Or "How I learned to stop worrying, and love the moto-taxi".
I am not comfortable as a motorbike passenger. Something to do with too little control over one’s own destiny and too much responsibility for the collective equilibrium. It doesn’t help that I’m taller than most Asians, and the driver is apt to forget that farang knees stick out further than those of most of his regular passengers.
In Thailand, I’d managed to limit my motorcycle exposure to a couple of short trips. But in Cambodia, the motorcycle is, if not quite the only way of getting from A to B, certainly the most usual one, and if you don’t have a bike of your own, then you simply flag down a ‘moto-dops’ and for a very modest fee, the driver will then deliver you quickly to your destination. Assuming he knows where it is, which is by no means a given, or assuming you can explain it to him in Khmer, which is even less likely.
We wanted to go to the former French beach colony of Kep, so the obvious thing was for Younger Brother – the easy-going but ambitious youth from the guesthouse – to be our driver for the day and take us there on the back of his bike. One bike; three adults; no problem. I loaned M. a pair of shorts so that she didn’t have to sit side-saddle for 48km, we all piled on, and away we went.
For the record, the road from Kampot to Kep is a dream: a straight, silk-smooth ribbon of metalled road runs practically all the way, uninterrupted by potholes and mud wallows, and with roadside fauna that seem less inclined to spectacular automotive suicide than others we’ve seen. My initial misgivings began to abate somewhat.
Younger Brother proved to be a calm and capable driver, who would politely enquire if we were all still aboard after each bridge, and who trundled us through the countryside at a modest but not excessive speed. The little Bart Simpson voice in my head stopped saying
“Don’t hit a cow, man,” and I began to actually enjoy the trip. The scenery unrolled like a film, not behind glass as in a car, but close enough to touch, vivid with colors and scents. The orange flowers of the flame trees stood out against the blue of the sky, while the deep red earth of the roadside jostled against the vivid green of new rice plantings. Stately white cows watched us go past with dull-eyed expressions of transcendent placidity. The tall naked boles of sugar palms reared their crowns of leaves into the sky like windmills. The headwind was cool and welcome.
Perhaps ‘love’ is too strong a word, but I am at least becoming resigned to the moto-dops as a means of transport. Which in Cambodia, might be a case of simply bowing to the inevitable.