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Published: February 5th 2010
We left the sparse village before sunrise, hoping to enjoy some early morning quiet time. The daily traffic drama tends to create stress that is better to avoid. Also, we have found that if we are on the road before the sun comes up, we can usually manage close to 30km by lunch time, making our afternoon run a bit more manageable. Well that is how we look at it......
Mr Slim has continued to run with us, each day going further ahead, leaving his moto and no doubt enjoying one last smoke, running to where ever we are and then back to the trusty carrier of all things water and Gatorade. It has been a treat to have he, Ms Alin and even the mini bus driver run with us. Maybe we have sparked something that will grow. We are even told that next time they will run the entire way with us. Something we would love to see and experience!
As we get closer to Preah Vihear, the military traffic increases. Not just singular troops but carriers, AK 47s on motos and full on cannons. As we pass one military base entrance and right
after being screamed at by some undecorated banana army jarhead riding sidesaddle on a moto, Buddha only knows what terms of endearment in Khmer, a helicopter flies overhead. Both of us looking at each other and on the edge of wondering if this is now a very bad idea, when we find ourselves blasted with dust and only narrowly scramble to the very edge of the road as a convoy of troops in a big diesel truck, followed Toyota Hilux and Land Cruisers come racing by. Once past us, the dust settles and we relax a bit, but not for long. As we round the next corner, the same convoy is making a u-turn and heading right back at us. A better view of the target perhaps or is it considered more sportsmanlike to hit you full on rather than from behind? Nowhere to hide we brace for yet another blasting of dust and dirt and wait to be surrounded by half a battalion. To our great relief they merely slow down and give us a big we could jail you if we wanted to scowl and move on, must be the maple leaf on Jeff's floppy hat. One thing
we now know for sure is that the road rage motorists experience when confronted with spandex clad butts is universal.
We are learning more each day about the conflict that seems to occupy the political systems on both sides of the line, control over the UNESCO World Heritage site Prasat Preah Vihear is where the standoff and skirmishes happen. It is also our destination and finish line.
As the morning progressed and the traffic continued to dust us, we looked forward to lunch. The break has become an important part of the day not just for the obvious feeding and rest but also for the mental recharge. As we noticed the communication towers (the hint that you are approaching a larger town), we gave it one more good push and arrived at the crossroads where the support team was waiting. All in the shade with cold beverages we could have! Two ice cold Sprite in succession, properly sugared Jeff was smiling once again! Nat settled into the lounge chair and just stared at the road as more and more traffic zoomed by. Nat and traffic are not friends and barely tolerate each other it should be added....We watched
moto after moto go by, AK47 in hand, with the special forces one artfully decorated with banana leaves and flowers. The odd cannon being hauled behind an over crowded troop carrier doubling as local transport for kids and wives. Another lunch of noodles, rice and stir fried beef (we passed on the chicken feet soup) and we headed off down the road.
One of the things that has been a challenge for us on this journey is the widespread occurrence of slash burning. We have come across huge areas recently burnt and most often still smoldering. Nat's asthma has returned with a vengeance. Today we were treated to large spread grass fires that would have had several crews fighting them if they happened at home. We could certainly smell and taste the smoke but it was the sound and the heat that challenged us the most. Progress has some ill effects.....
The grand finale of running day was the Cambodian standoff between Nat, a moto and a very large dump truck..... first we have to preamble this that roughly half our route was done on red dirt roads under heavy construction, the Chinese government having kicked what we were
told as about 1 billion dollars to build a blacktop road between Ko Kher and Preah Vihear. Methods of construction will vary, absolutely ZERO traffic control and local no rules driving fully in force. As a runner, you don't even register on the things to avoid spectrum, they break for dogs but you're fair game. So on a very narrow, almost down to one lane stretch of road leading to the next village, full Cambo rush hour afternoon traffic, and after changing sides of the road, often trying to figure out where the heck we were least at risk of becoming road kill, Nat heads down first on the left side hoping to at least be able to throw herself in a ditch while praying to the land mine gods to spare her (remember we are now in full militarized zone), no sides to the road proper as they build elevated roads due to the monsoon rains, and she heard a truck coming on. There is about one foot's and a few inches distance between her and the truck, we know to turn our shoulders to avoid mirror strikes, when some asinine moto driving soldier decides he's coming through. A very deep ditch on Nat's left side and she's running on a single track about six inches wide. Jeff and Mr. Slim kind of pause in disbelief, moto driver is actually trying to pass between the truck and Jeff, horn blaring. The three are side by side, Nat feel's the driver's foot brush her calf as he swerves to avoid the truck mirror at the same time as counter swerving to avoid her shoulders. He somehow makes it through without colliding with the truck and her. Well... can you spell ANGRY Meltdown...Nat looses it and just said she is - add your own expletive here - done for the day ...38 kilometers logged and we take our last strides into the parking area for our guest house......
After a shower, oh such a lovely thing, and sitting on the porch enjoying an ice cold Angkor with of course a Recoverite chaser, talking about the day, then there was a very loud boom! The kind that compresses the air and you can feel the power wave, actually see things blow into the air, and then we heard the word....Landmine....Mr Slim jumped on his moto to go see what had happened. The shock we felt was surreal. We have spent several days with it on our minds and now this. Mr Slim came back quick enough and happily reported that it was not in fact a land mine but the road workers blowing up a bridge foundation. Welcome to progress...
Dinner completed it was time for one last sleep......
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