Adventures in Cambodia
Part II: Shihanoukville
[I forgot to mention that after our 3 days of cycling in Siem Reap, we spent an extra day there relaxing, and visited a silk farm which was very interesting and informative. It's part of an initiative to preserve Khmer artistic traditions, provide skills training and fair working conditions in rural areas. I have some photos of the whole process, so if you're interested in 'em, let me know.]
Early Saturday morning, we boarded a bus for a loooong day, but between dozing and being mesmerized by the scenery passing outside the window, it wasn't so bad. We finally arrived in Shihanoukville around 6:30pm and headed to our arranged accommodation, which we thought was 2 bungalows. Instead, we wound up with 1 hotel room. The next day, we did a little searching and found a lovely place right on the beach that had a 4-bed room, so we could all stay together. That afternoon, we went for a walk to explore our environs, and came across Scuba Nation. The next thing I know, I'm in a swimming pool wearing a tank on my back and flippers on my feet...and enjoying myself! I signed up with Jen and Annelie to go on a full-day scuba adventure on Tuesday.
Before going scuba diving though, we had also arranged to go snorkeling for $10 through our hotel. The BBQ fish-on-the-beach lunch that was provided made the trip worthwhile. The rest was, ah, let's just say it was memorable. We started the day wading out into the surf to climb aboard the swaying boat. We puttered our way out to sea, and the captain pulled up near an island and just stopped the boat. We selected our masks and snorkels from a bag of badly battered gear, and, along with the rest of the passengers, just jumped off the boat and started looking under the water trying to see some aquatic life. In about 2 minutes time, I realized that the current seemed awfully strong. I had my face underwater, and was swimming forward...but according to the rock below me, I was actually moving backwards. I looked up and realized that the boat was now very far away. I gave up looking for sea life, and started swimming back towards the boat. Annelie, Jen and Tracy were nearby, and we all noticed our dilemma around the same time. We all started swimming for all we were worth. Annelie and I, both hampered by our life jackets, were getting nowhere. Tracy (a very strong swimmer, by the way), was hampered by her broken mask and snorkel and wasn't faring much better. Jen, swimming flat out for maybe 20+ minutes finally made it back to the boat, and got him to come and pick us up. In the meantime, the three of us huddled together, had given up trying to swim, and were bobbing along towards Vietnam. The boat finally came to fetch us, and we spent the next 2 hours lying in a hammock on a beach while lunch was prepared and eaten. (That, I think, was the best part of the day.)
What a difference a day makes. The next day we left our snorkel experience behind us and headed out to sea again. This time, we were on much larger boat, and went much farther afield. (asea?) We went on two dives (with lunch in between) and I absolutely loved every minute of it. (Except when I thought that maybe we had lost Annelie, but we didn't. Not really.) According to more experienced divers, visibility wasn't that great, since it was a windy day, and the bottom was getting churned up. However, since I was just so excited to be breathing underwater, I didn't mind. While I saw some pretty blue fish, and some brown ones, and some coral, I mostly just tried to make sure I could still see my diving instructor. He was awfully patient and handsome, so I wasn't all that interested in the fish anyway. (Just kidding, the fish were nice too.) Anyway, you can see from the picture that I had a great time. I couldn't wipe that grin off my face for the rest of the day. I finally found a watersport that I can do without getting a sunburn or sunstroke, and allows me to hang-out on a boat for hours getting to and from the dive site! It's ideal.
The next day, we just kicked around on the beach and did a little exploring. We also got to know Ha and Han better. They were two women who worked on the beach during the day offering massages, threading, manicures, pedicures, etc. We had met them a few days earlier, and when business was slow, they would come and talk with us for a while. We chatted with them and saw pictures of their kids and shared some laughs. For the most part, the Cambodians and the tourists move in very different, very separate spheres. It was nice to spend some time interacting with some Cambodian women about my age.
The following day, our bus left Shihanoukville around 2pm. Around 1:30, my stomach started feeling a little queasy. Just a little. Around 1:59 it was definitely getting worse. 10 minutes after the bus pulled away from the station, the chicken sandwich I'd had that morning struck back with a vengeance. I'll spare you the details of the next 4 hours, but I will let you know that (a) I'm glad we spent the extra $2 for a bus with a bathroom on it, (b) I sincerely apologize to the other 39 passengers on board, and (c) it's a good thing the hostess on the bus came armed with a full can of air freshener.
That was the condition I was in upon our arrival in Phnom Penh and was led, carried, steered, and ushered to the hotel by my helpful and sympathetic friends.