Sunday, December 7, 2008

Singing in the rain

Kampot is a tiny town in southern Cambodia, about a two-hour minibus ride east of Sihanoukville, a popular beachy tourist destination. Lying a bit off of the typical tourist trail, Kampot's claim to fame are its caves, in which semi-intrepid travelers can fawn over centuries-old temples found inside.

I only had about 24 hours in Kampot, but wanted to enjoy something cultural and a bit off the beaten path before heading to Sihanoukville the following day. As soon as I found an open room in the fourth guesthouse I tried, I dropped my bags, shook off a bit of dust and fatigue, and hopped into a tuk-tuk.

Of course, the second I hopped in, I glanced over my shoulder and noticed the huge storm brewing. As a former lifeguard from Iowa, I made it my business to recognize anything which might cause a pool closure and thereby give me a free afternoon, so believe me when I say that I knew this one was going to be a doozy. The rain started not long after we pulled out, and a little boy jumped on the back of the tuk-tuk,getting not only a reprieve from the rain, but also a free ride.

Once we stopped, the driver informed me that it was another two km walk through the rice fields to get to the caves. Conveniently, one of the eight children that are continually clustered near the entrance to the path towards the caves (lying in wait for tourists) offered to run home and get ponchos for us for a small fee. I laughed when I saw him set off barefoot in the pouring rain to find us ponchos, with my money clutched in his fist.

Once he came back and I was properly outfitted with my pants pulled up as far as I could get them, we all set off, and by "we", I mean me, the tuk-tuk driver, my traveling buddy and our new eight guides. The rain had already turned the path into pure mud, and I wisely let one of the girls carry my flip-flops so that they weren't lost forever in the rice fields of Cambodia. For some reason, the girls in particular took a liking to me and we exchanged ages, names and songs (I went with Disney on the way over) while tramping through the mud puddles towards the cave.

Once we got to the cave, I have to admit that the temple itself was slightly underwhelming. While beautiful, especially considering its age, it wasn't nearly comparable to the fun I'd just had walking through the rain, singing songs. Luckily, the temple wasn't the end of my cave adventure.

Noticing my only partially hidden lack of interest in the historical monument in front of me, the tuk-tuk driver suggested that we go check out the bat cave right around the corner. Intrigued, I agreed and we headed down, using my tiny, two inch long flashlight as our light source.

And that is how I found myself rock-climbing barefoot in a wet bat cave, and I don't say rock-climbing lightly, because there were some serious boulders to maneuver around. I was searching for foot and hand holds, and I barely even know what that means. All I knew was that if I hurt myself down there, there was no way any of those school kids was going to be able to drag me back up, so I had to be quite careful. Of course, those "school kids" looked like mountain goats, hopping from rock to rock with ease, while holding my flip-flops and extending a hand when necessary (that was frequently).

After slithering, jumping and shimmying my way to the bottom of the cave, I waded through a pool of collected rainwater lined with mud that made that lovely squelch with each step. We finally arrived at the bat cave, and listened to intermittent squeaks and the flap of wings in the darkness.

I made my way back up to the mouth of the cave, and we retraced our way back through rice paddies, this time singing "Beautiful Girl" at the urging of the boys, while "Jingle Bells" was requested by the girls. And still the rain fell, creating homemade slip 'n slides for the kids.

I don't remember the last time I had so much fun.

The next day, before heading to Sihanoukville, I stopped at a lovely cafe run by an English couple. The place was lovely, light and airy, with some of the best jam I've ever had. I haven't played with proportions yet, but they did reveal the simple ingredient list, which I've passed along below. I can't wait to try it out.

Banana Jam


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