Kampot Chronicles 9

Posted on by Stan Kahn


Just after I wrote the last episode about how rainy it is there, it turned dry, raining only once in a week. It still feels wetter than Phnom Penh, but, at the end of the season, there’s a possibility of dry spells at anytime.

One acquisition I made back in the states was a high tech weather station. I haven’t hooked it up yet but I already have accurate thermometers and I have to say the daily weather stats in the Phnom Penh Post seem way off base. It’s always a couple degrees hotter by my reckoning. There are always local conditions that can make a big difference – Phnom Penh’s official weather station is at the airport – and my thermometers may be improperly placed. Anyway, I’ll be setting it up in Kampot and my occasional weather report will, I expect, be a first for the area.

Meanwhile, in addition to fruit trees I’ve begun planting ornamentals. Almost every trip I make to the land, which is usually every day I’m in Kampot, I feel the need to bring new plants with me. I’ve also started preparing ground for a vegetable garden. I brought back some interesting varieties of seeds from America – especially looking forward to home grown tomatoes. Some commercially grown veggies can taste good, but tomatoes are hardly ever in that category. Most of the year only one variety is available here in Cambodia. It tastes like cardboard but it ships and stores well, so that’s the one they grow.

With so many plants in the ground I’ll be forced to get my irrigation trip together. Within a few weeks, rain will become irregular and I’ll need to start watering. The plot next door, owned by a friend, has a sizable water hole which should have enough to keep my plants going until it dries up in January or February. By then I’ll need to have a well dug. In order to do that I’ll need a driveway to the rear of the property and none of that can be done now; the rice paddy that sits out front is now very soggy and will stay so for at least a month.

Meanwhile some of the trees are doing well, some are just holding their own while others are being stressed by a voracious little pests that like to dine on new shoots, making it hard for them to grow much. If I were there every day I could personally send them to their maker. I may have to take drastic action; not sure what though.

I also noticed a pest of the human kind. On my previous trip I spotted a beehive in a hollowed out section of a downed coconut tree that sits across the main pathway, actually where a driveway will need to go to get to the house site. At some point I’ll need to remove it so I was concerned about disturbing the little buggers and having to make a run for it. When I came back last time, the bees were gone and the hollowed out area expanded – I assume to get at the honeycomb.
Problem is the beehive is only visible from my Khmer next door neighbor’s property. The fence is barbed wire – the cheapest possible fence – and so it’s easy to get into the property. It’s also possible that the thief saw the hive while just trespassing through. Either way, next door thief or wandering thief, a distressing prospect, especially since I may not be living there for a while and even when I do have a house built, I’ll still probably be spending a lot of time in the capitol.

Does that mean I’ll need a caretaker and small caretaker house? My friend will probably eventually also build a house, so both of us coming in and out may deter thieves. Maybe another expat will come along wanting to be part of our little enclave and buy out the Khmer neighbors. At any rate, it seems folly to build a house and not expect to get regularly ripped off. Even if it’s reasonably secure, bad boys will find a way when nobody’s around for good stretches – I currently spend a week at a time in Phnom Penh.

I guess I could handle a little petty theft of produce as long as he/they didn’t take more than a thief’s fair share. I’d be glad to share the bounty. Definitely don’t like the feeling of my space being violated.

Digression: In contrast to the petty theft dark side of Cambodian nature, here’s an example of their generosity and adaptability. A group of us were heading to a waterfall on a mountain creek, part of Bokor Park, that sits a couple miles back of my place. The road that goes by my place heads up to the waterfall but I’ve never gotten far on it because it’s all sand and hard to negotiate on my skinny-tired bicycle. Now that I’ve got a car there’s a road I can use to get relatively close to the trailhead. It’s much smarter to save my energy for tree-shaded mountain walking where it’s a lot more pleasant, not to mention be able to get a lot farther into the mountain. At any rate, that road is pretty rough in places, and now in the rainy season, includes a big puddle.

I thought to negotiate the puddle by heading for the edge of the road since it’s generally shallower and harder than the center. This time, big mistake: the drive wheels immediately got stuck to the floorboards in mud. My passengers, a Barang and three smallish Khmer girls, were useless in trying to push the car out. After a couple minutes of futility, I got out to survey the scene and contemplate potential moves. Just a short time later four Khmer guys on two motorbikes came by and with only the barest hesitation stopped to lend a hand.

This meant getting right in the mud, lifting up the front end and pushing back. However, since it’s a front wheel drive, the wheels spinning backwards splattered everybody helping out front with mud, I mean, really splattered. They just carried on, giving their best, and after a couple of minutes I was freed and back on hard ground. I was so grateful for their timeliness and effort and willingness to be covered in mud on my behalf I gave each two dollars. It was probably too much, but as I say, I couldn’t have asked for a more timely or selfless rescue.

Back on topic, I can’t even consider building until the public road that accesses the property is improved. It’s easy enough to walk there carrying plants and tools since it’s only about 200 meters from the main road, but it’s not passable in rainy season without a 4-wheel drive. In fact, I’ve been told that the commune is planning to improve the road this dry season so access may not be a problem.

I’ve got a really comfortable place to stay in town so there’s no great pressure from that standpoint to build the house. Only problem might be that I run out of money if I wait too long – my out-go is currently a lot greater than my in-come. I’m having a great old time spending my money but…. We will see. Even without a house I’ll still have my little farm and garden to play with.

Stan Kahn

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