April 17th 2555 Pha Taem National Park – Evrim and Elif Yigit
Since we’d come from Cambodia to Thailand, we’d been off color. Since April was the hottest month in this area, it got harder to ride during the day. After lunch, it had been like a torment to get up from the table and continue riding our bikes again. At first I didn’t care much about this situation because Elif and I had decided to travel this part of Thailand at ease and more detailed. We had two months to see around Thailand’s Issan region and for these two months we wanted to camp and visit more national parks and small settlements. However after a while the situation transformed more into sloth than travelling slower. After a week we began to gain weight and sleep more. We couldn’t have got over the sluggishness in the mornings in any way. Sometimes the breaks we take had lasted up to 3 hours and we could only ride for 40-45km in a day. It was chilly in the mornings but it was more alluring to drink a cup of coffee in the chill of the morning rather than to ride our bikes. This situation of ours had lasted for 2 weeks. When we had a look at the map, we knew that we still have so many places to see and if it’d go on like this, we would have to go back home before we would see many more places in the Issan region. At last, this straightened out on its own. At the last two days our direction headed to north from east and we each rode for a hundred kilometer. I think this situation may be caused by a couple of reasons. First may be the chilling of the weather as we proceed to north in a quite hot April. However since we haven’t gone much to north to feel this chill, this is a ridiculous reason. Second is that the sun was shining from behind us. For me, this is a more reasonable explanation. Because riding across the sun in the mornings had been so unpleasant that we both didn’t want to go on the road in the mornings. As we had been riding during the day, we both felt the sun directly on our faces while it was at its hottest condition. As we had kept riding like this for a couple of hours, we had felt that we ran dry. This provides you a light that enables you to see pretty nice colors if the sun isn’t right at your top. As we’ve been proceeding to north with the sun behind us, we’ve been riding our bikes through the view which seemed better than it always has been, forgetting all about our tiredness, forgetting about the time. However a simpler reason, in fact a mistake caused us to throw off our laziness, let me explain; Yesterday, we got caught by the rain as we were riding. I prefer to barge into these rainfalls instead of stopping. Because here the rainfalls wet an area only a radius of 5-10km and if you keep going instead of waiting, you’ll get soaked but in no time you’ll reach the sunny area behind the rain and you’ll get dry on your bike in a short time. Here rainfalls resemble more a storm. The fall is so strong that you’re not able to see a couple of meters front. Sometimes this rain is like a wall. It flows from top to bottom like a waterfall 40-50m ahead of the road and you consider about riding through this wall 50m ahead of you under the sun. Just during a rain like this, Elif prefered to stop. Since we’ve spent the last week getting soaked with icy water during the water festival we’ve really missed to spend a day dry. That’s the reason why we waited under a fringe, then after the rain eased off we filled up our stomachs in a diner. I’d eaten so much in no time that I realized my stomach had been so full to sting me to get on the road and ride my bike. As we stopped in the town 10km ahead, my stomach couldn’t have recovered yet.
In Thailand, there are vending machines that you can get water from. These machines only supply water and you have to have your own bottles to fill this water in. I averagely consume 5-6L of water in a day on my own. If I buy water from the market evert day, I have to get 8-9 bottles. Because bottles here are nearly 750ml. If we consider that Elif will consume that much water and other beverages this nearly makes 20 bottles, 5 plastic bags and straws. (here they give straws with every beverage, even beer, even if you don’t ask for it) This makes 600 bottles, 150 bags and straws a month and 4800 bottles, 1200 bags and straws during the tour in 8 months. If we consider like this, it means an excessive waste for two people. Besides water at the vending machines are 15 times cheaper. You can save at least 200 bahts in a day.
As I left the town where we’d taken a break, I proceeded to the opposite direction to look for a water vending machine without waiting for Elif and I thought that she saw me. As for Elif, she headed to our direction without noticing me. This was our first mistake. I took a tour around the market and went after Elif to the same direction, passed the police booth and after proceeding for 1-2km more as I couldn’t see Elif I went back and searched for her in the market.
If you know me closely, you’ll know that I mostly mean the opposite of what I say. This is a kind of a humor for me. However if you know me very close, I begin to make much more of these sentences which mean the opposite of what I want to say and make myself harder to understand. As we stopped to visit the town market at our latest stopover, I told Elif one of these opposite meaning sentences of mine; It’ll be better for us to get back to the national park 8km behind. What I really meant was to drink coffee at the market 10m behind and drink coffee. Eventhough the sentence seems nonsense, people close to me begin to understand as I speak like this all day. But in our situation, there was a possibilty that Elif had taken it serious and had gone to the national park 8km behind. Because I had had to catch Elif on the way. After waiting at the market for 5 minutes, I decided that it was pointless to wait for Elif to come back and I went back to the police booth explained myself to them. They told me that they’ve seen Elif heading to north, where we were supposed to go but I couldn’t be sure because I’d passed by the police 15 minutes before and maybe without them noticing, I’d come back. Which means police may have seen me as the cyclist ahead. Meanwhile a lady who speaks English and wanted to help me stopped nearby and said that Elif had gone the direction the police told and she’d seen her passing by in her car. Like this I got sure about the direction but now I had 20 minutes of distance with Elif and as she couldn’t find me on the road she could panic, get annoyed and begin to make wrong decisions. In this case, it’ll be best to transmit a message to Elif. I teared a page from my notebook and asked the lady in the car to write something to request this note to be passed to the cyclist ahead in Thai. The note I sent Elif was saying that I was 20 minutes behind her and she may keep riding slowly. I gave the note to the first car going to the same direction with Elif, however the water vehicle was unfortunately a bad choice and with the note he took as a matter of courtesy, he took the first turnout ahead of us and disappeared. Even if the vehicle would catch Elif on the front and get the note off to her, he most probably wouldn’t intermit his job to distribute water and would reach Elif at the same time with me. The major shake off moment for me began like this.
During this tour, Elif came out to be faster than I’d expected, recently we rode 65km with 29kmph as we headed to Cambodia. Even if the wind was coming from behind, it was blowing mildly and in order to advance a loaded bike with this speed, you need more than the wind blowing from the behind.
Elif would try to go faster trying to catch me as she thought that I was in front of her. For me, I didn’t want to pedal at all as I was still feeling my full stomach. I’d be so happy to get behind on one of the policemen’s motorcycles and catch her. I decide not to lose time on the road and give up the idea to try to send her a second message. It would be harder for me to try to catch up with her on a flat road. But here the surgy roads will be my advantage. Because I know how she rides. First, she doesn’t like to strain herself like me and slows down a little at every ascent. Second, she doesn’t exceed certain speeds at the descents. Which means she’ll brake during steep descents as opposed to me. However it’s 4:30 and at most in an hour I have to catch Elif. Otherwise it’ll get dark and this means panic for us both. I ride for 15-20km and I cannot catch Elif yet but from the police booth on the road I get sure that Elif is still ahead of me. I proceed a little more and reach the national park junction. At that point I have to make a critical decision because there’s a market here and these places are common stopovers for us both. Because of this I’m sure that Elif stopped here and looked for me but she might have done searching for me here and in this situation it’ll be a waste of time for me to look for her in the market. Secondly, I have to find out which way she went. Because even if our first target is the national park, she might have headed to the other side, to the city. Instead of searching the market, I decide to ask the people which direction the cyclist before me went to. Before I ask, one of them points the direction she went. From this, I figure out that Elif explained the situation to her and wanted her to transmit a message to me. This is good news because from now on Elif began to consider that I got behind and might have slowed down. Fortunately, not after a long while as I ride for 4km, I see Elif coming back. She seems extremely calm and I guess my water distributer succeeded in delivering my message though at the last kilometers.
Elif assuming that I’m in front of her and trying to catch me, and me trying to catch someone that’s trying to catch me despite the 20 minutes of distance, causes us to pull ourselves together and at last our kilometer watches begin to keep on again and add new kilometers to our journey.
Beginning from this day, we leave Thailand’s border with Camodia behind and follow its border with Laos, or rather Mekong river and pass through one of the areas covering the most national parks of Thailand, who likes to construct national parks a lot. The towns on our road are mostly very small and underdeveloped places. Because of this, it’s more pleasant for us to camp in national parks at nights.
This part of Thailand is much more poor than the general. Roads are partially distorted and narrow. You cannot find everything you want in towns. Even if it’s possible for us to obtain our essential and important needs in all towns, we’re a week away from a nice bike store in this area of Thailand. However since the roads are narrower and there’s less traffic, it’s much more pleasant for us to ride our bikes here. Riding here reminds me the area we passed after Kanchanaburi as we were heading to north. We could keep on our tour there from roads where almost no vehicles passed by, securely, meeting very nice people as well. Since the roads were narrower, the trees near the road were almost covering all above the road and protecting you from the sun. Here there aren’t long descents for 2 weeks as in Mae Hongson or Nan area. These roads will always ascent between 200-400m, descend down and keep going. On this kind of roads, it’s a pleasure for me to ride my bike with a high average speed. Because on this kind of roads I strain my legs with all my power, keep my bike’s speed and climb up to the ascent, then on the descent after that, I can give a little break to my legs to rest. Like this I can keep going without struggling and keeping my speed high.
As I proceed on the road with my bike, my brain starts to work as well as my legs, my memories come into my mind as the views, trees, houses pass by me, new thoughts begin to rotate in my head, I hear my own voice like I speak with myself and this voice accompanies me, whispers my experiences in life as I’m on my bike. At that time, the time I spend on my bike seems like a pleasant book to be written to me. Sometimes the voice inside my head takes me back to the time before I began this tour, I see myself working in the office in front of the computer, sometimes unpleasant moments, my mistakes in the past, things that I say I wish I could do different, I’d like to change rotate in my brain. Then an anger begins while I’m on my bike and my legs push the pedals harder. But my voice inside my head always likes to tell about different things and whispers about other thoughts to me, talks about the future and I think about the moment we’ll step in İstanbul for the first time. Things I’ll experience in the future, my search for a new job, my previous job interviews, my new portfolio preparation etc. all these are the thoughts that rotate in my mind as I proceed with my bike. Then I make decisions. I say this time I’ll take better care of my life. Now I’m strong and happy, I’m being careful of what I eat and drink, I don’t have excess weight, I’m healty and of course I’m exercising regularly and when I go back, I have to keep my form when I start working.
Then I think about people’s, my friends’ lives, choices, things we have to do everyday, sometimes our hard-working, sometimes our unemployment. Then I imagine that I bring my friends here one by one, that we ride together, like there’s an old friend of mine on the bike behind instead of Elif and we experience all these with him. I think of being in Kanchanaburi with my housemate who does bodybuilding and is proud of his muscled arms, I imagine how he would be in a good mood as he meets with girls, telling me about it like “hey man I met a girl yesterday”, I imagine that I reply “you’re cool, girls are wild about you”; then with another friend of mine, for example with Sencer, as it was like the times we had been lost on the mountains on our way to Antalya and we had had to ask for food from the villages, that we proceed on the narrow roads of Thailand. I make jokes to Sencer like “I suppose we got lost again”, but as opposed to the night we got lost, as we spend the night in a resort in a forest with a pool, massage and authentic food, that has a beauty and price that only can be found in Thailand, I imagine how he as his saying “marvellously marvellous” drinks his beer and is happy; then I think about my mother, tasting the coffe that’s prepared with special beans that only grow here in a town in Vietnam and has the most unique flavor in the world; I imagine that we wander around the evening markets here with a friend of mine and that he proudly shows his cellphone which he had bought after saving his money for months on the table he sits in a cafe, I imagine the astonishment of my friend as he realizes that lingerie, socks salesmen on the street has the same phone; then I think about Enes saying “if we had a gps with us this wouldn’t be necessary at all” as we ask about the direction entering in a house in the village where no one passes by and as someone comes out from the village house with an i-pad in their hands and we listen to a detailed direction explanation from the google-map with the accompany of a glass of icy water and telling Enes “I thought he would come out with a map, look what he has”; I imagine that we look at the most sincere smile in return for my greeting with Feyyaz and him saying “my friend, I guess my heart is going to stay here”; I think about my father, I imagine that we win all billiard games one by one as we enter the most assertive bars, playing drunk; I think about the girls who come up with excuses to get on the road touring on their own and imagine that they’re with us as we meet that Swedish woman touring on her own in Laos or the German girl we’ve met in Mae Hong Son who’d just reached 18 and also touring on her own. I imagine them saying “Look at that woman something’s going to happen to her” and me replying “maybe it won’t”; then I imagine Hakan being with us at the shoe repairer who does triathlon; I’d want my electrician who’s worrying because he couldn’t have found the girl he’ll marry with yet to see the girl mixing plaster in the construction area I saw today, that they could work together at the worksite, that they speak with each other. I’d like to stay with the police officer who requested my ID saying “check if he’s a terrorist or something” at the police station where we’ll set up a camp with a couple of Thai families tonight unquestioned. I imagine him telling me “are you crazy can we stay at a police station, something’s going to happen to us” and because of this getting embarrassed by the officer who offers us cold water, coffe and asks where we’re from only in the next morning when we wake up and get rested; after that I imagine drinking with our bumpkins in Khoa San Rd. going to the bars one by one and them saying “man are you crazy, they’ll never let us in, we have to arrange some girls first” and me teasing them like “try to have some fun bro” and spending the night visiting the best places of Bangkok; then I imagine the girls who ran away as I attempted to rape her as I requested to take a picture of me being here, them being happy, that they’d recognize no one would disturb them; all my imaginations go on like that. These come into my mind moment by moment. However as I imagine these, I don’t picture weighing two different countries on a pair of scales in my mind. I just remember my longings, my friends’ longings, our women who don’t even go out on the street sometimes, our transsexuals who say “is this what life is all about?” and have only one option to work, our young one who’s named as scarlet by all women he had tried to meet and all neighborhood and staked his hope on the decent girl that his family will find, our homosexuals who have to live with an identity that they don’t correspond to; how all of them would be independent and happy here.
Now let’s go back to where we left and see what happened in the two days after we could meet with Elif: We reach to a new town after proceeding our way for 10km. Even if there’s considered to be the capital of the area, it’s amazingly petite but it seems that much pretty to me. Here we find the police station and set up our camp at a covert place. The town is in fact near a big lake and there are two rivers flowing in the middle of the town. You only can understand how marshy here is from the flies around you however you cannot see the lake near you from the town. About the rivers, they had run dry because of the season. However as we keep going the next day and proceeding parallel to the big lake near the town, we have a chance to see it time to time. At the end of the day after visiting the Laos border and getting hungry, we reach to a small but cosy camping zone near the river where we can see the mountains of Laos 1km away. The place we discovered to camp is in fact a resort but they point us to an area where we can spend nice time and set up our camp. As we’re about to we set up our tents and rest, we realize that there’s a strong storm on Laos coming towards us. Most probably it’s going to rain so we have to take our tents to somewhere where it wouldn’t get wet. I take my tent to somewhere with a tin roof and we find a bamboo fringe for Elif’s. Not even after an hour later, storm begins to surround us and thus we realize that the real danger isn’t the rain but the storm. It’s impossible to find a place for the tents that they wouldn’t be affected by the wind so we have to put some weight in them. However as we’re filling up the tents our bottles, cups and cycling clothes start to fly up in the air. On one hand we try to collect them, on the other hand trying to prevent the tents from getting damaged, one of the bamboo roofs fly up and get shattered. Since the following bamboo roof is the one that we put Elif’s tent and our bikes under, we urgently have to leave this place. We empty the tent and carry it under the tin roof which seems safer. As the tent expands like a parachute with the wind, it becomes harder then we predicted and it takes 1 hour for us to settle. After a while the storm ceases in a moment like it began and leaves us with a calm rain.
These kinds of windy air conditions have made me experience two memories that I won’t forget. One of these is the time that I have to set up a camp while I was going from Istanbul to Damascus near Anamur at an extremely windy night. The tent I was using back then was a cheap festival tent and it neither had wind protection nor for rain. Its flyscreen had so wide holes that the dust coming with the wind and leaves broken into small pieces, they were stabbing into the tent. As I woke up in the morning I realized that my face and the top of the sleeping bag was covered with a layer of dust. I experienced one of the moments that I became very irritated, that I could give everything for a little comfort. I dreamt of having a warm bath and sleeping in a clean bed that night. My second memory is my first camping bike tour experience. I either had a day off or it was a holiday, I cannot remember but I had been searching the messages that people who had been looking for a tour mate 3 days before on the computer. One of these was a tour notice that stopped by Igne Island via Istranca and would finish in Edirne. There had been no participants, I recall that I stared at the notice as I didn’t know if he’d like to tour with a beginner cyclist like me. My life as an architecture has passed leaving the offices late and I clearly remember that it was dark when I had seen that notice. I told him that I just wanted to go, I didn’t have a tour experience and after that we began to communicate with private messages. We just had 3 days and I had bought all the necessary camping equipments and clothes in these 3 days. I still remember that the person who had sold me the camping equipments warning me about getting some warmer clothes with me as I had told him that I had been going to go out for a tour, him saying that the snow and storm had been coming, asking that if I hadn’t watched the news. Despite all these warnings we had ridden for a total of 5 days and we had had to camp in an awful wind on the first night. The weather had been so cold and so windy that we had tried to warp up in a village cafe near a heater for hours. The next day we had started the day with much more stronger wind and even if the wind knocked us over our bikes for two times, we had kept on going. Remaining 20km to our destination, they had prepared a camping place for us in a small willage in an office block away from the cold and thus we had got away from the tiring weather. As we’d been sitting in a warm cafe and watching television, the incoming snow had been heralding us that the wind would stop eventually. On the news, there had been an announcement that Istanbul folks will always remember that Karakoy Ferry Bridge had sunk because of the wind which’s speed had reached up to 100kmph. That was the day that I realized that I could always ride my bike no matter what. We had been quite amused by the news, that had been the point when we had realized such an unreasonable thing we had attempted, the wind which sometimes had knocked us down and sometimes had slowed us down had been the same wind with the one that had sunk the Karakoy Ferry Bridge and we could have succeed in holding on our bikes stronger than a massive wharf and had kept on going. This last remembrance had been my first tour by bike. In such moments one either gives up or struggles with everything he has. I guess I had chosen the second one and be on my bike.