Cycling Across the Cardamom Mountain Range in Cambodia (Day 2)
This is this part two of a four part series describing my cycling trip with a friend across the Cardamom Mountain Range in Cambodia. You can read Day 1: Pursat to Red-Hat Man’s House (Follow the Steel Pylon Road) here.
Day 2: Red-Hat Man’s House to Oasom (The Climb Up “I Hate Myself” Mountain on the Cardamom’s Front Range)
I am stirred from my brief sleep by the sounds of the farmer’s family rustling in their hammocks. One of the boys reaches his hand out from his cocoon to throw a log on the smouldering coals. The wind breezes and the fire begins to glow again; the kitten and dog are curled up side by side next to the humble heat source.
Steve and I slip out of our hammocks and walk into the dense darkness to stretch our aching hamstrings. I pull out my camping stove and start boiling a spot of water for green tea and oatmeal. I love my camping stove, but I know that the love will not last. One day it will violently protest my use of recycled spray paint cans full of dirty butane that I buy from street vendors. That day, thankfully, is not today and my host’s house is not burned to the ground.
As the sun edges over the grassy plains, Steve and I load up our bikes, bid farewell to our kind friends and rejoin the road west.
We arrive in Pramaoy just before lunch and Steve promptly mounts the elephant statue at the traffic circle.
Pramaoy is at the edge of the Cardamom Mountains’ front range with roads leading east to Pursat, north to Battambang/Pailin and west to Thailand. Because of the inhospitable terrain (and an ambivalent or passive Thai government), this was prime Khmer Rouge trotting ground until the mid 1990’s. Posing as a member of the press with his disposable camera, a friend of mine drove by motorbike and was able to sneak into the area during the reintegration ceremony of Khmer Rouge soldiers in 1996. Hardened soldiers streamed out of the jungle and received a kroma and can of tuna from one of the their former leaders for their efforts. Here’s Enda’s photo:
I buy a new camouflage hat and a few cokes from a vendor on the edge of the town. The lovely woman also helps me to fix my broken sunglasses. We sip our sugary beverages and finger over our maps – we’ll need to climb around 500 meters for our first climb. We still have a lot of (hilly) k’s to cover before dark, so we stock up on water and press on toward Oasom.
I don’t take any pictures on the climb up “I Hate Myself” Mountain – I am too focused on coming up with damning names for the pass (a reoccurring activity throughout our half-dozen or so big climbs). The view from the top, however, makes all the pain of that first climb worth it. We look back towards the plains of Pramaoy, which stretch all the way north to Battambang. To the southwest, we get our first sense of the wild vastness of the Cardamom Mountains – jungles and mountains as far as the eye can see. As we roll over the summit, we pass by an old logging truck (?) that a group of men are trying to coax back to life to carry just one more load to Oasom.
The sun starts to simmer over the mountains to our west, casting darkness over our road from Pramaoy and giving us a beautiful view as we glide downhill toward Oasom.
Attempting to take some video of the downhill, I wipe out spectacularly (see it about half way through the video here). I recover and snap a shot of a bemused Steve in his beloved hat.
The road levels out and we know we have reached Oasom from the demoralizing clear-cut forests 1km on either side of the road.
Rolling over a wooden bridge on the edge of Oasom, Steve and I can’t resist and dive into the wonderfully cold river below for a swim with a family of water buffalo.
Oasom has two surprisingly pleasant guesthouses. We glance at the Golden Crocodile guesthouse, but opt for the one across the road.
The proprietor (a woman of course – do any men run businesses in Cambodia?) shows us around the stilted house and notes multiple times how they also serve dinner. Steve goes out to explore downtown Oasom (two adjacent stores selling the same stuff and a cafe blaring karaoke music) while I do a bit of yoga on the second floor porch overlooking the mountains.
In honor of Thanksgiving, I brought along a surprise for dinner: canned turkey chili with Joma cheddar pepper bagels for dipping. We cook the chili over my camping stove, Steve slicing veggies with his Swiss army knife and tossing them into the stew. We order some fried fatty pork to round out the meal. Despite our high hopes, the turkey chili tastes vaguely like dog food or ground dog meat – one or the other. Luckily, Steve pulls out a box of Oreos to save our taste buds. Harnessing the spirit of the holiday, we share our discarded chili cans with our two canine admirers. They are able to appreciate the nuanced flavors of Hormel’s chili much more that these two weary riders.