Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Phu Quoc

I left Saigon on a night bus that was terrifying as usual. I always pray before night buses. Others I know take Vicodin. My bed was at the front of the bus so the driver asked me to turn off my Kindle light. Fair enough, I think the light is pretty well contained to the screen, but I'm not driving. Then he answered his iPhone. Ugh. Then he spent a prolonged period of time driving directly over the rumble track. At some point we hit something. Not like a person or a motorbike, but something on the highway big enough that he pulled over to check out the bus. The key to night buses is to be tired enough that such events take on the surreal sheen of a bumpy bad dream. There's never a good night's sleep, but drowsiness dulls the senses.

I must have been in vacation mode because I failed to learn the name of the stop I was supposed to get off at. Since I was going to a ferry, I just figured I'd be going to the terminal stop. Wrong. And my pre-purchased boat ticket was for a terminal 90km away. The ferry company, Superdong, was nice and swapped my ticket. Not only that, I got to sit on the upper deck behind the captain, above the hoi polloi. Sometimes owning up to your own gross incompetence pays off. People give you the primo seats just to keep an eye on you. And so I rode the Superdong III all the way to Phu Quoc, which is really an excellent name for a transit company. Memorable. 

As soon as I got to my $13/night bungalow though I was overwhelmed with loneliness. In Saigon, I spent my nights in the dorm, engulfed in the protective backpacker herd. Here it's mostly couples and families. It's weird to go to the beach alone. The other thing is, James and my best friends/Shanghai roommates were here together 10 months ago and I couldn't help but think how much more fun it would have been to be with them. I quickly decided I would spend one day snorkeling, one day scootering, one day on the beach near my hotel and then peace out. 

I did the snorkeling tour, which was more fun than remarkable. I saw some cool fish, but I would say the more impressive sight was the ridiculous sunburn I got on the lower half of my butt. We don't usually see much sun down there... I was good about sunscreening the rest of my body. I don't know what I was thinking just skipping over the parts above my thighs not covered by my swimsuit. If it were even remotely socially appropriate, I would post a picture of this burn because it's hilarious. You would laugh if you saw it, but you'll just have to trust me.

Yesterday I rented my scooter and drove up north to the much less populated beaches. The trade off is no one fishes the trash out of the water like they do in front of the resorts, so you have to dodge the odd bit of plastic, but there's also hardly anyone else around and still there are beach chairs and bars offering seafood lunch, coconuts and cheap beer. Amazing! 

There's a lot of development underway on the north side of the island, and all of Phu Quoc could very well go the way of Phuket, but for now it's just right: it's possible to buy burgers and crepes but there are no Russian hordes. No offense to Russians, they just tend to travel in hordes. 

So today I scootered north again, plopped on a beach chair, watched the ocean and read all day. I am going to do this for at least two more days.

Somewhat counterintuitively, it's a lot less lonely when there aren't so many people around. When I'm surrounded by groups I feel like I should be in one, and I feel like the people in the groups are looking at me and wondering why I'm not in one. You don't get that on a mostly-deserted beach. And my Kindle is excellent company.

I'm working my way through the 2012 Best American Short Stories and Travel Writing, and I read a couple great pieces in both today. I also started Absalom, Absalom! by Faulkner. I had to read the first chapter twice. And most delightfully, I'm also reading the complete Flannery O'Connor short stories. Sometimes I finish a story and I wish I could turn around and give Flannery a high five. She was so good! Her work is so funny and so devastating and her characters are deeply flawed but she writes about them so compassionately. I just love her. 

Once the sun crossed over the western lip of my umbrella, I packed up and took the scenic route back, which consisted of a bumpy dirt road and one dubious wooden bridge that rattled like it was a couple motorbikes away from crashing into the inlet. Actually, all the routes today were scenic. I've scootered through orchards and past cows walking down the middle of the road, through villages and miles of green forest next to the light blue ocean. This may be my last major beach stop on my big trip, so I'm going to linger.

No comments: