Day 11: 110km Bike Ride to Chuuk
Today we had another early start and biked 110km to a small town called Chuuk. On our way to Chuuk, we biked on red clay dirt paths, stopping occasionally for fresh squeezed sugar cane juice, and high-fived many kids as we cycled through their villages. After a long cycling day under the sun, we finally arrived at our homestay for the night. We were sweaty, dirty, and exhausted, but we were welcomed by the people of this community who sliced open coconuts for us before we could even find places to put down our bikes. The chief of the community gave us a warm welcome speech that was so humble and touching that it genuinely showed the hospitality of the Cambodian people.
We enjoyed a great dinner that consisted of rice, fish, vegetables, and green bananas! These bananas were the most delicious bananas we'd ever tasted! Although it was green, the sweetness and texture of the banana is incomparable to any banana found on grocery store shelves. Following dinner, we moved all the tables and chairs to the side and danced the night away to music played on traditional Cambodian instruments!
After all the biking, eating, and dancing, we were beyond tired. We made our way to our homestays for the night. There were generally four of us per homestay and the families generously gave us their beds, bedding, and mosquito nets while they slept in hammocks overnight. There is no electricity in the community, but most homes have a small generator that is used to power a fluorescent light bulb or stereo. Needless to say, there were no showers either. We took what's known as "bucket showers". Essentially, there is a big basin in the washroom filled with rainwater and you scoop the water with a bucket to pour it over yourself. The tricky part was washing yourself while you have something wrapped around you at all times. It is customary in Cambodia to cover yourself while showering. Although this was a new experience for many of us, we all managed pretty well, were clean and tried to get a good night's sleep.
Day 12: Toughest Bike Ride Yet
Today's bike ride was supposed to be 90km from Chuuk to our next destination, Kep. However, our trusty ride leader, Lucky, decided to take a shortcut and informed us that the ride was only going to be 60km. We were pretty excited that the ride was shortened for today. Lucky failed to mention to us that the shortcut required us to bike up Phonom Vor mountain in order to arrive at our guesthouse, The Vine.
The 60km bike ride was brutal! It was the most physically challenging day we've had on the trip. Everyone, from the athletic to the non-athletic riders were all pushing themselves hard to somehow get to the top of the mountain. The sun was scorching hot and by the end of the day, everyone got lovely tan lines from the day's ride. But once we got to The Vine, the view was breathtaking and it was all worth it!
The Vine is an ecologically conscientious guesthouse and organic farm that lies in the rural village of Chamcar Bei. They are committed to maintaining a low carbon footprint and is developing an off-grid low-carbon power system, which incorporates a solar powered water heating system and freezer and a bio-diesel powered generator that charges a battery system, providing 20 hours per day of electricity with minimal carbon dioxide emissions. The organic farm produces a wide variety of vegetables, herbs, and fruits - all grown without any chemical pesticides or petroleum-based fertilizers. The farm's proudest crop is the world renowned Kampot pepper. The pepper vines are grown using traditional techniques that have made Kampot pepper world reknowned for more than 100 years.
After we all took much needed showers, we sat down and enjoyed the freshest garden salad drizzled with a simple balsamic vinaigrette served along with delicious traditional Khmer cuisine and brown rice. The food was incredibly savory and it was probably one of the best meals we've had on the trip. Following dinner, we rested in hammocks and enjoyed the beautiful scenery around us.