A tale of darkness and light

Written by Jane Harris No Gravatar

We had been following a fairly well established traveller’s trail through Laos and were getting a little tired of staying in the bland backpacker ghettos that had sprung up along the way. Attempts to get off the beaten track had been thwarted by the shape of the country, poor infrastructure and over ambitious scheduling on our part.

Things improved once we got to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. It gets its share of visitors, of course, but seems better able to accommodate them without being overwhelmed. The problem there was the heat. 35 degrees left us feeling listless and disinclined to leave the shady garden of our guest house – where we would take four or five showers a day just to keep cool.

So we decided to head for the coast with its promise of secluded bays, pristine beaches and of course the sea. Sihanoukville is nicknamed snooksville or snookie so we knew that it was hardly unconquered territory. But we inferred from those nicknames a degree of exclusivity – a sense that it might be known only to the initiated, and therefore ever so slightly superior, few. (Think of those who climb ‘Kili’ or list ‘ Lockstock’ among their movie favourites). We were well up for that.

Imagine our surprise, dear reader, when on arrival we were met by row upon row of deck-chaired Westerners, red-raw from the searing sun; clasping cans of Angkor beer; sitting on a rubbish strewn beach and gazing blankly at a sea scape dominated by large white inflatables. In a cruel irony the beach was called Serendipity.

It had taken us just over four hours on a bus to get to Sihanoukville plus a further half hour negotiating with an overly diligent tuk tuk driver. Our initial reaction was to turn straight back. But we persevered and paid a motorbike driver to taxi us back and forth along the coast in search of a suitable dwelling. Every kilometre or so he beseeched us to stay with a friend who just happened to have a bungalow in the vicinity. He had more friends than Facebook.

Eventually, however, we found a more than acceptable corner of Otres beach to the east of Serendipity. As we dropped off our bags in a small thatched hut, a huge clap of thunder heralded the arrival of rain. An initial euphoria (this was the first rain we’d seen in three months) gave way to frustration then resignation. It rained and rained and rained and rained.

It wasn’t until later the next day that we were able to get onto the beach. It was breezy and we were screened from the worst excesses of the sun by billowing clouds overhead – or so we thought. The sudden realisation that our flesh was turning from pink to a red sent us scuttling back to the hut again for shelter – to emerge finally for a swim only after dark.

And that’s when we saw it. Under a starry sky, lit by occasional flashes from an electrical storm, every stroke we took was accompanied by a hundred tiny white lights which clung briefly to our arms before dissipating into the depths. When we looked down at our legs they too were sparkling. We glowed as though lit from below. I was a Navi, I was Tinkerbell, I was…er…40 and getting carried away but it was really quite something.

We’ve learnt since that the effect was caused by bioluminescent plankton which are thought to light up when they detect that a predator might be near in order to attract larger fish to the area. The idea is that the larger fish will then eat the predator. (Anybody else think there’s something wrong with the logic there?) However it is caused, it was stunningly beautiful and right there and then there was no place else in the world I wanted to be.


One Response to “A tale of darkness and light”

  1. SusieNo Gravatar says:

    I am sooooo envious of your trip. Love the plankton thing.
    susie xx

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