Tuesday, July 25, 2017

July 23 – Sundowner in Otres

We hired a private mini-bus to take us to the southern coast of Cambodia to get some beach time in before the Henriques had to return to the homeland. Our driver was a funny chap, and very chatty, but you couldn’t make heads nor tails of the majority of what he was saying. Once we got out of the congested traffic mess of Phnom Penh, the ride was quite enjoyable as the traffic thinned and we passed through some interesting Cambodian countryside. At least it was enjoyable for everybody except for Tony, who got the hot seat up front with the driver, and was witness to every dangerous pass, near miss, sketchy curve, oversized load, scattered road debris, road animals, and every other sort of potential road disaster you can imagine. And yet, we made it to Otres in one piece.

“Sihanoukville?” Olly asked us back in Baddambang when we mentioned that we were headed to the south coast and were thinking of staying there. “I wouldn’t recommend staying there. Go to Otres instead - it’s just a short drive away from there and is much nicer.” Fortunately, we took his advice.

We made our final turn onto this sticky, orange, potholed road which had a string of guest houses, restaurants, shops and bars on both sides, and ran parallel to a spectacular beach. It immediately felt like a perfect backpacker town. We watched out the window, scanning for our hotel as the van bounced from side to side, navigating through the muck and the holes, and soon came to rest in front of the Eolia Beach Resort, which was flanked by two lifelike statues doing the hands together in prayer greeting that is common in this part of the world. Maddy actually returned the gesture to one of them, after nearly bumping into it and thinking it was a real person. The Eolia had an inviting, open air bar, lobby and restaurant area, complete with a pool table and comfy gazebo. One of the staff checked us in and showed us to our bungalows. Ours was located right beside the pool, and was very small compared to some of the luxurious rooms we’ve been staying in recently, but at 26 bucks a night it was going to work just fine. Our first order of business was to have a swim, so we got changed and jumped into the surprisingly chilly water, which felt great as the day had heated up nicely.

We started with a beach walk with the kids, to begin to get our bearings. The beach was simply beautiful, and somehow was not completely littered with garbage as many of the other ones are, although there was still some rubbish floated in by the tide – plastic bottles, glass bottles, Styrofoam, chunks of plastic. There was a steady string of guest houses along the beach, some busy and vibrant, and others that appeared closed, or nearly closed. There were many Cambodian families there and two large groups of people wearing company t-shirts, some of whom were swimming in the ocean fully clothed. Perhaps a staff picnic? We realized that it was Sunday, so maybe that’s the day Cambodians hit the beach with family and friends. Besides the locals, there were quite a number of foreigners lounging in the beach chairs of many of the guest houses we passed.

We settled on one of the restaurants that had a few people milling around, and walked up to the bar. Tony taps me, points to the pool table and says, “Hey, I think that guy is looking for somebody to play pool with.” I look over to see a three-year-old Cambodian boy, naked as the day he was born, strutting around amongst the balls on top of the pool table, brandishing a cue stick like a broad sword, taking pain-force swipes at his brother when he tried to approach the table. When he wasn’t trying to brain his brother, he was using the stick to spear the balls, like river carp.

“I don’t know man - he looks a little unpredictable,” I replied, after assessing the naked little pool shark.

We seated ourselves and ordered up a round of drinks and food. It felt good, damn good to be beside the ocean again after all the city days we had done. The warm breeze flowed from the water and washed over us, keeping the heat manageable, and actually, quite comfortable.  Beside the restaurant tables was a line of no frills, bamboo bungalows with thatched roofing and furniture that consisted of one bed, one mosquito net, and one small table, for the low, low price of five bucks per person. I could see that Angela was taking note, as earlier in the trip she had said she’d love to find a simple beach hut to stay in for a night or two. But once you actually see the beachfront backpacker bungalows, staying in a nice, air-conditioned room may offer the greater appeal. But it sure was fun drinking beer on the beach beside them.

After lunch, we wandered down the beach and Tony and Angela struck up a deal with a beachside masseuse – the only employee of a Russian couple who owned and ran the tiny shack located within a beach bar and restaurant. They bought an hour-long massage, but were going to do half an hour each. Angela was up first so we ordered some drinks from the bar and got settled into the beachside comfy chairs while the kids played a game of pool (it seemed every single bar here had a pool table!). We realized that this was the perfect place for our first sundowner so we settled in for the long haul. After about 45 minutes Tony snuck over to see if it was his turn but the masseuse was hard at work on Angela and she didn’t seem to be going anywhere. After over an hour she finally emerged and pleaded innocence, but I’m pretty sure that once she got going she told the lady her husband didn’t really like massages.

Watching the bold, red sun slowly drop behind a far-away island was a fiery denouement to the day, made more enjoyable by the one-dollar draft beers served up by the staff. We remained there for quite some time, witnessing the dusk overtaking the day and watching Magnus and Stella playing around on the wide, wooden beach swing hanging from a huge pine tree. At times like these, there seems to be nothing wrong with the world; indeed, from our perspective, there was not.

On the way back, we stopped at a mini-mart and bought a bottle of red wine and a couple of Chang beers. All of us gathered outside our room, beside the pool, and we sat for a long while talking, drinking and Tony and I finished off the evening with an excellent cigar.

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