We had to cross the street from our guesthouse to get to the boat – not a difficult task in most countries and in Kampot it only required us to wait for one cyclist and a guy pushing a large trolley full of cardboard. Kampot is quite sleepy.
The boat was a simple local banana boat, entirely of wood except the bamboo and leaf roof. Powered by a portable generator attached to a long tail drive shaft, it appeared appropriate for a cruise down to the ocean past mangroves and fishing villages. One of Darren’s flyers promised an extensive selection of music but the lack of speakers and a music player, coupled with the lack of power suggested the music might not be part of our package.
At 4.00pm, our departure time, another couple joined us. They were from England, although on this day they had not traveled as far. In fact they had been in our guesthouse over the road so we had exchanged simple pleasantries with them previously (I say simple pleasantries because it is unlikely these two could go beyond that – clearly way out of their depths in this Heart of Darkness like situation, we wondered when they would ask for life jackets!).
Darren turned up a little late but was sporting some beer and red wine so we forgave him his tardiness. The drinks were thrown on ice by the boatman (I would call him the Captain but I was pretty sure that was Daren’s position and clearly it was his calling in life) and off we went, with Darren heaving the front of the boat of the river bank and clambering aboard.
As the engine kicked into life and the boatman ran it through both ends of it’s rev-range, Darren ran through the pricing for beers, wine and soft drink. It was a bit like listening to the old lady next door telling you about her Azalia’s whilst you are mowing the lawn with a 15 year old two stroke Victa – except I was actually interested in the price of the beers.
Darren then said something about Manly – I assumed he was talking about me but as it turned out that was where he was from in Australia – and surprised us all when he said that he really didn’t have much of a maritime background!!??! We started to wonder who the Captain was…..
As we cruised the tranquil waters of the Kampong Bay River we fell into quiet solitude, the water lapping at the bow, the engine now only a gentle hum and the breeze cool against our skin – and some bloody whining woman from Croydon telling us all about every damn wrong she had ever suffered at the hands of Cambodian transportation and accommodation agencies. To be fair, it saved us all from Darren’s David Attenborough impersonation and as it turned out, we featured in many of the wrongs……
It all started back in Siem Reap when we booked into a Hotel online that had already told me to my face that it was full. So at 9.00pm on our first night we had a visit from the manager demanding that we would have to leave the next day and then come back the day after – no problems he said, he would put us up in another Hotel next door. I smiled, frowned, smiled again and said no, find some other bunny.
Meanwhile, our cruise companions, Paul and Rachel, were staying in the same Hotel in Siem Reap, at the same time. In fact I remember them hogging sun-lounges by the pool on the afternoon we arrived. I mean, visit Siem Reap to laze around a pool – how about seeing some temples and giving us some space people, we have a child!
Anyway, I digress. The point is that they were at that point quite happily accommodated – or so they thought. I know not what occurred next, but they weren’t at breakfast by the third day and we were, so obviously the booking problems had been sorted (to our satisfaction at least).
Then we decided to engage Paul and Rachel – we did at least have in common our current ‘digs’. Or so we thought. Here in Kampot management had once again sized them up and moved them on. In fact at this point, 40 minutes into the cruise, I think we actually passed their new guesthouse!
And so the cruise became an opportunity to swap travel stories – kind of a “who took the worst bus trip ever versus the ferry from hell” type competition. And Darren didn’t really have much to add.
When we reached the coast Darren invited us to wander around on the sand banks and suggested a swim would be fine. I asked if the water was clean here, being the mouth of the local river that also serves a variety of community functions and he assured me it was.
So after walking around, looking at dead crabs, dead star fish and dead fish, I decided to swim in the Sea in Cambodia. Sand soon gave way to mud on the bottom so I kind of just bobbed around and noticed that it was typically brown despite being tidal.
Due to heavy clouds we actually didn’t see a sunset, although I think we would have been about 45 minutes early anyway, so Darren barked some Captain’s orders in Khmer and informed us we would head out to see to get a “feel for the coastline and have a better perspective”. Aye, aye, Captain!
We pushed off and headed away from the sand banks and then I noticed some flotsam on the water. It all looked the same, kind of like little, floating pieces of poo. Yeah, that seemed to be what it was, and lots of it. Great, I just swam around the outlet pipe of the only existing town amenity in Kampot, the sewerage system. We traveled on in silence, everyone clearly thinking the same thing – later that evening Paul and Rachel confessed to me their suspicions, just after they asked me if I showered when I got back from the cruise!
The ocean voyage lasted just long enough to see the effluent pipe and then the Captain had us turning for home, still pointing out local landmarks with some dubious accuracy.
On return we passed the local fishing fleet heading out to sea for their nightly work, which was pretty interesting actually, particulalrly as Darren yelled "Ahoy" (or the Khmer equivalent?) to every boat that passed within 500 metres.