December 18, 2015
Many a bike traveler will sing the praises of the simplicity of the road. There are often only three things to consider — which road to travel, what to eat, and where to sleep. Technology has added a fourth — where to recharge. Cameras, cell phones, laptops, and/or tablets all need their fix of electricity.
In SE Asia, we carried a multi-plug adapter that allowed us to recharge several devices at once. I have to admit, the image below is both humorous and horrifying. How many gadgets does a bike traveler need?
Electricity is free for most travelers. Just plug into an outlet at your campground or hotel. If you are wild camping, you charge up at a breakfast or lunch stop restaurant along the way.
In Cambodia, while we slowly made our way down the Mekong, we passed through many communities completely off the grid. Late one afternoon, we heard a deafening roar. We came across a wooden shack near the river with two large exhaust belching, gas-powered generators. We had to stick our fingers in our ears in order to approach. Strings of jumper cables led to over 75 car batteries lined up on the ground. There were no cars on this road, only scooters. What was this for?
Then it dawned on us. The night before we had stayed with a family. They had two light bulbs and a small radio ... connected to a car battery.
We were standing at the community power station. Families would drop off dead batteries in exchange for charged ones in the same way that we exchange our propane tank for our grill at home. But in Cambodia, that energy comes at a high cost. The man that worked at the shack had no ear plugs. I'm not sure if he was deaf prior to taking the job, but he surely was now. We could hear those generators a half mile down the road and that road was lined with homes.
It's easy to take for granted the energy we consume on a daily basis. The latest statistics by the World Bank report that just 31% of the population of Cambodia has access to electricity. For most of us who have the privilege of the time to travel by bicycle, electricity is just an outlet or a light switch away. Our experience at the battery shack has been a lasting reminder of just how precious a resource it is.
Photos by Willie Weir and Kat Marriner
SIGHTS AND SOUNDS is posted every other Friday.
Willie Weir is a contributor for Adventure Cyclist magazine. His books, Travels with Willie and Spokesongs, will inspire you to hit the road and might change the way you approach bicycle travel. He lives in Seattle with his wife Kat. You can also find him at WillieWeir.com, Facebook, and Instagram.