Monday, December 28, 2009

A letter from an unlikely place....

This is a letter to friends from JVB, a '60s bike racer from the Bay Area.

Dear friends,
Roberta and I are in the last week of a 3 month trip to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. I thought it might be fun to send an email to people I know who are into bikes and the biking culture. I will illustrate with a story from each country we visited.
Not everyone knows exactly where all the countries in Southeast Asia are, but most people have heard of Ankor Wat, a huge Buddhist temple in the jungles of Cambodia. Its reputed to be the largest religious building in the world- and is the biggest tourist attraction in Southeast Asia (along with the beaches of Thailand). So imagine my surprise in going to see Ankor Wat and what is going on right in front of the place but a bike race. No, Lance wasn't there, but there were plenty of other competitors. We got there at the tail end of the race. A few stragglers were coming in.I checked out the bikes- they were serious racing machines. Talked with one of the guys and he said he was living in Cambodia, teaching English (he was American). I was curious how such a big field of riders could be assembled in this part of the world. He said a lot of expats, like himself, were into competetive cycling. There are also some Cambodians (but don't look for them in the Olympics). People are willing to travel a fairly long way from places like Hong Kong, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur, to be in a major race. Who wudda thunk?
We were staying at a small guesthouse in southern Laos, at a place called Tat Lo. There's a beautiful waterfall there, but mainly people go there just to experience the simple rural life. Its also not so oppressively hot there, as cooling breezes seem to often blow off a nearby plateau.Turns out our next door neighbors in the guesthouse are a Dutch couple touring around Southeast Asia on their bikes. They are in their mid fifties. He's an accout exec. for a company in Amsterdam. They do a three month bike tour every year in some part of the world. They've been doing this for fourteen years. He's going to retire soon so he and his wife will have more time for cycle touring.Everything we ask about their travels, his wife says yayayayayayayaya...She's a fountain of enthusiam.The punchline to this story is that we meet five other couples from Holland in this area during the next few days. They are not part of a big tour. They are all here by coincidence. We ask them about this- what is it with the Dutch? We just like to cycle they say.Roberta is very impressed. "These Dutch are really strong and brave to do this kind of thing!" "You shouldn't be so surprised " I reply. "After all, you married one".
Our Vietnam story concerns a remote border crossing. We have just returned to Vietnam and are caught up in some dodgy scam which has us stranded in a remote restaurant in the country. We are waiting for a bus outta there, when along comes a couple on bikes pulling trailers. They stop for some food and we get their story. They are from Mallorca, Spain. Roberta is excited to be speaking Spanish with them. I'm more comfortable in English. We drift back and forth in the languages. They are biking around Southeast Asia, but they started in Buenas Aries, Argentina. They rode up through South America, Central America, through the Rocky Mountains in the US and Canada. They've been traveling for a year and a half. This is the first bike tour they've ever done. They are going to ride across Asia to get back to Spain. Figure another year and a half. They're having a blast. They don't look tired.
I guess only our imagination holds us back sometimes.
Cheers, JVB

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