Bokor jungle

14 December - I can assert I’ve had one of the most tiring days as far as transports are concerned today. I am extremely disturbed after the day-long excursion to Bokor national park, now that I’m about to have dinner. A shower partially restored me, but I shall need a good night’s sleep to finish the job.

First of all I must observe that the pretty guest-house where I’m staying is the ideal place to perk up and looks like Eden’s garden with its beautiful trees and plenty of hammocks stretched between poles. This nice sensation is so much stronger, after coming from that Kep rat hole without daytime electricity, or running water from the mains (but from a reservoir), or a basin in the bathroom (but a tap in the wall that flowed on the floor). A place you would want to stay in for as little time as possible.

ImageI would have liked to give the landlord a piece of my mind, but I didn't have the time. In fact, I had bought a ticket to Kampot for 11.30, but the bus came along one hour ahead of time. So I went fuming to the bloke who'd sold me the ticket and claimed a refund. I called him an unserious seller, without being rude, but in a cold detached tone, so exasperated I was from various circumstances. I then found a lift on a motorbike that drove me along the 24 km in one hour's time.

But I'd better get back to today's events in the gorgeous Bokor National Park. I was carried in the back of a four-wheel drive pick-up truck, jolted on a ghastly stony road. There was luckily a metal bar to hold on and I can still see my hands marked from the tight grip. Five more people occupied the space on scarcely padded seats that made my bum sore.

The forest scene was nonetheless exceptional. Its very thick vegetation was extremely elegant for the shape of the leaves, their dark colours, the variety of the species. You couldn't count the sounds: they overlapped in the manifold variety of chirps, whistles, I thought I even heard bell chimes.After crossing this spectacular setting on a long steep way, made even harder by the extreme travel conditions, you get to the 1000 m high plateau overlooking the sea with remnants of abandoned buildings from the colonial weather station. Among all stands out the hotel, coated by unbelievable black moss and flashing orange lichens that look like red-lead paint until the eye makes out the hairy tufts that compose it. The building is complex and I explored room after room of its desolate bleakness, trying to imagine it furnished and inhabited in its golden times. Below the terrace a cliff separates the plateau from the jungle that degrades to the foothills; then you catch glimpse of a coastal strip and finally the sea. In the distance the mist dissolved colours and outlines, but it was still a grand view from its sheer height.

ImageThe day came to an end with an hour's sailing down the river that touches Kampot. Once more I was amazed at such an abundant waterflow, lukewarm and very inviting for a good swim.I rather liked peaceful and typical Kampot. Yesterday it was scorched under a relentless sun, whose effect was made stronger by high humidity. I thought I would indulge myself and try a durian, the infamous locally grown fruit. Some describe its smell as revolting and reminiscent of rotting meat… I was very much prejudiced on account of these rumours, but I didn't think this description was adequate at all. You certainly have to overcome an initial sense of repulsion due to the strong and unusual smell, but then you are in for a delicious mix of scents in the mouth. Besides the pulp texture is sometimes creamy, sometimes firmer and almost pleasantly fibrous, a combination that adds relish to this eating experience.