All travel, in a way, is a form of masochism. Why else would we fly halfway around the world, hoist a heavy bag on our shoulder, and submerge ourselves into unknown languages, customs, currency? Sure, after time a little cultural assimilation is natural; we find ourselves naturally dropping a "s'il vous plait" upon ordering, we know to politely queue (or throw elbows), we find ourselves no longer fumbling through foreign coins and cash, proudly prouding the right notes almost instantaneously.
Everyone's threshold for masochism is different -- that's why for some, two weeks in Paris can be long enough to send anyone longing for the familiar routines at home, and others are ready to get down and dirty checking out the hotspots of, say, Rwanda for months on end.
Masochism is a good word to help understand why I actually like (and often prefer) travelling by bus. It may not get you there fast, and it may be a bit uncomfortable, but it does get you among the people, both on the bus and as you drive past them on the roads.
Masochism is also theperfect word to describe my trip today between Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, the city nearest my final destination of Otres Beach. It started off pretty straightforward: a van picked me up from my hostel at 7, we boarded at 7:30, and started on our merry way towards Phnom Penh. The driver threw on a DVD of Cambodian pop songs subtitled for karaoke. "This is different," I thought, "but I like it."
Just as we picked up speed on the outskirts of Siem Reap, the bus came to a slow halt. A few local Khmers got on. We got back going, down the dusty roads with motos and cars whizzing by, over taking giant trucks with no fear for the oncoming traffic in the two-lane road. Adventure!
I settled into my seat, taking in the little kiosks alongside the road, the cafes with their red plastic chairs, the shops with their products spilling way out on to the road, everywhere children running, women sweeping, and motorbikes, motorbikes, motorbikes.
Then I heard it. A little sniffle. "The girl next to me must have a cold," I thought. Sniff sniff. I looked down. The young Canadian girl who'd been in the van with me had tears streaming down her face.
"Oh my god! Sweetie, what's wrong? Are you OK?"
"My phone got stolen from my purse last night." She wiped a tear. "I had it in the front part of my bag. And my friends left today. And I think I'm still drunk from last night. And it's my birthday."
I tried to give her some consoling words about phones, while expensive, being replaceable, and how in the grand scheme of things it was just an annoyance, etc. As the bus slowed down to let some locals off, the Khmer woman next to us pointed to an empty set of chairs a few rows ahead and the Canadian girl moved seats to pass out.
With that excitement out of the way, I got back to my gazing out the window. Which was only mildly enjoyable- I was on the hot side of the bus. And yes, it has been Very Hot here, like uncomfortably hot, so much so that all I could think about in Siem Reap was getting to the beach, which is where I am now. Also the driving was making me a bit anxious - the road between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap apparently flooded a few years back and is now all kinds of torn up. Torn up by being choppy in many places, actual construction happening in others. Combined with the constant overtaking and the lack of visibility due to all the dust and exhaust, I was not exactly feeling very confident in the journey (I dont know why I think anxiously checking on the traffic conditions was helping, but maybe it did).
Finally, seven or eight hours later, we slowly made it through the horrendous traffic to the bus station in Phnom Penh. From there, we waited for our connecting bus to Siem Reap. From there, we got on the bus, then found out half the seats were ticketed incorrectly. The bus played musical chairs for a while, then we waited for a while to leave. We finally left about 45 minutes late, then sat in slow, super congested traffic for about 2 hours. Just as we began to finally pick up speed, we pulled over at a cafe so everyone could get out to use the bathroom and buy food (this happened twice on our journey between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh as well - the bus company obviously gets a kick back). Then it was back on the bus. Then it was another 4 hours to go - making it close to 16 hours by the time we arrived in Sihanoukville.
I hoisted my bag on my back and started looking around for men offering tuktuk rides. A guy approached me: "Tuktuk?"
"Where you going?"
"How many people?"
"One." I held up a finger just in case.
"OK!" He disappeared. I looked at my phone to doublecheck on my accomodation info before my phone died.
A man on a motorcycle pulled up in front of me. I looked back at my phone.
"Miss! Get on miss!"
Ugh, it was the guy who had approached me before.
"No, I want tuktuk."
He smiled insistently. "No, moto."
"I said tuktuk. No moto."
"No tuktuk. Moto."
I was tired and exhausted and hungry and I knew I had two options: to cry, or to get on the moto. I hopped on the moto. And we sputtered off, through a roundabout in the town and then off a dark, windy road for twenty-some minutes. The roads turned from paved to dirt, and we bumped along over rocks through the warm tropical air, which feels cool and gentle when you're moving fast enough through it to have a solid breeze. We drove past funky bungalow-type hotels named things like "The Wildside" and "Hacienda." We made another turn and drove through mud puddles before arriving at a house.
"OK!" He said. "You here!"
"This is not what it looks like on the internet," I said. I made him dial the owner. I hopped back on the bike, and, phone to my ear, he drove as the bungalow owner coached us through arriving. And so I arrived at a little bungalow place along the river, a short bike ride to Otres Beach. I'm sleeping in a little treehouse tonight, my bed covered in mosquito netting. I'm going to stay here for two more nights, then head to the island Koh Rong on Friday, then come back here to be somewhere during Khmer New Year (the entire country literslly shuts down for 3 days next week), then head to Kampot and Phnom Penh before going to Vietnam.
So yes, good travel masochism is being a little uncomfortable, pushing yourself to see new things, feel new things, discover new things, sometimes feeling a bit of pain in the process. Bad travel masochism is hour 12 of a bus ride that was meant to be 11 hours, wondering why you allowed your guesthouse to make your travel arrangements when you could have done some research to figure out which bus line was faster and had better air conditioning. Live and learn.
As for the Canadian girl, she disappeared at the station in Phnom Penh, even though she said she was supposed to continue on to Sihanoukville. I think she'd had enough masochism for one day.