Job and the Silver Dolphins
My bones were stiff from a full day bus ride between Phnom Penh and Kratie. Our bus stopped over 5 times, and the entire day could easily be summed up in one definitive word: mud. Stepping into the hostel, a young Khmer woman with a sick baby greeted me and showed me up to the room. I apologized profusely as each step I took up the two flights of stairs left a brown imprint of my boot treads. She smiled coyly, “Don’t worry, we have someone to clean that up.” As I tried to clean it with a small towel from my backpack, an elderly woman came and ushered me away and began to clean it herself. Great, grandma is the one who gets to clean up my mess.
I listened to the Mekong rush by as I hurriedly stuffed my mouth with Lok-Lak and a Cambodian beer that tasted like bitter water. An elderly man that I recognized from the bus sat a table away and I invited him over for a beer. Job is a balding sixty-six year-old retired P.E. teacher from Holland. Friendship came quickly and easily as it often does with beer and with travel.
The next day, Job and I sat in the back of a tuk-tuk driven by a burly police officer. For hours the tuk-tuk tried to shake us out of its cab by hitting stones and pot-holes alike. “My wife died ten years ago, the Cancer took her,” Job says in response to my question about the origins of his traveling through South East Asia. “For a few years, I had trouble, but then I decided that I can either sit or I can go do something.” For the last 7 years, Job has been traveling by himself to countries all over the world. I get the feeling he is trying to honor his deceased wife’s memory by finishing his life to the fullest. Job instantly became a hero to me in that moment.
Several years ago, my grandfather was taken by Cancer. He was a great grandfather and a great man. There was never a point in my childhood where he didn’t have time because he would always make time for any of his children and grandchildren. In short, he was the glue of our family and his passing sent a tremor through my family’s fellowship that still hasn’t quite healed (and it may not completely). My grandmother had a hard time after as well, but she picked herself up by her bootstraps and joined me, my mother, my aunt, and my uncle in Barcelona, Spain. She decided that she had a great deal of living left to do and Barcelona was on that list. She was a champ the whole time in Barcelona, nothing slowed her down. She can still rock with the best of us travelers. Last year while I was living in S. Korea, she sent me a picture of her in a biplane. My grandmother is also one of my heroes.
As we pulled up to the Mekong River, Job had just finished telling me about how teaching is in his family’s blood; all three of his children decided to become teachers. With warm thoughts and nostalgia of my family I headed down to the small wooden boat that would take us to look for dolphins. The river pushed downstream quickly, fueled by the rains from last night. Small branches and wood floated by us as we looked out over the caramel colored river. As the boat hummed through the water our eyes darted back and forth in search for dolphins; not one of us spoke. Far off in the distance, silver crescents broke the top of the water. With each return to the surface for air, the dolphins sounded a short release of spray and a quick breath of air. Our boat driver steered the boat again and again towards the dolphin. but they remained clever to his game and kept their distance. Three other small boats lay just beyond ours trying to get a different angle. With the engines off, the wooden boats drifted down the river as the dolphins fed on river fish beside us. “They are pretty far away,” someone in the boat said. We are pretty far away. The silver dolphins on the caramel river danced at the surface one last time and then disappeared, riding the river’s current.
I hope we all get to dance one last time before we disappear with the current.
Stay: Silver Dolphin Guesthouse – Dorm $2/nt, Private $4/nt
Eat: Red Sun Falling – $2-$5 (Western Food), Heng Heng Restaurant $1-$2.50 (Khmer Food)
Do: Grab a bike from your guesthouse and head to see the Irawaddy dolphins on the Mekong River. Also, grab a moto or Tuk-tuk and head to the surrounding temples.