the dancing road to battambang the road ...

Trip Start Oct 25, 2001
Trip End Ongoing

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Sunday, November 11, 2001

"The dancing road to Battambang"

The road from Phnom Penh to Battambang is 296km long. The journey on a clear motorway would take around 2 hours. The stretch of road we travelled on was in such bad condition that ir took us 9 hours. My morning started with a "final luxury" Fried eggs, beans, and hot french bread for breakfast, which made a change from the local cuisine i have come adapted to. We arrived at the bus station around 7.30am, and were bombarded by locals offering to take us. We had 2 choices. We could either go by car but was told that it was a slower and bumpier alternative to the mighty pick up truck. At first the locals said that they would take us for $25, but in the end we managed to barter them down to $10. This was for a seat in the pick up truck. Other locals and all of thier belongings sat in the open trailer, which was packed full, including 2 sitting on the metal roof. Locals for a trailer ride paid $2 for the trip, but were open to the hot sun, danger of falling out, and the dusty road.
I managed to grab the fromt seat, with my camera bag and daypack stuffed between my legs. Seating in the back was very minimal.(about the amount of legroom of a back seat in a car) Gary stretched out in the back, taking full advantage of being the only one sitting in the back. Then a "cool dude" (local lad) sat in the back wearing large 'Top gun' sunglasses,levi jeans, and a camel jean shirt (open loosley at the collar).
It looked like he had just came from shooting a cheezy Asian commercial for marlboros, or silk cut!! After 10 minuites of sitting there, "cool dude" lurches forward pointing at Gary saying "you, you" with a look of disgust. He jumped out of the truck, took off his shirt and dusted it down. At first i thought Gary might have passed wind, but he assured me that he didn't. What a weird man we thought.
After 'cool dude' put his shirt back on,he casually lit up a ciggarette. I knew it. He is from the commercials!!!
I was half expecting him to come out with a cheezy line like..."Ahh Marlboro's. Good to the last puff" then hear the director shout 'cut'.
By now the back trailer was brimming with locals, and all thier belongings hanging off the back.(including a motorbike)
Our driver standing outside seemed to have trouble convincing passing locals to travel in our pick up truck with us. Maybe there was a hum coming from the both of us??? Eventually he did manage to get 3 to sit in the back, but 5 minutes later they got out, never to be seen again!! Eventually "cool dude" returned, and the driver managed to grab another 2 to sit in the back. There was also another man sitting in the front with his legs between the gear stick. His left leg was squeazed between my crushed legs and bags, and his right leg was down by the drivers clutch pedal. If i thought i had it tough, Gary said that he felt as if he was put in a vice. His feet were locked behing the front seat, with his knees up against his chest, and his camera bag and tripod between his thighs. Sitting squashed up next to him was an elderly lady that was full of skin and bone, with her elboes and hip bone digging into Garys right leg.
After everybody getting in, another 45 minites passed before the driver finally emerged and started his engine and slowly crawled around the market square (probably looking to squeaze more on board!) We knew it was a 300km journey, so before we set off i reset the trip meter so we could judge the distance we had travelled.
After travelling under km we were stopped by the police. "Oh no" I thought, weve barely travelled around the first corner and we had our first hurdle to clear. After a heated conversation between the driver and the officer, we set off once again. Gary was alrady complaining that there was no way he could take the trip as he was in a "fetal position"
I must have had the best seat for the journey, and wasn't going to give it up without a fight! As the driver slammed through the 2nd and 4th gears the old man in the middle feared for his manhood as the rattling gear stick was literally inches away from his crotch!! The road out of Phnom Penh was farly smooth apart from the odd pot hole. This was as good as it gets. 15 miles on and the road got worse. Finally it turned into a dry dirt road. Garys moans subsided, and all was silent. Had he cracked so early???
50kms out of Phnom Penh there was a loud banging on the roof. The driver slowed down to a stop to see what the problem was. We had a puncture. I dont believe it. Eveyone jumped off the truck to use this opportunity as a toilet stop. As they got out the back, Gary found the energy to finally admit defeat in the back.
He offered up his $10 seat with the locals who had standing places in the trailer. At first all refused to swap, and Gary thought he might have trouble swapping. Finally a local agreed to swap with him. By now the spare tyre was almost on, and locals were climbing back onto the vechile. Gary grabbed his bags and jumped in the back trailer.
The lady that swapped couldn't believe her luck. She even made a mobile phone call, probably to say that a crazy foreigner had swapped his $10 seat, with a $2 trailer ticket.
We were off again. The road got bumpier and dustier. I had a upset stomach as it was, and it felt like it was a washing machine on full spin. I wasn't sure if it was a "i want to go to the toilet", feel but i knew that if the urge came i would literally get minutes to stop the truck, and find a suitable place to go along the road. I dreaded the thought of shouting out "stop, stop" at the driver then everyone on board watch as i rush to the nearby bush before my ass exploded! It's every travellers nightmare.
The road was really bad, with deep holes everywhere. At some parts of the road there were beggars filling in the worst of the holes with mud. They would hold thier hand out for money as we passed, but only got a mouthfull of dust as we sped round them.
Our driver drove mainly along the edges of the track to avoid the worst of the road, and at one point i thought we wre going to roll as the vechile lurched violently to the left, but luckily only screams were heard from those hanging on the trailer. I hope Garys ok on the back?
193kms (5 hours) into the journey, we stopped off at a small restaurant for lunch. I cant believe we have only covered 193kms. 20 minutes later we were on our way again, lurching from side to side on the dusty road. At one point we passed a large lorry that threw up so much dust up that visability was less than a metre, then from out of the dust appeared another large lorry heading straight for us. Again, luckily the road gods were looking down on us as we maraciously managed to swerve around it into more thick dust.
50 kms later we stopped at a small petrol station. Locals ran to the car to try to sell us food. One lady had a plateful of fried baby ducks in a light batter. It looked almost as bad as the fried spiders. It seemed that they fried the ducks in oil 'alive'(even with the eyes in tact) Declining the wholesome feast the lady had on offer we carried on down what is probably one of the bumpiest roads in South East Asia.
Locals that travel the road regulary call it the dancing road. I can see why. I've been body popping for the last 9 hours!
I think this town should be called "Battered bum" instead of "Battambang," because when we finally arrived, my ass was well and truly battered!!!
As for Gary he did survive hanging on for his life on the back, and told me afterwards that it was crowded, and had nothing to sit on apart from the metal rim of the trailer. He got off with almost tears in his eyes! I think the trailer ride has emotionally scarred him!!!!
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