lunedì 18 novembre 2013

34kg

So it's my last day in Cambodia. This time around my bags weigh 32kg, and that's scuba equipment included. I'd definitely say my life has become lighter :-P
So much has happened in these past 3 months and i simply cannot sum it up in one post.  Suffice it to say that it's probably been the best time of my life and i couldn't be happier that i came.
I've learned so much, met so many great people and who knows, maybe even found a job!
I'm excited about going back home for Christmas and seeing my friends and family again, but i'm even more excited about whats to come after that. 2014 is going to be an epic year!
But lets take things one  at a time... first of all, flight tonight. Then i'll have to find a way to pay for everything i want to do in the coming months... meh.
I'll definitely blog less when i'm back home, but i'll try to keep you all updated on what i plan to do and where i want to go once i figure it out for myself.
Photo gallery has been updated by the way, you can find all of my photos of Cambodia there. Unfortunately the videos are a bit too big (and numerous) to be uploaded so i'll just have to show them to you in person if you're interested.

See you all real soon!

domenica 10 novembre 2013

All in one

Hello again everyone!

Once again one of my posts got lost in cyberspace.... so i'll just have to make a single super gigantic one summing up everything I did this week... sorry!


Kampot --> Koh Sdach

Last you heard from me i was in Kampot, getting ready to go back to Koh Sdach for Sofia's birthday. The trip was nothing special, just the usual minibus... but it was nice to recognize some of the faces from the island. On one of the numerous stops on the way there, a Spanish guy hopped on the bus and asked if it would take him to Koh Sdach... which was a it unusual. Our island i completely off the tourist map... there is close to 0 reasons why anyone should even know it exists, unless they're looking for something really specific, like Shallow Waters. So i had to ask: why was he going there? How did he discover it? So after an hour of conversations i found out he was really interested on the dynamics of fisherman villages and heard about Koh Sdach from a friend in Phnom Penh (i think, i cant remember all the details clearly). He got in touch with someone on the island who had a brother who drove a minivan from Phnom Penh to the island... the whole thing sounded vaguely familiar. So once we arrived to Shallow Water Headquarters i was greeted by Sea and some of the staff members/volunteers, I was just about to introduce sea to the Spanish guy, when i realized that they were completely aware of who they were, and they had been in contact the whole time... that's when i remembered: Sea has a brother that drove a minivan... and it's the same guy that took me up and down a couple times before! D'oh!
He ended up staying at Sea's place and i had the customer room at the base all to myself! Yay!


Sofia's Birthday

After Mr. Spanish guy left (I absolutely can't remember his name... what a surprise) I finished up saying hello to everyone else (except Fia, Caroline and Sandra, who were still out diving from the morning) and i started unpacking all the goodies that i had brought with me from the mainland: first and foremost wine and Nutella! Needless to say, everything was very  appreciated!
A half our later we heard the White Geko (our dive boat)  pulling in. I ran and hid behind a corner, wanting to surprise Fia when she arrived (maybe i forgot to mention that she had completely no idea i was coming back). They started unloading everything from the boat and as soon as she came in the base i jumped out and startled her to the point that she almost dropped the case with all our medical equipment and oxygen regulator parts... oops! She really wasn't expecting me to be there... it even took her a couple seconds to realize it was actually me and start to react :-P. She looked really happy, and so was I! :-D
We spent the rest of the day filling tanks and showing her all of the photos and videos from the first part of my tour. I spoke so highly about Kampot and all the stuff they could do there that they decided they will probably go there for Christmas! That will be so much fun! I wish i could be there too...
The next day i managed to go diving with Fia and the new DMTs in the morning (if you're reading this, thank you so much again, Fia!!) while in the evening we all went to Didier's guesthouse for dinner. Main course was a not very good attempt of pizza with bolognese sauce and bell peppers on top, it was good (i ate 3), but still... could have been way better, bigger, and less oily (i know, i have to stop complaining). Desert instead was amazing! Home made (i think) orange and vanilla ice cream, inside a half orange. Really really good and fresh! Just what we needed!
Next day I had to leave early (7am) so we didnt party all night long :-P


Journey to Battambang

That day was pretty much 100% travel. It was boring as hell. Left Koh Sdach at 8am with the minivan, got to Phnom Penh at 2pm and had just enough time to jump on a bus to Battambang, which took forever to get there.. about 7:30h. I basically didn't move a muscle all day, but it was still tiring as hell. Once i finally got to Battambang I got off the bus and started walking towards my guesthouse, really looking forward to a shower and a bed... when i suddenly touched one of my pockets and realized something was missing: all my guides and notebooks! I had left them on the bus! I pulled over the first moped driver that passed on the street and told him "follow that bus!" -film style-
After a couple minutes of chasing we finally caught up with it and managed to make the driver pull over. Luckily all my books were still there and i managed to retrieve them. I really don't know how i would have done without them, especially my Lonely Planet!
After that i finally made my way to the guesthouse, where i took a quick shower and literally crashed face first in bed.

Temples, Temples everywhere

The next morning i woke up strangely early (around 6, normal for island times though), took another shower and headed out hoping to have some breakfast, but everything was still closed. That was when i realized this was an actual tourist city. I had some time on my hands (everything opened at 7-7:30) so i decided to go the the post office and do something in should have done a long time ago: send postcards! That took a while to say the least, especially since I hadn't even written them down yet. By the time i got out of the post office everything was open. I went to a Khmer (real Khmer, not touristy Khmer) breakfast place/bar hoping to get some cheap breakfast but i soon found out that either Cambodian people are fine paying tourist prices for meals, or it doesn't really matter where you eat and as long as you are a tourist you'll pay at least twice as much, if not three times (this doesn't apply to city market stands... or at least not in Sihanoukille).
I spent the whole rest of the morning and part of the afternoon just cycling in the countryside stopping at every modern or ancient temple i could find. there were a lot! Really a lot! Like one every Km. After a while i decided to stop visiting modern pagodas and just carry on to the ancient ones. The most impressive was the temple on Phnom Banaan. It is located on the top of a small hill and it has a really steep 300+step stairway to climb before reaching it. I think this is one of the reasons why it wasn't full of tourists, along with the bad weather closing in. The temple itself was really really nice, and reading up on it's history on my guidebook i discovered that it was a possible source of inspiration for the design of the Angkor Wat. They both share the same plant, with a central bigger tower and 4 smaller ones surrounding it, but the temple on Phnom Banaan is apparently hundreds of years older that the famous Angkor Wat. I was really glad i visited it.


An unexpected evening

On the way back to the guesthouse i stopped at a bakery to treat me to a sweet baguette with coconut scrapings on top and as I stepped through the guesthouse door I saw a guy just glaring at it, eyes wide open. I smiled and pointed out the bakery to him. I took a shower and came back downstairs, he was still there with some friends. Taking advantage of the scene that happened earlier i dropped in and introduced myself. We all went for a snack/drink at a bar and swapped stories on what each had been doing for the past months; after a while I ended up agreeing to going to the circus with them that evening, something I had earlier decided not to do because i thought it was too expensive (10$). Turns out it was totally worth the price, and for a good cause too! The circus was organized by an NGO (http://www.phareps.org/) who took children off the streets and taught them how to be acrobats, artists and entertainers, giving them a job locally and for some even a chance for international shows and events. It was a really good show, completely done by children and teenagers probably under the age of 16.


Things start taking a wrong turn

As the subtitle says, this is when things start going for the worst.
First of all, as soon as the circus show finished and we had just decided to walk back to the guesthouse instead of renting a tuk tuk, it started pouring. We got soaked pretty quickly so we opted for just walking the whole way instead of giving into the temptation of a ride. Worst decision ever. I had a fever that night.
As if that wasn't enough, i discovered there is a Super Typhoon passing through Laos and the northern part of Cambodia, which kinda fucked up all my plans of visiting the Ratanakiri region and its volcanic lakes and waterfalls. I figured there was absolutely no point in going all the way there (14+h trip) while having a good chance it's gonna rain every day all day.  So i decided to change my plans, cut my trip short and maybe spend some extra days in Siem Reap, waiting for a nice sunny day to visit the temple city of Angkor.


Siem Reap, take 1

So as i said before, that night i had a fever. Thinking about it again there's a chance it was also coupled, if not completely caused by food poisoning from a sandwich i had that night for dinner. It's a bit odd though, considering I had it in a western bar, but I guess it doesn't really matter where you eat, there's always gonna be a chance of getting a bad batch of eggs or something. Oh well, it lasted the night and the next morning, which can make you imagine how enjoyable my 4 hour ride to Siem Reap has been, and then everything went back to normal. In Siem Reap i checked in a backpacker place called Garden Village, and the name suits it well. It's a bunch of buildings in the middle of a big garden with loads of dorms and small rooms for every budget, down to 1$ a night, which is obviously what i went for. I rented a bike for the day and went wandering around the city, just the get the vibe of it. It's pretty much a mix between a European party town (i guess like Ibiza or Barcelona) and a really busy Chinese city like Hong Kong or Shanghai. Lots of tourists walking around small streets filled with pubs and bars and a river or bicycles and mopeds swarming on the main roads. I kinda like it :-P, but i can see myself getting sick of it pretty quickly. It'll be great for 3 or 4 days, but nothing more.
One big plus for Siem Reap is a tiny little Khmer run restaurant I found in one of the little side roads, out of the main tourist area. They make amazing fruit shakes (probably excessively loaded with sugar, but i'm pretty sure that's what makes them amazing) and relatively cheap Khmer and western food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, some even served in fancy unusual ways like inside a coconut shell or in bowl made out of banana leaves. I've been there every day till now, and i'm not planning on stopping this tradition any time soon.

Siem Reap, take 2

The next day i was still feeling a bit shaken by the fever so i decided to take it slow. I hopped on my bike and did all those touristy things around the city: pagodas, museums, etc. Some of the most interesting things were:
- A miniature reproduction of the Angkor City temples, hand carved by a local stonemason
- The Cambodian Land Mine Museum, opened by an ex Khmer Rouge child soldier who deserted and joined the Vietnamese army once he realized he was fighting for the wrong side. As a child he laid thousands of landmines all around the country and once he grew up and the war was over he decided to dedicate his life to de-mining his country and make it a safe place again (http://cambodianselfhelpdemining.org/).
- The Angkor Butterfly Centre, a small structure with tens of different species of butterflies, who are cared for from egg to adult form. The staff are all Khmer, speak decent English and are extremely informed on every single life stage of the butterfly, along with special needs of every species. A really enjoyable experience, especially if you are into photography.

The big one

Next day was the big day. Angkor City. Departure time from the guesthouse 4:30AM to be there in time for the sunrise at the Angkor Wat. I went to bed at 8PM, set an alarm and tried to get as much sleep as possible, which proved to be more difficult than what i planned. Between not being tired at all, the loud music coming from outside and the anxiousness of having to rely o a faulty alarm clock to wake up on time i basically woke up every couple hours all night. Still, i got enough rest to get me through the day.  I woke up on time and got there for the sunrise, which was epic. I wont spend too many words describing it and I'll let the photos do the talking (I'll upload them after tomorrow). After the sunrise i started my actual temple exploring extravaganza. Full temple immersion for over 10h. After that i just couldn't do it any more. I saw most of the temples, leaving out only the really far away ones and the ones that were viewable only from the outside because of ongoing restructuring works. The most interesting ones were Angkor Wat and Ta Phrom of course (the Tomb Raider temple), but the smaller one were also very enjoyable, especially since they weren't so packed with people all the time.
As i said, I'll just let the photos do the talking... just head over to the photo gallery after the 12th.




Wow, that was a long post... they seem to get longer and longer every time instead of shorter. Oh well, as long as you're all happy!
Until next time!




lunedì 4 novembre 2013

Kampot, the city of pepper

Hello all, sorry I skipped blogging a couple days but they've been really busy...
At the Halloween party I obviously met a number of random people with whom I decided to spend the following days... There is a lot to do around Kampot, lots of places to visit and a fair choice of restaurants and bars to experiment. Like always money was short, but cutting corners here and there and joining forces (or better, wallets) we managed to do everything we wanted to. :-)
On the first day we went to some close by rapids; the dam was closed that day so the water level was higher than usual and allowed us to enjoy the fresh water without being pulled away too easily. This place isn't really on the classic tourist map so it was really nice to blend in with all the locals enjoying their weekend picnics and taking a bath along with the monks from the temple.
In the afternoon we decided to go visit Wat Sorsiia, 15km away from Kampot on a dirt road. The temple sits on top of a hill with a network of caves lying beneath it. This time the caves were actually deep, and we enjoyed descending in the "bat cave" while feeling fresher with every step we took.
The next day we rented motorbikes and decided to visit Bokor National Park. The park extends all around a huge mountain and at the top you can find waterfalls, an old French church, a run down casino and a meteorologic station... Along with a new ugly 5* resort that completely ruins the view.
The waterfalls and the road itself were without doubt the best parts of our visit.
The waterfalls reminded me a lot of those in Plitvice, although they were nowhere as numerous or clean, unfortunately. But that didn't stop is from jumping in.  ;-)
In the afternoon we were planning on visiting the pepper plantations but wet got lost on the way and ended up exploring a different set of caves (Phnom Chgnork), which ended up being even better! These caves were much bigger compared to the other ones I visited till now and way more intricate. Every corner was accessible and many parts required us to crawl, climb and find ingenious ways to not get stuck half way through. It was loads of fun!
I really enjoyed my stay in Kampot and I recommend it to anyone planning a vacation in Cambodia... It's fairly out of the main tourist route but it's prepared to accommodate and entertain the occasional ones. A chance to take a look at the real Cambodia, especially if you rent a bike/motorcycle and just start exploring the countryside on your own.

sabato 2 novembre 2013

Bicycle adventures

Hello again everyone, I think this is the first time I post two days in a row... this calls for celebrating! :-P
Woke up relatively early today, around 6:30am, plans were to visit a cavern temple in a nearby town but I really didn't want to pay a tuk tuk driver 15$ for the round trip so I left as early as I could with my bike, having no idea of how long the trip would take me. The town was about 28km away, which in Italy would have meant getting there in about an hour, bit in Cambodia travelling by bike is way slower, both because of the conditions of the roads and those of the bicycles. All in all it took me about 1:45h to get to Kampong Trach, and another 15min to reach the actual temple, situated in a beautiful towering limestone formation. I'd say the highest point was at about 150m and of course I had to climb it! The view from the top was amazing, I doubt I could have found a better spot in all the region...
The caves instead weren't deep at all, I'd be surprised if they reached 20m. Maybe the lower flooded levels went a bit deeper, but there's no way to know...
Inside the caves I found a collection of religious statues and altars, mixed with numerous natural formations (stalactites and stalagmites), which blended together very well. One of the tunnels lead to a spectacular opening in the middle of the mountain from which a network of other caverns departed. It was an amazing place and I'm really glad to have visited it, even though it took ages to go and come back with the bike and my butt was  definitely not happy at the end of it.
Once back in Kep I hopped on a bus to Kampot, the province capital. This town is slightly bigger than all the others I visited (excluding Phnom Penh of course) and  seems to be a known tourist destination, especially for backpackers. I checked in a guesthouse called Bohdi's Villa, run by an Australian couple with their 3 and 6 year olds. The house is amazing and I love how they let trees grow all over the pace, on their terrace and the roof. It probably isn't the best choice for maintenance but it sure looks nice. I'll probably stay here 2 or 3 nights before moving on...
They're gonna have a"Halloween recovery party" tonight and I'm helping them set up the decorations side in to tied to go for a ride around town... 
Gotta get back to painting masks now...
Until tomorrow!

giovedì 31 ottobre 2013

Kep, the southern jewel

Happy Halloween everyone! There's never been a year when I felt the Halloween spirit less than this year... Oh well, it's not such a big loss, especially considering what I'm getting in exchange.
Today was my first day of actual Cambodian tour. Now, since I need to save every penny for my upcoming scuba instructor course, I will be living this experience in the cheapest way possible. Luckily it won't be the last time I'll be in the country, and the next time I'll have a job too, so for now I'll take this journey as a challenge to do and see as much as possible while spending close to zero.
It'll also give me a chance to understand where it's actually worth it to spend a couple extra bucks for some added comfort... First off: not tuk tuks.  They're stupidly expensive (at least they are expensive for my pockets, I guess they'd be cheap if someone is used to using taxis), and they take out all the fun from the actual journey  I'd much rather rent a bicycle for the day and enjoy the road (while also doing some cardio). That is, of course, if your destination is not on the opposite side of the province. In that case, your could consider renting a motorbike (still cheaper than a tuk tuk, even counting gas).
Anyhow, let's skip the rest of this endless preface and get to the facts: woke up, walked to the bus station (45mins, saved 2-3$), and took a bus to Keep. After 5 hours of a super (and I mean super) bumpy ride on a partially dug out dirt road, I got to my destination: a beautiful small town on the south coast of Cambodia, probably just under 30mins away from the Vietnamese border. Before Sohanoukville took over, this once was the preferred beach destination of many rich families in Phnom Penh and the rest of the inner parts of the country. The town itself is developed mainly along a single road which follows the perimeter of a small peninsula with a 263m high hill on the centre. All around the hill, almost all the way down to the sea you can find the primal forest of Kep's National Park, which I will visit later during the afternoon. But first I want to tell you  about the guesthouse I'm staying in.
I got off the bus in the central roundabout and got mobbed by tuk tuk drivers as usual. After I fought my way out I started walking towards my guesthouse, in the me, developing part of town. The road was longer than advertised on my guide but at least it wasn't boring, especially since I was accompanied by a group of monkeys for a bit :-P
After a half hour I finally got there: tree top bungalows. Now don't let the name fool you like I did... There are bungalows on tree tops, but those are the super fancy VIP 25$ a night ones... Not the lowly 4$ ones I went for. Those are plane and simple bamboo and straw bungalows on the ground. Still, the place is amazing, immersed in green and all built with natural materials... Not a trace of cement. After checking in and freshening up a little I rented a bike and went to the national park. The main circular trail was about 8-9km long and wide enough to travel easily by bike; from there, the occasional smaller, steeper and barely wide enough to walk on trails detached, some going towards the sea, while others going towards the hill summit. I still hadn't had lunch so I first stopped for a sandwich at a little bar at the beginning of the trail, called "Led Zep Cafe". There, I discovered that they're the founders of the Squirrel association (Squirrel ass. In short, lol), who cleared, opened and maintained most of the trails in the park. All along the trails they put up informative signs with interesting facts and numbers about the park, asking with maps, directions, distances, etc. A very well done job.
Following one of the smaller trails I found myself in front of a humongous carved tree with a shrine to Buddha on the inside. It looked like it hadn't been used for a while, judging from the rainwater in the offering bowls and the wet candles/incense sticks, but in a corner I found a plastic Tupperware with dry ones and a lighter. I lit a couple candles and an incense and made my way back to the main trail and my bike. By the time I finished visiting the park out was almost sundown so I went for a quick photographic tour of the coastline statues (giant crab, women looking into the horizon, etc) and went to the crab market area for dinner. I forgot to tell you before (or maybe I did in a previous post), but Kep is the city of crabs and, along with Kampot, of black pepper. 
I am now sitting in a seaside restaurant waiting for my plate of crabs with rice and black pepper sauce. I'm starving and I just can't wait for it to get here so I can devour it.

Until tomorrow...
Hugs

PS: first time blogging from my cellphone... this takes forever... Next posts will be shorter for sure!


mercoledì 30 ottobre 2013

First Stop

After a 6 and a half minivan ride from Koh Sdach, we finally arrived in Phnom Penh. The trip wasn't so bad, especially considering that Marina, Jess and the volunteers did it in almost 11 hours when they arrived last month (god knows why).
After having settled in the guesthouse and satiated our hunger we went to... ... ... Kid's City! Haha, I know it sounds strange... but some friends told us it was a fun place to go climbing, and they couldn't be more right! The place is AMAZING! and not just for kids. It's 10 story building with every possible thing to have fun: from climbing to laser tag, a science lab and so much more. We stayed in there for almost 2 hours trying every single different kind of wall to climb (there were 16 in total, each one particular and challenging in its own way). We had heaps of fun!  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXhMnGdnY_c)



The next day, while Jess was "working" at her new office (the Blue Pumpkin Bar), Marina and I went to visit the killing fields of Phnom Penh. If was  both a horrifying  and extremely interesting experience at the same time. I won't go into the details of what happened in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime, but lets just say that they should start teaching it in school along with the Nazism, cus they're not very different at all.



Anyhow, after  regaining our mental capabilities (or at least what's left of them) we went for lunch at a tiny little restaurant (fits 15-20 people maybe, staff included) called Sesame, renown or its noodle plates.  Servings were abundant, tasty but light at the same time. I'd give them an easy 8.5  or maybe even 9 out of 10. The afternoon was spent going from one street market to the next, spending waaaaaay more money than what we could afford, but hiding behind the excuse that they were all gifts for the people we love, and that we couldn't put a price tag on that. :-P

We went for dinner at an Italian restaurant that Jess had been speaking very highly of, and with good reason. Pizzas were good (not amazing, but good, especially considering we're in south east Asia), and the wine was DOC real italian wine so it was delicious. After years of hearing people talking about the Primitivo wine, i finally had a chance to try it, and now i can say i understand what all the fuss is about!


Today (Wednesday) I went for a bike ride in the Phnom Penh countryside with some other friends who live
in the city. It's incredible how the scenery changed completely after crossing the Mekong river: on one side you have Phnom Penh, with its skyscrapers, traffic, hoards of rude tuk tuk drivers and the Royal Palace overlooking the river, while on the other side roads are made of dirt, houses are never over 2 stories high and people are extremely calm, smiley and polite. Everything is way cheaper too.
We rode for an hour in the countryside until we got to a Silk Weaving House. The women working there spoke amazingly good English and explained to us the whole process of silk weaving from the birth of the silk worm to the  detailing on the fabric. I was stunned by how informed, educated and polite they were. I was very happy to buy a scarf  from them instead of from a local market.

Tonight Jess has her flight back to England and tomorrow I will start my actual journey around Cambodia... first stop: Kep, known for it's Crab based dishes.

Until tomorrow!

lunedì 28 ottobre 2013

Ready, set, go!

So as I promised, I'll try to keep you updated on my movements in the coming weeks... Marina, Jessica and I just got on the bus to Phnom Penh, where we'll stay for a couple night until Jess catches her flight back to England.
We've bell looking forward to this evening all week... Good food, good wine and civilization, yay!
Despite the anticipation of a good meal I'm still kinda sad I'm leaving... Three months are a long time and I was starting to think of this place my second home... Fia and I have been through a lot and I'll miss her so much... (Ellen too, even of she's been mean to me all month lol :-P)
I'm sure we'll see each other again sooner or later, and I'm so looking forward to it already...
Now we have a 6 hour bus ride ahead of us... I hope I can get some sleep or I'll be bored out of my ears...
Until tomorrow,
Hugs

giovedì 24 ottobre 2013

Last Turn

Only 5 days left to go... these last 4 weeks have passed faster than ever. Having so many people around the base made everything so much more fun and stimulating! I practically finished my divemaster course a couple days ago: done all the tests, passed all the exams, drawn all the maps, and saved all the drowning divers... we'll be celebrating this weekend. Yay! :-D Ellen will also be joining in on the celebrations for her Open Water Diver certification, her fist step in her zero to hero journey (from non diver to divemaster in 6 months).
The past week has been all about dive training and species recognition lessons: Ellen did her Open Water, Caroline her Advanced and the others started studying for their Rescue Diver course. Everyone learned how to identify the different species of invertebrates, fish and substrates and started testing out the new survey methodology. I've been assisting on all the courses, giving me the chance to see how it feels like to be on the teaching side of the lesson. I've been enjoying it a lot and i would love to continue my own training by becoming a dive instructor and being able to certify friends and family.
Talking about the future... remember last post when I said there might be an opportunity for me to come back? Well, its now official! Shallow Waters asked me to come back next year as their Science Officer once Marina leaves (in May-June 2014). The only catch is that I have to do my Dive Instructor Course first, but that's no big deal, especially since I was already thinking about doing it even before they said anything.
Things really seem to be falling into place. I remember when I was leaving Italy three months ago saying that the best outcome would have been to stay here working for them. It was just a dream back then, but its almost become reality now! The contract wold be for a whole year... and it's a bit scary to think about. I've only been here 3 months and i'm already starting to miss the commodities of the civilized world... good internet connection, entertainment, good food, wine... not to talk about friends and family; but it would be the opportunity of a lifetime. After a year here I could finally say I have some real experience in the marine conservation field and i could apply to all those jobs that consider me inexperienced now. The more i think about it the more i believe it would be the perfect stepping stone for my career.
But lets go one step at a time. First of all: roadtrip around Cambodia. I'll leave Koh Sdach with Marina and Jess on the 28th to go to back to Phnom Penh; we'll stay there till the 31st, when Jess will go back to England, Marina will come back to SW headquarters and I will start my actual roadtrip. First destination will be south-eastern Cambodia; I'll stay around Kampot and Kep for about 5 days and then I'll go to Battambang and Siem Reap, in the north-western part of the country. The bulk of my trip will be in Siem Reap for sure, in the temple city of Angkor Wat. I'll stay there almost a whole week before moving first to Kampong Cham, then to Kratie and finally to Boeng Yeak Lom, in the far north-eastern tip of Cambodia. These regions are known for their wonderful river scenaries (Mekong River), untouched lakes and sky high waterfalls, but i'll tell you more when I'll get there (or better, i'll let my camera tell you more).
On one side i'm really sad i'm leaving Koh Sdach, but on the other hand i really cant wait to go on this adventure and see all these spectacular places.
I'm also getting quite excited about coming back home, and I really wasn't expecting this feeling. I mean, of course I've missed my family and friends, but this wasn't much different to my trip to Brazil... and way shorter too... I din't feel this way after 3 months being there... I wonder what's different... of if something changed in me. Who knows.
Still, i cant wait to come back home and go out for a big nice dinner with all my family and friends, enjoying some good wine and the best company in the world.
This post is starting to get way too long... I still have a lot to tell you all but I'll try to spread it out with the following posts. I think i won't bring my PC along with me on my roadtrip (to save backpack space) but i can still post from my phone... i'll try to write something every day to keep you all updated on my location but don't expect the posts to be long or fancy (since i cant really control the page format from my phone). You'll probably find a post with only text and then a couple more posts with only a photo... i'll do my best to keep the blog simple and organized and in the worst case i'll just reformat everything once i get back to Phnom Penh on the 17th-18th before catching my flight. Also, the photo gallery won't get updated until i get my hands back on my PC... i'm sorry... but i really need the space in my tiny backpack for my clothes. :-P
I'll still post some low-res pic from my phone though.

Hugs!

lunedì 14 ottobre 2013

Pieces falling into place

Hello everyone,

this time i really exaggerated... i haven't posted in ages! I'm sorry.. things have been pretty busy here lately.
The new batch of volunteers finally arrived: Ellen, Sandra and Caroline; our Project Scientist and Science Officer arrived as well: Jess and Marina... as you all know I've been waiting for them for a while, wanting to ask them loads of questions to understand the reasons behind certain choices.
In the past week they've been incredibly helpful... all my doubts have been cleared and we've been working together to get the Marine Internship Program up to date; all the new presentation are ready and we're gonna start teaching tomorrow.
Jess is really an endless pit of knowledge, and really fun too! She met Marina while working for Action Quest last year (an american summer-school like program in the Caribbean) and offered her a job at Shallow Waters for a semester. Too bad it wasn't me! :-P
The good news is that i looked into what Action Quest does and it seems really really really interesting. I'd love to go work there but i have to do my Scuba Instructor course first (IDC). I've been looking at scuba schools that offer some kind of internship program to pay off the fees for the course, but i haven't found anything appropriate yet. It seems like I'll have to paint another house to get the money to do the course... but I'm sure it will be completely worth the trouble.
Anyhow, no need to think too much ahead of myself... i still have 2 weeks here at Shallow Waters and 3 weeks of tourism around Cambodia. There's still loads of time.
I'm starting to feel really sad about leaving this place; I've only been here 3 months but if feels like it's exactly what i want my life to be, with some tiny adjustments here and there. Jess and I have been talking about the possibility of coming back as a staff member next year, once I've done my IDC. Half year here and half working for Action Quest sounds exactly like what i need. Fingers crossed.
Today i'll start organizing my trip around Cambodia. I think i'll spend the first 4 or 5 days in the Kampot reagion (suthern part of the country) and then work my way up to Siem Reap (where the temple city of Angkor is). From there Ill go to the eastern part of the country and then back to Phnom Penh to catch my flight on the 18th. It's a very generic plan for now, I'll look into it in more detail today and tomorrow. One thing is for sure: expect loads of photos. I haven't been taking any here but i'll make up for it, i promise. :-)

giovedì 3 ottobre 2013

Brace yourselves... people are coming

Hello everyone...

no big news from Cambodia this time... life here has pretty much settled into the usual routine... 6am alarm, early breakfast... diving in the morning if the weather is good and office work for the rest of the day...
I finished the Invertebrates and Fish presentations (and they look awesome), only corals left to do now...
A couple days ago Owen and i went on a field trip to Koh Kong, he had to meet with the director of another conservation program while i needed to leave the country and come back in with a new visa...
The trip took about 3 hours by taxi... in 7 people. Yes, 7... cambodian style... which means 4 in the back and 3 in the front... oddly enough 1 person in the passenger seat and 2 in the driver's. Don't ask me why.
Anyhow... the road was devastated to say the least... half of it wasn't even paved, while the paved part had humongous holes in it... entire pieces of "asphalt" washed away leaving gaps of red mud and half a meter deep puddles. I was praying we wouldn't get stuck all the way. Pushing the car out of the mud was really the last thing i needed. Luckily we didn't.
Eventually we got to Koh Kong... Owen went to the guesthouse while i got dropped off at the Thailand border to deal with my visa situation. After almost  an hour of queues i made it through the border and decided to take a look at the million different little shops of cheap knockoffs that were huddled on the border. I came out of there with a bottle of perfume and a new pair of "Ray Bans"... for less than 10 euros in total.. and i don't like to bargain so i guess anyone else would have spent even less (these are the situations where i wish i took more from my father's personality).
I passed through the border again, got my new visa and made my way back to Koh Kong...it was already lunch time by then so we found a nice little bar/restaurant and placated our hunger... I found out that the place had a proper coffee machine (italian bar style) so i had a nice huge cup of caramel cappuccino... I was really in need of some good coffee...I have a moka here but as most of you know a good coffee from a bar machine is a whole different universe of taste.
The next day we made our way back to Koh Sdach... this time we were only 4 people in the taxi so i even managed to get some sleep.
When we got back i found Fia working on the map of the archipelago that she started making last week, she needed to do some maintenance on the scuba equipment so while she was doing that i finished painting the map, and I must say, I'm amazed at my painting skills. I never thought i could do such a good job! :-P Maybe i should consider that as a career instead of biology!

I am alone in the base at the moment... everyone is somewhere doing stuff... Sofia is in Sihanoukville filling up the oxygen tank while Owen is on his way to Phnom Penh to pick up the new volunteers. I'm waiting for Jess (the project scientist) to arrive so i can get started on the coral presentation but as of now i have nothing to do...  I've already reorganized the dive shop yesterday and my mapping project is practically complete... i finished watching Game of Thrones season 3 (O.M.G!, just O.M.G!) and I've gone through every possible job website in existence... so i guess I'll just roll my thumbs for the rest of the day...

Oh, btw, I've got a cold and i cant stop sneezing. -.-'

Bye! ------------



sabato 28 settembre 2013

Back on track

Hello everyone!

Good news! It stopped raining! After a week of continuous storms the sun finally started to shine again... and we sure didn't loose any time waiting around! We've been diving as much as possible, every morning. Afternoons are still dedicated to "office work" since we still have a lot to finish before next week.
I've almost finished the fish presentation (which turned out to be even longer than the inverts one... 97 slides) and there's only one left to go... corals. That'll be very tricky... especially since the're often hard to identify because the same species varies so much in appearance depending on its environment...
Life on Koh Sdach is enjoyable, but i'm really missing Koh Rong Sanloem... the morning runs on the beach, attending to clients... the big lunches and dinners... and the people ofc. Here we have no outsiders passing through and it gets a bit boring at times...
Today we went diving on the neighboring
island of Koh Chan... I didn't think it was physically possible, but the visibility is even worse than on Koh Rong. XD
I brought along the coral identification guidebook and started looking at corals while Fia and Owen were looking at fish. After a while Fia found a huge net caught in a coral patch with a couple crabs stuck inside... we decided to free the crabs and bring the net away with us, but it proved to be way more difficult than anticipated. The net was tightly caught in a big chunk of dead coral, and it was full of sand so as soon as we started moving it the viz went down to 0. After trying to cut the coral loose for about 20 mins we realized we weren't gonna accomplish anything anytime soon so we pulled the whole thing up to the surface and managed to untangle the coral chunk from there. We managed to free one of the crabs while underwater, while the second was so tightly tangled up that we had to deal with it on the boat while coming back to Koh Sdach. In the end I managed to cut it free and release it under the unbelieving eyes of our two lifelong fishermen captains. :-P
Tomorrow Owen and I will go on a field-trip to Koh Kong...he has some Shallow Waters business to attend to while I have to sort out my visa situation instead. Visas always seem to have a problem with me.. doesn't matter in which country i am.  Turns out my electronic visa can't be exchanged for a business visa, so i have to cross the border and come back in with a new business visa.
Oh well.. it'll be a good excuse to do some travelling and see a new island...and it won't take more then a couple days anyway.
Only one week left before the next volunteers come in... and we're getting quite exited about it! I can't wait for the science officer to get here so i can bombard her with the million questions i've been asking myself for the mast month and a half... she'll probably start hating me right away.  :-P

Still no reply from all the job ads I e-mailed... I hate when this happens. I'm starting to accept the idea of having to come back to Europe for a month after this... :-(
Oh well... I'm sure I'll enjoy the food and Christmas atmosphere :-)

Until next time!

sabato 21 settembre 2013

Rain, Rain... More Rain.

Hello everyone!

Its been a while...  and we've changed location since the last post...
We finally arrived on Koh Sdach, at Shallow Waters Headquarters! Yay!
The trip from Sihanoukville was pretty long... about 6-7 hours on a delivery boat, counting all the stops along the way... but it was enjoyable... and most importantly, dry.
This cannot be said about Koh Sdach instead. It's been raining practically non stop since we got here. Now i see why they call it the rainy season.
Anyhow, there's a lot of "office" work for us to do anyway, so we're not missing out on much. Sofia and Owen have been going through all the welcoming speeches for the new volunteers and updating the emergency action protocols, while i've been working on the ID presentations for almost 4 days now. Inverts down, fish and corals still to go. :-S
Its a very time consuming job, but its turning out to be quite interesting and the final product is like 1000 times better than how it was before. I should have studied to be a designer or something like that instead. :-P
The base itself is really nice... a whole different world compared to the dorms in Koh Rong Sanloem. It has a huge hall, big rooms and a really nice patio in the back that looks directly to the sea.
After getting used to the simple life on Koh Rong being in this "huge" (600 families) village feels like being in a metropolis. Shops at every corner (there are no corners, its just the usual loooong main straight road), people everywhere and foooood! Yes, food! Theres even a man who sells croissant ice cream sandwiches out of a cool box on the back of his bicycle! For 20 euro cents! He's definitely the most important man on the island... at least as far as i'm concerned.
Yesterday we started Khmer lessons with our new teacher... Owen is using a Phonetic-to-Khmer book which is making me way more interested in learning the phonetic alphabet rather than Khmer. Luckily we've got some spare time on our hands these next 2 weeks (before the next volunteers come in) so i guell ill be studying both.
Our cook is really nice... she's Sea's sister... doesn't speak a word of english but we manage to understand each other somehow... and she cooks really well! The portions are way smaller compared to Eco Sea though. :-(
I think i'm gonna meet the owners of the 2 guesthouses on the island this or next week...they both have an oven so i need to befriend them so i can cook something nice. Im thinking banana bread. Yum!
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Aaaaaand it started raining again. Pouring actually.
The roof of the base is made of metal so it gets reeeeeally loud sometimes. Good thing i'm not a light sleeper.
Not many photos to share with you this time around... just a couple of the base.
Gotta get back to looking up fish on the internet...

Cya all soon!





giovedì 12 settembre 2013

The world is falling apart

Yes you read it right... everything is falling apart... it’s been pissing down with rain all week and we haven’t had any guests for 3 days now… and you know what that means… yup… no deliveries. Everything is finished. First to go were bread and eggs, then ice... vegetables… fruit… drinking water… everything is gone… yesterday we even got to the bottom of the pancake mix… what are we going to do? We still have to stay 3 days here before moving to Koh Sdach…
Yesterday Pekadai and Susan came over to have a look at a presentation Fia and I are working on, it’s all on environmental awareness and teaching the locals how to treat waste appropriately. Luckily they also brought stuff to cook dinner for us: fish, fish and fish… fish everywhere, in every form, for every taste; raw, steamed, grilled fried, sweet, salty, spicy, mild, everything… It was all superb… Susan’s restaurant in the village will surely be a success! Best of luck to them both!


If I remember correctly the last post was about our one day trip to Sihanoukville… what an adventure!  And it didn't end there! When we came back I had to stay out of the water for a couple days so I finished off my Dive Master manual and we started working on the presentation. On the night of my last day of rest I was going to sleep in my bungalow when suddenly I felt a sharp pain on my toe, I looked down but I couldn't see or hear anything moving. At first the pain was bearable, like a pinch, but soon after it started to build up, a lot! I really think it was the worst pain I felt in a very, very long time… bee stings and dog bites were pleasant by comparison.  Sofia got the first aid kit and we tended to the sting as best possible, trying to suck the venom out, without any success. We called the resort owner, Vibol, and he told us it was most probably a scorpion sting… that it would hurt like hell for a while but nothing more… just my luck. XD The searing pain lasted for another hour or so, after that it started to come back down to human levels. Eating helped coping with the pain, and thinking back it must have been fun for Sofia to come back to the tent expecting me to be rolling around in pain and instead finding me sitting in a corner holding on to my food with one hand and gobbling down a pack of crackers with the other… lol. Anyhow,  we sat down and watched an episode of Game of Thrones while waiting for the pain to subside, and went to bed right after, at 5am. The next morning we both would have liked to sleep late, but at 8.30am it was already way too hot to stay in the tents, so we had to get up. My foot was still sore and I couldn't walk on it until today (Thursday).
I still need to finish off all the practical part of my Divemaster course before we go to Koh Sdach, so today I’ll do the search&recovery scenario and possibly the scuba equipment exchange underwater as well. It feels so strange thinking about leaving this place in 3 days… I’m excited about Koh Sdach but im sure I’m gonna miss the simplicity and peacefulness of Koh Rong Sanloem a lot. There’s lots of stuff to be done before the next set of volunteers come in: we need to perfect the Marine Protection Internship program and revamp all the fish, inverts, substrates and dangerous marine life presentations. It’ll be a long, time consuming job, but I already have the final idea in my mind and I’m sure it’ll all be worth it. We also have to catch up with all the surveys we weren't able to do here because of all the drama, still 17 to go. Oh, and I also have to start looking for a job… ishhh. Fingers crossed!
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I just came back from diving… I did my search and recovery scenario looking for a jar full of wafers underwater… Fia knows me too well already. =P  It’s only been a week since I last dived but it felt so strange…like the first time all over again: a sensation of weightlessness and freedom like nothing else in the world… except skydiving maybe… I’ll have to try it out and let you know! We also did the equipment exchange; I think it went pretty smoothly, way better than when I tried it with Owen.. and with no headaches this time. I guess I really needed to take some time off and rest. It’s almost lunch time now, I wonder what they’re cooking since they have no food left in the kitchen… … maybe they’ll start feeding us dog meat soon =S
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Oh, fried rice and veggies! I can’t wait to go back to that Israeli place on Sunday evening!
Time to eat! Talk to you all in 3 days!

lunedì 9 settembre 2013

36 Hours of civilization

Hello everyone!

I’m on the boat coming back from the mainland, so I've got a couple hours to spare... time to catch up with the blog…
Last post ended with Brad and Owen departing from Koh Rong Sanloem… leaving Fia and I to finish off my Divemaster training and to get some more surveying done… the objective is to have at least 30 sets of data for each survey method… we’re already almost half way there…
Anyhow… as I was saying… on our way back from Sihanoukville… we came here for a couple days because I've been having some really bad headaches in the past days and we thought it was better to have them checked out by a doctor… just to be on the safe side…  Turns out they're probably due to continuous muscle strain on the back of my head (because of the body position while diving), facilitated, if not completely caused by a side effect of the malaria tabs I’m taking… Every time I tell someone I’m taking malaria tabs they look at me like I’m crazy or something… apparently there’s no malaria on the coast of Cambodia (dengue is more of a problem) and every doctor I've spoken to tells me this particular brand of malaria tabs (Lariam) is the worst in existence, with loads of side effects and completely not worth taking for long periods. I still haven't decided what to do… the alternative brand is way more expensive and I would have to take it every day… pretty annoying…  I must do something though… I can't keep having headaches every time I get in the water or every time I try to exercise… I'll call the DAN (Diver’s Emergency Network) later today and see what their doctor suggests…

 But let’s talk about nice things instead! Sihanoukville… going back to civilization was shocking… my phone started working perfectly again, internet works properly, I managed to catch up with emails and Facebook… and to post on the blog! Photos should be completely uploaded and available on my web album as well… I’m sorry there’s not many, but I’m in the water most of the time and the Go-Pro turned out to be good only for videos, and sucks at still shots.  I’ll try to select the best videos once I move to Koh Sdach and upload at least a couple for you to see…
We got to Sihanoukville on Thursday evening and went directly to the clinic for the consultation… the doctor concluded that the best therapy would be interrupting/changing my malaria tabs and relax completely for a couple days…he also suggested going for a massage while we're in town…best prescription ever!! We went looking for a pharmacy straight after, just to see what alternative exist for malaria tabs… turns out there’s only one brand available and it costs 10$/pill… to take every day…crazy!
On our way in we bumped into some familiar faces… we stared at each other for a second and then realized we knew each other…it was Laura and Harrison, two students from Exeter University (UK), staying at the MCC bungalows (the other conservation program on Koh Rong Sanloem), friends of Owen. We decided to spend the evening together so we grabbed a couple drinks and then started to look for a place to have dinner… We went to look for that Israeli place Brad told us about last week… and I must say… it was as good as advertised! Falafel and hummus were amazing…and the warm bread was just too good…especially after eating damp baguettes for over a month. We stuffed ourselves to our satisfaction (I finished off everyone’s leftovers, as usual) and then made our way to Serendipity Beach…for more drinks.

It was happy hour at JJ’s… 10$ for a bucket (a proper ice bucket) of cocktail + a free t-shirt reading “let’s get f*cked up!”… No need to say anything else. They also had shishas and a crew of “fire boys” doing acrobatic shows on the beach with flaming sticks…luckily I had my camera with me this time so I managed to get a couple cool shots. The night was going wonderfully when at a certain point Laura looked at us, raised a blood-soaked hand…and calmly said “I don’t want to alarm you guys, but the dog just bit me” I found it hilarious…I mean, I’m sorry for the bite and all, but the way she told us was just epic.
We tended to the wound as best we could but Laura preferred to go to a clinic to have it checked out for possible rabies…fair enough. We tried texting them the following morning to see how she was doing but we never got an answer…the SMS must have gotten lost somewhere between here, England and the way back, since neither of them has a local SIM card. I hope she’s OK, we’ll find out soon enough when they come back to Koh Rong Sanloem on Sunday.

Sofia and I went back to the beach for ice cream…we stayed there until late at night meeting random people, as always… this time it was a guy with a fluorescent orange t-shirt screaming “Justin Bieber!” and a Welsh guy who works as a PR for a bar on the beach… funny people, especially after trying laughing gas from a balloon! Now I understand all those scenes in films of people at the dentists laughing their brains out!  :-P

We took a tuk-tuk home and slept until late the next morning. When we finally woke up we made our way to the city marketplace… a huge covered square with and endless array of small stands selling all sorts of stuff…from kitchenware to CD’s, fish, cell phones, fruit, live crabs, spices, clothing, toothpaste…literally anything! And often in the same shop! The weirdest combinations, like books and coconuts, or jewellery and fruit…wth? Lol. We stopped for breakfast in one of the stands: noodle soup, yum! The lady that owns the stand came to take our order, Fia asked for a portion with no meat (she’s a veggie), while I said anything was fine for me. The lady looked back at me and said something like “pwakkabif?”…I couldn’t understand what she was saying so I just repeated “meat is good, ok meat”, and she repeated “I KNOOOOOW, PWAKKABIF?”… at that point Fia translated what I thought was Khmer to something I could understand: “pork of beef?”…lol
The soup was delicious…it finished way too fast, as all food… but it was really satisfying. We then went on a shopping spree for flip-flops, sunglasses, chillies,  fruit, t-shirts and all those things we couldn’t get our hands on while on the island… mostly food and snacks anyway :-P
[Holy crap we’re almost on Koh Rong already! I’ve been writing for over an hour!]
After going to the market we headed back home… both me and Fia had loads of stuff to do on the internet… we pretty much spent the rest of the afternoon checking emails and updating Facebook, until my eyes started to burn from too much screen time…at that point we decided it was time for our doctor-prescribed massage… right next door. Sihanoukville is full of massage places… you can really be anywhere in the city and always have one in your sights. They all look exactly the same and basically offer the kinds of massages… I seriously doubt they can all like solely on tourists, so I suppose Cambodians in general are really into their massages.
We were greeted by two “maidens” who gave us an initial feet scrub and we then moved upstairs where the real deal took place… full body massage… for a whole hour…for just 8$ (tea included). They spent way too much time on the lags in my opinion, which is why we decided to go for round two after dinner, specifically for neck and shoulders. We ended up staying in the second massage place almost until midnight…and on the way back home something dawned on Fia… the Eco Sea staff house usually got locked before 11pm… shit.
We hurried home hoping they had left it open for us, noticing we weren’t there, but sadly that was not the case. They had locked us out. We looked around for an open window or a way to climb up to the second floor but everything was barred or locked. We ended up trying to sleep in the back of the Eco Sea van, when suddenly the owner of the massage centre next door offered us to sleep on their futons… such a kind lady.   --- Score!  
So we spent the night sleeping in the massage centre… exactly as we were dreaming of while having the massage… … … be careful of what you wish for!!
The rest of the story is pretty obvious…woke up, breakfast, and hopped on the boat back to Koh Rong. Still, I feel like a lot has happened in less than 36 hours :-P
[We now switched to the boat for Koh Rong Sanloem, we’re almost home… I’m amazed at how time flew while writing…]
Gonna spend the next few days out of the water just to be on the safe side… we’ve got a lot of stuff we can do to improve the resort and  I still have to finish reading my Divemaster manual… not to speak about my mapping project… I definitely won’t have time to get bored.
Bjs!

mercoledì 4 settembre 2013

Catching up...

I’m sitting in the bar...doing nothing... I think it’s the first time I have a free afternoon in almost two weeks… It’s been a while since the last post and a lot has happened…first of all, my previous post mysteriously disappeared from my PC, so I’ll try to fill in the missing bits and pieces from memory…If I remember correctly the last time I wrote I was telling you how good the weather had been… well ofc after that we had a couple days of continuous, heavy rain… just because I called it.
I can’t remember precisely what we did during those days, probably just chilled in the restaurant drinking hot tea waiting for a dry moment to do a quick dive or two…The bad weather didn’t last too long though, the sun was out and shining again soon enough and we went back to our usual routine…

On one day (25th Aug), two American guys found their way to this deserted island: Brad and Shawn. We soon became good friends, especially after sharing a huge fish-based super dinner (caught and cooked by Pekadai and Susan, a local couple we met two or three weeks back), and enjoying a good bottle of wine, we even lit a bonfire and gazed at a beautiful starlit cloudless sky for over an hour before going to sleep… it was amazing…

Sadly, the next day Shawn had to leave to return to America… Brad instead decided to stay around a while longer…he was supposed to stay just for one more night, but he liked the place (and company) so much that he ended up staying for over a week! During this time we had another important arrival: on Thursday Luca (the Shallow Waters director) came to visit to introduce Owen (the new project leader) to the team… an important moment in Shallow Waters history! :-P
After lunch we decided it was an occasion to celebrate! We took the next day off and headed over to the neighbouring island: Koh Rong. Life there is radically different from Koh Rong Sanloem: the village is fairly developed and a lot more touristy… 2 o 3 dive centres and endless display of bars and guesthouses tightly packed on the main beach, right off the pier. We left our stuff at one of the guesthouses and headed to the bar next door to finally use some internet! First time after almost a month! Ofc it wasn’t working properly, super slow and barely enough to check my ema, that’s why I still haven’t posted anything on the blog yet.


Anyhow, that evening was memorable…very memorable… not just because of the amazing time we had and the great company, but for the epic unforgettable dinner! The Brave One! That’s how the ginormous burger I ate was named… a 4 layered humongous delicious enormity stuffed with meat, bacon, cheese, eggs, salad, tomatoes, peppers, onion and anything else that passed  front of Frank (the South African cook and owner) while he was making it. It was Superb to say the least. I almost had two but I withheld myself just for the sake of decency.

After dinner we stayed up late downing beers, swapping stories and meeting completely random people… culminating with finding ourselves at a bar called “Vagabonds”, lying down on a plastic mat on the beach, and having to rush home when it started to rain… what an unforgettable evening! Thank you so much Brad, Owen, Luca, David & Fia!
The next day was D-day for David…. Time to hop on the boat and go back to England and normal life… on the + side, he can go back to eating all the ice cream and bacon he desires! Lucky bastard. Fia, Owen, Brad and I headed back to Koh Rong Sanloem instead, with a looong week ahead of us. We started off with the Fish & Inverts lists I had learned just a couple weeks back, but this time I was teaching them! It felt a lot like being back in uni, but this time with no grade-related pressure :-P Sofia took on the coral and substrates list instead, since I felt I would benefit from hearing it once over before teaching it. Both Brad and Owen were really interested and they were surprised at how much more stuff you notice while diving when you know what you’re looking at! It’s like looking at the reef for the first time again.
The rest of the week was intense, but not just work… we managed to fit in a couple movie nights (with the usual cookies and snacks, obviously), and enjoy Brad’s and Owen’s company before they left on the following Sunday. Owen went back to Koh Sdach to start running the SW machine, while Brad made his way first to Portugal and then to Austria to start his internship in the wine making industry, lucky him!
It’s been only me and Fia for the last 3 days now, not many customers in the resort either… she’s amazing, super easy going and fun… I couldn’t wish for a better dive instructor/teacher/adventure buddy/movie night pal/faketella eater :-P
I think this is my longest post yet… It’s almost 18.15, time to get ready for our night dive! I’ll try to be more diligent with writing posts, I promise…


Until next time!


venerdì 23 agosto 2013

Marine Protection Program

Hello everyone,

Small post just to keep you up to date... today David and I took our fish, invertebrates and coral identification tests.. we passed. Tomorrow we'll probably do the practical part of the exam, but I won’t start worrying about it until we’re actually in the water… After that we’ll be finally ready to start surveying the area. Data will be abundant to say the least and I’m really curious as to how it will be sorted… too bad the Project Scientist isn't here so I’ll have to keep all my questions probably until October… In the meanwhile I've come up with a new coding system for all the data which should make it statistically easier to analyse (I think).  Another thing that I’ll have to put on hold for a while…
My Divemaster course also started today… Fia greeted me this morning with a huge box full of manuals and materials to start studying ASAP (and there go my 2 extra kg in my bag). Burned through the first 2 chapters this morning but after lunch I fell asleep like a log in the dive house so I didn't get much more done… I’m slowly taking all my swim tests as well, one per day, which include 15 min static swimming with hands out of the water, 800m snorkel swimming (just fins, no hands), complete scuba equipment exchange underwater, 100m tow of an unconscious diver to shore, etc…
The occasional internet connection that I managed to get on my phone decided to die completely today and I really can’t figure out if it’s a network problem or if there’s something wrong with my phone (which also doesn't charge the battery at times)…
The weather has been kind in the past 3 or 4 days… no rain at all… it’s been sunny but also very windy so at times the waves were just too strong to dive properly (which often also resulted in poor visibility)… but at least I've got a nice tan now :-P

sabato 17 agosto 2013

Cambodian Life

Hello everyone… it’s been a while since I last blogged (almost a week)…
After being here 2 weeks I can safely say that I’ve settled in the new routine… everything is anticipated compared to the other side of the world: wake up early 6ish, morning run/swim and workout… early breakfast (7) and then the day starts! This last week has been particularly busy… after finishing my rescue course we started the biological part of the training… starting with fish, invertebrates and coral identification. The lists are quite long (30-40 each) and I still have to learn some of the species (especially corals), but considering we've only been at it for 3 days I can say I’m fairly satisfied of the progress we've made. I am now a marine biologist that can actually identify stuff underwater instead of just talking about ecosystems in general :-P yay!


Today Fia explained to us how the actual sampling method works and how we’ll be testing the different variations on the field in the coming weeks to determine pros and cons of each. Our final objective is to develop a standard sampling method to propose to all the Marine Conservation Programs in Cambodia so that all the data can be comparable. It won’t be an easy task, and for sure I won’t see the final product during my 3 month stay here… but who knows… maybe I’ll find a way to stay…
We've been diving quite a lot too… 2-4 per day, so I’m quickly reaching the minimum number of dives required to start my dive master training (can’t wait)…  I’ve been also assisting with the refresher courses for some customers in the last days so I’m getting an idea of what I’ll be doing in the future if I ever d longerecide to work as a divemaster  somewhere…

Apart from that, life on the island is pretty simple… electricity is limited to a few hours a day and cell phone/internet reception is scarce to say the least… so not much contact with the outside world… We’re getting to know the locals better each day (a couple beers and a bottle of Cambodian whiskey always help), and I’ve been keeping myself busy improving the resort at every chance I get… I set up a bonfire camp a couple days ago and built a swing today…it faces right at the ocean and the sunset so it’s officially become my favourite spot on the island… … this place is definitely starting to grow on me… It’ll be sad to leave it in a couple weeks :(





venerdì 9 agosto 2013

Bright Shiny Lights

Hey there!

As anticipated i skipped blogging for a couple days, but since you’re gonna read all these posts together, it doesn't really make any difference  :-P
As I said in the last post, the past couple days haven’t been the best weather-wise… but that hasn't stopped us from diving and snorkelling… every spare moment was a good one to go explore a new piece of reef or continue with the practical part of our different courses… Today for example I started the skill tests for my rescue diver course… they were extremely tiring but also incredibly fun to do… rescuing a drowning diver, a panicked one… towing them to shore and carrying them to safety, etc… the worst part was the search for a missing diver… that I had to do twice because Ellie was too good at hiding underwater… still, it was all good experience…

The nights haven’t been any calmer either… yesterday we all went for a night swim to see the fluorescent plankton near the shore (loads of it... too bad my camera isn't sensitive enough to get it on film), while today we went for my first ever night dive on the reef. It was fantastic! Although the visibility wasn't really good (3m-ish), I got to see a completely different reef from the one I was used to look at during the day: all the corals are exposed and their colours are way brighter than during the day… what looks like a simple rock or hard surface during the day becomes crawling with the polyps of the corals (the living part) at night, pulsating at the rhythm of the current, like any other sea organism.
It’s getting pretty late now… (23:00!), I better go to sleep… especially since tomorrow I have 2 rescue simulations and they’re gonna be exhausting to say the least… wish me luck!
Goodnight!

lunedì 5 agosto 2013

Being an Emergency First Responder

First actual day on the island... alarm went off at 7.15, but I didn't get out of bed until 7.45… late.
I rushed to the bar and found everyone having breakfast already… I promptly joined in with a nice plate of eggs and rice, followed by a big platter of fruit, including that delicious white one with black seeds, of which I soon found out the name: Dragon’s Fruit.
After breakfast it was time to start studying for my Emergency First Response course… so I took my book out… and I soon found something better to do: cleaning up the resort! :-P I picked up most of the trash I found around the bungalows and I started looking around to find all the little improvements I could do to make the place more liveable: cutting down dead trees, hammering in some tactical nails, etc...  After that I had to force myself to read the manual and get ready for the practical lesson we would have in the afternoon.
The course itself was actually a refresher of the one I took when I did my lifeguard course, but still, it was fairly interesting and fun to practice (especially the simulations).
The afternoon passed pretty fast and it was soon time to eat again…yay! :-P

The next days were relatively calm for me since David started his Open Water Course and I had some studying to do before starting my Rescue Diver Course… routine was pretty much the same: early breakfast, dives, lunch, dives, studying, dinner… rinse and repeat.
The weather was good during the first couple days but lately it’s been often rainy and cloudy… let’s hope it goes back to nice and sunny soon, before my Italian tan wears off… :-P



domenica 4 agosto 2013

In the Middle of Nowhere

Hello everyone!

I want to apologize for the multiple, super late posts... I have a perfectly good explanation for it and this post will tell you why…

04 of August…
After a night at the dive centre staff house in Sihanoukville, we loaded all our stuff on a mini-truck and went to catch the boat to Koh Rong. The boat trip was about 2 and a half hours long, which passed relatively fast… partly because of the gigantic mattresses on the top deck, that allowed us to sleep for another hour or so, and partly because of the numerous Spanish tourists on board with us, sharing all their adventures in the neighbouring countries (Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, etc).


After a quick boat change in Koh Rong , we set off again for Koh Rong Sanloem, which literally translates to “the further away island of Rong”. The trip was fairly fast, roughly 30 minutes, after which we finally arrived to our final destination: the Eco Sea Diving Centre and Bungalow Resort.  The location was incredible… it is the only Resort on this whole side of the island, right next to the local village (known either by its local khmer name, or even just as “Village 23”), of barely 100 families. We soon discovered that the resort is relatively new, just 5 months old, and that it still needed a lot of work to be done.

After meeting our dive instructor Fia (short for Sofia) and enjoying a nice cup of fresh iced tea, we moved from the bar to the dive shop, which is located in the middle of the water, almost at the end of a long pier in front of the resort. Here we sorted out all the bureaucratic paperwork with Fia and received our first training manual:  Emergency First Responder… to be read by the end of the day.

Luckily for me some guests were about to go out on a fun dive, so I got out all my new gear and jumped at the occasion to test it all out. The dive spot was really close, at about 200m from the resort, under which we found the remains of an old wooden pier, probably washed away from the close-by village during a heavy tropical storm some years ago… the visibility was horrendous (about 1m), but we managed to spot out lots of rabbit fish and crabs living in the remains... oh, and also an enormous boxfish… completely different from the small cute yellow ones I got used to in Bora Bora. Anyhow... the purpose of my dive was to test out my new equipment, not sightseeing, so it wasnt too much of a disappointment. We came back up and headed back for shore (everything works perfectly, by the way).
Quick shower, a moment of relax, and soon after it was already dinner time! Yay!
Dinner and lunch here are served as buffet…. So I really had to control myself to leave something for the other guests to eat… in any case, the general menu here is rice, vegetables, meat, chicken or fish (with vegetables) and a soup (again, meat chicken or fish… … … with vegetables)…surely I can’t complain about not eating healthy!

Oh, I almost forgot... the reason i'm posting everything together late is that we don't have any internet on the island and electricity only from 7 to 11 in the evening... digital detox!

Mad Monkey Business

Hello everyone!

First of all i would like to apologize for my rusty English... I speak it all the time but when it comes to writing I don’t practice as much as I’d like to… luckily Google always comes readily to the rescue, so  with its autocorrect feature at least the orthographic mistakes should be taken care of…
I ended my last post with my arrival at Phnom Penh International Airport… so I’ll pick up from there…  After the usual bureaucratic border control and having picked up my luggage, I went for the airport exit, where I was greeted by Sea, a local employee of Shallow Waters responsible for managing arrivals, transfers and helping the arriving volunteers with whatever they might need… from food to local SIM cards… I must Say that without him I would probably still trying to get a lift from the airport to the hostel, so three cheers for Sea!

We waited a half hour for another volunteer to arrive and then we all hopped on a “Remork” (also known as “Tuk Tuk”), which is a motorbike pulling a sort of 4 person chinese-ish looking wagon.  A death trap to say the least… especially after seeing the consideration that Cambodians have for road code.
Anyhow… after a quick 15 minute ride we got to the Mad Monkey Guesthouse:  a wonderful, perfectly kept, western style hostel in the middle of Phnom Penh… Apart from being huge (4 double rooms and 6-8 dorms, each with 6-12 beds), it was incredibly well organized and very nicely decorated. From what I saw in that single night that I stayed there, the owners offered free accommodation to anyone who felt artist enough to paint a mural on one of their walls… and apparently the system works!
After having dropped off our bags we quickly went out to grab a bite… I was craving for something typical and strange so Sea took us to eat something from one of the million street vendors present at every corner of the road… Since I wanted something strange, the menu offered the following: Duck foetus (still in the egg), sun dried Sting Ray, and freshwater snails… everything soaked with the typical spicy sauce filled with garlic and lime. My opinion on all three dishes was: good, alternative, very interesting, but without any particular taste… especially since everything was masked by the super strong taste of the spicy garlic sauce…
After dinner we went back to the hostel and crashed in bed.

The next morning I woke up relatively early (8ish) to enjoy a really wonderful fruit based breakfast: mixed fruit bowl, white yoghurt, passion fruit smoothie and freshly squeezed orange juice… heavenly.
The program for that day was quite simple: wait for the bus to pick us up at the hostel and enjoy a 5 and a half hour drive to Sinahoukville a medium sized town on the southern coast of Cambodia. What a nightmare, some might think… instead, the trip was wonderful!  Much better than any similar trip I ever did in Europe, Brazil or anywhere else…  The minibus was big enough for 18 people, driver included, and fully equipped with TV, DVD player and on board Wi-Fi…. the bus of my dreams!  If only they used something like this back in the “civilized world”… and for a mare 10$...

Anyhow… after watching “Step Up Revolutions” , “007-Skyfall” and the first part of “The Hobbit” we finally arrived to our destination, where we were readily greeted by the creator of the project: Luca…  yes, Luca.. another Italian almost ashamed of his nationality, just as myself, who caught the first opportunity he had to run away from Italy, study in Cambridge and then start up this wonderful Project. He gave us a quick briefing of what we were going to do in the next few weeks while sipping a nice fresh fruit shake and soon after we were headed to the Dive Centre House, where we would have spent the night… but by the time we got on the pickup… it started pouring out of nowhere! A classic summer storm, they called it… and what a storm! We got completely soaked in no time.
The rest of the evening was pretty calm… a nice shower to freshen up, a normal dinner with chicken soup and sandwiches… and a stroll down the main road, passing in front of a million super cheap massage centres (15$ for a 2 hour full body massage) ending up on the seaside, on Serendipity Beach. After another 20minutes of summer storm we caught the first tuk tuk we could find and headed home…

The next day we set off for the island of Koh Rong Sanolem, to the EcoSea Dive Centre and Resort… but that’s another story…

sabato 3 agosto 2013

Sentimental Moments

Comincio a popolare anche la sezione "Life" del blog...

Queste ultime settimane (in Brasile, brevemente a Londra e in Italia) sono state molto intense....stancanti, emozionanti, felici, eccitanti.... un sacco di cose sono accadute e molte delle emozioni che avrei dovuto provare sono state in realtà momentaneamente congelate, messe in pausa, inscatolate e buttate in un remoto angolo del mio cervello e/o del mio cuore principalmente per mancanza di tempo e ammetto anche voglia per processarle...
Prima di partire mi è capitata tra le mani una canzone... una canzone che per qualche arcano motivo è riuscita ad aprire tutte quelle scatole dimenticate, e a farmi sentire tutte quelle cose che non potevo/volevo sentire prima... non so cosa abbia questa canzone di tanto particolare... ma è come se riuscisse a scavalcare tutti quei muri mentali ed ad aprire tutte le porte chiuse nell'anima... probabilmente non farà lo stesso effetto a tutti voi... ma per me si, e volevo condividerla...




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Partenza!

 Ecco finalmente arrivato il fatidico giorno della partenza (e anche dell'ultimo post in italiano).. giuro che ce la sto mettendo tutta per rimanere al passo con i post ma tra il tempo che manca, le batterie che si scaricano e l'internet a sprazzi , si sta rivelando una impresa assai difficile...

Giovedì 1 Agosto, la data quando tutto ebbe inizio: sorvolando una mattinata di corse e peripezie per racimolare le ultime cose necessarie, salto direttamente alla partenza... ovvero 12:30 di pomeriggio... ultimo pranzo a base di prosciutto e melone e... si parte! Carico i miei 32kg di valigie in Audi e ci mettiamo in cammino per Venezia... e pensate che per una volta potrò godermi un viaggio in tranquillità? Ovviamente no!
L'Audi infatti soffre di un qualche problema meccanico al motore... il quale la fa andare da una settimana a questa parte con la ripresa di un cavallo zoppo... toccando un massimo di ben 120km/h dopo 312km di ricorsa... ma se fosse stato solo questo il problema.. la soluzione sarebbe stata semplice: partire prima.... cosa che infatti abbiamo fatto... ... ... senza immaginarci che per strada potevamo incrociare non uno.. ma ben due incidenti! Presi dal panico del momento siamo usciti dall'autostrada al volo e abbiamo proseguito in statale quasi fino all'aeroporto, arrivando ad appena 1 ora dal decollo... però ce l'abbiamo fatta!
Date carte e valigie, sono finalmente riuscito a partire!

Prima tratta:  Venezia --> Doha

Questo è stato il mio primo volo con la Qatar Airways... e devo dire che a primo impatto ne sono rimasto


molto sodisfatto! Ufficialmente sfoggia ben 5 stelle in tutte le classi, superando le 4 della Emirates (il quale mi sembrava impossibile dapprima), e a mio parere se le merita tutte. Aereo nuovissimo, servizio impeccabile, buon cibo e una ampissima gamma di film da cui scegliere (30+).
Il volo in se è stato relativamente breve... solamente 6 ore, di cui 2 ho impegnato guardando un bellissimo film d'animazione intitolato "Epic", che racconta la storia di una ragazzina teenager che scopre una comunità di piccoli omini e fiori umanoidi che abita all'interno di una foresta... la loro regina magica muore, la ragazza viene rimpicciolita e deve salvare la foresta da un potere malvagio che vuole distruggerla. Il film, ripeto, è molto molto bello... bellissime immagini, colonna sonora stupenda ma una storia un po' troppo ovvia... e che mi ha ricordato moltissimo un'altro film d'animazione: "FernGully, The Last Rainforest", del 1992. A differenza di Epic quest'ultimo passava anche un bellissimo messaggio ai bambini: quello di rispettare e proteggere la natura e le foreste dalla deforestazione. Come al solito i film vecchi sono sempre meglio di quelli nuovi luccicanti coloratissimi, "fighi", ma in fin dei conti... inutili.
Le altre 4-5 ore sono state fumate tra cibo, penniche e lettura della guida LonelyPlanet.

Cambio a Doha --- 9.30h

Esatto, avete letto bene... 9 ore e mezza di attesa. La noia.
Il programma originale era arrivare e piazzarsi in sala VIP a godersi i divanoni, l'elettricita, la musica, il WiFi e il cibo... peccato però che era piena. Il primo posto si sarebbe liberato alle 4 di mattina... a 2.30h dalla partenza... decisamente non sarebbe valsa la pena mollargli 40 dollari per 2 ore.
Dopo essermi nutrito ed aver girovagato per un oretta, mi sono piazzato in un angolo e impasticcato ben bene di melatonina.... il cui effetto è stato pesante ed immediato. Mi sono svegliato alle 6 e poco dopo imbarcato per l'ultima tratta.

Seconda tratta: Doha --> Phnom Penh (con scalo tecnico a Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)


Durata: 11 ore. Passate ovviamente mangiando, dormendo e guardando altri due film: "The Help" e "Vita di Pi", che mi ero ripromesso di andare a vedere al cinema ma alla fine non ho mai fatto... entrambi i film sono splendidi... il primo molto più terra a terra e triste, il secondo più fantasioso ma con alla fine un colpo di scena di quelli che ti fanno rivalutare e voler rivedere tutto il film, stile Donnie Darko. Consiglio vivamente entrambi.
Dopo un ora di scalo in Vietnam e una rapido volo di 30 minuti sono finalmente arrivato a destinazione: Phnom Penh.


A questo punto, nonostante vorrei continuare, forse è meglio che vada a dormire dato che è già l'1 e devo alzarmi tra 5 ore... Inoltre ho passato il confine della Cambogia e come promesso dovrei iniziare a scrivere in Inglese, cosi che anche le persone di cui scrivo possano leggere facilmente... Mi rendo conto che il mio Italiano si sta deteriorando a vista d'occhio... ... ma sinceramente... non me ne dispiaccio più di tanto :-P

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