Red Earth: Cambodia Part Two

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Coincidences. One of the most important things I have ever learned in my life, is that there is no such thing. I believe that things happen and people come into our lives, for whatever reason no matter how small or big that purpose is. Everything and everyone happens for a reason. A truth I’ll always hold on to.

I met my British friend Sienna back at our hostel in Siem Reap. She saw me filling out a form for the yoga & meditation retreat I was about to go to, comes up to me and asked if it was for Hariharalaya, I smiled and said yes. Little did I know we would become traveling sisters and would explore together for the next three weeks.

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We arrive in Kampot. Our hostel is a wooden structure built right by the beautiful river. You can jump from the communal area and into the water, swim to the pontoon, and lay out on the wooden deck. An hour into our arrival that is exactly what we did. Sienna and I lay out there, absorbing every bit of sunbeam and chatting as we watch clouds passing. Shortly after, the hostel owner swims to join us. He calls JB, a hilarious French backpacker working behind the desk to get beers. JB hops on a small rowing boat and delivers us some crisp, cold brews. I laugh at the whole scenario and thank him. Our wonderful friend Michele from Hariharalaya, a French-Canadian hailing from Montreal planned on meeting us here as well. We see her walking into the hostel from the distance and yell at her to get in the water. She eventually jumps into the river. More people follow. Strangers become friends. We jump off the pontoon a few times. We talk for hours until the sky changes colors, until the darkness came. We swim back, shower, eat, drink and cheers to the beginning of our night. New faces come rolling in, more strangers become friends. We head to another hostel throwing a party, they were playing old school hiphop jams. I get excited and get to the point of drunkenness when I say I love everything and that every song is my song. The girls and I laugh and move our bodies to the beats. Then at one point I find myself dancing with a boy wearing a charming smile. We talk all night and stay awake with the moon above us. The next day we do the same thing. More new faces come. We jump and play in the river like children. At night we play drinking games. I get intoxicated again but held my conversations. The boy wearing the charming smile and I talk for hours about passions, dreams, the lifetimes we lived and the people we were. We kiss our way through the narrow, wooden pier under the moonlight. He left the next day to go back to Phnom Penh, then back to America. Another brief romance, another wave passing. In the morning we explored with new friends. Followed the beautiful Australian girl with a mandala tattoo I fell in love with. She leads us through the mountain jungle and we get to a waterfall. Eric, my blonde Swedish friend, disappears and I later see him at the very top of the waterfall jumping into the dark red waters. Michele instantly follows with Nikara, our new friend from Toronto. I dip my body in the cold water, camera in hand waiting, then one by one, the girls jump in. I float in the waters, closing my eyes and feeling it moving through me. A small wave comes in and water comes flooding into my nose, breaking the blissful moment. I jump up, shake it off and laugh. Michele witnesses the hilarity and our laughter joins to echo and get lost somewhere in the pacifying sounds of water crashing.

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One day we went on a little journey. We ride in scooters through the national park, to an oceanside town called Kep. I ride on the back of my friend Sam’s bike and we begin. He carves our way through the open road, I move with him and the bike as it curves around the mountains. We get to an abandoned casino. It was completely empty. We find our way through the spiral of stairs, creepy gray rooms and dark corners. Then we find ourselves at the edge of the compound overlooking the ocean. The others spit words and laughter while staring at the beautiful view. I fell into silence and got lost to my own moments. We stop at a pagoda, then move on to the waterfalls. I sit on the edge as the others find their own place. Sienna joins me eventually and we sit in silence listening to the soothing sounds of water and life all around us.

Then we get to Kep. Our tongues ached for seafood so we went to a cheap restaurant, eager to crack some fresh crabs open. As we waited for food to come the sun starts setting and we watch the colors fill the sky. Eric starts talking about his insane stories and all the misadventures that him and his partner in crime, Oscar had gone through over the years and our laughter fills the room. After dinner we ride back through darkness, silhouettes, and the red dust clouding headlights. Then I look up at the cosmos. The stars were out, there were so many of them. The sky never ceases to amaze me. No matter where I am, they keep calling me and I keep watching and listening to them as they pull the hairs on my skin. As if I was a guitar and the stars were plucking my strings and creating a beautiful symphony within me. Sam chases the others through the darkness. I keep looking up and smiling at the bright eyes above us.

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I remember staring at the night sky on the beach every summer as a little girl and imagining that those stars are bright eyes looking down upon us. I’d put my thumb over each one, pretending to play peekaboo with each dot of light, each window to the souls of the universe. I will never get tired of gazing up at the cosmos. I look up and it’s the same stars who looked down upon me when I was that little girl. Same stars that every single human being, every single creature that has ever existed in this universe gazed up on.

The diameter of the observable universe is 93 billion light years. And that’s only what human technology has beamed on so far. There are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on Earth. We are a minuscule speck of dust compared to what lies out in space, in the unknown. This makes a lot of people feel small. But this makes me feel larger, this makes me feel whole. Because you, and me, and all of us are a part of a vast expanding organism that no science or religion we know can ever fully comprehend.
It’s the best feeling in the world. To look up at the cosmos and think that the atoms in our hands, in our bodies came from stars that exploded throughout the galaxy. To think that we are cells bouncing off from one another, intrinsically connected to everything that surrounds us, breathing and living as a whole. Nothing more has made me feel more connected to mother universe than this very notion.

So when the sun goes down and the darkness rises up to pave way for the bright eyes to look down upon us each night. I look back up again and cry out bliss. Because no matter where I am or who I’ve become, I know that I am whole, I know that I am home.

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We leave Kampot for Otres Beach with the boys. Did absolutely nothing for three days but lay out under the sun, swim in the perfectly warm turquoise waters and watch the sun dip into the ocean. We were high on life and pizza. Private cinemas and Western food. Beers and laughter. Long late night walks on the beach as the planktons glow around our feet. Magdalena had to leave for Bangkok the next day. The boys decided to stay in Otres for a couple more days. Sienna and I had to catch our boat to a Cambodian island called Koh Rong. We would meet up with everyone there to celebrate Christmas together. We found our way through the pier then we start sailing into the depths of the ocean.

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The sea was so wild. A crowd of us were stuffed inside the biggest boat they had, the other boats were cancelled because of the strong currents. For a couple hours the sea swayed us back and forth. We had to hold on to something because there were plenty of times when we could have fallen over if we didn’t have the balance. I imagined the boat tipping over at one point and dropping us all into the vast ocean like tiny ants. Then dusk came. We survived and happily made it to the island.

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I’m walking around the village and I look down and see this bright-eyed little creature beaming at me. I wave, say hello and give her a grin. She starts skipping and following me as I cross the bridge. I take pictures of her as she throws me a beautiful symphony of laughs and giggles. She tugs at my arm and I laugh and show her the pictures. Her eyes widen and she throws her head back with a big heart laugh. She climbs on my lap to see more as her friends run to us and they start chasing each other. One of the girls fall and they dive on each other to make human pile. The laughfest continues.

My favorite part of a country, aside from places of course, are the children. No matter where you are in the world, no matter how touristy or how remote, children know how to spread the light by bringing a smile to anyone’s face. They may not know you or your language, but they only know love. And that’s enough to fill the spaces.

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One day we took a boat out with new friends. The ocean is wild. The waves are powerful. Our boat is like a seesaw and we swing side to side watching each other scream and laugh. Adi stays rooted in the middle, smiling and laughing at the scene unfolding before me. We get to the other island, eat, chill in swings and hammocks and explore the village. Our boat continues through the strong currents and stops at a secluded beach, a long stretch of white sand and azure waters. I walk and swim on my own and soak in everything around me. The people playing volleyball, the ones sprawled on the sand, the silhouettes of fishermen on boats breaking the sunbeams. We pass by a campsite and a group of guys invite us over. They’ve created dream catchers, pitched a tent, hammocks and bottles with quotes hanging from the trees. Then we watch the sky change colors. We get back into our boat at dusk and we sail on. At some point the boatman drops the anchor, we put on our snorkels, and we jump off.

It was unreal. As if the stars fell into the ocean. As we swim around our boat, bioluminescent planktons start glowing all around us. Sienna, Michelle and I are yelling and laughing at how magical everything is as we create galaxies and swirling stars with our bodies. On our way back home to the island I stick my hand in the sea. And the stars keep shooting out of my fingertips.

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Christmas came. We had a big family dinner. Filled our bellies with Italian food and wine. After we celebrated with drinks, laughing and dancing our asses off like there’s no tomorrow. This is what happens when you put a bunch of free spirits under one roof with several different song genres from different decades blasting throughout the night.

The next day I worked in the morning, then met up my little traveling family at the other beach. As I walk towards them I see the girls in the sea waving at me. The boys are playing frisbee and the rest of the girls are bathing in sunshine. I join them in the water to play frisbee then I swim to the bottom and pretend to be a mermaid. Oscar and I stay afloat and let the sea heal our bodies and carry our weight.

I walk over to the small wooden pier at one point. Sitting on the edge and staring at the water. Then I stand up and jump into the sea. I did it a couple more times as it replenished me. I was about to head back then I turned around and saw Franzi, my beautiful, open-hearted German friend. She asked if she could join me, I said of course. We sit together at the edge of the pier and talk for a while, sharing stories, our travels, our writings, what makes us feel alive, what makes us tick and everything in between.

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There were times when I would go off alone, needing some quiet and solitude. I’d walk through the other side of the island, climb some rocks. I’d close my eyes, feel the sunshine on my back, and the wind caressing my flesh. And I’d sit for a while, in my own happiness and contentment as I find myself in these infinite moments.

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I want you to know this. I want you to know that you can find bliss in solitude. I want you to know that you can be happy by yourself. Whether you have a significant other or not, learn how to be happy being alone. Because sometimes, you need to climb rocks and sit on it without anyone next to you but the sun on your back. Because sometimes you need to look at the ocean, watch fishes fly and laugh by yourself. Because sometimes you need to hum and whistle to your favorite song alone while you splash your feet along the shore. Because sometimes you need to lay alone on the sand underneath a blanket of stars and let that be more than enough.

Maybe one day you will find someone who knows how to be alone and happy too. And maybe, just maybe, you’ve been meant for each other this whole time. Or maybe you won’t. Maybe you won’t even find that. But at least you know you feel enough. Because there is beauty all around you to keep you company. To keep the bliss seeping into your veins. To keep you happy. To keep you loving life. To keep you loving yourself.

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28 thoughts on “Red Earth: Cambodia Part Two

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Every single time I read your stories, I’m reminded that I’m not alone in feeling this way about the world, traveling, and life. You have a gift with words and photos, and thank you for sharing it with us. 🙂

  2. You and your posts are definitely making me feel some sort of way! Thank you for these beautiful words – you are inspiring me as I find myself at the crossroads that is deciding either to buy into what society is selling, or to leave it all and embark on an adventure that is beautifully my own. xo

  3. Che bel racconto e che foto stupende! Hai ragione, contemplare la natura ci fa sentire piccoli ma nello stesso tempo grandi, ci dà un senso di appartenenza a tutto ciò che ci sfugge dal punto di vista della ragione ma che ci meraviglia per la bellezza che il mondo ci regala!

  4. Wow, each episode is so clearly mentioned with a heart-touching awe..I bet you had maintained a travel diary with you,,the details are sparking sharp and one could feel the contagiousnesses of each thrill you guys shared.

    I confess, not having read the entire blog, as I want to do this at leisure..its beautiful. I read till the star gazing part. I love star gazing too..you wrote it so beautiful, and its almost there to what I experience at star gazing..I am keeping this hobby since now 11 years and I still find myself amateur to the knowledge our universe holds..indeed, it sparks a feeling of being connected with a vast expanse, and no matter how infinitely small we be, being associated makes us so Large,

    • Exactly, beautifully said! I always believe that if every single human being in this world made it a habit to look at the stars for at least 10 minutes every night.. the world would be a better place for all.

  5. “But this makes me feel larger, this makes me feel whole. Because you, and me, and all of us are a part of a vast expanding organism that no science or religion we know can ever fully comprehend.
    It’s the best feeling in the world. To look up at the cosmos and think that the atoms in our hands, in our bodies came from stars that exploded throughout the galaxy. To think that we are cells bouncing off from one another, intrinsically connected to everything that surrounds us, breathing and living as a whole. Nothing more has made me feel more connected to mother universe than this very notion.”

    Beautiful piece of writing that resonated with me. Your words are better than images, they made me travel with you to places I wish to visit one day. Thank you.

  6. I am 70 years old and the world is still magical. I love your blog and live vicariously through it. My life has been about raising children. I am raising a 9-1/2 yr-old now and I want her to feel about the world the way you do, so we take off and travel and camp and have new experiences whenever we can. We go to the sea and bob in the waves. I, too, love being alone and also love being with people, and I promise myself often that in my next lifetime I will freely roam the world, as you are doing!

  7. Soul / sol / mi soul / Thank you for yr truth, yr warm sea baths and looking up only to never doubt again. There is nothing like meeting new friends on the road, swimming at night and hugging children!

    You write beautifully, your fotos speak to me and yr life is a blissful testament of love and courage.

    Blessings to you and hopefully we’ll cross
    paths in our travels one starry night/ besos.

    God Bless~
    W

  8. I have been land-ridden for months and your posts have kept the spirit of wanderlust has helped me get through. Reading this even got me teary-eyed! Thank you for still writing, Steph. 🙂 I hope to cross paths with you one day, maybe when you’re back in the Philippines 🙂

  9. I love your words so much, they are so beautiful. Thank you for writing and sharing with us. My husband and I will be back in SE Asia in less than two years now, saving our dollars for another 6 week trip. Can’t wait. But until then, I’ll keep your lovely words on love and life in mind!

  10. Oh, the delightful relaxation of Kampot. Days floated away down the Mekong ❤ Winding bike rides through the Bokor National Park. There lies on of my favourite memories from Cambodia. We hadn’t seen them at first. They were cloaking the sun's reflection in the puddles created from the remnants of a waterfall. We clambered down rocks and ran toward this tiny waterfall, no bigger than the stream of water from a shower head, laughing and racing each other to be the first one drenched beneath it's heavy fountain. Suddenly the pools of water around us erupted with a cloud of butterflies. My heart surged, admiring their grace and beauty. In that moment, my life was perfect.
    It was truly magical! Thank you for the trip down memory lane on this rainy Sydney day. My eyes are brimming with tears of happiness 🙂

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