Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Nutella Pancakes (and Lamb with all the Trimmings)

Completely lacking in any blog inspiration myself (though feeling much better otherwise) here is number 1's latest blog from the Far East - along with a very attractive picture of her and Alex (it must be the genes!!!). Hope you enjoy it. Incidentally, herself is due to appear on 8th March in Call the Midwife - finally! But then what (or wat) would I know, I'm only her mother...

Kampot was a place I kept mistakenly calling Tampon for reasons unbeknownst
 to me (other than that 5 of the 6 letters are the same). It was described by the 
little brown owl (Trip Advisor) as a 'pretty French colonial town' on the river in 
South Cambodia. A 'must see' by Lonely Planet. If we hadn't done so many of 
these towns everywhere along the Mekong River now, we might have enjoyed 
it but, as anticipated, there was nothing to do there except sit and stare at 
brown sludge. Which you can do from the retreat of your own bathroom, if 
needs be.

So let's skip the 48 hours we spent there.

There was one amusing moment when Alex had to queue nearly half an hour to 
use the new ATM - the first ever in Kampot. Dozens of locals were trying out 
their new credit cards at the same time, crowding around it like kids at a vending 
machine. A few of his toys were discarded here.

Sihanoukville provided us with our first view of the sea in four weeks, a welcome 
distraction for the town itself was like a Far Eastern Benidorm. Taking a walk to 
the 'Wildside', our accommodation for two nights, we found the gates closed 
and two alsatians (or alastians as I once called them) growling at us. 
Eventually a semi-naked Frenchman high as a kite let us in and it materialised 
out we had the entire premises to ourselves for both days. Dubious times.

Booking our ferry tickets to Koh Rong Samloem (a desert island), we were 
delighted that for 15 dollars per person, they managed to throw in free 
breakfast, lunch and a snorkelling trip to the 'best coral reef in Asia' en route. 
I was also assured by Alex that we had taken out enough cash to last the 
five days we were intending on staying there.

The next morning we got picked up at 7am via minibus and dumped at a 
shack where we were served our "free continental breakfast" as part of the 
trip - a baguette with some jam. Meanwhile our bags were given to some 
tuk-tuk drivers whom we watched drive off into the distance with a 
trepidation that we might never see our clothes again. In a car chase, we 
were delivered to the pier and pushed onto a "party boat" where we 
watched a policeman do a tally count from his bike, shaking his head 
somberly all the while. The more observant of us quietly claimed lifejackets 
at this point. After taking off, we had to duck to avoid being bludgeoned by 
selfie-sticks owned by the famed Korean tourists.

So good so far.

About half an hour into our boat trip, an overhead tannoy announced that 
anybody interested in snorkelling should disembark the boat and swim to 
the island where there lay the promise of colourful fish and the coral reef. 
We were told to be back in half an hour. We immediately jumped in, 
alongside with some tourists in head to toe swimwear and rubber rings. 
Ten minutes later we arrived at the beach and put our snorkel masks on. 
We didn’t see anything but sediment. Then the tannoy went.

“The Party Boat is leaving!”

Ten minutes later we were back on the boat.

Lunch was some rice with either some chicken that tasted like fish, or some
 fish that had the texture of chicken. I didn't eat it.

But Koh Rong Samloem was a little slice of heaven. The summation of the 
simile 'as pretty as a picture', the definition of 'tropical paradise' - all of 
those stultifying cliches which we hate to use but sometimes are the only 
ones that are just right. White sand like powder, crystal clear waters - you 
name it AND you could walk 200 metres out to sea and still be only waist 

At Paradise Island Beach Resort - the original, we are staying on the upper 
floor of  a mixed dorm for 12 dollars a night. A double storey bamboo barn 
with the front completely open to the sea, we have a mattress and a mosquito 
net for privacy, lined up alongside others like ducks in a row. The electricity is 
only on between 6pm and 10pm. There is no internet, shops, roads, vehicles. 
There are a couple of beaches to walk to, but that is all. It is like being 

At 6.15am, we creep down the stairs to watch the sun rise. To our surprise, 
the sun is a deep blood red, crimson, vermillion - whichever romantic shade 
you like. You would think it was sunset. The rest of the island is asleep.

It is quiet here - except for the party boats that come here each afternoon 
when the tourists disembark for a couple of hours, take lots of pictures, then 
abscond again in response to the tannoy:

“The Party Boat is leaving!”

Not many actually stay on the island which gives us a sense of superiority - 
that smug self satisfaction - we knew better than all the other tourists. False 
vanity is a common flaw amongst backpackers. 

The only slight problem  is that we were rapidly running out of money. 

So we count our coins - or dollar in this case as all of Cambodia now uses 
American currency to circumvent the poor value of the riel. The island 
overcharges for everything, as there is little choice but to comply. Breakfast 
becomes a meal shared - Alex gets the free coffee and I the free juice. 
When possible, we avoid lunch and drink water instead. Dinner is a bargain 
if rice comes with the order. We had already booked our accommodation to 
last us through to the end of the week and we didn’t want to have to leave 
early. Plus we were feeling martyr-like - cue a rendition of Gloria Gaynor's 
"I Will Survive" performed walking along the beach, off-pitch and off-key. 
Hands in the air, shaking. By Sunday, we had 13 dollars to last us two 
meals before returning to Sihanoukville.

Alex had dreams of piles of Nutella pancakes. We basically spent a lot of 
time sunbathing and thinking about food. Occasionally we went on walks 
off the beaten path.

Alex found some exciting toys to play with.

Whilst I continued to think about food.

And look for it everywhere.

It reminded me of a story we were told by a friend who once served in the 
SAS, when he was returning from the selection course having been out in 
the field for three days with only a handful of rations and no sleep. In the 
truck on the way back having passed the test, the assessors asked the 
soldiers, in attempt to keep them awake, what their perfect meal would 
be to return to. Not one for the short and sweet answers, our wonderful 
friend in glorious and immaculate detail described the whole preparation 
of a rack of lamb with all the trimmings from start to finish. Fifty years 
later, he bumped into a fellow comrade who immediately brought up that 
rack of lamb.

The things that stay with us. 

On the last day we met this little kid. A local boy, maybe six years old, with 
a mop of black hair and the pearliest white teeth I had seen on the island. 
He wore red shorts and a checked shirt and the French owner was sending 
him around the restaurant serving food to the customers. His English was 
perfect - better than any we had heard here. He had the sweetest smile.  

I of course wanted to adopt him.

But the prevailing thought at the time was that he was unfortunate. Unfortunate 
to have been born on the island, however nirvana-like it appeared. Would he 
have the opportunity to attend a good school, to make something of himself in 
this world - the way a young bright boy has a right to? But then again, do we 
have a right to say with conviction that ours is a better life?

I don't know.

Koh Rong Samloem was a lesson in serenity for the city-dwellers accustomed 
to having civilisation at their feet. There was a high probability that if a 
groundbreaking event had occurred elsewhere in the world during those four 
days, we might have been some of the last people to hear about it. Certainly, 
it would have made no difference (to the world) whether we had been told or 
not. It was good for us - but I couldn't live this way. I realised that I have to 
be at the front of the world where technology is evolving, where 
advancement is at its steadiest. Where the best schools are and the best jobs. 
And that was quite a big lesson learnt I thought.

That little boy will stay with me. 

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