I just got lost for a while
Extracts from draft chapter about our time in Koh Rong, Cambodia in January
We were taken to our beach by a long wooden boat with benches down each side, plenty of room but only us on it. The wooden boat, painted red, the island, and the sea so blue; it was all so totally Instagrammable that I didn’t want to.
Again I felt as if I was supposed to feel something that I didn’t. Sometimes too much beauty doesn’t resonate, it’s impossible for me to feel. Like the big temple we went to see near Pondicherry, with not one but several huge facades of colourful mouldings, too much to absorb, so that in the end I stepped away to look at a gold minaret, a white cow statue, and I was able to connect. Give me an orange cat on a dusty wall, or raindrops glittering on shutters in the dark, those things are more likely to get me there.
Or sometimes it’s because my mood is incongruent, like in Nepal, we’d got up early to go and see the sun rise over the mountains, one of which was Everest, but the day before I had had a totally unexpected row with our travelling companion and stood trying not to cry, the surreal once-in-a life-time view doing nothing to alter my mood. When Anthony asked me to be in a picture with him I refused. I felt ugly, a consequence of the low mood, but I was also glad to avoid contributing to another social media lie, a dreamy photo of us with the sun rising over Everest, with the fact that I felt so low not mentioned, of course.
The sea was a little wavy and it was a little scary, in the open water, the waves tipping the boat, but I reminded myself that the man does this all the time. The journey took about forty minutes. He dropped the anchor a little way from the shore, hooked a ladder over the side and we stepped down from the boat with our bags, into the water above the knee, past the bow which was beautifully decorated with flowers, and onto a paradise beach. Again, laughably nice, with well off looking tourists on sunbeds, and little beach front restaurants, ‘Are we in the wrong place?’ we asked ourselves.
We were in a tent, it was luxurious camping though, with a deep thick mattress, one of the best we’d experienced in South East Asia, electricity with two sockets and a fan.
An English woman helped out with online bookings and English speaking queries at our place. We asked how she’d ended up here, she said she’d come on holiday and fallen in love with the place and come back to live, and had been on the island seven years, she had a Cambodian partner and a little boy. ‘He understands everything, but he’s a little late in talking, which is normal, as he’s learning two languages at once.’
In a way it was a bit boring, being stuck on a small beach with nothing to do; it was good for me and writing though. I had set myself a rule of work first before anything, sometimes I went on the internet first and felt guilty, but sometimes I did two hours of work only no internet. As long as you do something, I said to myself. You need to be in condition, like for work- sleep, stretch, food, and sometimes, if totally stuck, to just do nothing. Which is this, choice or procrastination? Only experience tells- or time- does the book get written?
One of the nicest things was that even in a sloppy type up of old notes I saw patterns that matched other sections or the present, and made new notes. The balance between experience, writing about it, absorbing, reflecting, peace and quiet, and being right in the moment, ‘paying attention. I used to think I needed quiet time to see patterns, but actually, fully immersed in writing, I saw more. Being in the zone, connecting with other bloggers, who echoed my own words back to me. Living right, for me, All I have to do is write. Moments alone with no writing but not many, writing is so important- party later.
Walking to the village in search of culture and authenticity, up a steep hill, two paths there, two paths back. The harbour area was beautiful, with wooden pier and buildings. We stopped at the first little shop, with red plastic chairs outside, and sat and drank Sprite.
When I went there alone that was all I did, walked to the shop, sat and had a drink, Sprite, Red Bull, or a soya drink in can, watching the chickens and chicks on the other side of the path by a small rubbish pile. The chickens ate a big sheet of polystyrene, it got smaller each time I went, the little fragments like rough beads.
On my walk to and fro the village I paid a lot of attention, making a mental note of all the markers; a building with a blue roof, a cafe that was never open, sacks of building materials, a truck that was usually there. Scrubby plants that led to a sandy path. Broken planters. Tiny bright bluish purplish shells in a messy semi circle. With Anthony we went another way. Me momentarily confused, looking for the shells. ‘All roads lead there,’ he said.
Shells on the beach in tiny arrangements like art, and tiny holes with lots of tiny piles of sand, made by crabs. Like a work of art, each one different, some like comets some like asymmetric snowflakes so delicate and pretty.
We used to float in the sea and talk about enlightenment, then get dry and go and eat dinner.
Anthony’s hypothesis: Is this all there is? If you gave up the search, put all focus on this life- like being in the moment, richer, if you like. Think of it like a game, if that helps you take the gas bill less seriously, but don’t have half your mind on the otherness- the brain in the tank, the Green Mist theory, the after, the what’s next- that’s like the what’s next in life- stops you being in the present, is ill advised. If there’s nothing, then you’ve wasted that time- just be present. People realised they were in a mortal life- found that scary and so invented the possibility of otherness as a comfort. Just live, enjoy, make up/imbue meaning- or not. Forget about spirituality, it’s a cu-de-sac. Waking up= enjoying life. Sadness prevents us seeing beauty.
People say the ‘first step’ is seeing beauty. What if the ‘first step’ is the only step?
Like R from Switzerland, if you want to reinvent yourself maybe it is much easier to do with no contact with your family. This is what I’m meant to be doing, what I intended to do, therefore I am successful (not a bum with no job to family). Like me- No, this is what I always intended, to live on a boat, and WRITE, as I did as a child, as I’ve always done. I just got lost for a while, that’s all.
In the sea the day after the enlightenment conversation I felt pinpricks, as if something had stung me on the outside of my thigh, then at my wrist, as if a tiny spiky thing like a prickle was caught in my bracelet. Then I felt it again, stronger, stinging, on my right breast. Anthony said, ‘Are you getting stung?’ We couldn’t see anything. We got out after a little while; whatever it was had caused tiny bumps like little TB markers which disappeared quickly. That evening we saw a shooting star, orange like a firework, with a tail like a comet, I had never seen one like that.
We met a woman from Italy and went out for dinner. She had left her job, been travelling for two months, wanted to go home, work, then go out again. Not all her friends understand. ‘Everyone just wants things.’ Before she left she gave me a four leaf clover.
Digging a hole on the beach then leaving it is anti social, I realised. I had fallen in several especially at night in Thailand- one foot not my whole body. As a child I fell headfirst into a muddy water filled hole straight after my mum’s boyfriend said, ‘Don’t you ever stop talking Rachel?’ And on the beach in Koh Rong, also holes. ‘Even my chair fell into a hole.’ ‘Perhaps it’s a metaphor,’ Anthony said. (I always say that) ‘What, I’m in a hole?!’ ‘No, you’re going down the rabbit hole.’ Oh yes, I like that, a reminder every now and again, my own personal mindfulness bell. Remember to remember: you followed the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole, you took the RED pill.
Thank you very much for reading
About the author
Sold house, left job, gave away almost everything else. With husband went travelling for a year, mostly in India. Here are my India highlights. Now back in the UK, living on a narrowboat, and writing a book about the trip, a spiritual/travel memoir, extracts from which appear regularly on this blog.
For more photographs of the trip see Instagram travelswithanthony