Plastered in a mixture of red dust and sweat with my attention temporarily drawn to the gritty crunch of the foot pedal. Its rotation impeded by years of neglect and bearings worn flat by explorers seeking to reveal for themselves an ancient wonder. Clickety-clang-clang, clickety-clang-clang, I ride between Wats on a rickety old single geared bike rented for a dollar from the guesthouse. Every subtle nuance of the scoured and pitted road reverberates through the twanging metal frame into my spine. My ass is sore and feels bruised by day three as I shift from left cheek to right. Driven by curiosity and the marvel of the Khmer empire I move onward with the sense of discomfort subsiding as I make my way to a new eastern entrance.
Images of Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, Buddha, Hunuman, Rama, and a myriad assortment of dancers, demons, warriors, animals and beasts of all sorts are preserved in fine detail as eternal carvings along long corridors, pillars and thresholds. Stories of epic battles and great victories are vividly depicted by skillful craftsmanship in stone.
Indulging in childlike delight I climbed block after block tooled by long forgotten hands. A sense of wonder overtakes me as I spring from step to step, darting over piles of crumbled rock and climbing clambering bricks of sandstone that are hot to the touch from the baking afternoon sun.
At a remote temple, free of tourists and hawkers, a young girl approaches me while humming a childish tune. She is carrying a few coconut bowls but does not seem all that interested in trying to force a sales pitch on me. Instead, I say hello and we have a few soft spoken words. She follows me humming as I climb through bamboo scaffolding to a central tower. Smei, her name, I ask for assistance. I brought some paper and charcoal and want to capture an image of the carved Sanskrit text. I hold the sheet against the threshold wall and rub some charcoal onto its blank page. Here, I instruct Smei how to rub a crumpled piece of paper over the sheet as phantom symbols make their ghostly appearance. She is amazed and delighted and thoroughly pushes the soft dusty charcoal over the entire sheet. I thank her and take a photo as she proudly holds the sheet for me. Paying Smei 2000 reil for her efforts and leaving her with a charcoal rubbing of her own with a few additional sheets of paper and a chunk of charcoal I smile and say goodbye. Departing down the dusty road on my bicycle, Smei calls out Goodbye one last time while skipping, humming and grinning a broad smile. Elated by the encounter I wave and round a bend in the road.