Sometimes life really is just about the destination….
The water spread out before us like an oil slick, currents bobbing in a perfectly geometric design that looked divine enough to print on paper. One jolt and a good rumble later, we were cruising at a nonchalant pace, just fast enough for the horizon to slide past, continuous in its motion.The Kampot River seemed to snake on forever in front of us, crowned with towering palms and the odd plastic bits dipping in and out of the wake of our boat. A few other passengers had joined us on our journey and were snapping pictures of the sun as it illuminated the clouds in a hazy blue and gold. Taylor, Byron and I stuck to the front of the boat, a long strip of worn planks that looked one nail away from letting us loose into the river below. But it stood strong, and pulled us along into the new night.
After half an hour or so, our captain — a man referred to as Chim (well, on Tripadvisor that is) — let loose an eerie silence. Only the sound of mosquitoes buzzing around our vulnerable silhouettes was audible. We were left stagnant in the wide, cupping curve of the river, and we were alone. Vastly, wonderfully alone in the dark blue of the night. But that didn’t last for long.
As our ears stretched across the banks, searching earnestly for something to receive, we found laughter. A bright kind of laughter. Suddenly, a splash and bark- or two. A mother’s not-so-serious yell, and an exasperated burst of amusement. Maybe we weren’t so alone after all. Another moment or so passed, and the starboard palms were thrust up into the clouds with a bright spotlight, originating from a nest somewhere deep in the thicket of jungle. A place of worship, perhaps, calling for its sunset prayers with a deep, booming voice reverberating through a microphone. I remembered commenting earlier in the day about the abundance of women coiffed in head scarves, bundled up tight in the hot weather. A strange yet beautiful sight- tropical leaf print headdresses at the river’s edge.
The density of the evening sunk into us as, all nine of us, as we sat idly in the river. Neither the girls from Belgium, or the best friends from Germany, nor Taylor or Byron or I, or even Captain Chim, dared to speak a word. It seemed almost improper to break the spell that had fallen over us on that river, in that long wooden boat. We must have floated in the elbow for close to twenty-five minutes before Captain Chim roared the engine once again, startling us with its ferocity. And just like that, we were back, cruising along the edge.
“I really need to pee”, I heard myself whispering into the night, to no one in particular. It always happens that way, doesn’t it? A great experience- transcendent, even- ruined by mother nature’s inevitably ill-timed call. Willing the boat to move faster than its current lazy pace, I laid my head down and counted the stars above. Less than five seconds later, I whispered again: “Jesus, I need to pee!”. The Angkor beer ceremoniously given to us at the start of our journey, and unceremoniously chugged before the start had even gotten started, was rearing its disagreeable head in my bladder.
Having heard my pathetic utterances, Taylor flopped over in his darned crocs, shaking the boat back and forth as he did so.
“Why don’t you just pee over the edge?”
I mean, I’d be lying if the thought hadn’t crossed my mind. But the thought of those fish that swim up urethras popped into mind as well (although I think those are just in the Amazon- but damn it if this isn’t the same thing). And the fact that I could barely keep a solid squat going on the train north, or even over the squat holes behind the dodgy bars in Hanoi, where there were no moving obstacles, unless you count the unknown alcohol percentage in a good liters’ worth of Bia Hanoi.
No, I was not the proud owner of dangling appendage, ready for any foray into the jungle. I could not just “pee over the edge”. Instead I was forced to squeeze my legs as we spent another forty ethereal minutes gliding through the river, stopping even to count the fireflies in the trees above. What a fucking magical sight. Only after we disembarked and I ran three blocks to the nearest restroom, could I feel relieved.
And isn’t that the whole truth of traveling, especially as a woman? The urgency to pee, blocked by an airplane bathroom line, a comfortable “travel-friendly” jumpsuit with a stuck zipper, a rest stop toilet with no paper, a jaunt to the forest with fifty of your closest tour group friends and no discreetly placed bushes to duck behind, a highway through the desert in broad daylight. Oh, these are the memories that are etched into us, the ones we bring with us as we return home with a bladder infection and heavy dose of antibiotics.
Interested in going on your own Kampot River Cruise? Check out Captain Chim’s River Cruise for a truly wonderful 2 hour experience. At only $5 per person, it really is a steal. Just don’t forget to use the bathroom before you embark!