By Jasper the Supertramp
This is a continuous story, to read previous chapters either scroll down,
or look in the archives.
The sand was wet beneath my feet, and clung to my soles with each step. Water lapped at the shores and fish swam like shadows beneath the waves, hiding in the shallows to avoid the larger fish. I used my hand to shade the sun and scanned the shoreline, to the right, there was no one, perfect. It has always been my opinion that there is a keen difference between the travel desires of backpackers, and tourists. They are an inherently different breed of traveler, accentuated best by the difference in luggage. One carries a backpack with only the essentials, it is an object of pride, of minimalism, and allows one to pick up and go with both ease and agility, ready for wherever the next destination may be. The other carries multiple pieces of luggage, all the amenities are there within, they follow tour groups and stay in 5 star hotels, never straying too far from the “tourist areas”. It’s not that I dislike the tourist, but I feel to truly experience a foreign culture, one must leave the tour group behind. If you are going to leave home, don’t try and bring it with you.
To the left there were shacks lining the beach, small wooden frames sitting decrepitly on the shore. These were the post-tsunami attempts to rebuild, and they studded the coast like stars in the sky. Beach gypsies wandered from bar to bar, selling trinkets and small wooden frogs, many of them children, many of them homeless. They walked the beaches looking for money so that they could buy school supplies and food, but they rarely got to spend the money they were given. Many of these poor children were victims of what is known as “beg masters”, exploitative villains that force the children to sell items, beg for money, and then take the money that the children worked for. Sometimes, in a despicable act of human nature’s dark side, the beg masters will purposefully hurt the children so that they look more pitiful, and therefore, earn more money. I was deeply saddened by this revelation, many of the children have open wounds, missing eyes or limbs, or other injuries that make it very hard to tell whether they had stepped on a landmine, or had been abused by a sadistic mentor.
As it was day, and we were not yet ready to succumb to the temptations to the left, we decided to venture down the lonely strip of beach. The water was warm and the air was hot, the humidity clung to your skin like the sand on our feet. Palms lined the shore and cast shadows that grew longer as the sun went lower. From afar, I could barely see a small dock separated from the land, a man made island about 30 meters or so from the shore. There was a creek on the shore parallel to the dock, it wound deep into the jungle lining the beach and eventually, I surmised, it reached the city (if it could be called a city).
It captured our interest, in it’s separation it seemed almost out of place, abandoned, lost, cast into the sea with no intent to retrieve. I needed to be on it, I wanted to separate myself from all that I had seen. I wanted to hide from the poverty, despair, tourists and landmines, most of all the landmines, and all that they had done to this forgotten country. The children’s faces haunted my dreams, and kept me awake long into the night.
We stopped and sat on the sand. I felt more balanced after I took my backpack off, it felt good to be free of the weight that I was doomed to carry. Earlier in our adventures, I had carried my doomed packages over a mountain, barefoot. We were staying on an island off of the Southern coast of Thailand. Upon reaching the island we were told it was a short walk to the other side, where a small shack on the beach awaited. I had lost my shoes in New Zealand a month or so earlier, and I owned only a pair of old beaten up flip flops, or thongs as the Aussies call them. They were deep within my backpack and I figured it would be a short walk, it wasn’t, my feet were marred and blistered by the time we reached the other side. If I don’t have to wear shoes, I won’t, and sometimes that got me in trouble. One rainy night in Phuket, we were hunkering down under a tin roof that hung over a bar. Making our escape I ran barefoot into the streets almost stepping in a pile of puke on the way. I wore my sandals in cities there after. But now we had reached the beach, and I was free to step fearlessly into the sand.
Shoeless and happy, I sat below a palm and twisted a joint from the massive sack of marijuana hidden in my secret pocket. In most South East Asian countries, drugs are illegal and punishable by death. But in Cambodia, the cops are extremely corrupt, and you can purchase it from stores, or in American, bodegas. One night in Siam Reap, I gave my Australian friend 5 dollars, figuring I would buy a joints worth. When he returned, he handed me a sack beneath the table that was way more than a joints worth. So here I was, stuck with an ounce of marijuana, in a country where drugs are punishable by death. What else could I do? We had to get rid of it some how.
Our plan was to wade out to the dock, with my backpack atop my head, and the joint in my mouth. It didn’t look that deep, but this proved to be an illusion. About halfway out we were forced to swim, which is quite a task with only one hand available. As we waded through the warm shimmering water schools of fish swam past, keeping their distance from the alien intruders. There were no ladders, and the wood was splintered and full of rusty nails. It looked as though it was built pre-tsunami, but there was no way to be sure. I threw my backpack onto the dock and tried my best to climb up without looking like a total idiot. Once atop, I pulled Katie from the water and we rested, catching our breath from the daunting swim.
Waves crashed against the lonely dock, covering it’s surface in a slippery stew of salt, water, and seaweed. We sat and watched as the sun slowly fell from the sky, crawling ever-closer to the tree line. With each minute passing, the sky grew more intense, reaching a mosaic like pallet of colors. It looked as though an artist was dragging pastels across the sky, creating one of the most beautiful moments of my life. We weren’t far from the shore, but in many ways, we were thousands of miles away, stranded by choice, on our island. The waves kept coming, and the smoke drifted lazily into the sky. We sat on the very front of the dock, letting the waves pass over us as we dangled our feet into the water below. It began slowly, evolving into an in depth analysis of sociology, religion, philosophy, and life. We had both felt a little disturbed by what we had seen, but we were afraid to talk about it, that was, until we got to our island. It’s hard to talk about things, and truly understand them, while you are a part of them. One can only gain perspective when they are outside, looking in.
The stars began to shine through the skies, and the water glimmered with the first kiss of a new moon. It was time to return, to the world we had left, and enter once again, into the rituals of life. The shacks on the shore became lit like candles, gems gleaming in a far away chasm. The water felt cool as we slipped quietly below the surface. Slowly we swam back to the shore, not yet ready to leave behind, what would ultimately become a memory. Sadly we both knew, that this moment would soon become the past, and you can never own that which has already happened. I never felt so alone, as if I was leaving a friend behind, an ally, alone and shivering, in the darkness of the sea.
Photos from top to bottom: (I took all of these photos) sitting on the beach front in Southern Cambodia, next is the beach gypsies selling items carried on their heads, note the cane the man is using, he supposedly lost his leg from a landmine, next is a sunset shot over the cove, last is a ghostly image of my friend walking the beach, the glowing circle is a fire we had.