Uncontrollable Surprise

09 Mar 2011
Posted by Marisa
Marisa's picture

I am currently sitting on top of a double-decker bus, rocking my way towards Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. The bus is a bit more like a roller coaster than I remember double-decker buses being. Perhaps it's because I'm sitting in back, or perhaps it's because the roads in Cambodia aren't quite as smooth as the ones in Hong Kong. Of course you could have all the smoothness in the world and it wouldn't matter when you go swerving around motorbikes and cows at full speed.

It is now 3:30pm. We were told that the bus would be arriving around 4:30, which we took hopefully to mean we would arrive around 6 or so. However, soon after getting on the bus bright and early this morning, I began to despair that we would ever arrive at our destination.

We arrived at the bus stop this morning at about 7:45. The hotel arranged for our tickets and our ride to the bus stop, and I was quite surprised to see the bus pulling out as my motorbike came down the street, honked and pulled in front of the bus so it couldn't make a sneaky escape until Jordan and his motorbike arrived. The bus conductor berated me for being late, and I laughed, “ha ha, like I have any control over this situation.” We got quickly on the bus and congratulated ourselves on not missing the bus, despite the fact that it was supposed to leave about 20 minutes earlier. We felt lucky and relieved to be on board, and missed the sign from the universe that perhaps we should have missed the bus.


Me, still happy, smiling into Jordan's glasses.

After one last mean look from the conductor, the bus pulled off the curb, drove about 300 meters and then pulled over again to let some more people on. It continued to do this every 300 meters or so for about an hour. It should be noted that when Jordan and I got on the bus we sat in the last empty seats, so everyone else they picked up was squatting in the aisle.


The aisles are full and the tv is loud.

At this point (after picking up about 10 extra aisle squatters), we calculated that we were about an hour behind schedule, and things began to pick up. Or rather the opposite, since we didn't pick anyone up for about 10 minutes. However, the cruising time was brief and we soon pulled over to the side of the road. Everyone dashed off the bus, and I thought maybe the squatters had arrived at their destination, but after looking around, it seemed we were in the middle of nowhere. And I don't mean “middle of nowhere” like we were in Cambodia, but “middle of nowhere” meaning we were in the forest and there were no signs of people. In turned out after some observation that the bus guys (of which there seemed to be about 5 on our bus of 60) were out fixing something under the bus and everyone else had seized the moment to have a roadside pee, despite the fact that most of them had just been picked up and had been on the bus for about 10 minutes. Finally, the pee-ers returned to the bus, the bus guys removed the wooden blocks from the tires, and we were off again. Perhaps an hour and half late at this point, although it's really hard to know since the arrival time is only a mysterious 4:30, which we never really believed in.

We chugged along with hope in our hearts as we sped toward our destination. The morning light glistened off the green mountains and everything looked very lovely. I pulled out the iPod, turned it on and enjoyed the scenery set to my own personal soundtrack. What a lovely day it will be, I thought.


The beautiful, dry scenery passes by the window.

Suddenly the bus pulled over again. We looked around in confusion and saw that we had pulled over at a rest stop. It's breakfast time. And since we had been in the bus for about 2 hours, and driven perhaps 30 miles, it was time to take advantage of the road side stop. Everyone piled off the bus to eat and use the WC, and the bus boys were back out there tinkering with the bus. About 20 minutes later or so, we all got back on the bus and headed out, at this point so far behind schedule that I really couldn't give you a time figure.

And so it goes for many hours. We drive a few miles and then have a rest stop. I have never had so many rest stops as on this bus ride. The real highlight came when I glanced out the window to see where we could possibly be stopping at this point, and saw that some guy had bounded off the bus and was buying furniture from a roadside stand. One of the bus boys had followed him out and was slowly carting stools made from solid wood logs back to the bus. The guy was wandering around what I guess is a furniture store (but really looks like a shack) and was contemplating various things. Eventually the bus driver gave him a honk, as whatever induced him to stop for this furniture shopping spree has been overrun by the 60 people sitting on the bus, looking out the window and wondering why someone is buying furniture. Eventually the man got back on the bus with the last stool at the shop, and we were on our way again.


See the man sprinting back to the bus. See how there is no more furniture in the yard to be bought.

This, I thought, was the icing on the cake of our bus trip. However, I thought that just before the air con broke.

The only redeeming thing about spending 10+ hours on the bus is that you get to do it in the cool air and look out the window at scenery set to your own personal soundtrack. When suddenly the cool factor is gone, and it's over 90 degrees with no air flow (the bus windows don't open), nothing really makes the trip seem worthwhile, not your soundtrack, not hours of playing Zoo Keeper on the DS, not the thought that tomorrow you can see Angkor Wat. Mostly you just think, I would trade all the temples in and around Angkor Wat for a cool breeze.

And that, I concluded while I could feel the sweat dripping down and pooling around and soaking into my clothes, is what traveling is. It may seem exotic and exciting and other words that start with 'e', and sometimes it is, but mostly it's uncomfortable and uncontrollable and surprising. Sometimes the surprises are good, so you keep going. Sometimes they are bad and you question why in the world you are at the location you are. For now I have hope that we will someday arrive at our destination, and that the surprises tomorrow will be good ones. And since we're going to Angkor Wat, I'm thinking the chances are good. 


Good thing you guys got seats

Good thing you guys got seats - it would have been unpleasant for Jordan to be squatting in the aisle. Did you manage to keep your seats with all the getting off and on?

Sounds like the culture there is not time oriented... :-)

Repeat after me, "this is an experience I refuse to be denied!"

Wow, Marisa. I think that's

Wow, Marisa. I think that's all I have to say. Wow. And that this made me laugh (in deep sympathy).