I was pruned all over. I struggled to grasp my chopsticks to feed on plain rice; evidently I was still recovering from the stomach bug I caught in Siem Reap. But, even though I was restricted to water and rice, I couldn’t resist a day at Otis Beach with friends, even if it was going to be painful watching them throwback beers and eat anything they desired, iron stomachs intact.
Earlier, we’d crammed into a tuk-tuk to make the short journey to Otis Beach; the most popular beach on the mainland near Sihanoukville. Rural landscapes mixed with urban as we raced through the streets. Promptly, we were dropped off with the sun struggling to break through the clouds.
With humidity high, we couldn’t wait to jump into the water and we made a beeline to the shore. We walked in the shallows as one of our friends searched for something he had discovered the day before. What seemed like kilometres later, we were about to give up when he jumped with excitement and ran over to a group of British expats.
The expats moved into action and began pulling out what looked like a deflated jumping castle. They attached an end to a pump and it began to inflate. Soon we were looking at an eight-seater raft, complete with drink holders and a mesh base allowing you to sit waste deep in water. They took the raft out to sea and secured it in position with sandbags. We handed over our belongings to be stored by the expats, too excited to wait any longer.
We climbed aboard the raft to learn it got even better: the raft had ‘raft service’ like table service but for mermaids (and mermen). The expats had made deals with various beachside bars along the Cambodian coast. They inflated rafts for backpackers to board and provided a raft service, bringing food and drinks from the onshore bar, for a cut in the profits. All we had to do was raise the flag.
Hours passed and our skin pruned. There were no dull moments or lulls in conversation as we all got to know each other better. Low on water, and the others low on beer, it was a fight for the flag. I missed it by inches as my friend whipped it into the air and began waving it around. The novelty still hadn’t worn off as we burst into laughter as one of the expats lunged into the water and raced towards us to take our order.
In seconds, our order was placed and the girl even offered to light cigarettes for the smokers of the group (on the condition they didn’t put any holes in the raft, of course). She seemed to be enjoying the day as much as us, same for the others in her group.
The sun was short-lived but the light rain was refreshing as we soaked in the steamy ocean water, our belongings safe and dry in the storage container on the sand.
Beachgoers strolled past us, bemused by our posse loving life 20 metres out to sea. More hours flew by, and my skin lost its colour and gained a new texture. The rain became heavier, the air chilled and the surface water of the ocean began to cool. Goosebumps fought their way through the pruning.
It was time to leave our floating water world, where you only have to lift a flag for anything your heart desired.