Thursday, September 11, 2014

Riding in Cars with Cambodians

So, I needed to get to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, and there were pretty much only three options to get there: by bus (the cheapest method at $11), plane (super expensive, soaring past $100 one way), or boat (wrong season apparently).

I chose the bus.

You ever look death in the eyes? You ever laugh and weep at it all at once?
You have? Have you been on a Cambodian road, too?

Starting Out.

It started out fine, just 11 people (plus the driver) in a pretty spacious van that had air conditioning (thank you God!). The minute we started driving though, it all went downhill and fast. Because the moment we took off, everyone, and I mean pretty much everyone, fell instantly into a Sleeping Beauty style coma-sleep, slumped heads and drool (yep, drool) all around me. Before we got on, the three young Cambodian natives in front of me were all applying this strange spray on their skin that smelled like rubbing alcohol and mint had an ugly and regrettable holiday together. Was that the cause of their sudden sleep or was this bus pushing some kind of sleeping agent through the A/C vents that Westerners were immune to? Now, it's not weird to sleep on a long ride anywhere, but for these people to sleep during this trip was nothing short of a lift-your-hands-to-the-sky miracle. I don't know how they did it, because my eyes were wide-open and twitching. My fingers still ache, having clawed them into my bunched up knees like a some kind of merciless and sadist vulture.

Have you ever been on a "road" in a foreign country? (Hint: there is no concrete or discernible traffic laws!) Cambodia driving is much like a game of chicken, except playing it with 5+ opponents at once, sometimes the opponents being other buses or bicycles or walking pedestrian--all of them darting away at the very last millisecond. We zoomed past them with a half-a-finger length to spare. I was speechless and continued to grab the handle bar conveniently attached to the back of every seat.

Fifteen Minutes In.

You ever see one of those Flex Buster ads? You know, those weird things you attach to your abdomen and then it vibrates your stomach so much that you end up with killer abs?

Well, the road was so bumpy, so shaky, and so jarring, it felt like I had one of those on every muscle of my body. In fact, I'm pretty sure I have perfect abs, arms, and legs now. 

Thirty Minutes In.

The driver starts playing Cambodian hip-hop.

One Hour In.

"Look Lloyd!  There's some people who want to ride too!"
"Pick 'em up!"

We stop and pick up a random hitchhiker who sits uncomfortably close to me. He backs off after, I'm sure, getting a little freaked out that I'm scratching all over from sunburns and am giving heavy prayer under my breath. In fact, they say your life flashes before your eyes before you die. Being on a Cambodian "highway" serves up a near death experience with every swerve and every pass.

Two Hours In.

The hitchhiker next to me has three cellphones. At one point, he is talking on two at the same time, one pressed to each ear. He probably takes about 30 calls the entire trip. I don't know why, but I'm a little worried.

My legs are jelly. As though they have been attached to a rogue Footsie Wootsie from the Puyallup Fair of my youth and someone put in a 1,000 quarters. My head is that scrambled egg from the 90's "This Is Your Brain On Drugs" anti-drug campaign.

Four Hours In.

I have now reviewed my entire life. Asked for every sin's forgiveness. If need be, I'm ready to go.

Five Hours In.

It is now dark and it's a lot easier to let go of my putty knees. In fact, night time is great! Every near miss and brush with death is completely unnoticeable! It's like someone put a cute kitten mask over Death's face and it's been automatically downgraded to simply a minor threat now. But the bumps are oh so much more worse. Am I river rafting again? Each touchdown of my butt to the seat sends a shock wave through me and I clench my teeth.

Sixish Hours In.

We are safe, I met a new friend (if you're reading this Louisa, please tell me the secret of being able to sleep on these things!), and you know was kinda fun after all is said and done.

I think I'm ready to do that again (but first, I might go show off these killer new muscles at the lobby bar).

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