I am a frequent cyclist – I cycle to and from work, I cycle to go shopping, I even choose to spend my entire holiday on my two wheeled horse. I am a smiling cyclist – I often have small insects stuck in my teeth. I am a grumpy cyclist – I curse a lot at people who drive like insert your favourite swear word here regardless of which country I am exploring. I am “up for a ride anytime” cyclist. I am a cyclist photographer with a soft spot for nature.
Sunday dawned misty and quiet – a refreshing change from previous few days arriving with a loud bang, tingalingalinga notes and wailing from the nearby pagoda at wee hours of the morning, daylight still several hours away. By the time my luxurious lay in was over and coffee on the boil the sun already burnt through the mist and promised a clear crisp day with a slight hint of coolness; winter must be on the way I thought.
We depart and soon the township of Siem Reap is behind us, and we are getting closer to the Angkor park through the outskirts on bumpy dirt roads where the diminishing wet season and recent floods have left their mark. The simple right angle pattern of country roads soon spits us back on tarmac and we are grateful for it. Dodging the official entry points and ever present Apsara hound dogs we enter the park through a lesser known opening without being noticed. Here it may be worth mentioning that we are on officially public roads and not doing anybody any harm – we are not here to explore the temples, quite the opposite actually – we are focusing on fauna and flora of the forested areas that just happen to be near the ancient sites. Outside the Angkor Park Cambodia mainly has rice fields to offer and we don’t like to get burnt….much.
Cycling through the forest / jungle is quite a joy. Away from civilization – or so it seems – we meet not a single soul for a while. Occasionally singing and chattering announces a group of local women collecting fire wood and carrying their bulky load back to their nearby village on rickety old bicycles. Friendly hellos, shy smiles and quizzical looks all spell Cambodia and we enjoy the brief exchange as much as they do. No doubt they will talk about crazy barrangs crawling on forest floor for the rest of the day.
Quick glance up through the canopy of trees and vines reveals patches of blue and wispy white-grey clouds adding to the image of perfection.
We focus on things often unseen by most – and very easily overlooked when attention is on the overall scenery. While mammals and other larger animals have all but disappeared from the scene, the undergrowth is teaming with life. Countless species of ants roam the forest floor, spiders of all shapes, sizes and colours capture their prey into intricately woven webs; bugs, lizards, frogs, stick insects, moths and other creatures I lack names for are going on about their daily business unnoticed – well almost. Mosquitos, on the other hand, are taking advantage of our sweaty presence, look – lunch just arrived! Smothered from head to toe in OFF we rise to the challenge.
Macro photography reveals another world. Getting close to your subject literally means close – and on your hands and knees, or other peculiar contortionist position which often prevents normal flow of breathing – just as well; the tiniest move destroys your focus and it often takes several attempts to come away with a subject looking at you with a sharp eye. It’s mostly all about the eye!
The aim here is not to get into the ins and outs of macro photography and I have tons to learn still, it’s more about how cycling and nature and photography go hand in hand.
Then the light changes. Green and blue hues become dull, the wind picks up and it signifies only one thing – rain. There are betting shops in Phnom Penh (and I bet elsewhere too) that make living out of general population guessing the time it will start raining. Sophisticated I thought when I first heard about it and also very seasonal. Amateur attempts of mastering the art follow the pattern of sky greying, light changing rapidly, wind picking up, leaves dancing in spirals and…… approximately 8 minutes later the rain arrives...
Today we are not counting minutes, we are lucky to have one of the outer gates of an unnamed temple to our disposition as a hiding place with no other wet or dry soul in sight. The heavens open and the show seems to have no end. Impatient we dodge the first drops to reclaim our bikes, now sparkling clean, and then we give up. We are going to get wet. Very wet.
The innocent, winding sandy jungle paths suddenly become rivers – in places knee deep. Water gushes from higher grounds and follows the given direction of the forest trails, the surface churning and muddy making it hard to guess how deep the water is. Our bikes are getting a good wash here.
Grinning and with stinging eyes we finally arrive in town, clear wet t-shirt competition winners and I make a note to self to reach for a black t-shirt next time. Not a thread is dry on us and ironically now the sky is blue again; we look like we arrived from another planet and Mother Nature can be proud of her efforts.
anna bella betts
Never still, always on the move, looking for the perfect capture... Cambodia is currently my home, presenting endless opportunities....
In this blog you will find no profound wisdom.
Just accounts of daily life, sometimes about photography, often about wine, occasionally about travel adventures and sometimes about nothing at all.