Asia | South East Asia | Cambodia | South West Cambodia | Kampot – Day 22 – Kampot, Cambodia
And so, on to today, July 22, 2001 – I am now ensconced in a cavernous room with 14′ ceilings in Kampot, a near-coastal town in southern Cambodia with no claim to fame whatsoever. Not even a claim to infamy, which, in this country, is a good thing. In my room is a small refrigerator decorated with a large decal on which is depicted a green stylized land mine followed by an ‘=’ sign and then a black and white drawing of a person on crutches whose right leg is missing below the knee. In the right corner of the decal is a red circle on which is written: CMAC – Cambodia Mine Action Centre. A strange warning decal since, unlike drunk driving for example, losing a leg to a land mine is very rarely a preventable action. Still, I suppose awareness is an important step.
Getting to Kampot from Sihanoukville required traversing a road which should have decals on fridges all over the country from the Cambodia Road Action Centre (another NGO that is sorely needed here). When I got into the cab of the pick-up truck it was hard not to notice its post-demolition-derby state of repair. Now, I know why. Some sections of the road, multiple kilometres long, were nothing but bunker after bunker transplanted from some British Open golf course. Driving along these stretches was like sailing a 12 foot stingray in a typhoon. My personal favourite pot-hole was the one in which — I kid you not — there was an entire family of ducks swimming. And they had plenty of room. I think the truck’s headlights got a free wash through that one.
Finally, after 3.5 hours of rock and roll, without the music, we crossed the 400m long single lane wooden plank bridge which, of course, had traffic crawling across it in both directions anyway and rumbled into Kampot.
This afternoon I engaged a relatively older moto driver and off we rode to Phnom Sia. East of Kampot and not far from the sea, among the flattest rice paddies, rises a little limestone hillock and carved into it over time are a few deep caves.
I climbed past a stupa and a wat still under construction and found the entrance to the first cave masquerading as a slit in the stone, guarded by hanging vines. I slipped through the opening and, as my eyes adjusted to the dark, I could make out the esophagus of the cave descending steeply away from me to the nether reaches. My ears also brought me an eerie sensation. From within the black gut emanated thousands of tiny voices, squeaks and bleeps as if there were thousands of gerbils running on thousands of squeaky metal wheels. It was like a Chipmunks do acid jazz vocals concert. It all echoed up and kept me quite fixed in that spot for some time, trying to find the nerve and footing to descend. I did, slowly, as if I was wading into quicksand. The squeaks got louder with more distinct pitches and tones, almost shrieks. Occasionally I heard the metred whipped rush of air as one of the bats swooped to a new perch, invisible in the blackness. It really was kinda freaky. I knew my flashlight would only send them into a frenzy but I just had to see where I was — how deep, how high the cave — and yes, how freaky the bats. Just shining the light on the ground in front of me caused an uproar above me. Slowly I crawled the beam up the rock wall. By the time the light hit the ceiling about 40 feet above me, the whole roof of the cave was alive squirming, flipping, squealing and swooping. It was like disturbing a bee-hive with massive bees. I scrambled outta there quickly and was quite pleased by the appearance of the afternoon sun.
So, lots of bits of darkness the last few days just beneath the many surfaces here. Fascinating place, in the way a David Lynch movie is fascinating…