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Consternation (Sihanoukville & Koh Rong)

old decrepit jetty going out to sea on white sand with water in the distance
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At least 20 countries, that many TSA screenings and random security checks and none of them have ever taken my Sephora cuticle nippers from my carry on calling them dangerous; until this domestic flight out of Siem Reap. After being “that person” to vehemently express my difference of opinion on the matter and yes, I did stomp back to the luggage check-in counter to ask to have my bag retrieved in order to place my $20 beauty accessory safely inside. It’s the principle really, they aren’t sharp and they aren’t scissors and more importantly I’ve put off doing my manicure until I got to Sihanoukville and safely ferried to the island I’ll be spending a week on; Koh Rong, so I need them. I’m told that my bag is buried under countless pieces of luggage and the wait time will exceed the effort. My entire face is displeased with this news and it shows. “So you’re forcing me to throw them away or miss this flight?” I challenge. Yes, was the singular reply. “Or check in another bag and place them in there, Miss.”

I don’t have another bag to check and what was the point of sending me back to check the small item if retrieving my luggage was “too much effort for the result?” Though most of the people I’ve encountered in Cambodia have been friendly and giving of their time, there’s been a greater number of them that have tried to swindle me or have absolutely no regard for tourism whatsoever. Despite understanding the attitude of the latter, this country, like so many others in this region, depends heavily on tourism and to assume that people will keep coming despite being taken advantage of is well, probably true, but in my opinion, doesn’t excuse the behavior. I’m trying not pout and find some peace in the reminder that soon I’ll be back in Europe with access to my favorite western products and beauty retail stores. I’ll be forced to spend some time (and money) in the duty-free shops replacing the nippers and restocking my skin care when I touchdown there in a month and a half.

My mind, though, is admittedly irritable so I remind myself these people are the messenger and not the law and force a smile and some thank yous to keep close to my source energy. Kindness costs nothing after all. It started raining when the plane touched down and the thunderstorms have only increased in power and decibel since.m; the weeping sky matching my emotions. The irony of the situation weighing on my mind these days dances around in front of me like the sibling that won her Mother’s attention over the other. Prancing up and down obnoxiously while blowing kisses in her direction…I more than try to shrug it off, but fail repeatedly. Again, I recap. Such an amazing human being and such an organic connection, but life had other plans proving once again that destiny alone controls the timing of events in this life.

A drive around Sihanoukville

A fifteen-minute tuk-tuk ride takes me closer to the heart of town. It’s important to me that I see the beaches in this area having thought seriously about purchasing a property here. It’s apparently an up and coming area with untouched beaches; whatever that means. After lunch, I walk along the ocean to explore more of this sleepy beach town. Children bath and frolick in the lapping waves; some in their underwear and others in their birthday suit. My eyes follow the length of the unfinished condominium going up (adjacent to another of similar size) and blanch at the contrasts of these first developments and the shacks that line the base of it. The locals, I assumed displaced by more than a few of these developments, have built small homes out of driftwood and old plastic tarps. Hammocks from large pieces of old fabric stitched together sway in the sea breeze. The people stare at me as I walk by and I smile and wave at the kids who are baffled by my presence here.

The realities of the poverty here is a culture shock even for me. Imagine, if you will, that India and Indonesia made a baby, Cambodia is it. Trash is thrown about everywhere, burned in the open. Children and women climb over heaps of trash digging, for what I’m not sure; recyclables, food? The American dollar is the currency of choice, one person charges me $15 one way for a tuk-tuk ride while I’m charged $10 for the return trip by a different driver. It’s hard to trust anyone in the tourism industry because they’ve seemed to have a commission or a hidden fee for this or that. Heading to the Royal Pier in order to head to Koh Rong (as set up by the hotel on the island). Looking forward to getting back to an island, the life and atmosphere suit me. The road to the pier is as disgraceful as the rest. The driver does his best to avoid the pond-sized potholes as we go along, even avoid turning into oncoming traffic by electing to go against it in the bike lane instead; I was not impressed.

The car turns down the road towards the pier just as I release the death grip on my chest. I wear my sunglasses to protect my eyes from the dirt and debris in the air, but my bosom cannot stand the excess bouncing. The road is tiny and overcrowded (like everywhere else here). There are motorbikes everywhere paying no mind whatsoever to which side of the road they’re on. There’s no parking lot or secure space to pull the vehicle over so the driver just stops in the middle and proceeds to usher me out. I’m embarrassed by the display and to my best to rush gathering and putting on my gear to get out of the way as a line of motorbikes and delivery trucks begin to form behind us. I thank the driver (half under my breath) and proceed forward. I have no idea where this ticket office is exactly only that I must check in there. All of the motorbikes zoom past me side-eyeing the size of B (my pack) and raising an eyebrow at me entirely.

I watch as children play in the dirty sea water, which is flooded with trash and fresh gasoline from the number of boats in the area. Two of the girls climb out over the rocks and piles of trash, one finds a hello kitty pen as she climbs and calls out in glee to her friend about her discovered treasure, fully clothed and soaking wet to run a ways down the pier in order to jump into the water and do it all over again. A woman passes me carrying a thick stick over the (blank??) of her shoulders. Each side of the stick holds two to three bags weighted down by the ingredients inside. It looks both heavy and painful, but she’s carrying it like nothing at all. I suppose it’s what people think when they see me walking around with my gear. She’s selling a fish noodle soup to the workers of the pier. I watch her slowly lower herself to the ground until the bucket-sized bags touch the ground. She opens the lid on the broth (coconut milk based with chunks of fish) and the scent finds my olfactory.

Cambodia struggles for infrastructure these almost 40 years after the genocide and war that nearly tore the country apart.
Shack-like houses line the beach just outside of the city
Tuk-tuks here vary; there’s motorbike versions, some on bicycles and these little gems that are set up in the back of the truck bed combining a tuk-tuk and a song theaw (from Samui)

All checked in and seated on the boat I take in the organized chaos of this area and tuck in for the two-hour journey to Koh Rong island. My heart sings, delighted to be nautical, as we pull out of port. The majority of the passengers are locals living on the island returning home with essential supplies plus a few toys for the kids. Families have built a small row of shacks just off of the pier that they scramble towards once we’ve disembarked. The hotel is at the end of the pier taking up the majority of this portion of the beach. My bungalow is tucked back from the common space and quaint in every way. There is a mosquito net and plenty of geckos (of various sizes), but the toilet has no flush. I pivot to find a large bucket and water scoop in the corner and recognize my task immediately.

Snorting and rustling sound coming from under my feet and through the cracks in the wood beams I see two round shadows walk underneath me. I follow the noise out onto my balcony to see two pigs on a stroll.

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As a global citizen with more than 57 passport stamps, my adventure mandatory, serial-expat existence offers intuitive insight into globetrotting as a solo Black, female.

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Bag Lady Meredith San Diego is always on the move! Completing her 57th country in 2022, where can you spot Meredith San Diego adventuring in 2023? Stay tuned to find out just where in the world is Meredith San Diego!