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Moto madness

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Bridge across polluted waters: a rickety crossing somewhere near Battambang. Photograph: Dean Martinello

Siem Reap moto-riders get ready for the wheel thing. Ride for Cambodia is a chaotic two-week moto trip across Cambodia slated for January 2013, to raise money for underprivileged children. There is “no entry fee, no real itinerary, and not many fixed plans.”

According to co-organiser Dean Martinello anyone can enter irrespective of age – last year’s youngest participant was 22 and the oldest was 62. The only entry criterion is “you just need a sense of adventure.”

The idea initially came to Australian Dean Martinello and American Dave Guezuraga during a 2010 round the world trip, when they were riding their motorbikes through Laos and Cambodia.

“While traveling along the Mekong, we met some backpackers who had hired little motos to ride out to see some of the less touristy parts,” explains Martinello.

“This gave me the idea of creating an event that would provide people with the information they need to travel independently and see the best parts of the country without needing to join a tour, while also giving a little bit back to those communities who are so friendly and welcoming. We decided to do it in Cambodia because after just a few days, we really loved the place. The people are so friendly, it's a safe place to travel and it's affordable.”            

Last year’s inaugural road trip involved just nine people and was, he says, more of a “scouting trip” to check out roads and conditions. This year’s 1500-km ride starts in Phnom Penh on January 21 and finishes in Phnom Penh whenever. Martinello is expecting around 25 to 30 entrants.

Social media has proved invaluable in promoting and planning the trip because some riders are expected to come from afar afield as Australian and the US.

“People who are interested, join a forum and meet online before eventually meeting in Phnom Penh on January 20 for the kick-off dinner,” Martinello explains.

“The next morning we head out to the markets to buy a moto. Then we agree on a destination, and head off. Simple!"

“At the end of the ride, we sell our motos and donate the money to a local charity called Sustainable Cambodia, specifically supporting children’s education projects.”

He added that a stop off at Siem Reap will be a highlight of the trip.

“We ride for about five days to reach Siem Reap, then take a day off  to visit Angkor Wat, before riding another 5 days to the coast. We also stop in Pursat to visit the Sustainable Cambodia headquarters and see some of their projects first hand.”   

Martinello points out that this is a real community affair – there is no official organisation running it and everyone is responsible for themselves.

“Participants make all their own decisions, they buy their own bikes and decide on a route themselves,” he says.

“When the moto breaks down - and it will - they either repair it themselves or find someone to do it. It's a genuine piece of independent adventure travel. If someone wants to use the information on the website to plan their own tour of Cambodia, they are welcome to do so. We just nominate a starting date in January as a means for people to meet other like-minded people and potentially make friends and travel together.”

But surely with such a casually flung-together group of adults, some of whom are biker novices, combined with the element of the unknown (not to mention questionable Cambodian roads) things are bound to go wrong? Martinello insists there haven’t been any disasters so far, just lots of memorable moments, including a near mishap involving some dubious directions.

He says,”One afternoon we were riding through rice paddies in a rural area somewhere east of Siem Reap. We were a little lost “when a very drunk local man tried to direct us into a field that had a ‘Danger Landmines’ sign in it. We might have believed it was safe except that the man only had one leg.”

On another occasion, riding into Battambang the group found their way blocked by a large river. Things started to look a bit tricky as they were too low on fuel to turn back to the nearest town.

Luckily, Martinello says, “As we were trying to work out what to do, a local family came to see what we were doing. Eventually the father of the family came to our rescue, leading us for about 10km down bumpy roads and through fields to reach a part of the river we could ride across.  It's this kindness that makes us love Cambodia so much.”

For more info visit the Ride for Cambodia's Facebook page.

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