January 24, 2010

And all the good things, too.

Since my last entry on Sihanoukville was discouraging, let me share the best things about this seaside village. Otres Beach, for starters, is much more inviting for someone like me. The beach on which most tourists end up is called Ochheuteal, and not only am I unable to pronounce it, but I really would rather not be on it. In contrast to the overcrowded and overworked sands of Ochheauteal, Otres beach greets visitors with a manageable number of seaside restaurant/accommodations, fewer (and more mature) beachgoers, and delightful views of distant islands. In addition, I think certain members of my family would delight in the fishing boat rentals!

Although I sought out this beach to avoid the harassment of the manicure/pedicure ladies and bracelet sellers, I had no more than stepped into the sands of Otres when a pack swarmed me. Having nothing else to do, I was soon being painted, scrubbed and de-haired (they used a string to pull out my leg hair, which they insisted was “so many”). Thirty minutes later, my bedazzled finger and toenails shone brightly as I handed over the money, satisfied that I had just had the most unsanitary mani/pedi ever. Oh, this is the good things blog...skip ahead to lunch. I was drawn in by a cute sign on Cantina del Mar, a quaint shack that seemed more Cancun than Cambodia. The fish tacos seemed an obvious choice, and since the pirate guy (head scarf and all) sitting at the next table ordered them, I thought I'd give it a try. My instincts proved spot-on. The most delicious fish tacos ever eaten by anyone, anywhere. Sorry OSO Burrito—Put your restaurant on a tropical beach and we will have a rematch.

On a side note, although riding motos is exhilarating and great for getting a view, the potential danger and the horrors of descending steep, unpaved sections of road to Otres is best left to taxi or tuk tuk. I should know. It's an absolute miracle that I made it in one piece. Indeed, the Cambodians seem to have no standards for road maintenance, an unfortunate choice for a country of motorcycles and dumb tourists who think they should save a buck to ride one.

The ensuing sunburn after my fine day on Otres made today challenging. Wanting to avoid direct sunlight and walking on my burnt feet, I decided to be a responsible tourist and head into town to visit Rajana and the Starfish Bakery, two NGO's working to give sustainable employment skills to people who would otherwise be on the street. Rajana is a little Cambodian-made handicrafts boutique with branches in a few Cambodian cities, but the Starfish bakery (hello, big slice of carrot cake) is located only in Sihanoukville. It was hog heaven for me as baked goods have been lost from my diet for almost two weeks now. The big peanut butter cookie called to me, so I adopted it and a pot of tea for my little garden table. This place is even better than Barista's (blasphemy!) because it supports NGO work and it's in a garden with chaise lounges. The only thing to improve the place is to have servers as attractive as those in Barista's Daily Grind, Kearney, Nebraska, USA (I miss you!).

Bored with my first book, I found another Barista's-rivaling place for book-swapping. The little garden terrace and a new novel written by a controversial Chinese author entertained me for the next several hours. These garden terrace things are the way to go. Talk about functional, beautiful and environmentally friendly, this type of shelter shades customers from the sun, creates fabulous atmosphere, and emits oxygen. I dig it.

I took my last opportunity to gaze at the ocean for a late lunch. Oily spring rolls, coconut drink, and a good book helped me appreciate the breathtaking views. There is certainly something magical about the sea. Even for a girl who grew up landlocked in the middle of the Great Plains, the ocean is something special. With the ocean, being able to see as far as the curvature of the Earth allows can be intimidating: How small I am (but how stellar my vision)! Similar to the Big Sky effect of the plains, the sea gives a certain feeling of absolute freedom and possibility. The clich├ęs about the ocean breezes, lamping waves and healing powerful of walking barefoot in the sand are all true and applicable here. As the embroidery of my towel reads, “Sand, Sea, Sihanoukville.”