We left Matteo Tricarico in Italy, after having completed the first part of his Travel For Aid odyssey across Asia into Europe… Matteo is now back on the road, starting from Bangkok, Thailand, and trying to end up in North China before starting a new pan- American adventure… we are therefore happy to start publishing his chronicles once again!!
Although today is the 14th day since I started riding after the four-month stay in Italy (not the longest dwelling, I stayed in Nepal for five months!), the feeling is that I never really stopped and this second stage of my travel is in fact just the continuation of the first one. During the Italian break, I was busy telling my experience to voluntary and cycling associations, schools, friends and perfect strangers who, thanks to the local media, knew all about me. I got used to be stopped in the street by people asking me the question “Are you the one who …?”. With very poor results, I also tried to find sponsorships and, despite the crisis, I was fortunate to meet Enzo Longo, owner of a bicycle company in Ostuni. He built a tailored made bicycle, personalized with my name, site of Travel For Aid and the writing “World Tour”. But I think that the greatest success of my dwelling in Italywas the recruitment of Dr. Marta Santoro, who became my travel companion for the first five weeks throughout Indochina. Marta, born in 1980, from my same hometown, studied as a chiropractor and worked in Englandfor ten years, where she covered hundreds of miles cycling.
With my new bicycle well packed and my temporary travel companion, on February 1, 2012, I boarded a Sri Lankan Airlines’ plane in Rome: bound to Bangkok, with a stopover in Colombo. The arrival in the Thai capital was one of those moments that words cannot fully explain: exiting the airport, I was soon hit by the 32 degree heat and 90% of the tropical humidity. The first drops of sweat began running inexorably from my forehead along my temples. Two coughs reminded me of the wet smog surrounding the city, and the pungent smell of people’s heavy garlic breath were just the first signs of Asian cuisine’s comeback. Last but not least, a torrential downpour on the way to the hotel reminded me of the power of nature in these parts of the world. I was back into my habitat, at home! Meanwhile, Marta was like a child in an alien planet, surprised of all those things that are normal to me: they seemed almost new, observing them through her eyes. That same day we went to get my old bike, which I laid abandoned for two years at my friend Enrico’s house, in order to fix and adapt it to Marta. The third and forth of February, waiting to get the bike back from the mechanic, we went around many street food stalls in Bangkok eating chicken satay skewers, drinking coconut juice and sugar cane, visiting pagodas and markets. I also met Mauro and Rosi, my former employers of ASCO Travel, with whom we had dinner at a picturesque restaurant on the banks of the Chao Phraya river.
Sunday, February 5 at 10.30, after picking up the bike from the shop, we asked the guy to take a picture of us, then we headed south towards the Gulf of Siam. I chose the route along the coast to satisfy Marta’s desire to go to the beach and swim for the first time in her life in February. In a couple of days we reached Pattaya and then we continued on busy Highway 3 until Chantaburi. We went rather slowly compared to what I had expected, but I underestimated the effect of heat on my travel companion. She was well fit and ready in the laps of training (and test!) done in Italy in the previous months. Moreover, there were frequent instructive stops to closely observe rubber and cashew nuts trees, pineapple and tapioca plants. We also indulged in healthy swims in the warm water of the Sea of Siam. Given the climate and the tropical sun, Marta is doing very well and is improving day by day, thanks to her strong will and determination. On 10 February, we spent the night in Trat, last town in Thailand before the Cambodian border. In a guesthouse we met other young Western travellers who chatted with Marta exchanging impressions of these early days in South-East Asia. As an old resident of this town, I rarely take part in these conversations except when I explain the historical and cultural reasons behind certain local behaviours surprising the white travellers.
On 12 February, mid-morning, we crossed the border with Cambodia, leaving behind the comforts of well-developed, industrialized Thailand, to take a step back in time and enter one of the poorest and most troubled countries in recent world history. Roads became almost unpaved, furnished stores transformed into huts where you hardly find water, but there’s always coca-cola! At the same time the landscape became magnificent with lush tropical jungle, where nature is no longer bound by human activities like in the Kingdom of Siam. I already informed Marta that the 150 kilometers after the border would be the hardest of all the 1,500 route in common, because we would be crossing the Cardamom mountain range. To the difficulty of the hilly roads, it adds the lack of places for refreshment and lodging. In fact, we spent the nights of 12 and 13 February respectively: in our tent in the pagoda of Phumi Chrang village and in a hut in Sre Ambel. You hardly sleep in a tent; it is more like resting to regain some energy. Therefore, it was a great pleasure to arrive exhausted in Kampong Saom (Sihanouk Ville), where we remained for the last two days in a guesthouse just a few dozen meters from the white sands of Ochheuteal beach. Until next time.