Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Freedom in dusty roads

I love the idea of getting off the beaten track.

So much so, in fact, that I played a little game while I was away: "count the foreigners". Pretty self explanatory, really: every time I'd see someone I could identify as a foreigner, I'd call out "boul-ay", which is my phonetic transcription of the Indonesian word for foreigner, as taught by my sister. I played this game throughout my trip, garnering strange stares when I was around said boulays. I tried to avoid pointing but sometimes, eh. In general, the fewer boulays I saw, the more exciting the place turned out to be.

What does this have to do with me getting off of the beaten path, you might ask? Well, my next stop allowed me the fewest boulay identifications of my entire time in Cambodia. For that, and for some other reasons, I loved the place.

Battambang is known to tourists as "that place with the bamboo train". The bamboo train was, in fact, my entire reason for heading there. I'd read some tantalizing descriptions in my guidebook, though hadn't heard many first-hand accounts, which increased its mysterious appeal even more.

Of course, unless you've ever traveled to or planned to travel to Cambodia, you probably have no idea what I'm talking about when I say "bamboo train". If you're picturing a full steam locomotive constructed entirely out of bamboo...you're not even close. If, however, you have in mind a horizontal fence post of bamboo tied together with string lying across two bar-bells attached to wheels powered by a lawnmower engine, you're getting warmer.

The experience is nothing less than thrilling, as you climb atop the train, remove your shoes and hunker down. Soon, you find yourself throttling along an extremely overgrown path, being whipped and scratched by bushes growing over the tracks. Behind you might be a motorbike, piles and piles of rice sacks five feet high, or maybe just a pregnant woman and her mother-in-law getting a free ride from the nice driver. If it's the latter, then they may insist that you sit in front, smiling and laughing a little bit at your obvious excitement over their everyday trip.

As I've mentioned before, I traveled quite a bit with an Aussie named Petar. With most every aspect of our time traveling together, we seemed to want to do the same things: wander around as much as possible and eat the craziest and tastiest morsels we could find. However, Petar also had what I will politely call an obsession: he wanted to rent motorbikes for a day, and he wouldn't let it go.

To be honest, I wasn't exactly keen on the idea, seeing as it's been over 10 years since I was on a bicycle, I can't drive a manual car let along a motorbike and I was familiar with the state of roads in Cambodia (not good--plus there's that whole unexploded land mine thing).

So, we compromised.

And I discovered a new talent: I am a natural at riding on the back of a motorbike.

It's hard to describe how free you feel whizzing past rice field upon rice field, stopping only to pick up a 2 liter pop bottle filled with pink(?) gasoline to refill the tank, or to explore that pretty temple hiding behind the crumbling wall just ahead.

The gloriously pink sunset that erupted at the end of the day, leaving me glancing over my right shoulder for a solid 30 minutes, well, that wasn't too bad either.

My days in Battambang were thrilling, to say the least. And foodwise, they were filled with delicious fruit shakes. Fruit shakes, essentially fruit milk shakes, are a staple all over Cambodia, but the ones in Battambang truly shined. Instead of a strict recipe today, I'm going to give you a general outline of what should go in a proper shake, plus a few ideas of fruit combinations. Seeing as it's December, the tropical fruits might be a bit harder to come by, but frozen fruit's always an option.


Fruit Shakes

As I said before, there really isn't much of a recipe here, just a general outline of ingredients. The best shakes I tried included at least two kinds of fruit, some ice and the most SE Asian ingredient I know: sweetened condensed milk. Roll your eyes, if you must, but those cans were as ubiquitous as lemongrass and ginger.

In terms of proportions, think in terms of handfuls.

Combine two handfuls of one fruit, one handful of the other, another of ice and a good-sized drizzle of sweetened condensed milk. Blitz in the blender and enjoy.

The following are my two favorite combinations, though feel free to throw in whatever you'd like. I have a feeling that a Blueberry/Lime combo would be fantastic:
Mango and Pineapple (Make the mango the two handful portion)
Coconut and Jackfruit (You could try just the coconut, since Jackfruit's not that common over here, or try substituting in a bit of pineapple)

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