The long road to Kampot – and tarantulas too.

So, we waved goodbye to our lovely hosts at the homestay:

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and back on the fun bus for the long ride to Kampot.  My gawd it was long too. We were told 7 hours, but it was way longer than that. We left at 8.00 a.m. prompt, and didn’t get to our bungalows until around 6.00 from memory.  That’s bad isn’t it?  It was only yesterday and I really can’t remember. We arrived as it was getting dark though, if that helps at all.

The drive was grim as all long drives are.  However, much as I understand the experience of being at war to be, it was long stretches of uncomfortable tedium interspersed with spectacular excitement.  Let me explain…

So first off, there was the inherent entertainment value of asking our guide if as it was a long drive he’d be providing the musical accompaniment along the way.  It takes just the slightest of provocations to get him to burst into song, so he did so.  Very ably.  He’s quite a karaoke king our guide!

So, we watched the sights and sounds and traffic unfold before us as we chugged the long road back to Phnom Penh.  However, we got the most amazing market stop along the way!  This was Skun (so we were told), whilst of course it is a tourist drop off point because of the spectacle it presents, it is first and foremost a local market selling local delicacies.

First stop was the loos.  It was 1000 reil a pop here.  I didn’t have any money, but our flash Australian queen to be treated four of us for a dollar!  I felt well in with her entourage!  Then, time to tackle the market.  As soon as we approached children crawling with tarantulas (no, quite literally, they were, that’s how they demonstrate how super fresh they are I suppose) approached us to buy from them.  When we said no, they responded with the now familiar refrain of ‘maybe later’.  We made our way to join our great leader, who was stuck in with a purveyor of tarantulas and other insect life.

It is extraordinary.  There are thousands of spiders (and scorpions, and beetles) piled high on plates.  Big white buckets are full of some sorry few that are still living.  These are hauled out and offered up to crawl on you if you wish. They have I think been defanged so can’t bite, but in any event looked pitiful.  I declined, not because I was scared, because oddly seeing them en masse like that is way less scary than say a house spider in the bath at my flat in Sheffield.  I just felt like the poor things were in their death throes, and it must be bad enough being eaten without having someone play with you first.  Plus I’ve been brought up not to play with my food!  Our American essential oils specialist, who I really like actually even though she disagreed with me on this point.  She reckons if you were going to be eaten it would be good to go out on a high of a bit of external stimulation.  Well, we must beg to differ on that point.

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Apparently, everything we saw is sourced from the wild.  Well it must be, but honestly, thousands and thousands of animal corpses.  Poor things.

At the stall we were at, there was quite a chatty girl sporting a number of tarantulas and trying to drum up trade.  We had a good interaction.  I asked if I could take her photo, and she posed delightedly, and was thrilled with the photo.  Then we had to move on to doing a selfie, and then we had to do another including her friend, and then her little brother chipped in, extremely keen to point out he was captured in the back of the shot.  They pointed out to me the swollen abdomen of one of the spiders, explaining she was pregnant, and would give birth to 200 young.  I’m not sure if that is live  young – I thought they had egg sacks.  Hang on…  I’ve googled, I don’t think they do – but then again why no egg sack, why just so engorged?   You could see the difference.

Anyway, after this, and a confusing pointing at another woman I think to convey she was pregnant too, but hopefully not about to give birth to 200 live tarantulas or if she is, hope she’d got a life-changing TV deal out of it…  Then they were fascinated by my skin colour.  They compared their arms with my inner arm, saying how lucky I was to have such lovely skin. It made me so sad.  They weren’t very old these children, and yet they are longing for something impossible and unaware of how gorgeous and perfect they are just as they are.  ‘But you are beautiful‘ I said, in my country, people want to look like you.  ‘Can we swap then?’  they asked.  ‘Of course – if you can find a way!’  They found this hilarious.  It was really nice.   I was quite impressed by their English to be honest.  Yes, it was somewhat fragmented, but it went beyond the language you need to sell stuff, and I got the impression they liked a bit of exploratory banter.  It wasn’t hard sell.  They are living a hard life though.

More wondering around the market place and more photo opportunities.

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There were little quail corpses piled high like unearthed miniature dinosaurs dug out by archeologists.  There was also a perplexing billboard for a child in a can.  I knew child exploitation was an issue here, but I didn’t realise it was that extreme.  It appears to be a white child too… most odd.

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Back in the bus, and pressed on to Phnom Penh.  This was frustrating.  We ended up in a stationary traffic jam for what seemed like, and may indeed have been hours.  There is no way to avoid going through.  Occasionally we seemed to be in absolute grid lock, but then an ambulance or emergency vehicle would be heard in the distance, and somehow a way through was found.  It was nigh on miraculous.  There was also the odd diversion by way of eccentric (to us) traffic choices.  We were all most taken with the motorbike and trailer which had a set of car seats roped to the top for added comfort.  Probably very effective, but undoubtedly bizarre!

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We eventually stopped at the Herb Cafe in Phnom Penh. English menu, it was definitely catering for the ex-pat/ tourist market.  It was nice, and I can imagine returning here when in PP and in need of a place of calm.   It was set up by two sisters from Kratie, which pleases me.  Partly because it’s women doing stuff for themselves, and partly the Kratie connection, as that links to CWF’s rural development initiative.

More bus.  More traffic, more sights, more sweating.

The drive just went on, and on, and on.

We eventually made it to Kampot and the Natural Bungalows Resort as sun was falling.  Absolutely knackered.  Our driver must have been exhausted.  It wasn’t a nice drive.  In the circumstances it is remarkable that the only thing he ran over was a chicken.  Poor thing, that one never did make it to the other side… unless you believe in reincarnation, which some here do.  Hope he’s gone up in the world if so.  It would have been quick.  It was also rather noisy.  Poor hen.

Oh and a late addition – tarantula eating captured on video

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