Mercury Goes All ‘Retrograde’ On Me


A friend mentioned that “Mercury was going into retrograde”. This meant that I should expect troubles with travel, computers, and mechanical things for the next few weeks. I smiled and resisted the urge to make a snarky comment. 24 hours later, I wasn’t smiling.

Later that afternoon, I was sitting at a cafe in Siem Reap and making an edit to a post on the site, when all of my content just disappeared. The homepage said “There’s nothing here. Perhaps you should try creating a post.” I spent four panicked hours restoring it and finally managed to get the posts back, but all of the graphics settings had been reset. The site looked like it had been designed by a myopic ten-year-old who had eaten all his Ridilin in one go. It was now midnight, I was half-drunk, and my bus left at 7am the next morning. I went to bed.

The bus arrived on time, and after stopping at hotels to pick up others, we were on the road to Phnom Penh — a four-hour journey. Buses are never a direct shot here — they’re always stopping to pick up additional riders or to let people off at dusty stops in the middle of nowhere. I noticed we were stopping unusually often and that no one ever got on or off except the driver and his assistant.

Apparently, the right front wheel of the bus was ready to fall off.

After this happened a few times, several of us got out at the next stop to have a smoke and see what was going on. Apparently, the right front wheel was just about ready to fall off. Every time we stopped, the assistant would crawl into the wheel well with a big wrench and tighten some critical part. This procedure was good for about ten minutes of uninterrupted driving, then had to be repeated. It took us eight tense hours to reach Phnom Penh. Stupid Mercury.

After a couple of days of tinkering, I managed to get the site looking as it had before, and my next bus ride to Kampot was blissfully boring. I checked into a quiet hotel by the river, hoping my luck had changed. It hadn’t.

Kampot is a lovely, quiet town near the coast — full of old, decaying French buildings and comfortable, cheap restaurants. Beyond eating, watching sunsets over the river, and walking the dusty streets, there really isn’t a damn thing to do — after a few days I was bored out of my mind. My next destination was Sihanoukville, a cheesy beach town that other travelers were describing as “the Pattaya of Cambodia.” Oh, joy.

I decided to stay another day, rent a motorbike, and explore the area.

I decided to stay another day, rent a motorbike, and explore the area. An expat-owned restaurant up the street, the Rusty Keyhole, had a couple of clean 250cc Suzuki dirtbikes for rent for $15 a day.

It would blow my budget, but once the idea was in my head, there was no letting it go. The next morning, I got up early and walked down to rent the bike, only to discover that they were closed for the day. So much for my fabulous plan.

A guesthouse nearby had a 100cc scooter for rent, so I decided to make the most of the situation and handed over $6 and my passport. It looked to be in good shape, but once I got it on the road, I realized that the brakes barely worked and the mirrors wouldn’t hold their position, giving me a perfect view of my feet. Both tires were low on air and the gas gauge was pegged well below “E”.

I bought two liters of gas from a roadside vendor, who poured it into the tank from large 7-Up bottles, and then found someone to air the tires up. I was ready for the open road and headed out of town, towards the seaside town of Kep.

A policeman standing by the side of the road waved me over for a friendly shakedown

About 5km up the road, a policeman standing by the side of the road waved me over for a friendly shakedown, but I just waved back and kept going. That alone made it all worthwhile.

The suspension on the scooter was completely shot and the slightest bump would launch me from the seat like a clown in a circus act. Blue smoke streamed from the exhaust pipe as I rattled along with the throttle pegged, passing other scooters, tuk tuks, and water buffalo pulling carts.

I was having a blast, in a “this is a damn stupid idea” kind of way, when the rear tire went flat. I was about 10km from town, and thought I was completely screwed as I limped the bike to the nearest hut. Pulling up, I saw an air compressor and someone working on a scooter — I’d broken down right next to a repair shop! Suck it, Mercury.

No one spoke English and my Khmer vocabulary consisted of “thank you”, but it was pretty easy to communicate what the problem was. A young, shirtless Cambodian man started to work on the tire while the entire family came out of the house to stare at me. I must be a natural comedian, because everything I did was hilarious. I wiped sweat from my brow and they giggled. Pulling a water bottle from my bag and taking a drink elicited howls of laughter. I considered trying the old armpit fart-sound trick but feared it might cause a riot.

I returned the scooter that evening and realized that it had failed to scratch the itch and had, in fact, made it worse.

After twenty minutes of sweaty work, the tire was fixed and I was charged a whopping 3,000 reil (75 cents). I continued on to Kep but didn’t linger, deciding to make my way closer to home before something else broke. I returned the scooter that evening and realized that it had failed to scratch the itch and had, in fact, made it worse. I would stay two more days in Kampot, renting the dirt bike, and raising two-wheeled hell on the roads of Cambodia.

Eventually, I had to leave for Sihanoukville and bought an AC minibus ticket for the following morning. Instead of the minibus pulling by to pick me up, however, I was greeted by a motorcycle taxi — not a good sign. We squeezed the driver, myself, and both my packs onto the bike and weaved our way drunkenly to the bus company’s office. There, I found not a minibus, but a beat-up Toyota Camry with no AC, already packed full of luggage and people.

The company had oversold tickets and as an ‘upgrade’ they were going to drive us there in a taxi.

The company had oversold tickets (or the bus had broken down, depending on who you talked to) and as an ‘upgrade’ they were going to drive us there in a taxi. “It’s much faster!” There were a total of eight of us, plus the driver, and enough luggage to fill a small house.

We all piled in — five Cambodians in the front and two Germans, a Cambodian woman, and myself in the back. The driver actually had a fully-grown man riding on his left side, wedged between him and the door — I never did figure out who was working the pedals. I spent the next two hours on a bench seat with busted springs, sitting on my aching left butt cheek, sweating in the heat, and hating astrology.

I’m sitting at another bus stop as I write this. The lady behind the counter has just announced that the AC bus that we’d been promised “is broke” and that we’ll be riding to Bangkok in a minibus. This is a good thing, she explains, because the minibus “is much faster”.

I have only one question at this point: How long does this retrograde bullshit last?

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Anna May 3, 2010 at 10:13 pm

April 17 until May 11

The greatest likelihood for Mercury mishaps is in the actual retrograde period, but issues associated with this cycle may start as early as April 4 and may not be resolved until May 28.

If it makes you feel any better, my laptop is all whack and our pond out back needed emergency maintenance (and a goldfish died). I didn’t even know Mercury was in retrograde until I read your post, so everything that’s happened to me now makes sense. *shaking fist at outer space*

Oh, and P.S. – it’s taken me literally three tries to even post this response because the email field wouldn’t populate properly. This astrology shit is starting to piss me off.


Stephanie May 3, 2010 at 11:14 pm

My microwave oven died with a sparked burst, then my refrigerator a few days ago as well.
At least now I know I can blame outer space.
.-= Stephanie´s last blog ..Retro-luxe is Watching… =-.


Tavia May 3, 2010 at 11:14 pm

Yep, i love your traveling storys. I’m sooo glad this sh__ happens to you. It makes it all the more funnier. And i mean that in the best way. Really I do.


kiki May 4, 2010 at 1:28 am

what! outer space can do that.. i feel so much smaller now.. glad you figured it out.. i’d be toast in that sichiation..


Michael May 4, 2010 at 5:37 am

ha! another great post, I would expect nothing less
hope yr minibus to BKK went smoothly–looks like things on the streets thereabouts may take a positive turn in the next day or two, if the red shirts accept Abhisit’s offer of a Nov election. If not, apparently he’s ready to roll the tanks into position.

bored in Kampot?!? glad to hear you got out exploring a bit on two wheels. Did you make it up Bokor Hill? or out to the pepper plantations? Kampot peppercorns are allegedly the some of the world’s finest, we brought back a kilo of the peppery goodness. Paid a visit to a plantation that was running on methane gas generated by the poop of several happy hogs. They were even distilling rice whiskey with the eco-gas, a very cool and surprising clean set up. Kampot is a good place to go out exploring the countryside with a local guide–we had the good fortune to be treated to an old-fashioned roadside snake-oil/patent medicine sales pitch, khmer-style, complete with cobras, fire, and half-pint helpers.


wes May 4, 2010 at 9:17 am

Yeah, I was in Kampot during the really slow season, so there wasn’t much going on. I really wanted to go to Bokor Hill and take photos, but the road is closed. The richest man in Cambodia is building a new casino resort on the mountain, so the only way you can visit is to book a tour. Then you have to hike 3 hours up the mountain :(

I ate plenty of the Kampot pepper and it is quite tasty — didn’t visit the plantations, though. I did find a lovely spot outside of town, Utopia Guesthouse, with a great deck on the river — a perfect swimming/chillout spot…


Nick May 4, 2010 at 11:01 am

Wes, as if I hadn’t been visiting this site enough. You have officially made me an addict. Look forward to more humorous updates.

I agree with the other commenter, glad this sh*t happens to you because it makes me laugh my ass off.
.-= Nick´s last blog ..Interview with Hollywood Producer Marvin V. Acuna =-.


stella alesi May 4, 2010 at 6:26 pm

i am glad to hear you are having fun out there and you can laugh at it all and share it with us. I never really thought about it, but you are kind of funny looking.


half century May 4, 2010 at 9:15 pm

Sounds like you had a bad run of luck, Mercury or not. Thats how it goes, but here’s hoping the balance is restored soon. I had to laugh out loud when you mentioned the driver had a man on the door side of him in your ‘luxury’ ride – it really brings back memories of some of the unbelievable situations that happen when you are travelling in the less developed world…what makes it even funnier is that while we have a chuckle about ‘their’ antics, they seriously believe we are completely nuts! Both views are naturally spot on! Its a mad world for sure. Thanks for sharing. Great Blog!


marta May 4, 2010 at 9:18 pm

that’s the fun part of traveling. I think you are naturally hilarious :-)
.-= marta´s last blog ..Playing tourists in New York =-.


Bill Urban May 11, 2010 at 7:08 am

I’m glad to hear that the political situation isn’t messing up your fun. I’ve been lurking here for a while. Be safe..


wes May 11, 2010 at 7:59 am

Thanks, Bill!