Kampot is a river town. It’s one of the things that drew me too it. I love water, no surprise when you consider I’m a Cancerian with both my sun and moon in Cancer at the time of my birth and spending time by water or on it brings about a sense of peace.
Or at least it does when I’m not knee deep in a river at 8.30 on a Saturday morning trying to scramble my way to kneeling on a paddle board floating away from me on the Kampot River.
Before doing so I’d listened carefully as my tutor and guide for the morning, Sal, showed me how to get on, the transition from kneeling to standing, how to paddle straight and turn myself around, all the time repeating the most important point of all – Look ahead, not at your feet!
Balanced precariously, doggy style on the board, Sal encouraged me to move to standing – easier said than done. In yoga, one of the things I struggle with is bringing my legs through from downward dog to place them at my hands and here was Sal asking me to perform the same manouvere but this time on a piece of polystyrene in a deep murky mass of water.
I clumsily dragged my left leg through and there I sat, half up, half down and totally paralysed with Norman laughing uproariously in my ear.
When suggesting I stay kneeling for a while longer to gain confidence, poor Sal and Zoe (who had paddle boarded previously) bore the brunt of my sharp tongue as I snapped No, aware that if I didn’t do it now, Norman would have a field day and my sense of failure would make it nigh on impossible for me to recover.
All the while chanting the mantra, “look up, not at your feet” and with Sal and Zoe echoing it around me I unsteadily dragged my right leg through and tentatively pushed through my feet and core until I was at last upright. My euphoria was short lived as I realised that, rather than pointing straight ahead, my feet were in fact placed at 45 degree angles aka duck style. Not a problem you may think until I tell you that my feet (particularly the right one) felt literally glued to the board.
This is actually not a new phenomenon for me – I have experienced the sensation of being unable to lift my feet before but have never been so acutely aware of its link to my feelings of fear around lack of stability and grounding. I managed to shuffle my left foot around but no matter how strongly I tried to urge my right foot to move it just would not shift, my leg a solid lump of immovable lead.
Eventually Sal came to my rescue, paddling over to simultaneously hold my board and shuffle the foot round to its rightful place and thus stop my board keeling over and finally we were off.
We headed up river edging slowly towards the old bridge, Sal choosing a straight smooth pathway whilst Zoe and I clumsily zigzagged our way there. Past the bridge and onwards out of town I felt myself relax slightly, getting into my paddling stride and actually daring to look around a bit rather than fixing obsessively on the horizon. By the time we got to the New Bridge, Zoe and I were actually chatting and I was beginning to enjoy myself.
It was at this point that Sal proposed a rest, a joyful concept until I realised that this meant transitioning from my standing position back to kneeling. A few girly squeals later and I was down on my knees and paddling along again in between taking welcome gulps from my bottle of water which had been out of reach whilst standing, due to it being secured to the board by strapping and taking a couple of snaps on my phone which until this point had been secured in a waterproof pocket around my neck.
We paddled silently along, passing fewer and fewer dwellings and denser and denser foliage, the ripples our boards were making the only movement on the deserted river.
All too soon it was time to stand again which I this time managed with no more grace but far less panicky squeaking. I truly was getting the hang of things.
The paddle up the river was amazing. I totally get why people can get hooked on these kind of activities, such a peaceful, gentle way to glide along and be part of the river and at one with nature rather than crashing through it on a motor boat or similar and far less traumatic than getting repeatedly beached as we did on our boat trip to Battambang. We weaved our way along, criss crossing the banks to make the most of limited shade, passing mangroves filled with exotic looking plants and buzzing from the sounds of birds and animals, bursting into song (my rendition of Old Man River was Grammy award worthy in my opinion!), chatting, laughing and joking but also spending quiet time lost in our own thoughts. No matter how focused on my paddling technique I was I never managed to keep pace with Sal who motored ahead even when he had one hand off the paddle to talk to someone on his phone.
Further up river a current rose as the tide appeared to turn and, for Zoe and I who were by this point 2 hours in and tiring rapidly, it brought the relief of a helping hand speeding us on the last leg of the tour.
Knackered but elated we headed toward the beach laughing about how the hell we were going to disembark as we watched Sal achieve the feat effortlessly. I glided in first and then unceremoniously scrambled and tripped forward on my board as it hit the beach, squealing and laughing as I struggled off waving my arms about wildly in an attempt to avoid falling in. Zoe managed a slightly less fairy elephant disembarkation and before we knew it we were both on land and helping Sal to collect everything up to transport to our awaiting tuktuk for the journey back.
My water baby Cancerian self well and truly sated, we arrived back in town windswept, sun blushed and exhausted and after much needed sustenance in the form of strong coffee and good food headed to our respective homes for a well-earned nana nap.