OK, so where was I? Ah yes I remember – to quote myself (and frankly, who better to quote?):
“In a few minutes I’m going to set off for Kep, about 12 miles further east along the coast, and then I’m going to try and stay on Rabbit Island for a night or two.” So, did it happen? I think you already know the answer…
As I was writing, tip-tapping away, the rain started falling, falling, falling, until it was the usual deluge. I refused to be daunted, though, and splashed my way back to the Blissful guesthouse, Sri Lanka palm-tree brolly aloft over my head, my trousers growing ever more sodden by the minute. By the time I got back there I might as well have just jumped in a – well, not a swimming pool, they weren’t that wet, but maybe a child’s paddling pool. Undeterred, I thanked my lucky stars that I’d had the foresight to buy a backpack with a waterproof cover. This unfolds from a little zipped pocket at the back, and covers the whole thing, so when it’s on, I look like a silver-backed turtle. Which is kind of cool. I could look like a silver-backed terrapin, and everyone knows what geeks they are.
So that was my backpack sorted. Now for my other bags – I have a small rucksack that I call my daybag, although this is just to disguise the fact that it’s where I carry the stuff (already too much stuff) that won’t fit in my rucksack and then, because I don’t like carrying such a big bag round with me all day, I bought another small handbag in Beijing. It’s LeSportSac, which I have never heard of before but apparently is known in the USofA, so I’m guessing it’s another fake. Still, it’s brown and pink and blue and very pretty and, on a good day, it will fit inside my day bag for moving around. This was not a good day.
So, eyeing the rain that still insisted on swamping Kampot, I purchased a delightful blancmange pink waterproof poncho thingy, that was voluminous enough to go over me AND my bags. I think it was my foxiest moment ever. And off we set on a moto. Add in the factor that it stopped raining as soon as we were out of Kampot, and the sun resulted in me glowing for England underneath my non-breathable poncho – I tell you, if Prada had seen me then, they’d have called off the search for a new muse.
It’s a 20 minute drive from Kampot to Kep, though some tiny little villages where my attire drew a few laughs. Kep itself, when we finally arrived, is tiny – just a cluster of houses together, really. It has a population of about 4,000, and these hardy souls have hung on though the desertion of Kep – the rest is little more than a ghost town, stung badly by the ravages of war.
My moto took me up to the jetty from where the boats for Rabbit Island departed. Unfortunately, though, because of the bad weather, no boats were running at the moment. I was told to come back in a couple of hours, and sped off again on the moto, glumly eyeing the grey sky and building winds. I went to a beach-side hut (really, that’s all it was – just a mat on the floor for sitting on), and had a delicious meal of crab with local Kampot pepper – claimed by many to be the best pepper in the world and, let me say, I’m not going to dispute that. Plus, how cool will it be when I’m in the pub and the conversation takes that inevitable turn towards condiments: “Of course,” I will say loudly, “I refuse to use anything other than Kampot pepper. It’s the best, you know, and I cannot compromise the quality of my food for inferior peppers”. Man, I’m going to be Little Miss Popular when I get back!
After I’d whiled away two hours, I headed back up to the jetty, and was told that there was still no luck. Maybe, she said, after 5.30, but I knew enough about me and jinxed journeys to know when to call it a day – the sea looked pretty rough, and the boats were basic rowing boats. Didn’t fancy losing all my stuff (or me!) to the deep. Giving up on the idea, and realising that, by that time I’d missed the second bus of the day to Phnom Penh, I decided to stay the night in Kep.
And wow, if ever the old saying about every cloud having a silver lining was true, this was it. I found myself at the Veranda resort and, while at $20 it was over my budget, was it ever worth it. I figured I was prepared to spend $15 on the boat trip, then $5 a night is the going rate over on Rabbit Island – this was merely redirecting the funds. And also, breakfast was included, so I planned to fill my boots. The place was gorgeous, just gorgeous. And this was by my pre-travelling standards, not those depths I’ve sunk to over the last few months. The bungalow was completely isolated, and had a perfect view down to the sea – I’d have sworn I was the only soul around for miles. The decoration was lovely, there were definitely no bugs, and the bathroom was something to write home about – or at least blog about! The wall was head-hight, but the roof was higher, and set on a slope, so there were a few feet round the top of the wall which were completely exposed to the elements. Taking a (hot water! Oh my!) shower while it showered outside was fabulous, and I loved it.
The peace was simultaneously energising and relaxing. It was so utterly dark that I just hung in my hammock for hours, reading with a small light, feeling for the first time in weeks wonderfully, fabulously, alone – and by that, I mean the very opposite of lonely.
Not surprisingly, I woke up with the biggest smile on my face and, reaching for my ipod, put on the most apt song I could think of – “Ain’t got no (I got life)” by Nina Simone, and danced around my room to it, just celebrating – I was in a gorgeous place, my leg is definitely on the mend and so I’m fully bipedal again, the memories of people and places are getting so full I’m going to have to arrange some kind of storage facility for them. Life is wonderful.
And that, to misquote the genius Ms Simone, is something that nobody can take away.