An unexpected ending to Southeast Asia

Taking a sleeper bus may seem like a daunting way of traveling.  Who knows the credentials of bus drivers in third world countries, and who knows what substances these drivers are on to be able to drive for 12 hours straight.  Nevertheless, the longer you spend backpacking, the less you begin to care about things, and the comfortable you feel just hopping on the wagon and go.  It also helps that the pharmacies are more than accommodating to provide sleeping medicine for the long uncomfortable trip.

I had made it a fact that I was going to end my travels in Koh Ta Kiev.  I had done research about the island prior to going, and the backpackers I had met along the way confirmed the fact that Koh Ta Kiev was the place to be.  It was a remote island, barely any electricity, no running water, no phone service or Wifi, just the bare essentials.  Prior to my 1 week of easy living the 4 travelers I had been traveling with (Pete, Benny, Dustin, and Sophia) decided to do a few nights in Koh Rong.  Koh Rong is an island near Koh Ta Kiev, however more of a party island.  After a long night on the sleeper bus we hopped on the water taxi over to Koh Rong.

The crew taking a nap

I had been warned by maybe 2 dozen people to be careful of Koh Rong, as it is infamous for people coming down with food poisoning.  I figured “Well I already had a stomach virus, I wont eat meat or drink the water, so what can go wrong?”  Once we arrived at Koh Rong we all got a quick bite to eat and checked into our room.  After a little nap we decided to take a water taxi to the other side of the island to watch the sun set.

Never a bad time to dance

The ride to the other side of the island was absolutely perfect.  We plugged into the aux (I know one of my best friends Robbie is laughing reading this part) and played some nice beats, taking in all of the beauty.  There was nothing in sight except the sun that was slowly starting to set into the jungle.  When we arrived at the secluded beach I gave Dustin credit for the amazing recommendation.  The sand was so clean, and we were all by ourselves.  We would spend the next hour and a half just relaxing on the beach, playing in the water, and listening to music.

Incredible view

After returning we got ready to go out and see what the party scene was all about.  As the night went on I began to get more and more tired, to the point that I felt as if I was going to pass out.  I wrote it off to me maybe  having 1 too many Angkor beer’s, so my friend Sophia and I grabbed a slice of pizza and we head back to the room.  The next morning we all decided we were not feeling the island, so we made the decision to leave early and head to Koh Ta Kiev.  As they started to pack I was hit with extreme stomach pain, and ran to the bathroom (I would stay in there for the next hour).  Hoping it would pass I encouraged them to go get breakfast, however Sophia stayed behind to get ready to go. By the time they got back they found me laying on the bed, sweating profusely.   Food poisoning was flowing through me like corn through a goose.  Within minutes I lost all power and was literally stuck on the bed.  They offered to stay behind but I encouraged them to go. I knew what was coming.  2 years prior in Macedonia I had the same type of food poisoning, and it is a few days of absolute hell.  My friends wished me well and I assured them I would see them in a few days before some set off to go back home, and some to Vietnam.

I called the guy who ran our hostel to ask if he could help me get into a cheaper room, since the one I was slowly dying in was made for 5.  He was kind enough to carry my backpack and assist me (more or less carry me) over to the other room.  The next 2 days were not fun to say the least.  I believe I averaged 80 trips to the bathroom per day, and the thought of any type of food made me violently sick.  The room was extremely hot, and my bed was caked in dirt and sweat.  I thought about showering once but I knew there was a strong chance I would pass out midway through it if I stood too long.  Instead I just laid in my own filth, not even enough energy to fasten the mosquito net around my bed .  Those 2 days seemed to last forever; however by day 3 I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I finally was able to shower, 15 pounds skinnier and covered with mosquito bites.  I checked out of the hostel, ever so carefully ate a nutella and banana crepe and got the hell off of the island.

Once I arrived in Sihanoukville I decided to spend 1 night there to make sure I was 100% before taking an hour and a half water taxi (with no toilets) over to the next island.  Luckily I woke up feeling great (and really lean), and began my voyage to paradise, Koh Ta Kiev.  My Canadian brother from another mother Mr. Kelly (everyone on Koh Ta Kiev is referred to as Mr. Or Miss) had told me he would be staying at Last Point, so that is where I decided to spend my final week.

“Water taxi to paradise” my actual caption on instagram that day

The ride there was amazing, and I was beyond excited to get there.  I felt that there was so much more reflection I needed to do, and some more lingering thoughts I needed to face.  I was convinced that the island is where it would all happen, especially as it pertained to me grieving over my father.  When I arrived at the island I knew exactly why Mr. Kelly had picked Last Point, it truly was paradise.  There were cows wandering around, hammocks set up with people just relaxing, and the chillest vibe I had ever experienced.  After checking in I could not help but smile the whole way to my bungalow.

I was unsure if my friends that I traveled down with had left the island or not as there is no wifi or service on Koh Ta Kiev.  Luckily the bartender Mr. Mike had called around and found out they were staying across the island.  He explained I should leave now because I would have to walk through the jungle, and when it gets dark out it can get rather dangerous and is quite easy to get lost.  As I was walking I saw my friend Mr. Kelly and a group of girls he was charming down by the water.  After a huge bro hug and a little bit of catching up I told him I was off to see my friends.  As I was walking away I stopped and turned around “Hey Kelly, it is going to be one hell of a week” I said, with confidence on my face and my hand making a fist ( I am literally laughing out loud writing this part).

Mr. Sam worked at Last Point and was heading across the island, so him and I made the walk together.  It gets dark pretty fast in those woods, and by the time we finally exited the jungle it was pitch black.  Mr. Sam went to go see his friends at a different place and I walked down the beach to where my friends were staying.  The second I saw them they all started laughing in their thick German voices.  “Where is Sophia?”  was the first thing I heard.  I was  extremely confused and asked them what they were talking about.  They went on to tell me she had left a half an hour earlier to meet me halfway through my trek through the jungle, however we went separate ways, and she had no flashlight with her (what a savage!).  Since I had just been in the jungle I knew how dangerous it could get, and the thought of her walking without a flashlight made it all the more frightening.  Dustin who had been to Koh Ta Kiev before was familiar with the path, and agreed to come with me to go find her.

We decided to take the way that she took so it entailed us walking on the beach for a bit.  10 minutes into our walk the flashlight we had began to die.  The part of the beach we were on had turned into a gigantic flat rock, however I underestimated how slippery it was.  What happened next would definitely put a small dent into my final week in paradise.  I took one step and next thing that was heard was a loud  POP as I fell to the ground.  “Oh no are you ok!?  Fuck you are definitely not ok” were the first words out of Dustin’s mouth as he saw me laying on the ground.  Before looking down at my knee I already knew something severely bad had happened, and my only hope was that nothing had punctured my skin.  After finally mustering the courage to look down I knew I was in big shit.  My right knee cap had shifted around 5 inches to the right, making my bent knee look more like a flat table top.  I knew there was no way I would be able to stand from that, so I asked Dustin to go get help; as well as some music and whiskey.

As Dustin hurried back to go find help I finally got the time for reflection I had been searching for.  The first thought into my mind was “Why me!?”  I literally just recovered from food poisoning and now my knee cap is about to rip out of my skin.  I figured I had 2 choices, the first would be to complain about all the pain I was in and how my week was screwed, or make the best out of it.  My thoughts immediately went to the Stoic philosopher Epictetus.  Epictetus was a slave, and one day as a punishment his master began to twist his leg.  With a calm grin on his face Epictetus sat there, and after his leg finally broke he looked at his master and said “There, did I not tell you that it would break?”  Stoic philosophers believed that “Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.” I made it a fact while sitting on that rock that I would refuse to show pain, and make the best out of the situation.

Epictetus rocking his crutch, writing the Enchiridion

Finally around a half an hour later Dustin came back with 5 people.  Many were in shock and some even got a little nauseous when they saw my leg, however I assured them all would be well.  Everybody kept saying how horrible they felt for me, and asked me repeatedly how the hell I was smiling, laughing, and singing with my leg all mangled.  I explained to them that just like the stoics, all I can control is how I handle this shitty situation.  “There’s an ocean right in front of me, stars above me, and amazing people surrounding me at this very moment.  My knee is busted, but life could be so much worse.  There have been soldiers who have endured much more just to ended up dying all alone, and countless others throughout the world who are suffering in ways unfathomable to any of us.  I slipped and screwed up my knee, and most likely tore some things, however I guarantee you there are 100’s of millions of people out there that would give both knee caps to trade the types of problems they are dealing with the ones that I have; and to be surrounded by such beauty and such beautiful people.”

My main concern was whether or not we would be able to pop my knee back in.  Thankfully a nurse was there and had told me she thinks if we straighten my knee and push the patella back into place it should do the trick.  My friend Sophia came back just in time to see me laying on the rock, awaiting the relocation of my knee cap.  We looked at each other and couldn’t help but to start dying laughing at the situation that I was in.  After pounding back the whiskey I began to play some music, and before I knew it my knee cap was back in place.  It looked so normal that for a second I thought I could walk it off, however the second I tried to stand I realized just how bad the damage was.

My search and rescue team helping me off of the rock

Thankfully they were able to help me off of the God forsaken rock and back over to Coral Beach.  Unfortunately for me all of the tree house/bungalows could only be accessed via ladder, so the only choice was to sleep right on the beach.  As I laid on the beach the true love and compassion for the type of people that you get to meet while backpacking revealed itself in its most raw and pure form.  The manager of Coral Beach (Sandro) ran through the jungle in the pitch black for an hour to go and fetch me a pair of old crutches.  Random strangers bought me food and booze, and my good friends stayed by my side the whole night to make sure I was not in pain.  Finally around 5 a.m. I begged everyone to go to bed, and I spent the rest of the night laying on the beach, a mosquito net over myself, starring at the stars.  “What a ride this has been.”

My rescue water taxi “There he is!”

On my way to the hospital, might as well smile

The next morning when the sun came up I took a nice look at my knee, now at least 5 times the size of my left knee.  Yup, it was time to go seek some medical attention.  I thanked everybody for their help and hopped onto the water taxi.  My 4 friends were heading off that day as well, and agreed to spend the day with me in the hospital.

Squad goals

Foot model

Sophia trying to cheer me up

The first place we went to was the creepiest of the creepy.  The doctor was wearing a dirty shirt with sandals, and a name tag that didn’t match the name he gave us.  Unfortunately my backpack with all of my belongings that was on the other side of the island (at the original place I was staying at) missed its  morning water taxi to the mainland.  Thankfully the owner of Last Point, as well as Ten103 Treehouse is the coolest, most helpful Texan I have ever met, Mr. Joel.  He assured me that all my belongings will be personally sent to me.  It was definitely a bit scary, as my passport and wallet were in my backpack and I am in a third world country in seek of immediate medical attention!  Thankfully a few hours hours later there it was, all my money and my passport still in the bag, and I was ready to go.

Mr. Joel had let me know that the best treatment I could receive was back in Phnom Penh, a tasty 6 hours away.  I had no other option at the time, and the pain was starting to divert me away from my stoic mentality; so I asked Mr. Joel to set up the taxi for me.  Saying goodbye to my friends was really tough this time.  I had become accustomed to goodbyes, however we had gone through so much together.  After a long goodbye and laughing at some inside jokes they went on their way.  – To my German brothers and English princess “before we do what we are going to do, we must make sure that we do what we need to do, so that when we go to what we want to do, we are able to do things to do what we want to do.”  Haha!

The 6 hour car ride was not the most comfortable I must admit.  however when I arrived at the hospital in Phnom Penh I knew I was in good hands.  It was big, clean, and had western doctors.  The ortho explained to that he needed to drain a substantial amount of blood from my leg, and that I had to put my leg in a cast.  He was pretty confident that though ligaments were torn they would heal on their own, and to take it easy until I get back to America and see a doctor.  Now with my phone finally charged and with access to wifi, I had to make a call to my cousin Sherif.

A bit swollen?

“Yes?” was the first thing out of my cousins mouth when he answered the phone.

“Kikireekan, it’s me, please help.” I tried to hold back laughter because we literally joked about me having to make this exact call several times.

In his usual fashion he joked around and made fun of me a bit, followed by him looking for the first flight to Cambodia as well as a hotel for me to stay in for the night.  I could hear the panic in his voice while talking to me, and I know if I said please come he would have been there within hours. I let him know that he does not need to come to me, however a hotel would be nice.

Sherif hooked me up with one of the nicest hotels in all of Cambodia, Frangipani Royal Palace, #27 Street Phnom Pehn.  As I slowly entered the hotel using my crutches I was so relieved.  The place was beautiful and a few older couples were sipping on some complimentary glasses of juice while checking in.  It was around 11 p.m. when I entered.  I was with 2 days no sleep, a cast/brace covering my whole leg, I was in severe pain from my knee, my clothes were completely filthy and I am sure I had a gnarly odor.  When I finally made it to the front desk I showed them the booking that my cousin had screen shot over to me.  “Ohhhh I am sorry sir, the booking has not reached our system yet.”  After pleading with them for 30 minutes I gave up trying to argue, they explained that even though I had physical proof of my booking they could not do anything for me.  After begging them to give me a room the fatigue finally got to me so I needed to sit down.  I was not offered anything to make myself even the slightest bit more comfortable, and that complimentary juice every patron received never made its way over to me.  With whatever energy I had left I called hotels.com and begged them to please take care of the situation as I had no more power left to fight my case.  3 hours later the asshole behind the front desk finally woke me up, “Sir, we can show you to your room now.”

“Just look forward to your stay…” on a chair

The room just so happened to be on the very top floor, and was literally the furthest room away from the elevator.  After my 10 minute trip to my bed room I opened it to see that the room that specifically said 1 King Bed was 2 twins.  “ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?”  I had had enough, I am usually very calm and understanding, and with me backpacking the last 2 months nice accommodations were obviously not a big deal, however I was in severe pain and they were blatantly treating me like shit.  He assured me that the next day they will move me to a room with a King Size bed.  I let the heartless p.o.s. know that I had not slept in 2 days and that I understand I am to receive free breakfast.  Since it was a buffet that ends at 10 a.m. I had asked if he could just have somebody bring me an omelette to my room as I will most likely be sleeping, and it would be too hard for me to make the hike all the way up to the restaurant.  “Yes sir, of course sir, goodnight sir.”

My nice twin bed room

I woke up the next day at 2 p.m. in extreme pain, obviously never receiving the breakfast.  I called the front desk and asked if they had a different room for me, which of course they did not.  Instead of arguing I asked if I can order some chicken curry as I was beyond hungry.  I explained I was in bed and was handicapped, and for them to bring the food into the room.  “Yes sir, of course sir 15 minutes later the door begins to knock.  “Come in!” 1 minute went by and the door began to knock “Come in, I can’t move,” I said. there was a long silence again and the door yet again, began to knock.  I called the front desk pleading with them to tell the guy to bring the food inside “Yes sir, of course sir.”  10 minutes later I slowly swung my leg around, grabbed my crutches, and went to the door.  There was my food laying there, no cover on it to keep it warm.

I knew if I were to have called my cousin and explained what had happened that day he would have most definitely given them a very “interesting” phone call (as he has a gift for words), and I probably would have received the worlds best treatment for my remaining 6 days in Cambodia.  However as I sat there I thought to myself, “I need to rest my knee, no matter what I am not doing much this week, and there is a beautiful island a mere 6 hour drive and 90 minute water taxi away from me.”  I called Mr. Joel and explained to him I want to come back.  He laughed at first thinking I was messing with him, but after a while of talking he paused for a second “Holy shit you’re not joking…. I’ll take care of it.”  A few hours later he texted me letting me know a taxi will be outside the hotel at 10 a.m. the following morning.  That night I called my mom, and was bitching and moaning.  My poor mother sat on the phone for almost an hour while I did nothing but complain.  I was mad, sad, and full of self pity.  She did not say much other than “I love you,” and “Everything will be ok.”  However when I got off of the phone and I looked at myself in the mirror as I was washing my shirt in the sink and a revelation happened, one of those huge “Aha” moments.

I thought back to the night before on that rock, laughing and singing with complete strangers, spreading words of wisdom; keeping a smile on my face the entire time.  I asked myself why I could show such happiness to them, however vent so fiercely to my sweet mom.  I then thought about my dad.  If my dad was in public he was always smiling, dancing, and singing.  I even have a video on my phone 2 months before he passed of him smoking weed inside the chemo suite at the hospital while blasting Macedonian music and dancing.  He never showed that he was in pain, however sometimes at the house things were different.  My sister and I would be there and we would see and hear the consequences of our fathers illness, and he would sometimes get very upset.  He would complain, sometimes get sad, and sometimes very angry.  I would be filled with so much anger towards him for complaining that I would have to hold myself back from lashing out.  Part of my anger was derived from the fact that it was so much easier for me to be angry than to feel the actual emotions I had inside (utter pain and sadness).  However the other part of my anger came from a confusion of how the strongest person that I knew, the man who was always happy in public, would be complaining so much about his pain.  What I realized that night after complaining to my mother was that even if we are the strongest of people, it is healthy to express our feelings, both emotionally and physically, especially with the ones we trust and love the most.

Daddy Dave blazing the finest medicinal

I woke up the next morning and made my way up to the breakfast buffet.  I made it a point to eat an obscene amount of food; I was getting what I deserved!  As I got up to leave I stuffed 6 muffins in my pockets, grabbed my backpack, dusted the crumbs off of my dirty shirt and dragged my scabbed up bare feet across the floor with my crutches.  The employees were looking at me with utter disgust, so I grabbed a carafe of orange juice and chugged the whole thing while starring them down. I wiped my mouth of the delicious juice, immediately follow by a nice and loud “Ahhhhhhhh.”  I had the worlds biggest smile heading towards the elevator.  As I checked out the same manager who would not check me in was standing there charming an older couple.

“How was your stay sir?” the manager asked.

“Go walk into oncoming traffic.” I said as I threw my room key on the floor.

Maybe I could have composed myself a bit better, but I had hit my boiling point.  I have never in my life been treated so horribly.

Allow me to regress.

Once I got into the cab I felt like a million bucks, the cab driver had pictures of his family everywhere, and seemed so happy to be able to make such a long drive as he was surely going to be making more today than a typical day.  I lit up a cigarette (sorry mom), gave him a $10 tip before we even started driving, and told him to “take me back to paradise.”  You would have thought I gave him a million dollars as he starred at the crisp 10 dollar bill in awe, “Thank you thank you thank you!”  Minutes later we stopped and he sprinted to a roadside shop to get me a delicious iced coffee (served in a plastic bag), and a pillow for my head.  The coffee was not only amazing, but it made a great bootleg ice bag for my pulsating knee.  I put my headphones in, zoned out, and next thing you know I was at the coast of Cambodia yet again.  Mr.  Joel had arranged for his personal water taxi to come and pick me up to bring me back to the island.  “I did it, I am going back,” was the thought that I had going through my mind as I was fastening the garbage bag around my leg so that my cast wouldn’t get wet.

Best coffee / ice bag combo ever!

The return

90 minutes later we began to arrive back at last point.  I had goosebumps and my heart was rapidly beating as I could only imagine the reaction on peoples faces when they saw me return the island.  Dragging my crutches through the sand I began to walk up to the bar at Last Point.  My friend Kelly’s back was to me, so when I got close enough I screamed “There he is!” Kelly turned around and looked at me with disbelief on his face “Brother, no fucking way!!!!”

best sandwich!

The next few hours I spent repeating the story maybe 30 times, and eating some amazing food.  Mr.  Joel is a chef by trade, so he holds his the Khmer who run his kitchen to the highest standards.  The curry and sandwiches on that little island are the some of the best I have had.  That night was Miss Tia’s birthday, and they were all going to trek through the woods to Joel’s other place on the island, Ten103.  They did not expect me to come back to the island, so they had no clue how to get me there.  After going back and forth for a while somebody came up with the idea “Let’s just take the water taxi!”  Many thought it was a dumb idea since I was in a lot of pain, and it is HIGHLY dangerous to navigate the waters at night.  However in typical fashion I looked up at Mr. Kelly and said “Screw it lets roll.”  As I climbed onto the boat with no assistance I remember hearing some of the people who were standing behind me just in case I fell say “What a beast!”

Master yogi providing some beats

When we arrived to the other side of the island we realized we would still have to trek through the pitch black woods for 15 minutes.  Mr.Kelly looked at me and said “brother maybe this was a bad idea.”  I agreed, but here we were so screw it.  I continued to cautiously crutch myself through the jungle.  Everyone partied at the bar as I laid on some cushions on the beach and just relaxed.  I was never by myself though as people kept coming down to check in on me and relax.  Many other backpackers approached me saying “I heard you’re the savage who snapped his knee and came back 2 days later.”
“Why yes, yes I am,” I would reply with a smile on my face.
The way back to the boat that night was sketchy to say the least,as my helpers were now highly intoxicated.  As we got onto the boat everyone sat on the benches, yet I had to lay by myself at the front of the boat on top of the ropes of the anchor as it was the safest place for me to be.  As we set off to head back to Last Point my friends were talking among themselves, laughing and listening to music.  I am certain they had a great ride back, however for me, I finally had the experience I was so desperately in need of.

As I said I was at the very front of the boat.  My leg lie rested on some life jackets to keep it elevated, and I laid on my back starring at the stars.  I saw more stars that night than I have ever seen in my life.  If that wasn’t beautiful enough, as the front of the boat crashed through the waves of Cambodia the water that splashed on both sides of me was glowing the most beautiful color blue from the bioluminescent plankton that occupied the ocean.  My mind started to get flooded with thoughts.

The first thought that entered my mind was confirmation that  everything happens for many, sometimes countless reasons.  Yes my leg was messed up, yes I may need surger.  however without my leg being injured I would not have been laying at the front of the boat, and I would have missed out on the most beautiful sight of my entire life.  I then thought about the cab driver.  Without my leg being injured he would not have had the chance to take the cab back to the south of Cambodia, and that kind cab driver would have never earned the money that he made that day.  My next statement is merely speculation, however think about it for a second.  Say the money that he made that day goes towards buying one of his children a new book.  Say that book sparks a fire inside of that child that had laid dormant for all of these years.  Say that fire leads to a future career path.  Say that career path leads this child who had been handed a book years ago to go on to do great things and help many people.  This is the beauty of life, and this is something I learned on the front of the boat in Cambodia.  We can not be so self centered to think that when something negative happens in our lives that we will be able to see all of the positive that will come out of it.  Every person reading this has had horrible things happen in their lives, and many want to be able to justify it, to be able fully understand why it has happened, including myself.  However I realized through this trip life does not work like that.  We wont be able to see the whole picture, life is a tangled web of billions of little decisions and events that shape everything around us.  Just have faith that somewhere out there, all the pain, all of the tragedy, all of the loss will create an even amount of good,  though we will never see it all with our own eyes.

The second thought that came through my mind was “Holy shit, I am on a water taxi hovering around a remote island in Cambodia looking up at the stars, I have $300 to my name, I have a dislocated knee, and I have not known anybody on this boat for more than a week, how the hell did I get here!?”  Looking up at the stars surrounded by people I did not know, reconciling all of the things I have done and people I have met was so sad, yet so beautiful.  Sad because I realized just how small I was in the grand scheme of things.  I am 1 mere spec of energy in a vast universe, I truly am not that important.  Beautiful because to understand this may be most freeing feeling in the world.  I deviated from the societal norm and up and traveled the world.  I barely did any planning and had no clue whatsoever what I was to do with my life once I got back home, but it’s fine.  It’s my life, my small fraction of a second that I get on this planet to enjoy and experience as much as possible.

The third thought was the most pivotal thought that I have had throughout the whole grieving process with my father.  As I write this it is exactly 6 hours before I witnessed my dad take his last breath, and though this week has been extremely hard I have the same conviction for what I am about to write as the night that I was on the front of that boat in Cambodia.  For anyone who has read all of my blogs, you can probably guess a part of this trip was to cope with the loss of my father, among other things.  As I laid on the front of that boat, with all of these revelations whirling through my brain and all of this beauty around me, I told myself it was time, time to “let go.”  To let go of the pain, to let go of the emptiness, to let go of the good memories that made me miss him, and to let go of the traumatic memories that made me want to crawl into a ball and cry.  I closed my eyes, took a big breath through my nose, and slowly exhaled through my mouth.  Our favorite song came to mind “From this valley they say you are going, we will miss your bright eyes and sweet smile, for you take with you all of the sunshine, that has brightened our pathway a while.  Then come sit by my side if you love me, do not hasten to bid me adieu, just remember the red river valley, and the one that’s love you so true.”   I kept my eyes closed for a few minutes, and I was at a place that I feel most people who meditate try to achieve, the feeling of an empty mind.  When I opened my eyes I looked up at the stars, wondering if my attempt to solve the puzzle of grief had worked.

Moments later I turned my head to look at the Avatar-like glowing water, and there he was.  I pictured my dad chopping through the waves as I had seen him do so many times before.  Tears started to come down my face, however while wiping the tears off of my face I began to smile.  If I couldn’t let go of my feelings at that very moment I never would, and why would I want to let go of him? I realized that who I am now is merely the new me.  Not a worse version of me, not a better version of me, just a new me.  I realized to stop running from the emotions, to stop running from the horrible images that sometimes hijack my brain, and to just accept them as they come.  The sadness I feel has made me more empathetic towards others.  The anger I sometimes feel allows me to stand up for myself where I was too scared to do so in the past.  The emptiness I sometimes feel reminds me to keep my loved ones close, and to enjoy as much of them as possible while they are still here.  Lastly the good memories, the memories I used to cry about because they are gone, have turned into appreciation.  I appreciate that at my darkest times 1o years ago he stopped me in the stairwell of his house as I tried to leave to go get high (as I felt like I was going to die from sickness) and he said “If you you die, I will die with you, but I am not letting you go.”  I appreciate the fact that even at the age of 27 my dad and I would sometimes sleep in the same bed and he would rub my head while singing songs until I went to sleep.  I appreciate the stories he would share with me, stories where by the end he would say “What other father talks to their son about things like this?”  I appreciate the songs we used to sing together, and the poems we used to recite to each other.  I appreciate, no I am honored, to have had such a close bond with my father.

The next 5 days were nothing short of amazing.  Painful at times, yet amazing.  My good friend Mr. Kelly decided to sleep on the front porch of my bungalow so that if I ever needed anything at night he was there.  Showering was impossible for me so I would take my cast off and crawl into the water, and he would go as far as to scrub in between my toes since I was incapable of bending my knee.  My dear friend Miss Ronja who is a young nurse would spend hours a day cleaning out the infected wounds on my feet; I am certain she will do amazing things with her life. And all of the others who are too many to name were more than willing to make my final week as pain free as possible.  We spent the days laying out by the water, eating and drinking at the bar, telling stories, and listening to music.  We even played an epic game of “chicken shit bingo” where you bet which square the chicken will crap on, and I won 20 bucks, COME ON #11!

Chicken shit bingo

The worlds best nurse

On my second to last day Mr. Joel the owner came to the island to set up for a small music festival he was having.  I was immediately captivated by him.  This small dude from Texas with a shaved head and awesome goatee was walking around setting up for the party.  He spoke fluent Khmer, and had such an alpha presence to him.  I asked some of the people who worked at Last Point what his deal was, but not many knew.  As I was laying on some cushions with Mr. Kelly he walked by and I called him over.  There was no way in hell I was not going to learn this dudes whole story.  “How the hell did you go from living in Texas to running this place?”

(Forgive me Mr. Joel if some of the finer details are not 100% accurate, however I will try my best to do you justice).  He went on to explain an absolutely incredible story.  8 years ago Mr. Joel was a chef who was backpacking Asia with a friend.  They had come to Cambodia and decided to take to take a small boat (or maybe a sail boat) out for the day.  During their trip they stumbled upon Koh Ta Kiev.  At the time there were absolutely no people who occupied the island, and it was merely some sand surrounding a gigantic jungle.  Mr. Joel, being an outdoors type of guy decided to set up a hammock and spend the night with his buddy.  The next day the Cambodian Army showed up to speak to them.  At first he thought he was screwed, however the soldiers went on to say that for $75 they could spend the whole month on the island.  Mr. Joel had around 3 or 4 thousand dollars to his name at the time so he decided to spend a month on the island and live off the land.  eating everything from crabs to wild cat.  The following month the army showed up and to their surprise Mr Joel and his friend were still there.  The soldiers obviously knew these guys were bad ass if they were able to withstand a month in the jungle, and let them know if they had any desire to start building on the island (treehouses or bungalows), that they could do so.

Mr. Joel and his friend decided to give it a shot.  So with barely any money, no outside assistance, and in a third world country this badass dude from Texas started building a tree house resort on a remote island in Cambodia.  Sometime during that first year Mr. Joel’s friend decided he had enough and went back home, however Mr. Joel stayed.  He would go back to mainland from time to time, and that is where he met Mr. Saul.  Mr. Saul was Khmer and barely spoke any English, and Mr. Joel barely spoke any Khmer.  However together they went back to the island and began to build.  Mr. Joel told me how they had completely run out of money, and had to borrow a bag of rice from the army to survive.  He and Mr. Saul were in the woods and he finally gave in, “Fuck this, I am going home, what the hell am I doing in the middle of Cambodia!?”  I don’t remember the exact words that Mr. Saul said to calm him down, but it was something along the lines of “Don’t worry, we can do it (in very broken English).”  3 years later that night of him sleeping on a hammock turned into his first place, Ten103 Treehouse.  He now has 2 places on the island and is about to open up an artillery range on the mainland.  Mr. Joel now speaks fluent Khmer, and is a huge advocate for helping the people of Cambodia get back on their feet after the genocide that ripped through the country less than 40 years ago.  He prides himself on only hiring Khmer who speak no English (except for the people who run front of house) and have families that they need to feed.  The interaction between them and Mr. Joel is absolutely beautiful.

The second to last night was the night of the music festival, and everybody chipped in.  Since I was physically good for nothing my dear friend Miss Ines created a “Free Hugs” sign for when people arrived to the island.  I thought it would be a nice touch to add “1 kiss, $1” on the other side to help raise some funds for my injured leg ;).  The party was a success, and I gave (and received) many hugs that night.

Creepiest photo ever

Free hugs

More hugs

My “please help” face

On my final day Mr. Kelly grabbed my stuff and we head over to the bar for a final breakfast.  Though this next part does not flow with the rest of the blog we both find it hilarious so I will add it anyway.  Mr. Andrew, a dude from Germany who has a type of accent that even German’s cannot understand had a major problem with one of the bulls on the island.  While Mr. Kelly and I were walking towards the bar we saw the bull turn around and try to hit Mr. Andrew with his horns.  We both started crying laughing as we knew how much Mr. Andrew hated that damn bull.  I screamed out to him and said “Mr. Andrew, are you ok!?”.  Mr. Andrew turned around with absolute conviction in his eyes and said “ON THIS FUCKING DAY, THE BULL MUST DIE.  BE ROCK, SLING SHOT, KNIFE, GUN, AK 47 OR RPG, I WILL KILL THIS FUCKING BULL!!!!!”.  Thankfully the bull is still alive and well but it may have been hands down the funniest part of my trip, especially since this dude went from rock to RPG.

Saying goodbye to the people on the island was like saying goodbye to my family.  They went above and beyond the call of duty to take care of me, and I will love them all for life.  Mr. Kelly has even graced me with his manly ginger beard presence in New York since I have been back home, and we talk almost daily.  Mr. Joel made sure a taxi was to be waiting for me to take me to Phnom Penh as I had a flight the next morning, and he continued to say I was an absolute legend and I was welcome any time.  For anyone who ever goes to Cambodia, please go to the beautiful almost untouched island of Koh Ta Kiev, and please stay at Ten103 or Last Point.  I have no words for the generosity, love, (and also amazing food) that this man and the rest of the employees provided.

showing gratitude in my hometown for all he did

Taking the boat back to the mainland, cast on my leg and dirt under my fingernails,  I looked back to see a few of my friends standing in the water, their arms around each other waving goodbye to us.  I felt like the luckiest person in the world.  I had experienced so much in the past 2 months.  I have met some of the kindest people that I would have never gotten the chance to meet if I had not traveled, people like Mr. Te (may he rest in peace), who lost his whole family during the war, yet sat and had tea with me and taught me the meaning of happiness and forgiveness.  I felt lucky that though I could not walk by the end of my trip, I was physically able to trek to the boarder of China, to climb the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, and to dance while the sun was rising in Koh Phangan with an awesome soul from Canada.  I felt lucky to had the pleasure of having 6 hour conversation about life and music with a beautiful psychiatrist from Spain. I felt lucky to have almost complete strangers take such good care of me when I got injured.  I felt lucky to have met soooo many amazing people; people who even months later I talk to almost daily, and who will be a huge part of my life.  I felt lucky that I have such an amazing cousin whom I am proud to consider a brother, as well as the worlds greatest mother, for without them this trip would have been impossible.  I felt lucky to have a sister who is always there to listen to me and who first gave me the idea about traveling, as well as a cousin (actually niece, Leeza) who was the one who encouraged me to extend my stay in Hong Kong.  I felt sadness for the bad things that had occurred that brought me to take this trip, yet a sense of assurance that so much beauty has already come from the negativity.

I am not sure if I “found myself” while traveling.  I am sure however that I have discarded pieces of me that were not meant to be there, and awakened parts of me that I thought were dead.  As I write this I am in shock as to how much has happened during my few months traveling. Yet I can say from the bottom of my heart no matter how many shitty things happened to me during my trip, it was an experience of a lifetime.  This time last year I never thought I would have backpacked S.E. Asia, nor be writing a blog.  But that is the beauty of life.  We can not project too far into the future, for there are in infinite amount of variables we have no control over.  So sit back, be present for everything that occurs both good and bad, and embark on the most unique and exciting trip you’ll ever have the privilege of taking, your life.

“Traveling.  It leaves your speechless, then turns you into a storyteller”  – Ibn Battuta






Siem Reap Part 2

I woke up after what was a roller coaster of emotions and decided that i would just relax all day.  I had already booked my tour of Angkor Wat for the following morning, and decided to make the best out of the awesome rooftop pool terrace my hostel had to offer.  I put on my bathing suit, grabbed a drink and laid out by the pool.  I must say for a hostel that costs 7 dollars a night, this rooftop terrace was incredible!

I saw many people who would late become very close friends, however I spent that day to myself listening to some music and truly relaxing.  The next morning it was time to wake up and head over to the temples of Angkor Wat.  At 5 a.m. sharp me and 3 strangers hopped aboard a Tuk Tuk and made our way to the temples.  There are 2 main options for the tour of the temples, you can either rent a bike for the day and ride around, or have a Tuk Tuk driver bring you to all of the different temples for around $6.  I chose the latter as it was supposed to be extremely hot that day.

When we hit the road it was still pitch black, and I remember thinking how lucky I was to be experiencing another amazing place, yet again.  When we arrived at Angkor Wat the crowds of tourists were already starting to pile up.  Over 1,000 people huddled behind the pond to prepare to take the iconic “reflection shot” of the sun rising behind Angkor Wat with the reflection shining on the pond.

I too began to follow the masses, however when the sky began to slightly change from black to dark purple I decided to move my location.  People started shuffling around trying to position themselves for the perfect photo, a photo that you can see on almost any post card.  I decided to stay as far away from the rest of the tourists, and positioned myself on the grass.  I knew I would not get the perfect shot, however I wasn’t there for that.  I was there to take in the beauty of these historic temples, and to feel that sense of calmness that people feel when they are TRULY experiencing beauty.

The sunrise was absolutely beautiful, with the sky changing numerous colors before the sun finally revealed itself above the temples.  While walking back to my Tuk Tuk I was 100% contempt with not taking 1 photo of the actual sunrise, however luck would have it I ended up taking a photo that meant so much more to me than the reflection shot ever would.

While walking away I noticed a couple who were also staying as far away as possible.  They were just sitting there, obviously in love, and enjoying every second of the sunrise.  I stopped to take a photo of them, and it became hands down my favorite shots of the entire trip.

The rest of the day was spent checking out the amazing temples around Angkor Wat, with my favorite being Ta Prohm (the Tomb Raider Temple).  While walking around the vicinity of Ta Prohm there seemed to be a certain energy that was completely enveloping and soothing.  As I was walking outside I closed my eyes and felt like I was back in time, the sun flashing on my eye lids as it was peeking in and out of the trees I was walking by.  I left the temples that day feeling so fortunate to have been able to experience such beauty.

As I have said, the greatest thing I could have done on this trip was to not stick to an actual itinerary (as I originally had planned on doing) and just let the experiences happen organically.  This way of traveling was never of higher value as it was for Siem Reap.

The next day at the pool I met a group of a few friends, we went out that night to dinner, followed by a reggae bar.  The group continued to grow for the following few days.  I still had some cash left over so I decided to extend my trip by a week, and I would end up spending 8 days in Siem Reap prior to finishing off my final journey on the islands of Cambodia.  Those 8 days were filled with meeting so many different people from all over the world, and forming bonds that will last me the rest of my life.

On my final day in Siem Reap me and 4 friends (3 from Germany and 1 from England) hopped on a sleeper bus to go down to the Islands of Cambodia.  It was to be the final week of my traveling, and I was looking forward to just laying out on a beach all week and doing absolutely nothing.  However as fate would have it, there was much more than just laying on a beach that was awaiting me.