Cambodia – a brief respite from my life in Vietnam

We stepped foot into Cambodia. Five of us, the original five, all such different people forced together through circumstance and found that we fit together. Three Canadians, one South African and me. The first night we partied hard, free of Vietnam, of work. We were young and reckless once more. In the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, here for one night only to gulp long island ice teas and one dollar beers. To sway to the music underneath a canopy of fairy lights on a roof top bar.

A six hour bus to Sihanoukville, to the beach. I gazed out the dusty pane with heavy eyelids… and it was there that I fell in love with a country for the first time since my own beloved Eire. Head resting against the window I watched the world go by, watching the landscape morph from flat plains to towering hills, from dessert to jungle, from turquoise bath water to open sewers. I saw the blood orange moon, the houses built on stilts, the red dirt paths, the kids running and laughing, playing barefoot soccer… young and wild and free.

Such a simple life. A hard but happy life.

I am jealous of them , they are jealous of me.

How can such polar opposite worlds exist simultaneously? The Western world and the developing world, seemingly oblivious to one another’s woes.

Could I live this life, after growing up on the privileged side? Could I really be poor, not the kind of poor that we already say we are, but real poverty. Could I give up all my possessions, relinquish the internet and work as a labourer?  Eat slower, live slower, appreciate the little things in life once more. Family, the beauty of a sunrise, the texture of the ground beneath your bare feet.  Laugh sporadically and cathartically, work with my hands, draw sweat. Find joy in the feeling of a shower after a hard day’s work, the feeling of calluses forming on your hands and feet, in the satisfying but relentless itch of a mosquito bite, the peel of a sunburn. Every second playing out as if in slow motion.

We escaped to the island of Koh Rong, to Long Beach a forty-five minute climb over a vertical collage of rocks and then a straight drop back down the other side. Sweat pumping and heart pulsing between my ears I progressed slowly, the effort cleansing me of my over indulgent past few days… to emerge onto paradise. No postcards, no film, no tourist advertisement could do this justice. It was like being high, all your senses attuned to the magic unfolding around you, high on life. The sand like fluffy flour sifting between our toes, the water rippling clear and turquoise. We wrapped hammocks around spare trees to camp for the night. Another first for me, but encompassing everything I have ever dreamed up of for myself. Only other youthful hippies to share its floured shores for the night, all packing for one night, but staying forever.

Watching the magic of bioluminescence explode around me during a late night swim, sparkling plankton lighting up the dark waters beneath my hands. Gathering wood, lighting a campfire and dozing off beside it. Fleeing to our hammocks when the buckets of rain and lighting start hailing down upon us. Rising and stretching in the morning air, gathering our belongings swiftly and power walking back along the beach to catch a boat to reality in a typhoon. Laughing out loud at my luck, it hasn’t rained in four months here, but the day I come, typically the tarp is yanked free and the water unleashed. Wading out to the old wooden boat, body fully submerged in the rocking tide, bags held high over our heads. Tossing them carelessly on board and scrambling awkwardly in after them for a bumpy ride back to the central hub.

The days blurring together, a mash up of bed bugs and insect bites, we looked like we had chicken pox. Chronic diarrhoea and vomiting for three days in squat toilets with no flush and no toilet roll, “character building” my Ma and Da would say.  I can’t shave my legs because it’s like a cacophony of sores  kissing my skin. I can’t shower too often because the communal ones are usually covered in shit and when I do its under cold spurts of water that I have to psych myself up to put my head under. Highs and lows. Cambodia you have not been kind to my body but you have freed my mind. I think if I shimmy a few steps left of paradise I could find an oasis of real life that is more my style and while away my days here contently.

But I can’t stay in paradise forever. A trip to The Killing Fields see’s to that, pulling us back to reality, shaking us into the present after one by one we succumbed to tiredness and grumpiness with the passing days, with the constant company. Opening our eyes to real suffering, real problems. What Cambodia went through, genocide and now poverty and my utter inadequacy or inability to do something about it. Am I who I want to be yet? Still I disappoint myself. It’s all so fake, white people’s paradise, the white’s working the easy jobs in the bars etc, while the local people unclog the booze and drug induced puke smeared toilets, clean the rooms, man the boats, collect the rubbish left behind by the white partiers as they continue to blaze a trail of destruction though their chosen holiday destinations.

The world is a funny place. It both baffles  and awes me frequently.

So much still to do. So much still to learn.

But I’m starting to grow weary, I’m starting to miss home. My family, my old friends. I have turned the final corner in my journey, but I can’t pack it in yet, I’m so close. Home is in sight, three more months, three months brimming with so much potential. The preparations are under way, two more weeks of work, of selling the last of my possessions, of having a routine, of lie ins and a steady income.

Da is coming… two more weeks until we cycle the length of Vietnam…

“You can’t fall if you don’t climb, but there’s no joy in living your whole life on the ground.” – Unknown.

IMG_0485

Interview with the Globetrottergirls:

“Two Girls. One Globe. No Regrets! German-American couple traveling the world and working from a hammock as often as possible since May 2010.”

1.Combined you are a freelance travel editor, writer, and photographer. It is the dream job. Why do you think you made it a successful career when so many others fail?

That’s a tough question to start with! J Before we started GlobetrotterGirls.com, we had experience working together with some large travel brands doing writing and editing, so it was a natural progression to move this onto our own website, and then expand this into a place to showcase not only the writing and photography, but to really provide our own tips and experiences to our own readers.

2.What is globetrottergirls.com aim?

We put boots on the ground and explore even into the nooks and crannies of each destination we visit and report back to our readers in the form of destination travel advice, hotel tips, loads of photographs and our own travel reflections about life on the road. We like to say that we make all the mistakes, so you don’t have to!

3.Does the rush ever fade when you get to experience all these things but then have to sit down and write it all down?

Absolutely. This is mostly because there are so many days we would consider to be incredible experiences with this lifestyle, so if we don’t sit down and at least make some notes right away, it is hard to conjure up those same feelings when it comes time to actually publish articles about the experience – since we’ve already moved on to the next exciting thing.

4.What and where were you both working as before you departed on your trip in 2010?

I was working as a travel writer and editor, and Dani was, and still is, a HR consultant. We have both taken our careers on the road with us.

5.Where do you sleep every night?

The majority of the time, we sleep in hotels. This varies from hostels and guest houses to some very luxurious digs. Increasingly, we are doing a lot more housesitting, which means that we sleep in some very comfortable homes around the world caring for a house and usually pets while the owners are away on holiday. This has been a great way to have a sense of home while staying on the road.

6.Does it get tiresome not having a permanent home and a permanent group of friends around?

It definitely does get tiring to keep up a lifestyle of constant travel, sure. However, we have found ways to control for this, including the house-sitting as we mentioned above. We have done housesits for three, four and even six weeks at a time, which allows us to get into a routine and maintain a calmer lifestyle. Although we do get tired, the buzz of discovering new cities, countries and experiences really keeps us energized as well, which means that by the end of those week-long stints at housesitting we are ready to get out and start travelling again.

7.What is the best thing you have done since leaving, or top 10 at least?!

A few things come to mind…J Swimming with sharks in Belize, a month-long road trip from New York to New Orleans; eating pizza every day in Tuscany; volcano boarding in Nicaragua; cruising through the backwaters of Kerala, India on a private houseboat; discovering a gorgeous deserted beach on a Cambodian island; living on the beach for a month in Playa del Carmen, Mexico; hiking in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia; cycling through ancient temples in Sukothai, Thailand; and climbing to the top of Mayan temples in Tikal, Guatemala.

8.How are you making the income to allow you to continue this on a permanent basis?

A portion of our income is generated through our website. Dani still does freelance work in the Human Resources sector on the road, and I’m actually looking to launch a company within the next three months myself, so this is definitely exciting times!

9.Do you have an upcoming plan of where to go next etc, or is it more a take each day as it comes lifestyle?

Our plans take shape slowly as we travel. We start to dream up ideas of where we could go in a couple of months, and from there we start to sort of obsess over one or two of those locations, until eventually we are looking for cheap airfare. Sometimes, in the middle of obsessing over one location, however, an opportunity to housesit somewhere completely unrelated will arise, and all of a sudden we are heading somewhere entirely unexpected instead!

10.Where have you been so far?

We started in Las Vegas in May 2010, road tripped through California and Arizona and then headed to Mexico. From there it was Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, then on to Germany, Italy, Spain, France, Portugal, then over to Canada, back through the U.S., then Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, Cambodia, Singapore, India and now back to the U.S. before we spend two months on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

11.How long do you spend in each place and is there a reason for this?

There is really no set amount of time. Sometimes we take on the role of backpackers, spending a few nights in each place before moving on. Other times, especially during the housesits but not necessarily, we spent two, three, even six weeks in one place. The longer we stay somewhere, the more effectively we are able to work and the more fast-paced the travel is, the more adventurous and exciting life feels again.

12.Where are you now? Where to next?

We are housesitting in Arizona, and we head shortly to Colorado for a wedding before housesitting for two months in Mexico.

13.Do you both still consider America and Germany home? How long has it been since you have been there?

That’s a really hard question. We both struggle a bit with the whole idea of national identity. I haven’t lived full time in America since 2001, having spent long stints in Central America, Germany and the UK. Dani had lived abroad quite a bit before we met and then spent four years with me in England. When we are around people from home, we feel as though we never left, but we both also feel so comfortable abroad, that it’s hard to feel like we are really ‘from’ anywhere anymore.

14.Have you discovered anything about human kind worth noting on your travels?

Absolutely! With the exception of a few scammy situations in Thailand, we have really witnessed that humans are good. People want to help you; they want to get to know you. It sounds idealistic I suppose, but in general, as long as your approach is one of curiosity and respect, people show that right back to you.

15.I assume with all this travelling you have to pack light. What is in your suitcase?

Ha! We have learned that packing ‘light’ is a relative term. We both travel with a large backpack and a day pack, but some of our fellow nomad friends literally have no more than one large daypack for all of their belongings. Of all the travelers we have met, our bags are on the heavy side, but we carry what we need to live comfortably. Clothes, shoes, sandals, jackets, traveler’s towel, I have a yoga mat; Dani carries a set of camping dishes which we really use often!

16.Is there a certain path you follow in each new destination of the things you want to do – eg: googling tourist things to do or asking the locals?

Great question. We definitely use guidebooks to get an overview of a destination, along with our personal favorite travel site – wikitravel.org. From there we get an idea of the main attractions, the neighborhoods, hotel and restaurant tips. At that point, we usually leave the rest to discover on foot once we get there, plus we love using Foursquare to check out tips that locals and fellow travellers leave in order to make the most of our experience.

17.Do you ever revisit the same place?

At first we didn’t, we kept pushing ahead. Then we fell in love with a little town in Mexico and made sure to revisit it shortly before leaving the country for good in 2010. We’ve also revisited Chiang Mai in Thailand, Tucson, AZ and Mexico, again – all three of those are due to great housesitting opportunities we have had in each location.

18.Is there an end point to this life of constant travel?

There is an end-point, definitely. But I think for us, it’s never going to be from one day to the next. Instead, we will continue to slow down until we eventually stop. We already know that we want to spend longer periods of time in certain places with shorter stints of backpacking in between, and then eventually, I suppose, we’ll finally settle somewhere.

19.What was the deciding point to finally pack up and leave?

Factors from all different parts of our lives came together to make us realize we had to do this. I was working freelance and would sit in our kitchen in London and think, I could be ANYWHERE right now doing this, and I am just sitting in my apartment. Then Dani quit her job and started working freelance for her former boss and it was like, hey, we BOTH could be anywhere right now. After a bit of dreaming of where we ‘would’ go, it quickly turned in to where we ‘will’ go…and then we did!

20. Why do you think people should travel?

It’s hard to answer this question without employing every sweeping travel cliché…mostly because they tend to be true. I’ll try anyway: Travel helps put the world into perspective and helps you to better visualize the actual size of any problem you feel you are having in the grand scheme of things. It helps you become a more flexible, adaptable person and allows you to ‘try on’ dozens, even hundreds, of different lifestyles, from fast-paced Manhattan types or rice farmers in Cambodia to Costa Rican surfers or Bed & Breakfast owners in Tuscany. Most importantly, faced with the challenges, the highs and lows, and when all the external elements of your life continue to change, you learn who you truly are on the inside. That’s probably been the best part of this whole lifestyle for me…oh, and snorkeling with sting rays and nurse sharks in Belize…and discovering our love of Lisbon…and bathing elephants in Thailand…and…and…and…

Follow Globetrottergirls: website

Twitter: @GlbetrotterGrls


Interview with Michael Turtle – Travel Writer

1.What’s the absolute best part of travelling?
My favourite bit of travelling is that every day is different and you never know what to expect. I have no idea where I will be in a few days time and what I’ll be doing because I never plan in advance. It keeps life pretty exciting.

 


2.How do you make your income?
Good question – and if you can help me out, that would be great! I earn an income from freelance writing and television producing. It’s still an irregular thing at the moment because I’m spending far too much time travelling and not enough working. My bank account suggests that balance might need to change (pun intended).
3. What’s it like to have all the time in the world to do anything you want?
It’s liberating to not have a pile of things that have to be done weighing you down. But it can also be a bit tiring. Sometimes I miss having a framework because it means I have to make decisions about what to do all day and every day. Having said that, though, I have no plans to stop!
4.Do you have a set plan for each day, each year? How far do you plan ahead?
I rarely plan ahead at all. In terms of a yearly plan, I have an idea about what continent I want to go to in which seasons to get the warm weather. That’s about it. When I’m in a place I normally know where I want to go next but just decide the day before I leave that I’m going to move on. Often I don’t know the stop after that. I like to speak to other travellers and hear their experiences. Some of the best places I’ve been to I had never heard of before someone recommended them.
5. Do you ever get lonely, all this travelling on your own?
Funnily enough, no. There are always people to speak to, people to share stories with and even people to travel with. If anything, the problem can be that there are too many people around when I need some quiet time to write or catch up on work.
6.How did you make up your list of destinations?
Wow! You give me far too much credit to assume that I have a list!
7.Why do you document it all? Have you ever read back over it all?
I don’t read back over much of what I’ve written. The way I see it, the final product is for other people but the process itself of documenting everything is for me. I guess I was scared that if I was to travel indefinitely I would get lazy and waste the experience. By making a commitment to write and photograph it all, I am forced to go out of my way to explore unusual places, meet interesting people, and always be analysing everything I see. I love it because my research has taught me things I would never have known and sent me to places I would never have visited otherwise.

8.Can you give me a rundown of a typical day for you?
Ha ha. I wake up. During the day I eat some things and do some things. Then I go to sleep at night. They’re about the only things that are typical each day!
9.What’s your main passion?
My main passion is trying to get an understanding of each place I visit. I know that sounds a bit vague but I think the best way to appreciate travel is to understand why things are the way they are. I like to know why people live there, what they do during the day, how history has impacted their lives, what part the natural environment plays, and so on. Culture fascinates me.


10. Where did the idea behind the logo come from?
A good designer friend of mine, Andrew Harrison (http://the-mup.blogspot.com/), drew it for me. The turtle was a pretty obvious character to use because of my unfortunate surname (at least I thought it was unfortunate when I was younger and got teased). The backpack is the world just because it looks cool… although I could make up a story about how everything I have in the world is on my back… or that the greatest possession we all have is the world? Oh, and the hat is because I always wear a hat.
11.How does it feel to be the boss of your own life, to be in complete control?
Well, bosses sometimes get angry and sometimes have to assert their authority. It’s no different in this case. Sometime I have to tell myself to do things I don’t want to, or to make decisions when I’m not sure of something. Still, at least I quite like my boss.
12.Do you ever get tempted to return to full time employment and settle down?
No, definitely not. In the future I would like to have more of a base somewhere, but I can’t imagine a settled life without travel.
13. How do you tackle the money issues – dry spells of income?
I think the key is to always be sensible and careful. Plan for a rainy day and don’t splurge just because you’re having a good run. There are always going to be ups and downs so you just need to evenly spread everything out.
14.Do you still consider Australia home? Is homesickness ever an issue?
Australia is definitely home. I may not have an actual home anywhere in the world these days but I’m very proud to tell people that I’m Australian. Homesickness isn’t an issue because I know the people and things I love are always going to be there when I decide to go back.
15. For all the highs, what is the worst aspect of being a travel writer?
The worst aspect is always looking at every experience with a writer’s eye. It’s very hard to just relax and enjoy things without thinking about how you might turn it into a story. I find myself composing sentences in my head when I should just be living in the moment and enjoying what I’m doing.
16.In your opinion, is it possible to be in a serious relationship and be a travel writer?
If a travel writer was constantly on the road, like I am, then you would need a partner who was travelling with you and interested in all the same things. I’m single but I have met quite a few permanent travellers who are in very happy and long-term relationships because they both enjoy the same things (including the documenting of their journeys).
17. How do you fit your life in a suitcase?
I don’t like this question. It makes it sound like my life is ten t-shirts, ten pairs of underpants, a pair of shorts, a pair of jeans, a pair of shoes and a toiletries bag! I like to think my life is all the things that are outside the suitcase, in the world around! (To give you a practical answer, though, regular laundry and a disregard for fashion.)

Links:

Twitter: @michaelturtle

Website: http://www.timetravelturtle.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/timetravelturtle