Monday, December 5, 2011

Towards an iron silk road?

On our moto tour of southern Cambodia, we chose to take earth roads where ever possible. It was a necessary treat to leave the roar of the highways for the relative safety of back roads. These red dirt roads defected from the national highways through sometimes grand archways, or trailed off, hidden between homes. Sometimes dusty, other times precariously rutted, these roads are the picturesque, well traveled veins of the provinces.  One such back road, well more of a footpath really, snakes along beside Cambodia's unused railway to cut directly across waterways, villages and fields. 

After 80 years of dubious maintenance and 30 years of war, resuscitation may well be close for Cambodia's unused railway.  Reports from 2010 weave a tale of proposed connections with Vietnam and Thailand, effectively finishing the 'iron silk road' that will for the first time, connect southeast Asia with Europe.  With the help of Australian funding, a functional railroad system will apparently be in place by 2013. At the end of 2011 however, the stretch of railway we followed was but shiny ghost tracks, glinting pink and silver off into the heat and distance. 

Determined to try the narrowest of local roads, we joined a small stretch of Cambodia's 612km unused rail track   We wound our way precariously along a rail-side, foot-beaten track that connects villages to fields, families to commune councils, sellers to buyers.  At times the bikes struggled to bite into the loose gravel, or the shoulder disappeared altogether, leaving us to negotiate space with people passing with livestock and market goods.  

Growing up in NZ, hanging around rail tracks goes against every bone in my body.  In Cambodia the ghost line offers up children wavering in the distance, indistinct in the heat. People and cattle move up and over, cats and chooks explore the lines, yet no trains come.  It will certainly be a different country once the trains start moving again.  

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