Posts Tagged 'jungle beach'

Sylvio, Character Study

Too shy to take a picture of Sylvio. So here's some sunlight coming through the umbrella thatching. Let's pretend it's a metaphor.

Grizzlied OG with wiry sun-blasted hair, old-man eyebrows that look like a million little spider legs—walks around shirtless, smoking. Not a warm and fuzzy type at all. A tough old dude who smiles sometimes with his eyes, laughs sometimes with his chest (more of a grunt, really, accompanied by a low shake and a choir of smoke).

“The only problem is, what am I gonna do when I finish building?” Shrugs. “Eh, I’ll probably just make furniture. You can always make furniture.” An indeterminate accent—mentions being a kid in Canada, but it’s not that; there’s a twinge of something else. Speaks Vietnamese with the workers, seems to joke with them—they smile—but the tone is flat, and the face rarely smiling.

He shovels dirt in the afternoon, asks, “Is your Wifi working?” “Did you ever get your coconut?” Yes, yes. Disappears during the day to a place behind the buildings and shrubs and palms, where I imagine him weaving, hunched over shirtless in his baggy cloth pants—weaving more bamboo roofs and walls and beach umbrellas; carving and crafting wood into chairs and tables, shining the dullness until it glows.

Weaving, weaving, a neverending project—his own Buddhist sand garden. And you wonder what for. What is he building away from, or towards? The framed photos that hang over the doorway to the kitchen? Him with an 80s mane, tuxedo arms embracing a woman in layers of poofy sequins? The dim pictures of a little girl?—face obscured, leaning over sand, or in a park, maybe, leaves creating shadows that even in the still-frame seem to crawl like insects. Where are they?

I don’t ask. He doesn’t really create an atmosphere of asking. “How long have you been here?” I asked on the first night. “Just since last night,” he teased flatly, the hint of a twinkle in his eye that reminded me of my dad, only a little dimmer. “We knew you were coming, so we built it up.”

“Oh, well, you shouldn’t have.”

“Ah, no,” ashes his cigarette, clears his throat. “Nine and a half years, we’ve been here.” And looks around at the roof, the table, the trees and paths now consumed by night—looks around and down and doesn’t say anything more.

So he answers, and he certainly isn’t rude, but it doesn’t encourage any more asking. A tough old dude, a building dude, a man of that generation—the world covered with them, from every country it seems—as though there were something in that generation. Something they’ve seen, or that’s seen them, and they seem to withdraw very far inside, into their man caves of building and sculpting and staring off and thinking. Of laughing with their chests and smiling with their eyes, and leaving you never quite sure when they’re messing with you or when they’re serious or if you’re bothering them or bugging them—them, them, under all those layers of sun-beated skin.

Take Me To The Jungle, And Don’t Ever Take Me Back

Okay, so outdated pop culture references aside, hear me and hear me well: Jungle Beach is the stuff of backpacker folklore.

A rustic, simple homestay: a cluster of bamboo cabanas on a sandy lot, shaded by the whispering palms of trees; hammocks and hand-made lounge chairs; a communal dining room where guests gather twice a day for meals; thatched sun umbrellas stuck into the sand of a postcard beach.

Sometimes a place feels so special that you don’t really want to write about—as though writing about it would sully it, or giving it words—trying to give it words—would cheapen it, lessen it, and you want to keep it a private, precious thing.

I arrived at Jungle Beach a little heart-heavy (see previous post), a bit of melancholy sprung up, as though something tapped into a murmuring, gargling reserve of oil beneath the surface of me and wasn’t shooting out like a geyser, but rather seeping through, leaking out into the sunlight.

In any case, I crawled off the overnight bus a stop early, 40km outside Nha Trang—5:30 am on a dusty strip of highway that consituted the town Doc Let. I took a motorbike the next 20-some km, sleep-blurred and thirty-mouthed, to Jungle Beach. I arrived, and I didn’t ever want to leave.

It wasn’t the kind of place that immediately bowls you over. “This is nice,” I thought, as I curled up under a thin blanket, inside a soft blue mosquito net. But the place grew on me—or I grew into it.

Hours and days passed in some sort of other time zone. Wake up with the sun. Jog on the beach or do yoga on a mat in the shade. Eat breakfast. Do some writing, some reading. Lay on the beach. One of the workers comes out and says it’s lunchtime. Rise off my feet, sit at the communal table, pass bowls of meat and veggies and rice and sweet chili sauce. Have another coffee. Go back to the beach. Not even read, really, just lay there—lay there thinking, or not thinking, just watching the waves and feeling my own kind of waves inside, welling up, rising and receeding, as though I were standing on the banks of a monumental sadness, whose bounds I didn’t know, just the pull of its gravity. Cry sometimes, about nothing in particular.

Three pm, and someone comes out with a little plastic plate of fruit, pineapple or pomello or watermelon. Eat it with a toothpick, get a coconut, drink it and scrape it clean with a spoon. Go wade in the water, hopping waves or letting them pummel me, or floating on my back and watching the great white clouds walk across the sky. Shower, check my email, write. Gather for dinner and spend hours afterwards chatting with the other travelers—mostly couples, mostly German for some reason, but really cool people, different ages but all open and friendly. Feel like it’s midnight when it’s only 9, say good night and curl up under a thin blanket, inside a soft blue mosquito net. Repeat as necessary.

The place was built by a dude named Sylvio, who walks around shirtless and smoking, a tough old guy (see character study in upcoming post). He bought the land nearly 10 years ago, and built the place slowly, each cabana by hand, and it’s become the stuff of backpacker folklore.

One of the most impressive parts of Jungle Beach is the staff. The staff to guest ratio was almost 1:1, a friendly, laid-back Vietnamese staff that didn’t pander to the guests and fawn over them, but was attentive—in short, that actually seemed to really care that we had a good time. Ten years of working in the service industry, and I’ve decided that that’s all people really want—to feel taken care of, to feel like you actually give a shit. It’s a rare thing, and it doesn’t necessarily come with heafy price tags and swanky surroundings. It comes, to be completely and utterly trite, from the heart.

I spent four days and three nights doing virtually nothing at Jungle Beach. And as my depature neared, I found myself desperately not wanting to leave. I discovered, without having known it, that I really needed that time—to decompress, to clear out some space, to get ready for the project I’m about to embark on. And yet I didn’t feel rejuvenated, in a sense; I felt simply like I didn’t want to leave.

But what would another day have done? What would another week or year done? Will I ever actually work through all this whatever-it-is I carry in me? Will I ever be done? No, no, it was time to go.

But I can’t ever remember feeling so sad to leave a place. I looked around—it all seemed so precious. I actually almost cried. What the hell is all this? Am I going crazy? Am I becoming soft in my old age?

I got in the taxi and we bumped off, leaving the buildings and the thatched roofs and the gate and the barking dogs in a billow of dust behind us.

Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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