Monday, June 27, 2011

Swim with a buddy, people.

I missed work the Monday after the food poisoning. I limped back in on Tuesday, and was proud that I was able to sit up at the desk for the entire work day. The rest of the week I worked with another intern on a funding proposal for the juvenile justice program. This mostly consisted of us editing multiple pages of broken English into something a little more coherent. The proposal is still in its rough draft stages, so I'm not sure yet if we're going to get the grant.

We submitted everything by the end of the week, just in time for us to prepare for our weekend trip to Sihanoukville, a large beach town filled with backpackers with varying levels of acquaintance with soap. What started as a small group from my office morphed into 13 interns from different legal organizations, all ready to spend some time at the ocean. The plan was to spend one night in Sihanoukville, and then take a two-hour boat ride to an island off the coast called Koh Rong Saloem. The island is owned by the Cambodian navy, but a British guy has leased a section of the property and has built a series of small beachfront cabins on a private beach. The website displayed shocking sunsets, relaxing hammocks, and gorgeous, turquoise water waiting steps from your front door. Paradise, right?

Not so perfect if you've decided to travel to said paradise during the rainy season. The short boat ride to the island, touted as part of the exotic experience, turned into a contest between us trying to drive over the ocean and the ocean constantly trying to knock us back to shore. The ocean mostly won. After we had to leap down into the boat (boarding planks are for wimps), culminating in two members of our party landing flat on their backs on the floor of the vessel, we spent the next few hours of our lives being pelted by gigantic, angry raindrops. Each wave sent the boat reeling back and forth, rocking dangerously each way to the point that I readied myself for us to capsize. 

I've never seen so many people turn green simultaneously. Heads dipped between knees at an alarming rate as waves of nausea kept time with the tossing current. Weary hands reached for Dramamine. About halfway through the ride, the waves claimed their first victim, a teacher who was coming to the island for a quick vacation. It was her first, and, given how long she slumped over the edge of the railing, probably last time on a boat. One of the law students, who had spent most of the ride clutching her stomach and staring at the floor, happily stood up as soon as the boat slowed near our final destination. She promptly vomited as one last swell shuddered through the cabin. 

The boat wasn't able to dock ride at the beach because the waters were too shallow, so we had to swim a short distance to shore. Our belongings, which had been pelted with rain through the whole ride out, floated behind us in giant rubbermaid containers. I extracted my soaking wet duffle bag and backpack, ready to settle into my cabin and a healthy-sized cocktail. I quickly searched the coastline, looking for some semblance of housing, but couldn't seem to find anything. I was then told that a short hike through the jungle was required in order for us to reach our lodging. 

At this point, I began to question my travel decision-making skills. This ocean, I remember thinking, better be filled with diamond-encrusted fish that grant me three wishes while singing my favorite showtunes.  The rain was considerate enough to violently start up again as soon as we started marching through the wilderness. Just in case, you know, any of us still had dry underwear. 

And so we walked. And walked. And walked a little more. Some friends of ours had just told us horror stories of being attacked by leeches while hiking in a different province, so each time I came into contact with say, a leaf, I yelped and pathetically flailed my limbs (I did, by the way, make it through the walk unscathed). Finally, the path cleared, and a community of thatched huts dotted the road to a rather impressive open-air bar and restaurant, complete with the hammocks from the website and fantastic chairs, all with a perfect view of the sea. We broke off into groups and were led to our cabins, each with a front porch and two hammocks. The bedrooms had two queen-size beds covered with mosquito nets, and a bathroom attached (with a do-it-yourself flushing mechanism, consisting of a non-flushing toilet with a big barrel of water and a bucket beside it. Ah, camping). We found out later that we had some roommates, including bats in the bedroom and lizards the size of my forearm in the shower. I figured if I was bitten by the former, Robert Pattinson would appear and angsty teen rock would start playing as we rode off for Seattle; the latter, well, maybe I'd develop a taste for insects. 

We settled in quite nicely, eating very nice food (I chose sweet and sour chicken for the first night, absolutely fantastic), and taking advantage of Lazy Beach's board games. Law students--and I know this is shocking--can be viciously competitive, especially when something like winning a game of Taboo or, even sadder, Jenga is at stake. We played for hours, stopping long enough to go for a night swim before heading to sleep. I didn't run into any diamond fish, but the company was still more than lovely.

The next morning after a breakfast of toast and Nutella (NUTELLA!!), I stupidly decided to go for a morning swim on my own. Some of the other interns were still inside the restaurant having breakfast, so I thought that they could still see me in case I ran into any trouble. There were also some guys on the shore collecting wood, so again I thought a quick dip would be safe. 

Fast forward 30 minutes. I'm splashing around, when suddenly three huge waves consecutively crash down on top of me, dragging me out into the water. I tried to touch bottom, but couldn't reach. Paddling forward a few feet, I tried again. Nothing. Over and over, I tried to swim closer to land, but each time I was quickly sucked back out by the increasingly choppy water. I started screaming for help, but the guys on the shore continued about their business, unable to hear me over the waves. I've always been a decent swimmer-- not strong like Ben or Mom, but able to keep my head above water thus far--but this was overpowering me. My muscles started to get tired from thrashing about so much; I was in a full panic. Finally, I got my breathing under control, and remembered my parents telling me to swim parallel to the shore if I'm ever fighting against an undertow. Inch by inch, for 20 minutes, I crawled my way back to the shore. When I finally got out, every part of me was shaking. 

I wasn't keen to dive back into the water very quickly, so instead I opted to join Leah and Nick on a hike over some rocks in order to see the beach from a different view. It felt a little like bouldering at times; there was a lot of walking over sharp coral, and slick rocks because it had, yet again, started to rain. 

Here are some pics from our trip over the rocky terrain. I was worried when Nick started the trip by saying, "The first person to not break her ankle wins.":

Calm, pretty, private beach:

The road gets a little rocky:

Stopping for a rest:

Do you see a walking path? Because I sure don't: 

View making it all worth it:

The people at the front desk said we could do the climb barefoot. Um....

Back to the start!

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