The challenge to cycle 400 km from Saigon in Vietnam to Angkor Wat in Cambodia proved to be an experience which neither Kirsty nor I will ever forget. We stayed in hotels where we were afraid to touch our towels for fear of what we might catch; where the plumbing was so basic that the bath water ran out onto the floor and which we shared with various creatures we’d rather were somewhere else very far away! The bikes we were allocated was less than perfect. Kirsty’s brakes froze, her gears jammed and both our chains fell off at various times throughout the five day adventure.
The cycling itself was so flat it was, at times, quite tedious. Flat, straight roads can be soul destroying we’ve discovered but the hardest aspect of all was the heat. From 11 o’clock until 2 o’clock every day the temperature was in the forties and even reached 45C on day two. It became a battle just to survive the heat every day. Not all of the 70 women cycling with us coped with this and had to take advantage of the air conditioned buses which travelled with us. Even Kirsty succumbed when I found myself cycling along with her as she vomited all over herself. After suffering the indignity of having an injection (not in her arm) as I stood in the hotel room which acted as the team’s GP’s surgery she spent one day a “whiter shade of pale” when she couldn’t even bear the smell of her own road weary mum!!
Overriding all of this were the sights, sounds and smells of the towns and countryside as we rode through them. Children (and even whole families) everywhere came out to excitedly greet these strange foreign women on bikes. There was many a child we could so easily have scooped up and brought home with us. There would be a family of five or more children with only one or two who had clothes. The poverty was heart-breaking. We saw into homes which literally had nothing – no real furniture at all. The dodgy plumbing of our hotels was a luxury way beyond the experience of most of the villagers we saw. Only about 17% of homes in Cambodia have any plumbing at all and most of these are in the cities and bigger towns. Incense burning and wonderful spices competed with the, at times overwhelming, less than pleasant pong of sewage. The noise of the traffic in towns was of a level where I’m sure was damaging to our hearing. Horns beeped at all time and we never knew what it meant. Sometimes the scooter drivers seemed to be saying hello or sometimes, I’m turning left or right and sometimes get out of my way. It was a guessing game. However when a big truck or bus beeped it meant I am big you are small get off the road!
Apart from the physical challenge the main aim of the trip was to raise funds for Women for Women which is a part of the Genesis Trust charity headed by Professor Robert Winston which researches the problems of pregnancy and new-borns and women’s health generally. We would like to thank all our sponsors for every pound they invested in us. As a group we have raised, so far, over £600,000.
Would we do it again? Certainly I say, certainly not says Kirsty.
If you’d like to donate, please visit our Just Giving page