Kampot and Kep

Yesterday we hired a tuktuk driver to take us to Kampot, a bigger city about an hour away (by tuktuk anyway). You may have heard of Kampot pepper? It really is especially flavorful, and there are pepper plantations in the area that we keep having to insist we do NOT want to see. We've visited enough spice plantations in southeast Asia already, and we know how pepper grows. Every tuktuk driver who solicits us wants to take us to the pepper plantations, and so did the young man who was taking us to Kampot. With one last refusal to see the pepper plantations, off we went:

a quick stop to gas up the old tuktuk; the gas options seem to be
red, yellow, or green, which makes me laugh
countryside between Kep and Kampot
green right now because not everyone has brought in their rice harvest
love the palm/coconut trees
lots of these cows walking around. seems everyone has at least one.
typical nice home
always with a cow in the yard
a cow and a satellite dish, of course
more Muslim people than we remembering seeing the last time
countryside school, kids all in uniforms
our driver had to stop to fill a jug with water to keep the tuktuk running

Kampot is a big city, and we went with a few missions: to have a day trip, to pick up some medicine for Marc, to check out the market (the last time we went it was pouring rain and we couldn't see the market), and to eat some lunch. Day trip, check! Medicine, check. Market visiting, nope. I severely overheated during our half-hour walk to the pharmacy and got shaky and crampy. So we just made our way to a restaurant we'd identified in advance called Veronica's. The food was quite good, but the experience was made more interesting by the presence of an Italian man with a very bad leg who was schizophrenic. He was having a very loud, ongoing conversation with someone who wasn't there -- lots of gestures, lots of animated talking, an occasional moment of listening, lots of looking right at Mr Invisible and not really seeing us if we looked at him. But then he would have a perfectly normal interaction with the waitress, asking nicely for the check, asking if she could call a tuktuk for him, paying his check, normal in every detail. In one of his long conversations with Mr Invisible he said "Kampot River, la luna" amid the rest of his Italian, which I couldn't understand. The other customers of the restaurant were equally fascinated by him, and he wasn't at all scary or menacing, just kind of loud.

Marc got this piece of river fish -- otherwise unspecified. VERY good.
the old bridge over the Kampot River
our map identified this as "Peace Statue, with Guns"
now THAT is a gendarmerie!
the walkway along the Kampot riverfront
they like statues here -- this horse is in a roundabout that's being built
and this is a monument to heroic salt workers
here's a place to buy your shrines
We got back to our hotel around 2:30-ish, and after a long, refreshing swim and rest, we headed down to the waterfront for dinner. Each little restaurant in that row along the water is kind of long and narrow inside, with three tables at the waterfront, by open railings, and the rest inside where it's kind of stuffy. So we try to get there early enough to get one of the tables by the water, where the breeze off the ocean is sweet and we can hear the waves coming in. It's also a great panoramic view of the big dark clouds that seem to swell every evening and fill with lightning. As we were walking to the restaurant last night we thought that we might be walking home in a downpour; the air was that thick with needing-to-rain, and the clouds were lit with lightning. At the restaurant, it was a lightning show -- only over here, then only there, then the whole shebang. And then all the power went off at the waterfront, and every restaurant went black for several minutes until they fired up their generators.

We were at Holy Crab again because we couldn't get a good table at Kimly; Holy Crab is the fanciest restaurant we've been to on our whole trip, beautifully decorated and clearly a restaurant (unlike many places we eat!). The young man who waited on us remembered us from two nights earlier, and his giant smile helped ease us through some language struggles -- though, as I always say, he speaks 100% more English than I speak Cambodian, so the onus is definitely on me to find my way to grasp his English.

The lights came on, our dinner was magnificent, we walked back in an ordinary dark night without rain, and then we sat on our rooftop and had a late-night snack of fresh pineapple and persimmon that Marc had bought at the market. Such a lovely end to our day.

This morning we went down to the crab market to check it out and to buy some Kampot pepper. I keep ordering meals that come with Kampot pepper sauce, thick and gritty and black and so full of flavor I get hungry just thinking about it. As he always does with any food I love, Marc wants to make it for me, and with Kampot pepper.

this is in the traffic circle between our hotel and the crab market
you can buy grilled fish like this at most of the stalls
a fishing boat
these boys had a little crab in the plastic bag full of seawater, the way you'd buy a goldfish.
of all the things, for these crab market kids, a crab? we thought it was funny.
checking the catch in a trap. these southern-style hats are so common!
buyers negotiating with the fishermen
weighing a fish
this adorable little girl broke into a huge grin moments after I took this picture
the pepper stall; the pepper is graded in some way we couldn't understand. we bought ~1lb of peppercorns
from the big container on the left of the three, the browner one. it is SO SO GOOD.
Marc bought a pineapple here and waited while they peeled and trimmed it.
A day's work for this little girl at the crab market. She was stirring rice.
Cooking in the back of the market
today's pineapple purchase for tonight's late-night rooftop snack

After a morning swimming and relaxing in the sun, Marc walked back down to the market to buy our lunch. I love this; it's the partial fulfillment of a fantasy he has mentioned for years -- spending a month or so in a small house on a coast somewhere in SEAsia, and every morning he buys the ingredients at the market and makes us delicious fresh lunches and dinners. It's really just the SEAsia version of his every day doing for me, when we're back in New York, but I find it so dear. So he came back to our villa with a big grilled barracuda, a couple of sizes of grilled prawns, a couple more grilled squid, some rice, and he added the leftover pickled vegetables we had with yesterday's lunch for yet another magnificent lunch. We spread out at the couches and table on our rooftop, where I sit and watch him work in the kitchen. I find this to be the most wonderful meal of our trip, and that will still be true even when the trip ends.

the whole spread
is it wrong that I only hear the word "barracuda" as sung by Heart?
the bigger, fatter prawns
My composed plate. That luscious garlic chile sauce is poured over my peeled prawns.
Since the heads and legs and shell creep me out so much, Marc takes a lot of time
peeling them for me so all I have to do is pick them up and eat them.
Also very sweet....
Tonight we'll head down to the waterfront for dinner, and have our late-night snack, and in the morning we're going for a walk in the big national park adjacent to our hotel. Then one last big breakfast, one last swim in our own little villa pool, and we're back in a car hired to take us to Phnom Penh. I probably won't post again until we're settled there.

This has been such a magnificent trip, in every possible way. Cambodia is so lovely, and the people are sweet -- somewhere in between the flirty Vietnamese and the inner-focused and reserved Lao. The children are beautiful, the scenery is magnificent, and we've had such good food. What more can you ask for?

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