These are the moments we will forever continue to live for.
11.11.2011 - 13.11.2011 32 °C
I write to you today as I relax in true Cambodian fashion. Beach side, my back is swallowing warm rays of Khmer sunshine while the soft sand exfoliates my skin and I'm finding myself drifting away to the sweet lullaby of the Gulf of Thailand.
Allow me to take you back a day, to the events that led me to my tropical haven...
This weekend started off with a boat ride along the coast of Phnom Penh, enjoying cool, refreshing cocktails and a riverside view of the city lights, the palace standing center stage. The boat ride preceded a BBQ dinner for our entire TEFL class where we celebrated the completion of training and shared goodbyes with the half of the group bound for Thailand. We ate, sang karaoke until our throats were sore at a lounge that happened to be featuring 'lady-boy' night, so we got the chance to witness quite a show! The following morning, we that had not left for Thailand took off on a road trip of our own, to Sihanoukville, a beach surrounded by private islands in the Gulf of Thailand.
Our first day in Sihanoukville, we took a private boat ride, island hopping, snorkeling and fishing. The gulf waters are clear and the waves are timid, gently kissing the sandy beaches and allowing for a day of smooth sailing. At one island in particular, we were given the opportunity to hike through the jungle from the west beach to the east beach. On our journey, we came across a group of monks on holiday. They were all very excited to see us and each whipped out his own cell phone in order to take his turn getting a photo with us. Monks in Cambodia are not like any monks I have ever imagined. They ride Tuk Tuks, smoke, talk on cell phones, and can even come into contact with girls. I have learned that most monks here only serve as monks for 2-3 years so that they can be sent to University for free. Typically, it is an economic endeavor for these young men.
After we passed the monks, we ventured deeper into the jungle, following a winding path. A high pitched, siren-like noise from the canopy above filled our ears, as though the jungle were warning us to turn back. We did not heed this warning and pressed on until we came to a clearing which opened up to the most secluded, breathtakingly glamourous beach I have ever laid my eyes upon. We ran towards the water, stripping off our outer layers as we neared the shore, and dove into the crystal clear, bath-warm water.
Many of the smaller islands are surrounded by coral reefs that play host to a myriad of colorful fish, corals and plant life. One of the girls, Wendy, even saw a hermit crab fighting with an aggravated sea urchin. We didn't stick around long enough to see the outcome of the battle, though my money was on the sea urchin. They don't look like the kind of creature I would want to cross paths with. Very territorial and what have you. After a short snorkeling adventure (I am rather squeamish in large bodies of water), I took refuge at the bow of the boat, claimed an empty water bottle rigged with a fishing line and hook, baited the hook with fresh squid, and dropped my line. My patience resulted in the catch of a single fish no bigger than the palm of my hand. Nonetheless, I was very proud. We finished our boat trip with a seafood BBQ on the beach and prepped for the night that lie ahead of us.
Around 6:00 PM, half of the group returned to the hotel as the rest of us, Maggie, Kim, Evin, Emily and myself, bid the tired sun "sweet dreams" and made toasts to new friends, relaxation, adventure and a weekend to remember. We set off into the night and danced under the light of a full moon until it was time for the sun and moon to switch places once again. The island music played boisterously, dusk until dawn and we never missed a beat. Flame throwers spun fiery batons on risers scattered across the beach. The gulf tide crashed dangerously onto the rocky coastline and billions of stars painted a luminescent glow upon the rippling waters. We moved energetically to the steady challenge of the drum and bass until we could physically move no longer. At the breaking point, we all found ourselves drawn to the cool and inviting pool waters of the temple-bar, Utopia. With shoes cast aside, we sat on the pool's edge with our feet dangling in the water. Until the sky was consumed by light once more, we sat and debated all of the trials and mysteries of life with new friends and strangers alike. By the time the music stopped, the pool waters were suspiciously warm and had a taken on a brown murky hue. We said our farewells to the rest of the pool party and set off to procure nourishment in order to appease the angry demands of our hungry stomachs.
After breakfast, the three of us took a Tuk Tuk back to the hotel, slipped into our bathing suits and found ourselves on a quiet beach. I ordered a fresh banana milkshake for myself and within a moments time, local beach workers were approaching my side offering massages, manicures, pedicures and threading (which I was shamefully told I need in more places than a few). How could I resist? I allowed one lady to give me a full body massage while another threaded my eyebrows. After an hour, Maggie got her own threading done, and I cooled off with an ocean swim.
It is now 11:30 and the responsibilities of real life are soon to pull us away from our peaceful oasis. In a few hours time, Sihanoukville will fall further and further behind us as we drive back toward Phnom Penh. This weekend was a well deserved and most appreciated vacation in every sense of the term, but tomorrow we begin teaching,thus beginning the next big chapter of my life.