A Love Story: Part Five
That’s when things started to go terribly wrong.
Both in our relationship and in my travels.
As I got to Cambodia mid-October, our conversations became shorter and shorter. It seemed every time I had a chance to call, which wasn’t very often, Kyle was busy doing something or with someone else. It got to the point where we didn’t say much of anything to each other. Partly because I was beginning to struggle mentally and partly because he was in the same routine and didn’t feel his day to day warranted an extensive conversation.
Each time we hung up the phone, I could feel an inherent sadness creep up in my heart. Up until this point, he had been my pillar of strength. It felt like he was pulling away, but I couldn’t understand why. Talking to him almost hurt me more, so I began to put off our calls for a couple days; making excuses as to why he didn’t hear from me. I was going through these intense experiences and didn’t feel like I could turn to him anymore. So I did what I conditioned myself to do over the years; I relied on myself to get through my darkest days. I was devastated not to feel close to him through this, but it was my decision to come here. And by coming here, I had to own every experience; negative and positive. I braced myself for the beginning of our demise.
I quickly learned, literally and figuratively, in this part of the world, when it rains, it torrentially pours.
At my first hostel in Cambodia, a group of us had our lockers broken into while we were out on a day trip coordinated by the staff. Ten of us had things taken from our packs. The staff played dumb, but called the police to appease our collective outrage. I had a secret pouch at the bottom of my bag where I kept an envelope of money. It was buried under a few journals and books, so that was immediately the first place I checked. I shoved my arm to the depths of my pack and confirmed the envelope was still in place. Not thinking to investigate further, I let the police know it was a personal loss of a few souvenirs and some clothes. None of us planned on staying the full ten days to follow up with the investigation so we collectively agreed on being thankful for our health and safety instead. Phnom Penh had been abrasive and chaotic, so must of us took the next bus south to Sihanoukville.
It wasn’t until a few days later, when I was on the remote island of Koh Ta Kiev about to settle up my bill, a nightmare became a reality. The envelope from earlier was left in tact and buried under the books as I packed them, but the contents of said envelope were gone. Almost my entire savings for the trip in USD had been stolen and I didn’t realize it until now. I admit it was stupid and negligent to carry such a large sum on my person, but I was venturing to rural areas on the next leg of my journey where access to ATM machines was borderline nonexistent. In planning for the worst scenario, the worst scenario found me. The thief had known to put everything back in its place, including the envelope, likely to buy time in escaping. I regretted immediately trusting no one would be able to find it.
In telling the manager (we’ll call him Will) about my situation, he offered me a job tending the bar for free room and board. That meant I could stay put long enough to save what little funds I had left, and meet Kyle in Bali at the end of the year. The owner of the guesthouse was around that afternoon and would interview me to make sure I was a good fit. Turns out he was from Texas and a huge fan of the Padres, so we hit it off swimmingly.
I returned to the mainland to call Kyle and let him know my next moves. He was less than thrilled with me being on some deserted island working with complete strangers, but it was the best arrangement I could muster in a dire situation. Hanging up the phone, I knew I didn’t have his full support. What other choice, besides coming home, did I have? I wasn’t ready to call it quits when I felt like this was just the beginning.
The thing about Koh Ta Kiev is it’s extremely hard to find. There are other, more developed, islands that appeal to the waves of backpackers coming through Sihanoukville. You don’t come to this island unless you deliberately search for this island. 90% is undeveloped jungle. Visitors have to walk two hours through the unmarked density to reach any of the other guesthouses. The experience here is tranquil and isolating.
The Last Point was the least booked of the island’s four guesthouses. Accommodations were… primitive. Private bamboo huts sat nestled on the forest edge while an open-air dorm accounted for the other 14 beds. According to the website, guests were welcome to rent tents to camp on the beach, though after arriving I learned this was never really an option. Outhouses with hand buckets for flushing were the only means of “plumbing” and though showers were advertised, they were both impractical and non-functional. There was no electricity except for a janky solar powered generator, which meant no contact with the outside world. We were modern day Robinson Crusoes and Koh Ta Kiev was our deserted oasis.
The bar was the central meeting point of the property with hammocks draped around the perimeter. We spent a majority of our time horizontal, skimming through the sparse shelf of the book exchange, wading in the still waters of the cove, and drinking excessive amounts of Gin. I woke up every morning before the sun and ended the day drinking on Naked Beach during sunset. Feral cows owned by the military roamed freely around the land. We hand painted welcome signs on driftwood warning of land mines and hung them from decayed trees. It was peaceful, and meditative, but it became difficult to distinguish one day from the next. I was wasting away on an island with no anchor to reality.
I quickly learned Will, the manager, was an unreliable drunk. Soon I found myself managing the bar, the employees, and a week later, our first wave of guests. I was putting in 12–16 hour days, admittedly with alot of drinking in between, but rarely given a break or time to myself. It wasn’t the most strenuous work, but our initial agreements of split shifts had gone out the window. I became frustrated with the arrangement, but it wasn’t enough to distance myself from the guesthouse just yet. I had found amazing friendship in the company of a few of the guests as well a a few of the Khmer employees. Building a family in these scenarios makes it infinitely harder to leave and they deserved my best efforts.
Eventually, it became too much to bear. The free bed and food wasn’t worth the constant verbal abuse from Will. Nothing I did was right and his particular way of doing things began to reveal a means of controlling me and the other employees. After a particularly violent thunderstorm on the island and having to sleep on a wet bed, I fell sick with a severe fever. Will was due to leave the island for some rest and relaxation while I was left to manage the guesthouse in my rapidly failing state. I was alone for three days with almost full accommodations, but it was a welcomed break from his presence. Everyone seemed lighter and more relaxed without him around. It was a period of rest for all of us.
The first thing he did when he returned was lash out at me in front of the guests. He vocalized how useless I was despite my handling of everything and just about flipped the bar upside down in his frenzied state. He called me worthless just loud enough for me to hear and I cowered in the kitchen in tears. I didn’t deserve to deal with the abuse while trying to manage my health. I knew a doctor on the mainland and used this as my opportunity to leave. Later, when the guests had gone to watch the sunset, I told him I needed to go see a doctor.
Good. It’ll give me time to fix everything you messed up while I was gone.
The next morning I gathered my things and I sailed away from the Last Point, knowing I would never return. My biggest regret was not saying goodbye to the employees. Abandoning them without reason felt irresponsible, but I needed to get away. There was a small town just south called Kampot where a few of my friends from the island were staying. We planned to meet up and venture to the coastal town of Kep in a couple day’s time. It was a relief to see them in such lighter circumstances, and already I was in better spirits.
Before catching my bus on the mainland, I managed to tap into the wifi of a neighboring guesthouse. The first thing I did was call Kyle. As soon as I heard his voice, I burst into tears.
I’m off the island. I’m not going back.
Good. Please don’t do something like that again.
It was clear my time on the island put a strain on us both and we looked forward to the possibility of having more stable communication. I hung up the phone, and boarded my bus with a renewed sense of openness. I was confident the island was the last of my troubles, but it turns out I was fleeing towards an even darker reality.
My sincerest thank you to Maddison, Angela, Beth, Olga, Jake, Uncle Richard, and Aunt Barbara for wiring funds after I was robbed so I could continue my travels. Your generosity is forever tied to the success of this trip and I can’t thank you enough for helping me get home.
Special thanks to all the lovebirds in the world rooting for our success. Your support gives life to these stories. If you’re just joining, you can navigate our little love series here:
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