The important question of the day was where to go once we had crossed over the Cambodian border. The beach at Sianoukville was an 8-9 hour bus and hydrofoil ride away and Phnom Phen a 7 hour bus ride. The tour company told us there was a new road to the capital which would cut down our travelling time and visions of a smooth black asphalt thoroughfare clinched it for us. We opted for Phnom Phen. What the company failed to tell us was that we had to traverse five rivers on wooden ferries, inch over a large amount of rickety wood and stone bridges and ride along a deeply pot holed dirt road to get to it.
Blissfully unaware we all piled into the two mini-buses and set out. About two hours and a couple of rivers later the bus in front broke down. Obviously we couldn’t leave them there so we stopped to offer help. The drivers and male passengers gathered around the open bonnet, looked thoughtfully down into it and scratched their heads – even the ones who didn’t have a clue about car engines. Being female I have no such macho tendencies and an ability to recognise my own limitations in the event of a breakdown i.e telephone for help or leave it to the experts. Being pretty sure that the RACV would not respond to a call for roadside assistance from Cambodia – no matter how valued a customer I was, I headed for the shade.
The boys gradually drifted back as they realised that they were just getting in the way of the driver who had by now pulled out half the engine. We settled in for a long wait and got to know each other. My travelling companions turned out to be a mixed bunch. There was Frenchman (who wore a very bad syrup and fig), some English (too polite to complain about anything) , an Italian (life of the party and dopehead), some Australians (they had the beer) and a German (who didn’t find anything funny at all) . About an hour and a half later the bus was fixed and we all set off. As we lurched across the road to avoid goats, craters, pigs, chickens and human traffic, the Frenchman remonstrated with the driver. “We should ave left zemmm ere and carried on, I zink eett izz reediculous”. As he warmed to the subject, he grew red in the face and gesticulated with his hands to emphasis his point totally unaware that his wig was trying to take flight as the bus bounced up and down. Taking the silence in the bus as agreement with his sentiments he continued to rant whilst the bus occupants watched with fascination as the combined movements of his body and the bus lifted the wig off his head time and time again.
The bus in front broke down again. “Leave zemm, leave zemm” the Frenchman shouted. We stopped and all piled out again. The Frenchman had a tantrum, stamped his feet and looked absurd as his wig listed to one side of his head. Once again men gathered around the open bonnet but discussions seemed a lot more heated.
The Italian drifted back grinning. “Ah belle” he sighed in mock tragedy “the Frenchman he say fuck them and leave them to die of thirst, the German try to organise us into a working team, the Australian say no drama and hand beers out, the English sit back and politely wait, and I the Italian take the piss out of the situation – I find this funny, we all conform to stereotypes no?”
After sending out for a spare part, we lounged by an empty road in the middle of nowhere (or so we thought) to wait. The blonde little poppet in the other bus woke up and her parents brought her out to join us. Suddenly we were surrounded by Cambodians who materialised out of the bush. It seems that blonde children are a real crowd puller and when travelling everyone should carry a spare in the event of emergencies. Two hours later we were on the move again with the ever complaining Frenchman. By the time we reached the new road it was twilight. Here the buses were going to go different ways one to PP and one to the beach. Not fancying arriving in the capital at night we stayed on the bus that was heading for Sianoukville. Anyway, the Frenchman was going to Phnom Phen. It was a no brainer really.