We continue transmitting the chronicles of Matteo Tricarico’s new biking trip from Asia to America…
On 5 March 2012, last day of our stay in Phnom Penh, Marta and I followed Andrea and Paloma of CIAI (Italian Centre for Aid Childhood, www.ciai.it) to visit the project “From the street to school”, that the association runs in the village of Andong about twenty kilometres south of the city. Here the government forcibly settled hundreds of displaced families removed from around the lake Tompum, lately becoming one of the capital most sought areas of estate development. Andong is a place of filthy huts of brick and metal roof with no running water and open sewers.
A true suburban town in the middle of the countryside that resembles the Indian slums, although the number of residents is not in the order of millions, but of tens of thousands. Here CIAI built wooden spacious classrooms for about 300 disadvantaged children from the nearby community who are given remedial courses for those who have dropped out of school, so as to reintegrate them into the corresponding class. The centre also hosts recreational activities and entertainment such as sports, dancing, drawing, in addition to the monitoring of socio-economic situation of families of origin and psychological support services, education, safety and specific medical treatment. When we arrived, we were surrounded by dozens of rowdy and joyful kids, welcoming us with their innocent smiles. Marta, unaccustomed to such a warm behaviour of children in developing countries, was visibly moved by it. With the help of a translator, I spoke of my trip to an audience of young listeners, who understood perfectly what I am doing and, when asked if they had questions, they literally bombarded my with their queries, all perfectly relevant. After we left, Martha made comparisons with Western kids, and was impressed by the simplicity of these poor children and how little is enough to make them, if not happy, at least pleased with respect to the very hard to please children of first world.
The next day in the late morning, we got on the bicycles leaving the city of Lady Penh behind our backs and heading towards the “nine dragons”, as the Vietnamese call the branches in which the Mekong River divides itself creating the gigantic delta. We crossed one of the largest branch on a ferry and we continued on the elevated highway that traverses this land mostly covered by water. We spent our last Cambodian night in Bavet, in a small guesthouse a few hundred meters from the border, surrounded by the glittering neon signs of huge casino-hotels hosting players from China and Vietnam, countries where gambling is strictly prohibited. On March
8th in the late afternoon we reached the city of Ho Chi Minh, a megalopolis where just a hundred years ago there were only two small fishing villages, Sai and Gon, on the banks of the river. Here we were guests at the house that Mauro -formally still my employer, because I have never resigned… I just took a long sabbatical! – still rents, even though he moved with his family to Bangkok.
For Marta, the arrival in Saigon was also the achievement of her goal, surely one of the happiest and most rewarding moment of her experience as cyclo-traveller. A great achievement considering that she went from riding for a few tens of kilometres on Apulian roads, to cover 2100 kilometres in six weeks on rough roads, under the scorching sun, at temperatures well above 30 degrees and humidity between 70% and 90%. She slept in guesthouses with beds as hard as wooden boards, seldom washing herself and eating new kinds of food to which she was not used. Also, she managed to live 24 hours a day with me, something that can be really unpleasant at times, as I reckon I am not the kindest of travel partners. At last it came out that it seems that I snore, but this is not scientifically proven! Anyway, from the first moment I met her and we started talking about this trip together, I knew that she would have make it. Congratulations Martina and see you on the road for another ride …
(TO BE CONTINUED)