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For those with no time or a short attention span:


Last week I drove from Siem Reap to Koh Kong, crossed the border into Thailand and, with a little help from some old and new friends, purchased a second hand 200hp Yamaha outboard motor in Trat, Thailand.


Three days later, those same friends helped me bring it back to Cambodia and ship it to Sweline Boats in Phnom Penh where it now awaits completion of the Lakeship TLC.


The Whole Story:


March 4, 2008
I left home (our farm at Nokor Krau) at 0530 in the morning; hoping to drive to Phnom Penh in time to meet a friend of mine for lunch. As often as I have taken the road from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh and back, it never ceases to astound, entertain, and frighten years off of my life.


The pavement and the bridges are certainly an improvement and have reduced what was once a two day adventure in second gear down to a drive of about five hours--six in my 15 year old LandCruiser.


The road still traverses the same terrain and passes through the same villages. However, those villages and both their human and animal inhabitants have yet to come to grips with the reality that this road is carrying tons of iron and glass hurtling towards them at speeds well in excess of 100 kph. Suicidal cows and water-buffalo aside, the numbers of people who don't "get it" is....just scary.


During lunch, my friend made a phone call to his friend, Mr. S, who lives in Koh Kong, an island off the coast of Cambodia and very close to Thailand. Mr. S agreed to help me in the search for an outboard motor large enough to move Our Boat from village to village and across the lake in a timely fashion.


Much like the search for a boat builder, finding an engine here in Cambodia that is worth the money being asked was beginning to seem an impossibility. Thus the decision to take that search to Thailand.


After lunch, I met with some wonderful people from Norway who have successfully launched and support a hospital ship in Bangladesh. That meeting left me so enthused and optimistic about our own project that the thought of driving yet another 7 hours to Koh Kong seemed like an easy thing to do.


Leaving Phnom Penh around 5pm, those buoyant feelings empowered me until nearly 8pm (my usual bedtime), but after that it was simply terror and adrenaline that kept me driving through night-dark roads and mountain passes.


At the first ferry crossing--there are two--I was met by yet another friend of Mr. S who had been sent to guide me through the even more frightening switchback roads leading through the mountains. Following the red tail lights of a new 4x4 Lexus for the next 4 hours became a meditation.


It's very embarrassing to admit this, but I forgot my camera, and thus I cannot visually convey the extraordinary circumstances (not to mention the views!) that occurred along the way. Suffice to say that only a picture or video could do justice to the sight of me backing my LandCruiser down a 50 degree embankment for two car lengths--in the dark--onto a very narrow wooden drop-bridge and then onto a "ferry"(?). It took both skill and a degree of courage that I have not had to call upon in quite some time. And I had to do this 4 times coming and going!


Eventually, and without mishap, I pulled into Koh Kong around midnight and found Mr. S waiting for me outside of the hotel where he had booked my room.


5 March, 2008
Bright and early the next morning, after eating breakfast in a restaurant that sat on a pier over the clearest water I've seen since moving here from Hawaii, Mr. S took me to the border where I was given the VIP treatment on both sides of that border.


In Thailand I was introduced to "Nong", who would be my driver and best friend for the next two days. Nong spoke "English a little", and no Khmer. I speak Thai "nik noi". But by the time we got to Trat, about an hour away, we were communicating with each other just fine, though I never did learn what he did for a living.


Originally, I had planned to purchase an 85 hp engine with the idea of procuring a larger one at a later date. We arrived in Trat expecting that a second hand 85hp engine would be "ready to go", but once the engine was put into the test tank it became another story--a long one.


The rest of the day was spent watching two such engines being taken apart and cannibalized for parts with growing concern and trepidation. Nong and I did take a break in the afternoon to go enjoy some of the best Thai seafood I have ever had, but even that momentary respite was not enough to keep me from questioning the sensibility of my decision to travel all this way, given the doubts I was now having.


By day's end there was still no working engine, and Nong told me that he "had business" to do that night, so without so much as a toothbrush I checked into a hotel in Trat and wondered how I came to find myself there.


6 March, 2008
At 0800 sharp, Nong was at the hotel to pick me up and we travelled back to the marine supply company where the parts of two engines lay about in separate piles, but what looked like a complete one sat ready in the testing tank. Sure enough, this time it started right up... but I wasn't happy.


I sat with Nong and with the owner of the supply company and his chief mechanic; trying my best to explain what TLC is all about and why I needed the engine.


When I told them that "eventually" I would be looking for a second engine, a light turned on in the mechanic's eyes. He indicated through gestures that there was a second hand 200hp engine in "Number One" condition sitting in the back of the shop. It was brought out and hoisted into the test tank. It roared to life.


Putting to use the knowledge from the day before, I asked for the engine to be dissected a bit. This resulted in the fuel and water pumps being replaced with new ones, but that was all. It seemed perfect. Then we negotiated a price.


It was more than I wanted to spend, almost $2,000 more, but, acting on faith and a dose of unsubstantiated optimism, I agreed to it.


Nong went into high gear; calling Mr. S and organizing the lifting of the engine into his pick up. I went to the bank and changed USD into Baht--a not so very nice experience these days with such a weak dollar. By the time I got back the invoices were ready; the engine was in the truck along with the cables and control boxes for it.


Shortly after noontime the reverse of our trip into Thailand happened. Paperwork moved quickly from desk to desk. The engine was transferred to a Cambodian registered truck. Nong and I said "good-bye" with him promising to visit Angkor Wat someday, and then suddenly I was back in Koh Kong.


7 March, 2008
Another clear and beautiful morning. The engine had stayed overnight at Mr. S's home and he had arranged for a truck to bring it to Phnom Penh, where it arrived shortly after 5:30pm.


I want to thank Adrienne and Rick, and their KIDS project, along with Angkors Kinder e.V. and Ralf Regitz of ewerk in Berlin, for their generous donations--without which we wouldn't have come this far.


Yes, there is more to this story--much, much more, but if you want to hear it then you'll need to come to Cambodia!


Jon