There's been a bit of a delay since my last post -- but what can I say? I arrived in lovely Otres Village at a place called Mama Clare's, which is a collection of little bungalows up on stilts perched over Otres River, run by a super awesome British woman named (you guessed it!) Clare. It's about a 10 minute bike ride to Otres Beach, so for three glorious days, I hunkered down here and did what the British would describe as "fuck all." (Sorry for swearing, Mom, but given that this is a large expat community with tons of Brits floating around, it's the descriptor that seems the most apropos.)
So yes, for three blissful days, my daily agenda was something like this: unlock bicycle. Pedal bicycle past the various hippie boho enclaves in the village to the beach. Lock bicycle. Find a nice beach bar to buy a bottle of water, or mango smoothie, or pad thai, or beer. Lounge in a paddasam chair for an hour or three. Stare at the ocean. Get up, meander in the waves down to another beach bar. Repeat, until the sun began to hang low to the horizon. Saunter back to bicycle. Unlock. Pedal slowly in the warm orange sun back down the red rocky roads to Mama Clare's, where I'd find beers and supper and expats waiting. It's been a good scene.
On Friday, I'd arranged to go to Koh Rong, an island a couple hours by slow ferry off the Cambodian coast. During the Khmer Rouge, the islands were cleared of inhabitants and used for government purposes; only in recent years have they become repopulated again. With beautiful beaches and warm, clear water, it is only a matter of time before they'll likely become developed and begin to lose some of their charm.
Clare had mentioned a relatively new guesthouse on the island, far from the main strip of tourist/backpacker hostels, that was adjacent to a small fishing village. She arranged for me to stay for three nights, and we arranged a ride with her local tuktuk driver to take me to the ferry at 2pm. At 2:15pm, there was no tuktuk driver in sight; Clare's guy had flaked but he sent a friend to take me.
I should stop and say I am using the word "ferry" really liberally. After the tuktuk driver left me at a port, I found myself on would be described as a cargo boat, packed with all manner of things (water, soda, food) and people (local Khmers, numerous backpackers). We set off across the water and two hours later, set down right in the heart of Koh Rong, at the strip of backpacker hostels. I looked around for a sign directing me to the place I was staying, Inn the Village. I showed the flyer to various locals who shook their heads no, that's not on this part of the island, and said I could take a $20 private water taxi over.
I found Wifi and called the guesthouse. "Oh no, you've gotten on the wrong ferry," said the British guy on the phone. "Here's what you can do: walk down the beach to Monkey Island and go out the back and look for the trail. Walk up the trail up to the top of the hill, and I'll send a guy on a moto to meet you."
I began to trudge down the beach, walking to the far end where I found the hostel. The guy behind the bar pointed me to a bit of a trail that formed after you walked around a pile of garbage. I began my ascent up the rocky hill, grateful that I'd consolidated what I needed for the weekend into two small bags and left my big bag back at Mama Clares, not grateful that I was making the hike in flip flops. Pebbles gave way underneath me as the late afternoon sun beat down on me. A torrent of cursing and grumbling began in my head -- although I will say that one of the advantages to traveling solo is that when you have no one to complain to, you find your complaints tend to vanish quickly. There's no one to validate your thoughts that this guesthouse should "have a f*@!$ng better way for guests to get there", which is 99% likely the thought rumbling through my brain. I got to the top of the hill and found the road evened out a bit, the rounded a corner and saw another hill. Ugh. A giant drop of sweat rolled off my forehead and bounced on to a rock. "Better get on with it," I thought, slowly navigated my way up the rocks.
I made it to the top of the hill, up high enough that I had some relief from the sun, which had sunk behind the island. As I walked along it dawned on me: "I have absolutely no idea where I am. What if this driver never comes? What if I have to spend the night on a random road on a Cambodian island? What if there are snakes? Or a group of bandits who will sell me off into white slavery? What if I end up having to live off the land, sort of like Gilligan's Island but with way fewer people and no hope of return?" I would have no idea how to build a car from Bamboo on Gilligan's Island. All I had was some sunscreen and bug repellant and a dying phone. I wasn't going to make it too long.
Just then, I heard the sweet sound of an engine rumbling in the distance. A young Khmer guy appeared suddenly in my view. "Jenny?" "Yes! Yes! That's me!" I cried, running towards the bike and hopping on.
The driver slowly manuerved his way along the rock-strew road, around large boulders and occasional potholes. At certian points, the road was so rough, I had to get off the bike and walk, while the driver made his way through the choppy road on the bike. Finally, thirty minutes later, I arrived at the guesthouse, safe, sound and sweaty.
The next two days passed easily, much like my days in Otres, just even more tranquil and relaxed. Each day, I hiked over a hill to the empty Coconut Beach. I had lunch each day at the new set of Bungalows there, enjoying delicious food and their hot shower (my guesthouse in the village had just bucket showers). On Saturday, I napped in a hammock, swam in the warm, green waters, and ate red curry. On Sunday, I napped in a hammock, had some fried noodles while watching the rain pour down during a passing storm, then swam again in the ocean, the surf even gentler and calming than the day before.
Today, I took the right ferry back from Damskal village to Sihanoukville, and made my way back to Mama Clare's, where I'll stay for 3 nights before continuing on to Kampot. The Khmer New Year starts tomorrow and lasts for three days, throwing the whole country into a form a gridlock as the Khmer go back to their local villages to drink and party for three full days. Hotels are booked, buses aren't running, and getting this info in advance from Clare last week, meant I had to make some decisons about where to go when and I decided to come back here to wait out the storm.
I'm back in a treehouse, listening to the sound of rain patter against the thatched bamboo roof, looking forward to three more days of relaxation before I get back on the road and my trip picks up steam again.
Oh yeah, one more thing. Remember that cargo boat I went to Koh Rong on? The one that seemed iind of overloaded and had nary a life jacket in sight? I told the folks running the guesthouse about that, and one of the British woman managing the place goes, "Oh, that's the boat everyone calls Sinkie! Because it's the sinkie boat. It's capsized twice. Don't worry, everyone lived." I'm happy to announce I made it back to land on a boat that is NOT nicknamed Sinkie the Sinking Boat, that had dozens of brightly colored life vests hanging from the rafters.
And on that note, I wish you a very Happy Khmer New Year!