October 22, 2010

Tales of Cambodia: A whole new world

I slumped down into the inviting softness of the restaurants ample sofa. My muscles ached, my mind was slow, and the taste of salt refused to leave my mouth no matter how much water I drank. At least I was clean and that feeling of being caked with a grimy layer of seawater was gone, a quick cold shower had solved that. Dan, another new friend of mine made recently on Koh Rong Island, was busy devouring his lunch across from me. I had elected to clean up first then eat but he was on a tighter schedule with the boat for the mainland leaving in a little over an hour. ‘That was a long walk, wasn’t it? But well worth it…’ I said getting Dan’s attention. He looked up. ‘Yeah, it sure was.’

What is there to do on an island? Not much let me tell you. Especially on a Cambodian island that’s in the initial stages of development. You can drink beer and watch the sun make trails through the sky. You can read a book. You can go swimming. You can listen to music. You can sleep. You can dive or you can snorkel. (Not including the write articles and edit photos because electricity was only available in the evening)

Sleeping, reading, and listening to music got boring very quickly so I decided to try something new. I didn’t have the money for diving so I went for the next best thing, snorkeling.

On Koh Rong Island where we were there are three places the local staff recommended with the so-so places being right around the corner and the best place being farthest away of course. I don’t know why the best things are the farthest away but it always seems to work out that way. If you want it there’s nothing you can do but grin and bear whatever you have to do to get it.

upload-f9The sky was a dark azure as we set out with sand we walked through radiating with heat and reflected light from the sun high in the sky. Turquoise water brushed up and rushed around our feet as we made our way through the surf. In the distance just past another white beach we could see the point they recommended for snorkeling.

It looked far. From where we stood the trees looked small and we could just make out a thin white line of another deserted beach. ‘This is gonna be fun,’ I thought to myself.

upload-f10The walk actually was pretty fun, despite the hour it took. Over kilometers of sand, on paths cut through thick jungle, and even through chest deep water at one point we went in search of that ‘magical’ snorkel spot. ‘Now this is an adventure’ I chuckled holding my backpack high above my head as we forded the mouth of a small river. Reality shows kiss my ass, living it is better than watching it.

At last we arrived at the end of sand and the beginning of rock that we had seen from our starting point. We paused for a few minutes to take in the surroundings and drink some water. Sand, surf, blue skies, clear water, we couldn’t have asked for any more.

upload-f11Wading into the water we slipped on our flippers and goggles. Checking the seal of my mask I realized that my beard was going to be a problem. Despite my best efforts water always seemed to make its way into the cavity and send snorts of briny salt into my nose which then made there way down the back of my throat and into my mouth. It took a while to get used to because there was no way I was going to let a small problem like that stop me from having fun. (Later I had the fun of my sinuses draining all the stored up water…)

A couple hundred meters from shore as we began to approach the rounded tip of rock is when my breath caught in my lungs as I saw my first coral and all its accompanying life. It was amazing and a feelings that I can just barely describe raged through my system.

I felt like Jacques Cousteau with my face buried in the water observing a whole different world. Diving deep until my head felt like it would explode (then equalizing to relieve the pressure) I wandered through the underwater city. How I wish I had an underwater camera housing for my equipment so that I could show you what I saw. Words really are inadequate when it came to this. Look up ‘underwater photography’ in Google, please; it will help you to understand.

Over and over I went down to wander the streets of a place I had never been. On one surfacing I asked my more experienced friend, Dan, what he thought. ‘Not bad, but I’ve seen better,’ he responded and disappeared under the water again. ‘Seen better,’ a new set of possibilities raged into my head. ‘Seen better,’ the world had much more to offer then I had ever realized.

Bit by bit my stamina wore away as I explored. The sun beat heavily upon my shoulders, which remained unburned because I had had the good sense to wear a long sleeve shirt. My ankles and the back of my knees were not so lucky I was later to find out. I looked back toward our starting point and saw it was far away. I gauged my remaining strength and turned to Dan as he surfaced just a few feet away. ‘Ready to call it quits?’ I called over. ‘Yeah, sounds good to me.’

Swimming against the current towards shore took a bit of time but it also allowed for some last forays down avenues I had missed on the way out. When we finally dragged ourselves from the warm water and up onto the hot sandy beach we were done. Two hours had passed since we had first slipped on our gear and it was almost lunch. A few deep gulps of lukewarm freshwater from my bottle and we were off back to base camp.

As we walked my mind could not tear itself away from the things I had seen (and been careful not to touch). A whole new world, a new book to read, had been opened up to me. It was a burr under my skin, a mosquito bite on my arm, a something that had to be done again. I looked out towards the Gulf of Thailand, ‘yes, but when and where,’ I thought idly to myself. ‘And maybe next time diving…if I have the money,’ I chuckled.

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1 comment to Tales of Cambodia: A whole new world

  • Joseph

    I very much want to become a licensed diver and get some underwater housing – the stuff that lets you have access to camera controls is quite, expensive…

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