May 05, 2006

On the Way Out

A Buddha statue at an entrance to an acient temple in northern Cambodia.

She had to move up to my seat because a couple just got on and they wanted to sit together, maybe to support each other on what all of us had read in our various guidebooks, was to be one of the worst main roads in Asia. We were on our way out of Cambodia, back to Thailand.

Divine inspiring divine at a temple in northern Cambodia.

The temperature was to get into the upper nineties today and our minibus had no air conditioning – of course as it was supposed to. We all paid extra for the tourist bus thinking it would be more comfortable than less expensive options. Everywhere that sold tickets said, “Yeah, air conditioning, this is the picture of your bus.” They would point to a color photography of a shiny new luxury bus. When one has traveled in Asia long enough, promises like these are far from legally binding. We just had no idea the bus would be as bad as it was. Some people wanted their money back after seeing it.

But there was nothing we could do unless we wanted to march back to a guesthouse with all of our stuff and wait to see how the bus tomorrow looked. When I saw the outside of the bus – I knew – a working air conditioning system was going to be highly unlikely on this thing and that it appeared that the bus needed so many other repairs that air conditioning had a yeah right kind of importance to it. Maybe it was because when it got closer and pulled up to where we are waiting, with open windows, that was the big clue. It’s weight without any passengers was already heavy on one side, the entire body was scratched and dented, and it looked like it had been pretty much entirely hammered out from fender (and door and side) benders. It looked like it had been driven around the world -- several times. It looked like they had imported it in from Afghanistan. Had it been rolled? I was looking to the roof, looking for any big dents before I made my final decision to get on or not. Nothing screamed out at me – just an unplaced, nearly inaudible hiss. I relegated that do the radiator and climbed on.
She moved up to my seat and that’s where we met. We didn’t formally introduce ourselves and while we talked and talked, I think, with the more time that went by, we both felt a little silly asking, “Umm, what’s your name anyway?!”

Stone blocks, temple wall, northern Cambodia.

The first half hour of the drive was pretty good. I was wondering if the guidebook was wrong on yet another fact. Then, WHAM! The pavement stopped and dirt moguls began. Our driver was taking them like he was on a slalom course. After an hour of this madness, looking around, through a cloud of red dust, seeing people holding whatever material they could find, bunched up over their mouth and nose. A few were holding their hands over their mouths. I chuckled, After an hour of this madness, looking around, through a cloud of red dust, seeing people holding whatever material they could find, bunched up over their mouth and nose. A few were holding their hands over their mouths. I chuckled, yeah, that’s gonna filter everything out! A few others were bent over. I wasn’t looking for details. We were all bouncing off our seats as we hit the bumps.

A monk climbs the steps into a temple, northern Cambodia.

The windows were rattling hard. They were self-opening with the vibration. The noise from the shaking of glass and metal was like being at a rock concert – except it was one long drum solo. Red dust from dirty clay road streamed into the bus constantly, kicked-up from the trucks in front of us. On the one hand, we all despised the dust and would have just kept windows closed but it was so stifling hot in that little oven-on-wheels that we kept the windows a little open, thus suffering from both hardships because all of one would have been probably worse.
I made the mistake that morning of putting on a clean white shirt. It was now quickly turning red especially on the window side and where I was perspiring –everywhere—the shirt was red and wet and I knew this was the end of this shirt, that it would never look clean again.
I turned to her with a smile that said, can you believe this? She shook her head and said, “Yeah, and there’s supposed to be two more hours of the same!” In that moment, I dropped whatever was covering my airways and let my jaw slacken down so it was near resting in my lap. “No way!” “Well, that’s what the book says.” We both scrunched our brows up and resumed the one hand on the dust mask, the other hand on the seat in front of us position.
Through hardship we found communion. And so for the next ten hours, we traveled together, still, we didn’t know each other’s names.
We got into Bangkok and were walking down the street together when I stopped her and said, “We’ve been traveling for ten hours together, from one country to another, on one amazingly bad road and now we’re going to share a room for a few nights -- umm, what’s your name anyway?” We had a good laugh about this.

Moments before the rain began to fall, the storm rolling in was spectacular, southern Cambodia.

It’s like that when you’re traveling. You’re always meeting people, talking to people. Often, names go into one ear and out the other. Interactions are often so fleeting – and you never know how long you will know that person – that names often come later. In this case, a lot later!

My yoga meditation, sunset, southern Cambodia.

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