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Travels with Pavel: 19-22 February 2005

Three days at Sihanoukville on the coast of the Gulf of Thailand with waters as warm as “dog’s urine” to quote Pavel. All I did was sleep late and venture to the beach only after 5:30 in the evening when the sun had lost much of its heat – I didn’t think that I particularly needed the tan.

The Road to Damascus is exactly 50 years old in its 1955 edition and a beautiful book of discovery, of clarity, and one to which I know I shall return given my own addled understanding of religion, and battles with faith and unbelief. I am worth so much more than the birds of the sky, as the saying goes but altogether too much like a crab washed ashore by the sea onto some slippery rock clinging on precariously until the next wave comes and pulls it back into the foaming chaos.

It’s our last day together in Cambodia – Pavel is taking the bus from Sihanoukville to the Thai border while I am going back to the capital to take the flight back. What is worse, its Pavel’s birthday tomorrow – of all the days, it had to be his birthday, I’ve been silently cursing the travel restrictions on Indians for several days now.

Anyway, there’s no keeping a Czech beer-lover down, so we decided to celebrate by having Happy Pizza, served by a cheerful 12-year old named Marra, whose mother worked in Phnom Penh, while he helped Johnny.

Now Happy Pizza is a local specialty we’ve been saving for the last. This time though we’re not as poor as we were with the spiders. Pavel and I had a pizza each laced with marijuana to go with our beers and the fantastic sunset in front of us. 5 minutes, 15 minutes, half an hour – it didn’t seem like the marijuana was having much of an effect on either of us and we decided to sit down to a screening of Van Helsig that had just begun at one of the beachside places. It was being screened on a white sheet stretched between two poles stuck in the sand. The patrons of the shack sat in front of the screen but pretty soon there was a bigger audience of shameless tourists and locals sitting behind the screen. Of course, they were only followed the lead set by a certain Indo-Czech duo.

The movie is a combination of all the various monster legends of European literature – the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Frankenstein, Werewolf and Dracula – and together with some crazy mix of this stuff as shown on screen plus the ‘left-handed’ crossing of himself by Van Helsig, this is absolutely a strange movie to watch when you’ve just had Happy Pizza – though I daresay, people might have felt that way about the movie even otherwise. In any case, being stoned sort of increased the charms of the movie, several notches

If watching Van Helsig, wasn’t quite the ideal way to tell how high we were, we realized soon enough as we made our way back after the movie. Splashing through the waves, I found that I could not help smiling all the time at something or the other and once I had laughed, my face remained fixed in at full stretch for the longest time. Even when Pavel was heading out quite a fair distance into the sea, all I could do was laugh myself silly while somewhere in the back of my head, I was screaming at the top of my lungs, “come back, you clown, or you’ll drown and I can’t swim!!”

We made it back to our guesthouse and decided to pay our US$12 for the three nights, since we were leaving the next day. According to Pavel, I did the paying normally enough. According to me, I was watching myself outside of my own body, slapping down the dollars on the counter with a scowl and scaring the hell out of the chaps at the reception at the same time.

In the morning when I saw Pavel off at about 7, I was still reeling. It took a long shower, and a walk through Sihanoukville with my rucksack and lunch to bring me back to some semblance of level-headedness. Back in Phnom Penh, I did not mind the long walk through Preah Monivong Boulevard back to our last guesthouse at Boeng Kak, either. And for once, I didn’t lose my way.