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The street before the rains
My day off in Macau was, quite literally, a washout. Waking to the sound of an argument in the room next to mine, I headed outside in search of a hot morning beverage. Within seconds I was in retreat, the heavens well and truly opening directly over the Rua de Felicidades (Street of Happiness.) No matter, there was a relatively comfortable bed back inside that I’d just vacated, and if I was quick it would still be warm. So I got back under the covers and went to sleep. There's no rules against going soft once in a while...
The universality of pictures!
From Dongxing I made my way east through the relatively small suburban sprawl of the city. The place was dead – locals were still enjoying the benefits of a national holiday. Officialy, the Chinese New Year had begun a few days ago, but it would be the start of the next week before the populace would recommence working duties. The country was essentially on pause mode, a bizarre experience in vast metropolis spaces. The soundtrack to my departure therefore was provided not by teeming streets animated by business and recreation; rather occasional firecrackers would explode erratically in some unseen part of the city sounding for all the world like machine gun fire. All in all, it was a rather unsettling morning experience, and so I was relieved to make it into the safety and seclusion of the countryside.
Ah, the old lapse into blogging delays! A quick update for a start, to keep you all informed. Firstly, I am now in China! I crossed the border from Mong Cai in Vietnam to Dongxing in the PRC. China is, so far, mindblowingly Chinese. By that I mean it instantly felt like China even though I've never been here before - there is an atmosphere that floats in the air like a foreign accent, a gait of the people that is quite unique. That said I haven't been here very long, but even just the scale of things is impressive. Dongxing is very small by Chinese standards, but even so the size and quantity of buildings is a sight to behold. Already I have encountered great hospitality - an elderly gent in the street gave me a map of the Guangxi province, while some giggling girls in a pharmacy managed to call a friend who spoke English and could direct me to a cheap guesthouse. I still, honestly, don't really know where I am, how to get out of here, or which roads I'm allowed on - but I feel positive about it. If everyone is as helpful as the folks here, I'll have no problems.
Approaching the border
No miraculous change of surroundings came upon me during my last 56km in Cambodia. The road trailed ever onwards, flat and straight heading due north against the wind. At a rare roadside stall I found Pierre and Marion, a French couple from Paris who had temporarily traded in the backpacking lifestyle for the 800km cycle between Phnom Penh and Vientiane. They were easy going and very likable, and so we teamed up to cross the remote border into Laos. Heeding warnings of travelers who had crossed our paths we were ready to do battle against the stamp wielding officials, apparently all to ready to refuse entry unless they pocketed a few dollars on the sly. Leaving Cambodia was fine – I was asked to pay a dollar, but smiled dumbly and pointed at my visa saying what a wonderful time I’d had in the country. A busload of groggy looking white tourists had pulled up behind me, and licking his lips the guard waved me on in favour of bigger prey. I heard him extorting $3 from the first unlucky passenger to step into the arena.
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The Phnom Penh I enjoyed
Just as quickly as Phnom Penh had become a haven of relaxation, it changed to a prison from which I longed to escape. Two days into the New Year, I got sick – something I had mercifully avoided during my whole time cycling. Now it had caught me. I lay feverish and weak in my windowless room for 3 days. Kindly friends came to check on me, but in time had to depart on their own journeys and I was left to stare into the green void of my lime coloured walls. I hated that colour, and I especially hated the little pictures of fruit stuck to the wall in attempted decoration. Twice I thought of shouting at the watermelon, the leader of the glittery sticker gang, but couldn’t muster the energy.
Arriving in Cambodia
My early morning border crossing didn’t quite transpire as I’d hoped. First I realized that the only currency I had was Thai Baht, and so was in rather desperate need of some US Dollars. Apparently I could change them at the border, but this seemed like a sure rip-off, so I waited until 9am to find an open bank in Aranyaprathet. It took even longer to find one that actually had US dollars, but eventually the transaction was completed and I made the 6km to the border in no time at all. I won’t bore you with the details of the actual events that occurred once there, but suffice to say the corruption once rife at the Poipet crossing seems to have been mostly snuffed out. However the various stages of red tape were typically frustrating, never more so than when the Cambodian official lost my entry card under a pile of other papers and made me wait an age to fill out a new one. No complaints though – these things are par for the course and I was happy to have avoided all but the essential bribes required.
Mr. Hippo and a fellow cyclist
There’s nothing quite like coming into a brand new city, country and culture and being met by someone who is expecting you. All the uncertainties and anxieties that normally accompany arrival into a metropolis become irrelevant, and enjoyment is much quicker to descend upon the weary traveler. So it was that I was greeted by Peter and Goy, a lovely couple who live in the city and offer the fabulous service of hosting touring cyclists. Peter, better known to the locals by his nickname of Mr Hippo, is an Englishman, born and bred, but has lived and been riding in Thailand for over 8 years. His wife Goy is a native of Bangkok, and together they reside in the suburb of Lat Phrao.