I’ve written and then deleted fifteen opening paragraphs to this post over the past hour and in the process downed a whole pot of very strong coffee on an empty stomach.
I now have full on caffeine shakes and am going to rely on this altered mental and physical state to help me form the blog that started to take shape in my head on Saturday morning.
A bike ride was the starting point. On my usual route through the salt fields I was excited to note that yet again, even though only a week or so had passed since my last visit, the landscape had changed. More work had been done to ready the fields to my left for flooding and to my right the process of flooding itself had commenced and a thin crust of salt was forming on the recently fortified field borders.
A very welcome but quite fierce breeze added a corrugated iron symphony to my journey as the rusted roof sheets of the salt sheds rattled and flapped. It also created problems for the numerous species of birds and insects who frequent the area and so I stopped for a while to entertain myself by watching them battle the wind with varying degrees of success, there was quite a lot of seemingly unplanned circling taking place as the wind proved too strong for the smaller of the birds and the dragonflies.
The wind also threatened to become my nemesis as I made the turn from the salt fields along the river road to town, blowing diagonally across the wide-open plains seemingly determined to challenge my progress. Years of running and cycling in windy, rainy Manchester have taught me of the futility of battling a breeze and so I sat back on my bike seat and pedalled patiently without expectation using the breaks between the gusts to slowly make progress along the road.
Once I neared town the buildings to the right of me blocked the wind’s ferocity and my progress hastened until I had arrived in town and parked up at one of my usual haunts to grab a coffee and breakfast.
Sitting watching the world go by I realised I wasn’t yet ready to settle in for the long haul and so, rather than ordering my breakfast I finished up my coffee, paid my bill, rescued my bike from where it lay forlornly in the road having been toppled by the wind and set off to pootle around town. Cambodian towns and cities are interesting to be in at any time of the day or night but mornings for me are particularly magical. Mornings are the time when the world and his wife come out to sell their wares and I cycled slowly as locals purchased meat, fish, fruit & veg, embryos (oh yes they do!) and various dessert items from the back of traders’ bikes.
On my travels, I also picked up my own provisions for the week, stopping to buy bread and a sausage roll (oh so Cambodian I know) from the Belgian Baker’s tuk tuk on the Riverside and grabbing a bag of freshly ground coffee from Espresso. My internal quandary over whether to make Espresso my breakfast pit stop was soon resolved by the discovery of a Cambodian wedding taking place outside. Geez, they sure know how to get the most out of a sound system in this country! If you don’t believe me check out the little video clip I shot inside Espresso – apart from the coffee grinder all of the noise is courtesy of the wedding tent on the road.
Instead, I returned to my bike and was soon the centre of attention as I followed a truck of kids determined to engage me in a waving competition. In the mood to indulge them (in fairness I’ve yet to have an occasion when I haven’t felt compelled with an invitation to join the hello/waving chorus – it makes me smile even more than the Cambodian kids) I decided to show off by waving with both hands whilst also taking my feet off the peddles which was met with hilarity and encouragement to do it over and over again despite huge trucks hurtling past at one point. Thankfully, I survived my fit of stupidity and they eventually turned off leaving me to once more cycle along at a leisurely pace watching the comings and goings of locals and tourists alike.
Having popped in to the Japanese secondhand store for a mooch around the assorted tat and crap on sale and watched the monks give a rapid fire blessing to the local beuty(sic) parlour I eventually I stopped again. After ensuring my bike was sufficiently shielded to avoid it toppling in the breeze chose a prime corner seat to once more sip coffee, read my book and engage in more people watching.
Two telephone engineers caught my eye, especially the one who, wearing a floppy straw hat and flipflops, proceeded to climb a precariously placed ladder to dick about with wires at the top of a pole despite the gusts of wind that threatened to topple him. Despite the wind’s best efforts he completed the wire instillation and he and his mate were soon off to the next pole on the road to repeat the antics.
People a plenty passed by, including some Kampot institutions like crazy pyjama man and the legend that is ‘dreads in a bike basket’ man and I spent a pleasant hour or so flipping between reading my book and gazing out on life going on in front of me. At the point that one of the huge umbrellas at an adjacent table unceremoniously toppled over sending the basket of assorted condiments flying I decided it was probably time for me to be on my way and so I settled up and hopped back on my bike.
Still not ready to return home I zigzagged my way through the streets stopping to grab my favourite street snack of fried bananas and kicking off another hello chorus with the group of school kids also snack purchasing post morning class but still slightly pre lunch.
By the time I reached the big blue house, four hours had passed since my departure and I had happy memories of a morning spent pootling which thanks to the now subsided coffee jitters I’ve eventually managed to write down.