Decided to have a day or two on a place called Rabbit Island. The locals, probably after a session with the local brew, decided that it has the shape of a rabbit. Tookatuktuk to a place called Kep, about 45 minutes away from Kampot, which is a small, pleasant seaside resort. The island is only about half an hour away by fishing boat.
We arrived to find a large shack with locals and ferrymen drinking beer. There seemed to be nothing else there. I asked about accommodation, but here no-one seemed to speak anything but Khmer. Finally, they called an eight year old boy. 'I take you there.' He took my guitar, which until now has been a hindrance, and proudly set off through the jungle, a trip of no more than ten minutes to the other side of the island.
On arrival, I found a beach with huts, a restaurant and a few places offering massages. There is no electricity during the day and certainly no internet. Nor is there any real system of rubbish collection, so the area behind the beach is a bit scruffy, with plastic strewn about.
A cloudy afternoon.
The bar without the normal collection of cats and dogs.
The charming lady patron.
I checked in and got a hut with a beach view (like all the others). To use the lightbulb at night, you push two bare wires into a socket. I can cope with that, except, I suddenly felt slightly queasy and exhausted. I think it was due to several days out in the sun on boats and motorbikes, so I had a nap. I awoke later and still felt the same. After a great lunch, fresh grilled fish, I slept most of the afternoon, then had a swim. Snorkelled around for a while, but once again didn't see anything interesting. In fact, the most interesting incident was when I felt something crawling up my leg a good 7-8 centimetres long. Don't really mind big insects too much after 18 years in Southern France, but still have a problem with spiders. It was just a gecko.
Still feeling tired, went for a massage on the beach. I was pushed and shoved in every direction, although not as violently as in Thailand and it seemed to do the trick, as I felt much better, especially when I heard how much it cost; (7$ for an hour). Obviously a dodgy, misplaced Chakra.
After two days, was feeling a bit at a loose end, so headed back to Kampot. The return trip was pretty good, as the weather had changed, so we spent half an hour crashing through the water and getting soaked. The old French lady sitting next to me didn't seem so enthusiastic.
Back at the bungalows, saw myself in a mirror. I'd developed a look similar, but balder, to the guy who staggers over the sand dunes at the beginning of Monty Python; beard, pretty filthy clothes, dirty fingernails, (beach tar on my feet), something the laundry service hasn't managed to entirely eradicate.
Next day went into town to explore some more. Even a small town like Kampot can only be explored slowly, due to the debilitating heat. It's very French Colonial, architecture-wise, with a surprising number of European ex-pats.
Along with the Durian, it is also a producer of some of the finest pepper in the World, the production of which was stopped by the Khmer Rouge, as they turned all the land over to rice production. There's a factory near where I'm I staying, so I went and had a look.Women are paid to sort each individual peppercorn, with tweezers, before packaging. The small and misshapen peppercorns are separated from the perfect ones and go to local restaurants. The rest is for export. A good sorter, and they're all good sorters, can do three or four trays per day.
A young woman showed me around and I had a degustation. She ground the black, red and white pepper onto my hand and like wine, I was asked to smell it before tasting. It was all fantastic and each variety had a different perfume and taste. You lucky people in Sauve will get a chance to sample the red and black, as I bought as much as I could carry to bring back.
The pepper is used a lot in cooking here. I've eaten the fish with peppercorns a lot, which is subtle and delicious. Anyone familiar with Rick Stein's Eastern cookbook will be familiar with the sauce made from black pepper and lime juice. Here it is a completely different animal; complex and fruity. You'll see Sauvains.
Pepper bushes. Just for show. It's grown by various farms in the area.
Had a night out yesterday. Captain Tom has a scooter, so Khmer-style, with Stevenage Graham, we all three got on and drove 5 or 6 km further down the road to an Australian bar, which is also on the river. There was something very Australian about it, with a few incredibly dangerous looking devices set up to throw you into the water at maximum velocity. Being Aussies, they were very friendly, with lots of tattoos.
After a few beers we heard a splash and a few minutes later saw a girl standing on a high floating diving board. She started twirling fire-sticks around which showed her to be stark naked. After her performance, she returned and my two companions started chatting her up. Much to my surprise, she ignored them and bought me a beer and started chatting me up. It turned out that she was from California and madder than nine aardvarks. I didn't notice, but the guys told me afterwards that she had scars all over her arms from self-harming. I sure know how to get picked up by them!
Have been here nearly two weeks, so think I'll head off to Viet Nam in the next few days. Looking forward to the smell of Vietnamese food in the morning - reputedly the best in SE Asia.