Halfway through our unscheduled eleven-day layover, still waiting for the ash cloud to dissipate, I started eating beetles and crickets.
Our travel insurance had run out, but that's not why. Grilled insects are a delicacy in Cambodia, the latest stop on what was now becoming a family version of Eat, Pray, Love.
We'd already spent five expensive, uninteresting days in Singapore. With six to go until our confirmed flight home, we decided to take advantage of our proximity to most of Southeast Asia. Why miss a culture and landmarks we might never see otherwise? It was also high time to expose our preschooler - already a bit too comfortable with luxury shopping malls, futuristic glass elevators and room service breakfasts - to a different reality.
So without researching (except the weather, described as "hellish" in April) or overanalyzing (one of us is French, the other American, and the third, both) we caught a budget carrier to Siem Reap, site of the temples at Angkor Wat.
Less than three hours later we were in a completely different world. Cambodia is an intense mashup of tragic history (an example being the land mine amputees who play native music for donations on the paths to the temples) and unbridled optimism (hotel after hotel going up between the airport and Angkor Wat). We encountered dignity in the face of crushing poverty, great beauty in the aftermath of destruction, and the kindness of many, many strangers.
The weather was hellish - one hundred degrees by ten a.m. But April being the hottest month of the year meant we had the Ta Prohm temple - Angelina Jolie's jungle gym in "Tomb Raider" - almost to ourselves, as compared to thousands who visit in the cooler winter months. In the Bayon temple my daughter was prayed over by a nun as she knelt on tiny knees to offer incense before a Buddha statue. For this sacred, indelible memory, I owe a volcano my gratitude.
Deeply affected by everything we experienced, one morning we visited an orphanage to donate 250 kilos of rice. I heartily recommend this perspective-restoring activity to anyone feeling "inconvenienced" for having spent a night on an airport floor - or anything else, for that matter.
As for those insects, which - full disclosure - were a marinated and grilled side dish to Cambodian pad thai in an elegant hotel offering a generous, low-season rate, they weren't bad at all. The motto of our journey had by now become "Why the hell not?" and it seemed an appropriate moment to try. I'd do it again without hesitation.
So while there are plenty of volcano-related travel horror stories out there - this isn't one of them. I am finishing it at home in France, where we finally arrived two days ago, three weeks after the uncomplicated, nine-day beach vacation we set out for on Easter Sunday.
Don't tell anybody, but I secretly wished that larger Icelandic volcano would blow its top, too, so we could remain nomads forever.