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Chrity Bike Ride to Vietnam and Cambodia - 26th February to 7th March 2010
Two years ago, I cycled through Death Valley to raise money for the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) - a charity that removes landmines from conflict areas all over the world. MAG has now organised another ride, this time to the two of the countries worst affected by landmines. There are still between four and six million landmines left in Cambodia alone, while around 20% of the land surface of Vietnam is contaminated by mines and effectively out of bounds to the people, except at enormous personal risk.

In the last ten years alone, nearly 5000 people have been killed or maimed by mines in Cambodia and there are still estimated to be up to 800,000 tons of unexploded weapons in Vietnam. MAG's work doesn't just save lives and limbs:clearing mines means that land can be restored to economic use.

Some readers may remember my appeal last year for sponsorship of my bike ride in Vietnam and Cambodia. Thanks to their generosity – and that of other friends and family – I’ve managed to raise over �1900 for the cause. That’s still an interim total though – if anyone else feels moved to chip in after reading what follows, please do so. Contributions should be, ideally, in the form of cheques to MAG. (If you pay income tax, signing a simple form which I can provide will increase the value of your gift).

The ride itself was tougher than anticipated, mainly because of the extreme heat. We'd been told to expect temperatures of around 30 C (86 F) but in fact it varied from 35 to 38 C (95 to 100 F). Those of course are shade temperatures but shade was in very short supply – and mostly non-existent on the main roads our route followed, from Saigon in Vietnam to Siem Reap in Cambodia.

As it was so hot, the organisers cut down the distance to�356 km instead of the 470 planned. Even so, several people came close to collapse.�It�worked out to around 70 km (45 miles)�a day - successively, 62 (afternoon only); 72, 77, 79 and 76. (Four days of the total were occupied in plane and bus travel).�

We were generally cycling during the hottest part of the day as mornings were taken up with other things - a visit to�the tunnels�used by the Vietnamese during the “American War”; one to�a school in Cambodia; and another to see a demonstration of how land is "decontaminated" ie of land mines. This is an incredibly laborious and time-consuming business and�an extremely uncomfortable one too – to say nothing of the obvious dangers. It�was hot for us in cycling shorts and T shirts but imagine crawling�through undergrowth wearing�a thick visor and heavy body armour while searching for mines - and doing this for 6 hours a day in the very hot sun. (There are two seasons here - hot and dry and hot and wet: we went when it was hot and dry).

The charity responsible for the event� - the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) - has lost a lot of its funding in S�E Asia� over the last couple of years�as corporate sponsors have cut back on donations or stopped them altogether because of the economic slump. As a result, MAG staff�levels there have been slashed by around 25% - and the projected time it� will take to clear the remainder of the mines and other unexploded ordnance from Cambodia�extended from 10�years to perhaps 15 or more. But�it will complete the task, however long it takes. Most of the work is carried out by trained locals who help on land near their own village, although some stay on with MAG and help train others. Dogs are used too� and are very effective but take more than a year to train and so are very expensive�indeed.

The absence of bitterness towards the west in both Vietnam and Cambodia is extraordinary -�given the appalling woes visited upon both countries -�and inspiring too. There are few Christians there but much forgiving, if not forgetting. The War�Remnants Museum in Saigon/Ho�Chi Minh�City�- both names are used, it seems - will ensure that people can't�forget � either the�bombing or the "ecocide", the attempt by the USA to wipe out an entire natural habitat - the for-est - since� it concealed the enemy.�

The enduring people memory for�me and most of those who took part in this event will be the crowds of small children who�appeared�by the�side of almost every�road we passed along in Cambodia calling out�"Hello (foreigner)" and trying to touch hands with us.� None�of us will forget, either, the ancient temples - Angkor�Wat and�others - in Siem Reap province in Cambodia, some�constructed 1000 years ago but likely to outlast anything built�there in the following millennium.

Altogether 43 riders took part - predominantly�English but including two Americans,�two Canadians and one person each from Germany, Holland, Ireland and Portugal. I was - perhaps perversely - delighted to discover that I was� the oldest, albeit by a matter of only six months. There were three others in their�sixty second year and we four geriatrics often looked fresher than others half our age!

Thanks again to all those in the village who supported me. I paid all my own expenses so every penny you donated went to MAG, as will any more dosh that anyone comes up with.

If anyone feels inspired to have a go at this sort of thing themselves, I’d recommend it. You don’t need to be young nor superfit – just determined! – and you meet some lovely, idealistic people. MAG’s next publicity event is a mass abseil down Battersea Power Station. I think I’ll give that one a miss.

If you'd like to contribute, please send me a cheque (but made payable to MAG, not to me). Alternatively, I can provide a form (I can deliver or email it) which will enable you to pay by debit or credit card.

Thank you!
Steve Berry,

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