There once was a boy who was not happy with his lot, chained to a desk and master of nothing but his ill feeling about what direction he was heading, or lack of it. He trudged along day by day filling in that spreadsheet, writing this report or that report, occasionally glancing through the window of the internet at beautiful places he’d rather be, and so on the cycle went. One day after chatting to a friend who had been away to many of those beautiful and fascinating places that he longed to see, the unhappy boy suddenly had a glimmer of hope and realised he could do that too. He said to himself “I’m going to save as much cash as I can in the next six months, make a plan and piss off from this shithole to find a happier me”. And so he did just that, saving and planning and looking forward to his voyage of self discovery, until finally the day came and off he went over the horizon to somewhere far away.
I don’t know what happened to that young man who went off to find himself. I’m sure, like thousands of others sailing the same ship, he did very well, meeting new buddies, opening up as a person, becoming more welcoming and knowledgeable about cultures besides his own and so on and so forth.
I also had similar hopes when I set off, I wanted to discover new things and meet wonderful and weird people on my travels, and I still do. One thing that differs though between me and the guy above is that I never really went in for the whole “finding myself” malarkey. I figured I am fine how I am, it was just my location and the requirement to be at a place of work at 9.30am every weekday morning that needed to change. Through my little rosy glasses, I already saw myself as open, relaxed, great at making new friends and a dab hand at dealing with unfamiliar surroundings. I’m pretty good at all that already, just get me over there so I can show you how it’s done – that was my kind of thinking. Such a fool….
Leaving Battambang on the bus to Krakor to visit the nearby Kompong Luong floating village, I appraised my achievements to date. I applauded my handling of the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, my ability to deal firmly yet pleasantly with the “one dolla” girls at Angkor Wat I found exemplary and my taking on of the less touristy and seemingly “off the beaten track” Battambang, I considered that real travelling. “Ah, what a great traveller I am” I said to myself and sunk into my bus seat with a big smug smile.
“Quick Declan, we need to get off here, quick, this is Krakor” Emily woke me from a slumber. “Jesus, alright, alright” I said as I grabbed my stuff and jumped off the bus. Descending into a pit of what seemed like a pack of howling hyenas fighting each other to get to our bags and to force us towards their respective tuk tuks, I felt like I had stepped into the Wild West, the Cambodian version of Mad Max! Looking around compounded the anxiety I was feeling. A dusty, shantytown greeted me along with lots of stares from the locals. With the crazy tuk tuk guys swarming around shouting at us and each other, I started to regret the decision to go to Krakor and I felt the fear rising and my smug traveller facade melted away. I pushed through the crowd, barked at them nastily to get out of the way and went into Paris Guesthouse beside the bus stop. I could see Emily was annoyed at me for being such a vile tool to the locals and I was annoyed at her for thinking that, as I still somehow thought I was acting reasonably! So I got even more stressed and started to quarrel with her. Hmmm, so far so good on being a great traveller…
Things continued on a downward trajectory with me hating Krakor more and more, I got annoyed at myself for coming and took it out on Emily, because it must be her fault, it can’t be mine, the fearless adventurer! They didn’t speak much English at the guesthouse and so they giggled at me when I tried to get a room. That rubbed me up the wrong way too, although eventually we sorted a room for two nights as we planned to do the floating village the following day and just catch up on emails and blogging the rest of the day. So we headed out to find something to eat. We walked around and around the town, noticing the red dirt clinging to everything, but couldn’t find somewhere appealing to eat. My mood got even worse. I was in such a foul temper that I went over to the bus stop and tried to get a bus to Phnom Penh for asap! The next bus we could get was the following morning and the guy at the ticket office wanted the US$8 upfront for both our tickets. I gave it to him with some trepidation as I trusted nothing and no-one in Krakor. With sunset closing in we tried to salvage what we could of the day and so jumped in a waiting tuk tuk and made our way to the floating village.
I calmed down while out on the waves of the Tonle Sap as I watched the locals go happily about their lives in quite difficult surroundings. I didn’t find myself or any of that bullshit, the stress just flowed out of me and I could think more clearly is all. I realised that I was actually behaving like a massive bellend and was not the chilled out explorer that I envisaged in my own head!
My presumptive negativity about Krakor and its people was then shown to be total codcrap as we had a good chat with the friendly tuk tuk guy on the way back to town, we had some fried rice at a roadside restaurant which was tasty, filling, cheap and served with a smile, and our guesthouse gave us no hassle when we said (well, more like gestured) that we only wanted to stay one night and they refunded us immediately. Then, after a decent sleep in a comfortable bed, we got on the bus to Phnom Penh with a friendly good-bye from the guys standing at the bus stop, which really rammed home how wrong I had been about everything!
As we drove towards the capital, I felt like a fool for: (i) believing that I had the travelling game down to a tee after only a few weeks on the road; (ii) making presumptions about somewhere or someone before I had given them a chance; and (iii) for being ignorant of my own lesser qualities. So I decided there and then to write about the experience to remember always – never be a tool on the road again….or anywhere else!
Has anything similar happened to you? If so, it’d be great to hear about it…