Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bus Ride to the Jungle

4 days after leaving Palm Springs, and 30 hours in the air and in transit I’d decided to take the bus to my final destination and save almost $100. Heck, $100 paid 10 days in my hotel.

It was a very interesting bus trip…to say the least!

We left Phnom Penh at 0830 and were due to arrive in Siem Reap, Cambodia sometime around 1300 (1pm) Saturday afternoon. You’re never quite sure when you’ll arrive depending on the traffic. Now traffic here is a bit different than traffic in SoCal. Where the I-5 may be backed up because of a traffic accident or Caltrans work, Hiway 6 in Cambodia gets clogged when an oxcart or several turn over. It’s an hour by air, and a ‘scheduled’ 5 hours by bus.

The trip was pretty uneventful for the first few hours. We made our stop in Kompong Thom, a small town in central Cambodia, just north-east of the Tonley Sop lake. We got to stretch our legs, get something to eat, ice cream, crickets, spiders, or soup…whichever you prefer. Then we headed north for the last 2 hours of the trip.

About 1.5 hours south of Siem Reap I heard the tires screech and several people scream when we hit a man on a motor scooter…head on. I was in the back of the bus reading a book and couldn’t see out the front. Being on the right hand side of the bus, I did have a very good view of the poor guy careening off the side of the road. His moto ended up on top of him and the bus came to a lurching stop on the side of the road. The guy had been going down the wrong side of the road and tried to cut in front of the bus, I learned later.

Several of the riders and some locals ran to his aid, and amazingly he stood up and walked hesitantly away from the quite damaged motorbike he’d been riding. It appeared that he’d broken his arm and had a scalp wound, but otherwise he seemed okay. The locals lookied him over and immediately put him on another moto back to Kampong Thom where there is a medical clinic.

Then the interesting part of the trip started for the rest of us.

Our driver hopped off the bus pdq and as fast as he could ran down the road into the countryside and disappeared. Over here, when you are the drive and hit a local, you run the very good risk of getting the crud beat out of you by the victim’s friends.

So we were left by the side of the road, on a running bus with no driver. And when the local police showed up, who knows.

We got off the bus, and discussed among ourselves exactly how we should deal with the situation. We had several options. We could wait for the bus company to send another driver or, more likely, another bus to pick us up. Or we could try and ‘flag’ another ride. We opted for the latter.

A few minutes later we saw the ‘local’ bus coming up the road. That’s the one that stops at every village on the highway, but eventually got to our destination. He stopped and was only partly full. We dragged our bags off the first bus, stuffed them (pushing and kicking to make room) onto the local and climbed on board. It cost us an extra $2, a total of $13 to get to our destination.

Still beat the $100 by air.

Travel is such an adventure.

Babu in the jungle.

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