The alarm goes of at 4:40 am and I turn over in bed.
Today is the day – the day I finally get to visit Angkor Wat. I contemplate the idea of sleeping in a few minutes longer, but quickly decide against it. This is a big day!
With my eyes still half closed, I throw on some clothes, grab the pineapple and strawberry jam sandwiches I made the night before, and go downstairs with Sam to meet our tuk-tuk driver.
It is pitch black out and too overcast to see the stars, but the light of a half moon guides the way. No street lights here.
We take the road that leads out of Siem Reap and head towards the temples of Angkor. The way is lined with thick forest on either side, and a blue mist hangs over the land. For the first time since I’ve set foot in Cambodia, I feel a bit of a chill.
As we drive along the moat that surrounds Angkor Wat, the lights of tuk-tuks twinkle in the water – a neat row of flames leading the way to the Kingdom’s most famed temple.
Reaching the entrance, we hop out of the tuk-tuk and join with a few hundred people who have also risen early for the occasion. I had worried that the moment wouldn’t feel special with so many visitors in tow, but standing there under the cover of dark with countless others who are just as excited to be there for the first time, it feels like it’s our shared secret for the morning.
With no flashlight in hand, we stick close to those who came prepared, and we walk down the stone path and through the ancient gates.
Most people seem to have congregated on the left side of the temple in front of the pond, and we too find a spot to watch the magic unfold.
And we wait.
“El lente de la camara esta empañado.”
My ears perk up.
I hear Spanish, and not just any Spanish. This is the Rioplatense accent if my life depends on it. The two individuals are either porteños (locals from Buenos Aires), or from Uruguay just across the river.
I hesitate like I always do when I hear the language. Should I say hello as a fellow Spanish speaker or is that too intrusive? I am a complete stranger… A few moments pass and I can’t take it any longer. I haven’t spoken to a native speaker (aside from my family) in months!
“¿De dónde son?” I ask, and the woman’s face lights up with a smile.
I learn that the woman and her husband, a couple in their mid-sixties, are in fact Uruguayan and live on the other side of the Río de la Plata.
Both architects by professions, they are touring Asia and have been lured to the temples of Angkor by the architecture.
They tell me about the modern architecture movement in China, and how last week they were riding the metro up and down Beijing to visit the buildings leading in the movement.
Her husband is wearing two knee braces and has to use a wheelchair to travel long distances, but that hasn’t stopped them from coming here. Everything they say oozes passion for their chosen field, and I can’t help smiling back at them. While architecture may not be my chosen profession, I can relate to them in the sense that I feel like I too am doing something pretty special.
We continue chatting until we both realize that the sun has already come up and it is time to part ways.
I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to the sunrise that day, but I will remember my conversation with these two strangers.