Today has been one of the most unforgettable, adventurous and heart-warming days of my life. I arrived in Battambang by bus this morning where a tuk tuk driver was waiting to take me to the guest house. The owner greeted me at the gate, showed me to my room, and then he lent me a bicycle so I could go explore the town.
I found a cute lil restaurant where I chatted with a French tourist who is also a teacher. Then a massive downpour rolled through town so we waited it out in the cafe, and he invited me to hang out in the afternoon and ride bikes since we both had borrowed bikes. We ended up going to the market to try to find sacks of marbles, which was an adventure in itself since very few shopkeepers knew English. He knew the Khmer word for marble, so we walked through the huge market asking everyone, "marble?" over and over until we finally found someone selling them. They all had a good laugh at the crazy foreigners looking desperately for marbles.
Then we rode our bikes around the mud-puddley farm roads on the outskirts of town, stopping wherever we saw children playing. Each time we found new children, we got off our bikes, handed them some marbles, and showed them how to play. The looks on their faces was something I'll never forget. I don't think their smiles could have gotten any bigger. It was such a blast. The parents looked so happy as well.
After riding our bikes through the muddiest streets, my tires started to get so caked with clay-like mud that my bike stopped moving altogether. We had to keep stopping to dig the mud out of the tires with sticks and rocks and fingers. After about an hour of this, we were completely muddy head to toe, drenched in rain and sweat, and having a blast. Feeling super guilty about muddying up the bike I was lent, we found a gas station where we mimed to the owners to ask if we could wash our bikes off somewhere. They led us to the outdoor bathrooms where we were able to dip out buckets of water out of a huge sink and clean the bikes as best we could. All of the mud from the bikes pretty much ended up on us. Then we cleaned up the gas station bathrooms, said our goodbyes, and went on our respective ways.
Tonight (after a much-needed shower), I took the bike and rode to a cafe the guest house owner recommended, had a delicious Khmer meal, and then rode extra slowly back along pitch black country roads enjoying the fresh air and nature sounds. The sounds of nature out here on the far edge of town are amazing...and LOUD. Frogs, crickets, and dozens of other sounds I can't place, but I'm sure they are huge bugs and creatures I don't wish to encounter.
When I returned, the guest house owner invited me inside, gave me some bananas and we chatted about volunteer opportunities in Cambodia since he has worked with NGOs for several years and knows which ones are legit. Tomorrow I'm taking a tour around Battambang province to ride the bamboo train, visit a winery, and a couple of more temples that were recommended.
I've only been in Cambodia 3 days, but have already fallen in love. After a couple of days of Angkor temple tours, tuk tuk rides wayyy out on the country farm roads through remote villages, attending a family-and-friends party thrown by the first guest house owner with lots of great food, drinks, singing and dancing, I already feel completely immersed and at home. The people are so warm and welcoming, the food is amazing, and this country is breathtakingly beautiful.