Epic cycle ride undertaken by unfit, overweight, not middled aged lady

I visited Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos in 2002. One of the things that really struck me about the countries was the indefatigable people, the welcome extended to visitors and the simple joy taken in small pleasures. But, having visited the Museum of the American War in Ho Chi Minh City, seen the 'Danger UXB' signs in Laos and read the good news headline in a paper in Cambodia: ' Deaths from UXBs down to 3 this month. Only 40 maimed.' I was acutely aware of the toll still being taken on the population.

Over the years I have pondered the munitions still there and this year I have finally decided to get off my bottom and do something. So I have, somewhat impetuously and with little regard for my physical fitness, cycling ability or dodgy left knee decided to join the MAG cycle ride from Ho Chi Minh City to Ankor Wat. I will be doing this the first week or so in Feb 2011 and it does involve a couple of days of over 100km in 30 degree heat. Having signed up I have been told that neither a rickshaw nor an electric bikes are options and that doing the distance on my own pedals is expected.

Donation link is further down on the right - I have paid for my own flights and contributed enough to cover living expenses so all money raised from sponsorship will go to MAG.

This is my blog of my progress to get on the road and when I am there - assuming I will be capable of rational thought after a day of unaccustomed exercise.

Monday, 21 February 2011

De-mining demonstration

Ready to try and demine
Friday dawned clear and we were set for a de-mining talk in the hotel gardens along with each of us attempting to find a 'mine'. Local MAG staff explained that there are various methods of de-mining: the two most commonly in use were sniffer dogs; where there are large areas with a low density of mines and hand detection for smaller areas with a high density of mines. Apparently the dogs are great for clearing large areas as they are quicker than the hand detection but if the density is too high they cannot be used as they don't know where to start and will just run around the entire area.

Using the equipment

Well I wasn't that good with the metal detector so I suspect my days of finding Roman treasure troves will be limited but with a bit of help from the local staff I eventually managed to discover the MAG badge that had been hidden in the grass. The equipment itself is heavy and hot, the helmet is quite claustrophobic so I really admired the people who do this day in day out especially when I found out that half the armour from the vest was missing as they had been 'kind' and not inserted the various ceramic plates that protect vital organs.
Frank 'I am German and I will be talking about the War'
Washing instructions for the Kevlar....
Following on from the demining exhibition Frank (local MAG co-ordinator) demonstrated the various munitions found within Cambodia. Basically this amounts to bombs from the Vietnam War that litter the East side of the country and mines from the Khmer Rouge retreat from the Vietnamese that are mostly concentrated in the West side of the country. He explained that MAG try and target the places that will do the most good ie prime agricultural land/roads etc and also run training programmes with local people. The latter are essential as Cambodia is a poor country (many people have to survive on around $1US per day)  where the scrap metal from a munition can supply valuable income so there has been some issues with people actually going out to find mines/armaments to sell. He also explained that the group who are most affected by mines in Cambodia are teenage boys as they tend to be curious without a high sense of danger.

Frank did also explain 'thinking' behind a lot of the devices which I found a bit chilling but logical: eg anti personnel mines are designed to cripple/maim rather than kill because an injured soldier will slow down a company more than a dead one and Claymores (mines that have a trigger on them) will take out a range of around 50-100 yards worth of people in around a 120 degree arc and they have the direction of them clearly printed on the front (although this didn't stop some friendly fire incidents). I think the two things that really hit me was the information that it will take a further 20 or so years to remove all the armaments from this section of SE Asia (assuming that current levels of funding continue) and that there has been a doubling of incidents involving anti tank mines over the last year which MAG cannot currently explain but did mean that the death toll increased significantly.

The hotel pick up hubby -how did they know what I call him?
Following on from the demonstration we had a free afternoon so I collapsed by the pool and waited for hubby to arrive who was very glad to see me all in one piece and breathing. The poor devil was rushed into changing within half an hour after landing so we could go out for a celebratory dinner with the team. Just for context on the value of money here; we went to one of the best restaurants in Siem Reap and because Hubs had not done the challenge obviously we paid for his three course meal; which was lovely food, plenty of it and cost $10US per head.

And that they say is that. I will be posting the radio clip some time this week (so excited that we made it on for a contribution of 33 seconds or so to my allotted 15 mins of fame). I am really glad that I took this challenge on and now the aches and pains are behind me can look back on it with joy. My photos are loaded onto Flickr and the link is down the right hand side of the page; but as you can see from the pictures, and hopefully my blog, the thing that most struck me was the children in Cambodia. They made all of the training, the struggle through the peddling and the general pain worthwhile but I wish that I could do more.


No comments:

Post a Comment