Ah the once in a lifetime opportunity to volunteer abroad, teaching English to disadvantaged children and learning about their lives first hand. The joy of feeling that in some small way you’re helping them. We were thrilled to be working with local Phnom Penh NGO Riverkids and had been enjoying every second of it…
But we’re British. And a long weekend was coming up.
Despite the fact that we’d both quit our day jobs 3 months earlier and had been happily travelling the world since, we’d decided that after a week of genuinely enjoyable voluntary work, we were in dire need of a holiday. It’s amazing how quickly you can fall back into old habits.
We settled on Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s main seaside town just a few hours south of Phnom Penh. In our heads we’d had pictures of ice creams and donkeys but when we arrived it was stormy. The sky was dark and the ground was wet. It didn’t feel like a Khmer beach resort at all, but like I said, it was the weekend and a little bit of rain wasn’t going to stop us.
Defiantly we marched out of our beach hut to book a tour of the surrounding islands along with some snorkelling for the next day. This was despite the fact that it was meant to rain then too. And it did. Heavily.
Hearing the downpour on our wooden roof the next morning I reached for my shorts. I pulled them up whilst openning our curtain only to find I could barely see out for the weather. This was when I decided that I’d best pack my sunnies just in case it clears up… You never know eh?! And as I openned the door and slipped into my soaking wet flip flops Gemma stuck her head round from in the bathroom… “Have you packed the suntan lotion?”
The thing is, Gemma and I had planned to visit a beachy island. Maybe if we hadn’t been working all week we might’ve given it a miss, but in our heads we deserved this. Nothing was going to stop us from enjoying a weekend at the beach; not the rain, not the cold and certainly not the hairs on my legs magically standing to attention and dripping at the same time. We will pretend its sunny, for this is the British way. I think it has something to do with the way we brew our tea.
The boat ride was choppy, windy and cold but it was worth it to see Bamboo Island; a tiny place populated only by a few boat tours (like us) and an old man serving tea, coffee and snacks. Imagine Robinson Crusoe’s island, except with more deck chairs and regular boats. So, better.
And then, as we were on the island, the rain stopped. The clouds shifted and it was sunny. We put on the suntan lotion.
And then, as we were still on the island, the rain started. The clouds shifted back and covered the sun. The suntan lotion washed off.
On the way back to the mainland the sky opened up once again as we climbed off the boat into the sea to snorkel. The difference between snorkelling and being on a beach though, is that on a beach you need the sun to stop the sand turning to sludge, but a bit of rain can’t affect a snorkeller because the sea is already wet! And that’s science.
Surprisingly, the snorkelling was made even better because of the rain. It’s an odd sensation to feel raindrops hit your back from above whilst at the same time, watching tonnes of fish dancing between the coral below you. It was odd, it was something I’d never done before, and it was good.
When we got back the weather started to clear up as darkness fell on Sinhoukville. The temperature rose as we changed from our swimmers to full length trousers. I realise that again this is the wrong way round but like I keep saying, we’re British. We don’t do things right, we do things ‘correctly’, and I think you’ll find that the evening is the time for full length trousers.
That night we made the most of the clear sky by eating curry out of a coconut and sharing a few beers on Serendipity Beach. We’d had a great long weekend and it felt odd that we still couldn’t wait to get back to work.
I don’t know why the British feel the need to pretend its sunny on a wet beach weekend; maybe it’s because shorts are so expensive and we never get to use them, maybe it’s because the Monday to Friday toil can be so boring, or maybe it’s just because, secretly we all think we’ve got really good legs (I know I do). Whatever the reason though, I’m glad mine and Gemma’s inherent British ways got us out on that boat, because otherwise we’d never have seen our little stormy desert island and we’d never have experienced all the colourful Khmer fish.
Maybe I’m over romantasicing it, but maybe, just maybe, that typical English scene of the half naked pasty skinned bodies sun bathing along one of England’s rainy beaches just goes to show how us British don’t let opportunities pass us by. Maybe, just maybe, it’s the British way – to live for, and to seize, a moment.
Or maybe there’s just something in the way we brew our tea.