As much as I wanted to set down roots and spent the rest of my natural life at the Kep Lodge, I knew deep down there was no chance. There was just way too much of the country left unexplored for the more wayfaring member of our party. That coupled with the fact that the Sihanoukville beaches are described in all of the literature as being far, far superior to Kep, we agreed that we would hit the road and spend a couple of nights a bit farther north on the gulf.
Jeff booked a hotel on line (with pool!) and we agreed to tuk-tuk tour the Pepper and Salt fields in the morning, have a last lunch a the heavenly Kep Lodge and then hit the road for our next stop.
The ride to the Kampot Pepper farm was about half an hour. You may not know this, but Kampot pepper is quite famous among the epicurean elite. I am an epicurean philistine, so I know not of what I speak. I can only tell you about our Pepper Experience from my lowly view as someone who eats to live instead of lives to eat.
But first, our drive through the countryside. It was beautiful and cool; there is something about the wind in your hair as you lean back in your tuk-tuk, taking in the local sites. This is a barber shop:
Petrol station on the left with a delivery vehicle front and center. Petrol delivery works as follows: there is a 55-gallon drum filled with petrol with a hand pump attached. There are empty liter bottles of Pepsi (or Sprite, really, the brand doesn't matter - what is really important is that we are talking about liter bottle). A customer comes up, pays for a liter of petrol, dumps a Pepsi bottle of petrol into their tank and leaves. The attended then refills the liter bottle via the hand pump from the 55 gallon drum. Voila! Easy volume control as well as a great re-use of Pepsi bottles.
Close up of the 55-gallon drum set up
Monks collecting alms. I'll let Wiki elucidate: "In Buddhism, alms or almsgiving is the respect given by a lay Buddhist to a Buddhist monk or nun. It is not charity as presumed by Western interpreters. It is closer to a symbolic connection to the spiritual and to show humbleness and respect in the presence of normal society. The visible presence of monks and nuns is a stabilizing influence. The act of alms giving assists in connecting the human to the monk or nun and what he/she represents. As the Buddha has stated:
And then, the Pepper Farm! Pepper grows on trellises, taking several years to mature. The pepper can be eaten green (it is quite good raw, and we had it with some dishes in Sihanoukville that were quite divine) or dried and ground as we typically imagine pepper to be used. Jeff and I were quite taken with the stuff, so be bought a kilo or so, some to be used in our kitchen and some to be given away to lucky family and friends.
"I'm a Pepper, he's a Pepper, wouldn't you like to be a Pepper, too?"
And that was about it. The Pepper stop was short and hot; the stuff is good but it does leave a longish sort of afterburn in your mouth. Then we were off to the salt fields.
Salt, as you know is the stuff of life. And as you also probably know, most of the salt we use is harvested from the ocean. We have this great book called "I Wonder Why is the Sea is Salty" that explained long ago to our wee children exactly how salt is harvested. But now, they would get to see it in real life. Yippee!!
Except for one small detail. Did you know that there is a season for the salt harvest? Like, maybe the dry season? When you slow the tuk-tuk down long enough to actually think about this sort of thing, it would be fairly obvious that you don't harvest salt during the rainy season, since the harvesting of salt requires e-v-a-p-o-r-a-t-i-o-n. But, let's look at some photos and discuss the process and you can decide for yourself if you would have been, all like, "Dude, of course you will not see actual salt harvesting, because it is the rainy season!" or if you would have been thinking that maybe you would see salt production because you were on a Salt Field Tour.
The salt fields are large, flat areas that appear to be a clay base (seen here cracked and dry), covering many, many acres of land not far from the ocean. The process, as explained to us by "Why is the Sea Salty" (as opposed to our tuk-tuk guide who seemed to have either (a) no idea how salt was produced or (b) insufficient English to explain it), is that you dump sea water onto a flat surface, let the water evaporate and then scrape up the salt. Hard work in the hot sun, but basically pretty simple.
The clay base makes sense, of course. You want the water to evaporate, leaving the salt on a dry base. If you just dump water onto soil, the water will seep into the earth, not leaving behind a tidy pile of salt. The clay creates a water unfriendly environment so that the water is basically forced to evaporate rather than try to make a run for it deep into the earth.
When we asked why the salt wasn't being harvested right now, our tuk-tuk driver mentioned something about the rains. We were able to put 2 and 2 together and come up with the aforementioned explaination about the dry vs rainy seasons. But we were puzzled by the activity of the children who seemed to be putting dirt on top of the clay base. And they did not look like they were doing it "for fun."
We could get no kind of an answer to that question, so we worked out our own theory. The hypothesis is this: they are prepping the fields for the rainy season. Rather than having rain sit on top of the clay base, the rain will be absorbed into this dirt "cover." Then at the end of the rainy season, you scrape off the dirt cover and your base needs very little time to dry and prep again for salt production. Nice hypothesis, no idea if it is in fact what they are doing.
These two young ladies seemed wise beyond their years. They probably could explain exactly what was going on, if only we spoke Khmer.
And, that was that. End of the salt tour. We headed back to the Kep Lodge to luxuriate in our last remaining moments in paradise. All I want for Christmas is a tuk-tuk and a license to drive it!
Knitting in Cambodia before we left.
The rains came during lunch. When it rained, it rained hard, although luckily, not for too long. This lasted maybe 20 minutes and had stopped by the time we hopped in the car to head to Sihanoukville .
Tomorrow: Admit it, you're curious. What is Sihanoukville like??