the Landmine School, Jill was there, but Bill and Ackito were in the States meeting very important people.
Friday, was a working day and worrying about what and when I should eat to help me on the ride. In the end it was lunch at a stall in KOREA Kranh market, very tasty too, for 75p and then pasta at Papier Tigre in the evening, with only one draft anchor! I hadn't eaten any more than usual, so none of the carb loading I'd been advised to do. Early to bed and early to rise!
After about 4hrs sleep I woke and got up ready for the RIDE, creeping around trying not to wake people at 3am. Decided not to make coffee, as the supposedly dehydrates one, but ate a large bowl of wheat free muesli and two bananas, too much for such an hour. Vibol arrived early and very quickly he and Long tied my bike to the back of his tuk. What to put in my bag was a problematical decision, but in the end I plumped for 3 bananas, a bag of Haribo sweets and two cereal bars, a hydration mix sachet, plus camera and a bottle of water, the big one would fit on the bike. At 4:30am we left, passing ladies attaching large pans of cooked food to their bikes by torch light, motos, locals going to work and marathon runners practising in the cool morning air for their turn on Sunday. Whilst we were waiting for Elaine we spotted the mad race participants cycling out to the start! Soon her bike was loaded inside the tuk with us and we were off. Firstly, discussing her horrific journey back from Sihanoukville, 3hrs from here, when darkness fell the bus driver discovered that its lights wouldn't work. This being Cambodia, he continued the journey without them, using a boy to stand by him shining a torch through the windscreen! It is difficult to describe Route 6, single lane with animals living and wandering on it, ox carts, bikes, motos, many overladen trucks, vans, minibuses and large buses speeding as though there is no tomorrow, passing everything in front of them on surfaces deeply potholed. I think one reason I haven't travelled this year is that I am still traumatised from last year! Once that discussion was over it turned to the main event of that day, the ride! She is an accomplished runner with an automatic place in next year's London marathon because of past times and she has competed in cycling events too. However, she felt her lack of training precluded her from the run. We passed so many people cycling to the start, no lights, of course! Pitch black, but now tour buses out taking their loads to watch sunrise over Angkor Wat. It was bedlam when we arrived there, because the authorities didn't want to lose money, so had to sift visitors from cyclists, pretty obvious I would have thought, but not to them! People and bikes massed everywhere, groups under their leaders instructions, people recognising friends and acquaintances shouting out, last minute fixes to bikes, timers and numbers being added. All the time Koreans, Chinese and Japanese tourists pushing their way through with their enormous bags of photographic equipment rushing to the best spots for sunrise pictures. At this time I was becoming a shaking wreck, as all I could see were fit, young people from all parts of the world setting up their own timers and edging to the front ready for the start. No room to move, how was I going to get on my bike without falling off, what if I wobbled, a major crash? Competitors sucking energy gels from packs, nibbling energy bars - I was so out of my depth. One part I thoroughly enjoyed was people shouting out my name and wishing me luck, Som, who had accompanied me to Beng Melea and the other guys from Grasshopper Cycling were brilliant, i was surprised how many people recognised me and knew my name. I think my hair sticking out from the bottom of the helmet has made me infamous around here. unfortunately, I couldn't find or see any of the GH participants, but their start was later, so were being kept out of our way. Dawn was breaking as the officials made official speeches, the tourism minister out to impress his fellow colleagues as he was hosting the ASEAN conference on tourism, and the Village Focus and terre des homme talked about the rationale for the event and who it would help we were off in the cool of a Cambodian morning. Fortunately, the front cyclists were off in a flash which gave us some space, onto our bikes off too. Quickly built up speed, but I was still terrified, everyone passed so quickly and close, I could hear and feel that I was completely encircled by competitors, and really thought we would touch and a major crash would ensue. The first corner was awful, as I wanted to brake, but knew I should not. Elaine was very encouraging and after about 8 km things settled down, including my tummy. I told Elaine she didn't have to stay with me, as I felt the pressure of slowing her down too. About half way round the first lap saw Clem and Liz by the roadside, but only needing to use a tree! Quite a few of the pro type guys suffered punctures on their road bikes and were waiting for mechanics or spare wheels etc. eventually, Elaine went on ahead and I plodded along, but did complete the first lap of 25 km in 65 mins, a great start, but could it continue? I hadn't the ability to snatch a bottle of water from the roadside helpers, so had to make a conscious decision to stop to drink, but where and how often? I thought about the end of every lap, outside Angkor Wat, but that was not sensible as you crossed the timer, and all the crowd were there cheering you on. Eventually, I decided upon stopping at Srah Srang, and if necessary at the water station in front of the Leper and Elephant Terrace within Angkor Thom. At Srah Srang I made myself eat a banana and handful of sweeties plus half a litre of water. Loo stops were not necessary for me, as it all comes out as sweat! The just drink at the other stop stop, both I found very hard, so it is probably why I found the third lap TOUGH. The camaraderie was great, as people passed they shouted encouragement, the pro ones shouted which side they were overtaking on! At one point on the second lap a photographer on the back of a moto passed filming, as there was only me about it amused me, but I found realised why he was there, the whirring of millions of wings could be heard and then in a flash, the leading peloton passed me! Just after leaving the South Gate of Angkor Thom I recognised the tee shirts of GH, and then cycled past Sala, Sonny and their group on their way to the finishing line, looking hot and tired. Crossing the start/finish line was exhilarating and certainly made the legs push as hard as they could go, people were shouting encouragement, flashbulbs popping and cameras pointing straight at you. At the end of the second lap I could hear, " Go Cher, teacher Jenny, " as GH students and staff, who had finished their 30km waved and cheered me on. The same at the end of the third, and then I definitely needed some encouragement as the bottom, shoulders and neck were painful, however knowing only 25 km more added impetus. It was good to see Bridget there with her camera poised to take a picture of me, the one on this blog.
There can't be too many rides where you overtake oxen and water buffalo carts, people leading their cow/water buffalo to fresh grass, monkeys playing, people harvesting their rice by hand, locals carrying their life/livelihood on the back of their bike, elephants carrying tourists around Bayon, past so many World Heritage temples, and homes that we wouldn't put animals to live in. Tourist wise, the first lap wasn't too bad, but after that there were hundreds of tuks carrying people around the long or short temple route and at Angkor Thom we encountered buses, cars, 4 wheel drives, none of whom used their mirrors or were prepared to give you space on the road or waste a second of their own precious time. So the stretch from Angkor Thom to Angkor Wat was a trial and twice I had to queue to get through both the North and South gates, my problem for being too slow!
The final lap went well and I crossed the line in 5hrs 15 mins, which was only 15 mins longer than it had taken me to cycle 75km the previous week. I was the last person to cross the finishing line before they dismantled it, but other people came in after me. From what I saw I was the oldest competitor in that race by a long way! Elaine quickly found me, she had finished 30 mins earlier, but the presentation ceremony was well and truly over! It was clear up time, so the tourists would not be inconvenienced any longer, then all the paraphernalia put up again over night ready for today's half marathon and fun runs.
Vibol quickly came to collect us once called and very wearily we came home, I took my bike back and put my town bike in the tuk, as I didn't fancy riding it yesterday! Once here I collapsed for a while on my bed before showering etc and then slowly walking into town for a massage. That was brilliant and really sorted by shoulders and neck out. I didn't know what I fancied to eat, so ate nothing, so obviously my energy levels were none existent. By 7pm I could hardly stand up and felt so sick, we had to take a tuk into town, and amazingly after a pizza and two Angkor draft beers I felt a different person! Was then able to converse with a couple sitting by us, only to discover that they were in town for the weekend to participate in today's run. Over the last few days I have spoken to other people doing the same, it has made town an even more interesting place.
After a reasonable night's sleep I was up early, suffering from no stiffness or after effects, not bad for someone who hasn't done much exercise, other than Belle walking for so long. I must make a determined effort to continue once home, cycling would be good, but I'm not sure how practicable. Also I do enjoying walking.
Unfortunately, Angela has broken her right wrist badly, and is having to have surgery today, Sunday, to have it plated in the hope that as it is her good hand and arm so will still be able to use it to the same limited existent she could before. She tripped in a wood whilst walking!
Tonight I am going out with GH staff for a leaving meal at Angkor Famous, cheap and cheerful! Then tomorrow is my last day before I fly home on Tues, arriving Wed am. It will be sad saying goodbye to e erroneous tomorrow, but I hope to be back at some point.
Many thanks to everyone who has sponsored me, I'm sure that also kept me going, but the money will be we'll spent at GH and definitely help and support people who need it.
I expect this is my last blog this time, see you all soon, take care, love to all, J x