A stick in the mud at dusk

Once we escape the harrowing clutches of dry ground, the captain pulls us over at a waterside cafe. So, we do get to stop. Hmmm.

Since only one person wanted to brave the two-walled toilet on the boat (designed so that anyone going by in a boat, on the shore, or in the captain’s spot can see you), we all line up for the squatty-potty in the very back of the house. I don’t even notice the friendly spiders in the wooden shed’s corners because I have to use the bathroom so badly.

I decide that a fizzy water and some coconut tuieles are in order to calm my knotted stomach. We hang out for a bit, convinced that the horror show of getting stuck in the mud or dry land is over now. Afte all, as one guy pointed out, events like that come in threes. Therefore, we had to be safe now.

More than a little reluctant to get back in, we wrestle our weary bodies into the boat and prepare for round two.

Not much after we leave the dock, we beach again, this time in even less water than before. Now the water is almost just a puddle.

One couple proposes getting out and walking along the dry shore until deeper water is reached. Nobody seconds the notion. The men get out again to heave ho the boat, and this time, once it’s unstuck, they guide it until the water is deeper. Then, they climb on to the edges of the boat and hold on to the top. This way, there isn’t so much weight in the bottom of the boat.

As the water deepens considerably again, now we must watch out for bathers. Since it’s rapidly approaching dusk, those who live along the river come out to bathe. Naked kids splash at us as we past, and adults modestly bathe in a sarong. Several brave teenage boys try to swim out to us as we slowly move past, but the captain guns the engine before they can reach us.

Suddenly, a firecracker is launched into the air, and it explodes very, very, very close to the boat. We all jump, thinking the engine has blown out, which would be just our luck. We’re not happy about the firecracker, since it could have either hit the boat or one of us, but, on the bright side of life, our engine isn’t dead.

Darkness closes in like a final curtain call. Mosquitos thrum their bloody-thirsty melody near our ears, and now, instead of copious amounts of sunscreen being applied, we are liberally bathing in mosquito repellant. No one wants dengue fever.

Now the worry becomes how to navigate around tight twists, bathers, children, firecrackers, sticks, boats, houses, trees, and land with the rapid absence of natural light. People start digging out their iPhones and flashlights because we know that it would be a miracle if the boat actually had lights on it.

Fortunately, however, as the sun heaves a final dying breath, we notice that we’re crossing under road bridges and that the houses are becoming more frequently seen and are closer together. Then, the captain drifts us toward a lonely dock with a very steep staircase up to the top.

We toss up prayers of thanksgiving and slowly unclip our lifevests, which have become almost part of us for the last nine hours.

We have arrived in Battambang.

Several of the men shove the boat back into the deeper water. I think they deserve a refund.
The sun sets as we are about 20 minutes away – but we have no idea how close we are yet.
Abandoned boats against the pink and blue sky.


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