Meanwhile, I had to sift back through some old images this last week, and I found a couple that conjured up some great memories.
I was riding in Cambodia in 2007. I’d hired a guide, and he was a wild unit. We got on really well, and he was a great bloke, but the northern border of Cambodia was pioneer country then, and Ammo – the guide – was very much a pioneer sort of bloke. I forget how long the ride went, but it might’ve been 10 days, and every day was an adventure. Sometimes it was great adventure like doing some bike repair in a town and having the local kids flock around to watch, or sharing a dinner with a village watching a muay thai tournament on the village’s only TV. Sometimes things got hairy, and that’s where Ammo’s wild side got us out of trouble a few times
In the above pic the local army – or militia or whatever – is letting us store our bikes in the local lock-up to keep them safe. Ammo, after a very tense few moments, is clowning with the local bloke-in-charge, and, as always with Ammo, everyone ended up smiling.
Not long before this pic I’d rolled into the village after a run down a very sandy trail where I’d set off a land mine with the rear wheel of the DRZ. (That’s a bit of a story too, but I wasn’t in any danger. I didn’t realise what had happened until some time after. A story for another time).
Anyhoo, I rolled into the village, and there were half a dozen uniformed soldiers standing around with their submachine guns and apparently not doing much. Ammo was some way behind me, so I offered the Cambodian greeting, “Sok su bai!” Literally it translates to ‘happy and healthy’, but it’s meaning is more like, “G’day, mate,’ or ‘How’s it going?’ Everyone smiled and one of the soldiers sprouted a few sentences in Cambodian. I smiled and said in English, “Sorry. Please wait. My friend is coming.”
By the time I’d finished the sentence I was staring down the barrel of the SMG. Speaking English had put an end to any courtesy, apparently. I was dragged off the bike, pushed to the ground and was laying with my hands behind my head and everyone was shouting at me and pointing weapons in my direction.
It was all a bit Deer Hunter, I thought.
The next thing I heard was Ammo pulling up shouting louder than everyone else.
It was all sounding very angry and I don’t mind admitting I was wondering where it was all heading. I sneaked a look over my shoulder and Ammo was running around waving around a knife the size of a machete and poking people in the chest.
I don’t know much about handling situations like that one, but I was pretty sure if I was being threatened by a group of soldiers armed with submachine guns, waving a big knife around and pushing people probably wasn’t a good idea.
That shows how little I know.
The next thing was ammo grabbing a handful of my jacket and dragging me upright, telling me to keep a stern expression and shake hands with the boss soldier.
Within a few minutes Ammo and the soldiers were slapping each other on the back and laughing, and things couldn’t have been friendlier. A soldier was detailed to see us safely through our stay in the village and, as the pic shows, the bikes were stored in the lock-up to keep them safe.
It was a typical adventure ride where for days things will rock along in a steady and interesting way, but then one incident, sometimes only lasting a few minutes, can change the complexion of the whole ride. It’s also a great illustration on the value of a guide in some of these troubled places.
It’s an intense memory from a ride full of intense memories.
I rode with Ammo a couple of times, and everything seemed wild and larger-than-life when he was around. We always had a great time, even when things got rough, as they did several times.
Meanwhile, here at home and in the present, I still haven’t picked up the KLR. I’ve been too busy. I don’t expect I’ll be able to grab it this week either (it’s in Brisbane). In an e-mail that made me smile though, Bernie Wittman sent this:
‘I see you have tracked yourself down a KLR. Enjoy. I remembered seeing them growing on trees some time ago up around Lamington NP.
Great pics. I’ll show you all the KLR when I get it. It’s up for some substantial rebuilding straight away, so I’ll have to photograph it quick.