Journeying from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap Via Motorbike
As I lift my dusty visor after six hours on the road I marvel at the brightness of the colors around me. I’ve just traveled 400 km from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap on a two-day motorbike ride all alone. I’m sweaty, thirsty and covered in all colors of dust; most of the time I couldn’t see more than a few meters ahead in the stirred up dust.
At times, I found myself dancing crazy slaloms around potholes sized to bury babies in them when suddenly a bus faced me on my lane. Two times I almost lost control over my bike on the dirt road while trying to avoid holes that looked like they would devour my front wheel. My eyes are red from the dust. Yet here I am, safe and sound halfway across a foreign country that often doesn’t even have road signs in Latin letters. It’s hard to convey how proud I am right now.
Back in Germany, I couldn’t even drive a car. I came out of 25+ hours of driving school even more insecure than before I started. Trying to get better at driving with my dad absolutely sweating next to me didn’t help either (sorry Dad!). And I had a boyfriend who conveniently drove everywhere, so I gave up trying.
After I finished university, we went to Australia like we had been planning to for a few years. We bought a Jeep, and after learning that other people just slept in their cars, we did the same. We felt like true vagabonds, spending pretty much the whole day in the car, either driving in the front or sleeping in the back.
It wasn’t easy spending 24 hours a day together in a space as small as a car but I guess it was still easier for us than being alone.
We ate cheap pancakes with “plastic cheese” from our portable gas stove at a parking lot somewhere next to a small country town. We woke up with the sun, and took cold, windy shower on a beach and brushed our teeth in shopping center toilets. We spent rainy nights at McDonald’s because it almost felt like a home with the TV and the couch and even internet and sometimes power.
God, we loved our freedom.
It wasn’t easy spending 24 hours a day together in a space as small as a car but I guess it was still easier for us than being alone. We did everything together.
We jumped into containers full of cotton, and raced each other while filling those dreaded cubic-meter bins with oranges, steered oversized tractors with two trailers (hey, I drove that thing!), chased, I mean, mustered sheep, and spent many meditative hours driving through stunningly empty and unchanging landscapes. We even lived in a tent for two years in tropical rain-season Darwin, digging it out of the mud after a cyclone. Finally, after three years, we got our permanent residency in Darwin and bought a penthouse in the heart of Darwin with better sea and city views than we could ever have dreamed of.
Suddenly I found myself with a whole lot more scary freedom than I would ever have asked for.
Life was good. We had achieved everything we originally wanted and more. We’d caught the travel bug when we realized that there were some inspiring people with amazing stories to be met on the road and great adventures and challenges to live through. We had some really good stories to tell ourselves and we planned to buy a camper-trailer and leisurely travel down the west coast in style.
I still couldn’t drive a car but that was okay because we were living in the middle of the city so I could walk anywhere I had to. We did everything together anyway.
But our relationship had some big cracks. We had been together for 10 years, since we were 16 and 17, and we had been piling up some serious issues from that time because we never learned how to deal with them. I realized that I wasn’t sure if I could do anything on my own. I wasn’t even sure if I knew myself anymore. I started doing more and more things on my own, like just going for runs by myself, but my partner couldn’t keep up with how quickly I needed to change, and I felt held back. Eventually we broke up.
Suddenly I found myself with a whole lot more scary freedom than I would ever have asked for. I’m an introvert and while I saw my mum as a role model, it hadn’t even occurred to me that a life without a significant other half is even possible. But the ball was rolling and I started my journey to find myself.
But whenever I open my dusty visor to look back, I can see the long way I’ve already come–on a bumpy dirt road with bad vision and nasty potholes.
I moved out and to the suburbs, and I realized that I needed to get from A to B somehow. I needed to figure out how to be alone–how to do things on my own. Though it was scary, I took small steps, and each one made me feel empowered.
Only a few months later, I found myself with a girlfriend on the Tasmania Overland Track, a seven-day wilderness hike, and in Southeast Asia with my own motorbike shortly after.
It’s been a tough struggle ever since and often enough, I feel as if I’m running around in circles without getting anywhere. I get tired of fighting my own comfort zone and I get angry that it has to be that hard. I get disheartened by the long way ahead, and I question why I couldn’t just be content with what I had.
But whenever I open my dusty visor to look back, I can see the long way I’ve already come–on a bumpy dirt road with bad vision and nasty potholes. I am finding pieces of myself everywhere along the way–thoughts that wouldn’t come up anywhere else, stories that will be mine to tell and things I never thought I could do. I’m excited to see what else I’ll find on the way!