We’d accomplished quite a lot before noon, but the temperature had been slowly rising all morning. We hadn’t had the option to rent riding jackets, so we were wearing our bulkiest clothing as safety gear on the scooter. In short, it was time to head back to our air conditioned room and cool down.
At first we made good time back toward the heart of Phnom Penh, but after a while, our progress was slowed, The scooter was never a luxurious ride, but now we could feel a thud as the wheels spun around. We piled off the bike and confirmed what we had feared. Our rear tire was rapidly going flat.
We got back on the road to see if a slowed pace would carry us back to the rental shop, but another mile flattened the tire completely. Our plans for achieving air conditioned bliss had now been officially derailed.
We limped into the nearby petrol station, pointing at our rear tire, hoping they could help. Instead, they pointed us down the road motioning something about 1 kilometer. It became immediately clear that wherever they were pointing us, it wasn’t going to be an obvious tire store, but at a nearby hut, I noticed a number of tires hanging out front. We pulled in and once again mimed our plight to the nearby woman. She ran off to get her husband, who invited us into the three sided building, sat us down in some plastic chairs, and got to work on the tire.
Although we were halfway around the world, the tiny shop in which we sat reminded me an awfully lot of my grandpa’s auto shop in rural southern Utah. We watched the mechanic work with a practiced familiarity, removing the inner tube using a refashioned piece of rebar as a tire wrench, and submerging it in an old oil container full of water to check for holes. Soon, he was sanding the tube and preparing a patch.
Patching holes on a bicycle tube is a pretty routine process for us, but generally our patch kits involve some rendition of super glue. With this in mind, we were a bit surprised when the mechanic started a fire in a tin can and enlisted an iron to bond the patch to the tube.
Without the wind in our faces from riding and with the open flame heating things even further, we were rapidly shedding layers while trying to capture the setting in which we found ourselves. To my right, sat an ancient sewing machine, covered with years of grime blown in through the open wall of the structure and behind us a well loved air compressor kicked on and off as someone out back sprayed down the path between buildings. Out toward the road, a vintage fuel pump stood ready to fill the tank any passing traffic.
Our tire was soon repaired and ready to go. Our total repair bill equaled about 75 cents. What a cool detour!
With Khmer new year coming tomorrow, traffic had gotten even crazier as the day wore on and our ride back into the city was nothing short of intense. The heat of the sun was countered only by more heat reflecting upward from the blacktop and the mass of car exhaust added more warmth to an already sweltering day. With only inches between us and passing vehicles, the driving was requiring every bit of Ben’s attention. I was grateful to be clinging on the back shouting out directions instead.
By time we got back into town, our desire for AC was beaten out by the fact that we had eaten nothing but questionable sugar cane juice all day. Famished, we took off looking for something to eat but everything seemed closed down for the afternoon. Finally, we stumbled upon an inexpensive, tasty Indian restaurant. We had to laugh as the owners inside were watching an American game. They even turned the TV around so we could watch too, but sadly we couldn’t even identify the teams. The NBA isn’t high on our list of media we pay much attention to.
Once we’d eaten, we made a pass by the local markets, noted that our shopping skills still hadn’t improved really at all since there really wasn’t anything we wanted to buy. We did however enjoy the huge stalls of flower arrangements being created for the new year celebration. With a few photos taken, we finally decided to call it an early night.