Animals in and around Kampot

IDA AND SAGA’S POST

We’re noticing lots of animals in and around Kampot. A few of them live with us in our house – some of them even in our beds! – and others prefer to live in the wild.

A local frog
A local frog

Every evening when we come back from the Guest House, we see a foot-long lizard and, sometimes, there are some smaller lizards beside him. “Mr. Enormous Lizard” has red spots all over his body and creepy yellow cat eyes. He usually hangs out at the lightbulb above our front door. The light attracts lots and lots of insects for him to feast on for dinner. During the day, he moves inside our house and keeps an eye on us in “reading nook.”

Foot-long red speckled lizard!
Foot-long red speckled lizard!

At night, we sleep under mosquito nets, but there are still ants/beetles/spiders and other critters that manage to sneak in under the net.

Some creepy-crawlies around our house!!
Some creepy-crawlies around our house!!

Our favourite animals in our bungalow are geckos. They are so funny! Whenever we see them, they freeze…for a moment….and then, they disappear into small hiding places.

A gecko I managed to take a picture of!!
A gecko I managed to take a picture of!!

At the Guest House there are four rabbits; three older rabbits that live together and one younger one that lives in its own cage. We get to feed them fresh greens and we sometimes go in and pet them. But, they’re a bit unpredictable.

And, then there are dogs. About 10 dogs at Les Manguiers alone. There are four dogs that live under our bungalow on stilts. The rest roam around freely. They make us miss our dog quite a lot.

Three of the dogs and Om Rien
Three of the dogs and Om Rien

We have also seen lots of cows. The cows in this area are white and they are so common that Les Manguiers even has one. The cows are quite skinny compared to the cows we see in Ontario.

Most mornings we are woken up by roosters (and the sound of fishing boats returning from a night at sea). The roosters are really loud. They also run across the street and scare us a bit when we’re out biking.

When we’re out biking, we usually see water buffalos in the fields after a big downpour. They are very large creatures.

Sometimes we go to places (like a Pepper Farm or the local Market) where we see really cute kittens. Our favourite kitten is a little, delicate white kitten with orangey-brown spots on it.

Our favourite kitten
Our favourite kitten

The most unusual thing we’ve seen so far is a goldfish swimming on our bike path during the second day of the tropical storm.

Sometimes, when it’s really quiet in the house at night, we find spiders that are the size of our hands. Our dad tries shooing them away with a broom stick.

There are lots of animals and we appreciate having (most of them) around (not lizards, spiders, etc.).

Thanks for all the comments on our last post. We hope you’ll write again.

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Pchum Ben: Remembering the Dead

Pchum Ben (Ancestor’s Day), a Cambodian Buddhist festival, began today. It will conclude 15 days from now with a big celebration across the country. During Pchum Ben, Cambodians pay their respects to deceased relatives through food offerings to (living) Buddhist monks. The food offerings generate “merit”, which is then transferred to the dead.

We took a tuk-tuk to a nearby wat called Phnom Sor. Phnom Sor is a sprawling property with many buildings, ponds and scupltures. In the wat were beautiful tongs suspended from the cieling.

Below are two examples of tongs.

  
You will have seen from our posts that pagoda walls are covered with bright depictions of the Buddha’s life. According to legends about Buddha’s birth, the baby walked seven steps. At each step a lotus flower appeared on the ground.

Here are two depictions of the seven steps. The paintings are done by different artists (from different pagodas) and give you a sense of both the colors in the paintings as well as the variety of painting style.


We walked around the property and were joined by about a dozen small children. They were intrigued by Ida and Saga and we are getting used to the chorus of “hellos” that greet and follow us wherever we go. Some adults try to touch the girls. While this is quite common, it is taking some time for the girls to get used to. When I asked Ida what stood out from the trip to the pagoda today, she replied (quite accurately): “me! I stood out!”

When we’d had enough of standing out at the Phnom Sor Wat we moved on to visit another temple on a nearby hill. Kampot grows a lot of rice and the landscape is very flat. But from time to time there are big hills that jut out of the ground.

We headed for this hill:

And proceeded to climb it:

We got close to the top where there was a nice breeze and view:
  

As we got close to the top we turned around. Probably good in future to wear sturdier hiking footwear.

Upon our return we ate a feast of battered fried eggplant, mixed veggies and battered fried green peppercorns (look on the plate to the left of the eggplant medallions):

The peppercorns came from a nearby plantation and are delicious. And while it’s true that all things battered and fried are good, it is especially true for green peppercorns.

Key Coping Mechanisms for Modern Vikings in the Tropics

As we enter our fourth week in the tropics, we’ve reflected a little bit on the most effective coping mechanisms we’ve come up with to manage our northern nature in Cambodia’s tropical climate.

  • Slow Down: We’ve come to realize that we’re happier when we do less. While historically true Vikings both pillaged and plundered, we’re quite content to simply plunder; plunder the inside of our freezer, that is.
  • Consume Flavorful Ice Cubes Throughout the Day: We’ve been making ice cubes out of various liquids, including coconut milk, apple juice, mango juice and have taken ‘iced coffee’ to a new level by freezing coffee with milk and sugar into ice cubes (Ida and Saga’s favorite ice cubes at the moment). We’re popping ice cubes all day long.
  • Freeze Any Fruit That Lends Itself to Being Frozen: So far, we’ve been cutting up and freezing bananas and mangos and are tempted to test the limits of what fruit tastes good in frozen form (green apples? rambutans? durian?).
  • Double/Triple Up on Fans: As soon as the sun rises, we re-position our three floor fans from our sleeping quarters to our living quarters. The fans are absolutely critical to keeping our (delicate?) northern blood at a reasonable temperature. (The other day when the power went out at the hottest time of day, Les Manguiers staff casually asked if we actually needed electricity. They then saw the desperate look in our eyes – our lifeline to cooling down! – and moved quickly to have the power restored).

Nigel and I have been brainstorming about ways to replenish and re-hydrate after our occasional morning runs (as far as addictions go, we’re only moderately addicted to this type of exercise and satisfy our urge every now and then). So far, we’ve come up with a potential running route that would take us past some local salt flats (a simple lick should replenish our salt levels) and get us home before the morning dew has evaporated (a quick “snow/dew angel” should be rather refreshing).

Now that the Kampot River has regained its reputation has a safe watering hole, we’re also back to taking regular dips to cool off. And this is by far the most pleasurable way for us modern Vikings to enjoy these magical surroundings.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on additional coping mechanisms that we should consider…

Letter from Kampot

Jean-Yves Dekeister, who owns Les Manguiers together with his wife Phear, is involved with a local NGO called Samaki. Samaki helps local poor families in the Kampot region so that they can live better lives. Today, two Samaki staff took our family to visit one of the households that Samaki supports.

The family is a Chinese-Khmer family that lives close to Vy’s place. The family supports itself through a micro-enterprise weaving bamboo baskets. The family consists of two adults and their three children. Here is what we saw as we visited.

The 14 year-old daughter and the mother were weaving bamboo baskets. The mother was cutting the bamboo and the daughter was weaving it. In a day, the family makes around 50 baskets. Once 100 baskets are ready, they are shipped to market where they are sold for USD 0.13 each.

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Ida and Saga each tried weaving. They had a great instructor!

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This family has been with Samaki for about four years. Four months ago, the family built itself a new home. The new place is made of sheet metal with green walls:

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Their old house (still in use) is made of palm and thatch:

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As a thought experiment, I wanted to try and estimate the poverty level of the household that we visited. One way of doing so is by using the Grameen Foundation’s Progress out of Poverty Index (PPI). The PPI helps organisations understand the poverty profile of the clients they serve. PPIs are available from progressoutofpoverty.org and the tool is explained on that site.

(Note: I’ll try not to get too technical here) The PPI® is a poverty measurement tool [that] is statistically-sound, yet simple to use: the answers to 10 questions about a household’s characteristics […] are scored to compute the likelihood that the household is living below the poverty line […].

There is a PPI for Cambodia. The latest version of the PPI for Cambodia was created in February 2015 by Mark Schreiner of Microfinance Risk Management, L.L.C., developer of the PPI. Indicators in the PPI for Cambodia are based on the 2011 Socio-Economic Survey of Cambodia.

Some of what the Cambodia PPI takes into account include:

  • The number of family members in the household
  • The building materials used for the roof and the walls
  • The number of cell phones the household uses

Basically, if we know the answers to these questions, we can estimate how poor the household is.

While we didn’t have the answers to all of the questions, we are able to estimate that the household is very likely living on less than $2.50 per day. Interestingly, I’ve read that the average Cambodian household earns $950 per year, which translates into just over $2.50 per day.

This visit was certainly an eye-opening experience for Ida and Saga.

Visiting Vy’s Place

Vy works at the reception at Les Manguiers. She’s one of the first people we met when we arrived here. Yesterday, in coversation with Louise, she invited us to visit her house for a family celebration. It was very thoughtful of her.

Here’s a shot of Vy’s house:

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The flood last week affected this area; you can see the water mark on the side of the house here:

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Vy is married to Try. They have a six-month old son named Huan-Chai.

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The cause of the celebration was Try’s deceased grandfather’s birthday. To honor the grandfather, the family made offerings to a small shrine in front of the house and had a feast. Try’s mom was there (she is approximately 90 years old), along with brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins from both side of the family; all in about 25 people.

The shrine at the front of the house:

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The feast, prepared entirely by Try:

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Vy’s family has a lot of fruit trees around the house. She took us for a little tour; durian, mangosteen and rambutan are most prevalent. Interestingly, most fruit is harvested from May to July. When Try harvests the fruit, he sells directly to a wholesaler who then handles the distribution. Outside of that window of time, Cambodia imports most of the fruit that we see in the markets.

This is a rambutan tree:

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Here’s a mangosteen tree:

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There was also a ton of banana plants, a single papaya tree and passion fruit (currently in season):

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Vy’s sister used to be the chef at Les Manguiers and she joined the group and cooked a vegetarian feast for us.

We all feel very fortunate to have been included.

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After The Flood

This morning we were greeted by a different thundering sound: that of the fishing boats returning to their homes upriver.  The boats have been absent the last few days and it’s good to hear them again. The soundscape also included what sounded like water gurgling down a big drainpipe. The mighty Kampot River is back to its normal level and the remaining puddles are sinking into the earth.

To get a sense of water levels, here are two shots of the platform below our house:

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And here are the fields surrounding our place:

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The roads are clear, and we’re back on our bikes. We’re enjoying simple pleasures such as feeling dry ground underfoot, taking in the green grass and we even went for a run.

More Flooding

We’re fine but what a night!

It felt like the wind would topple the house.  Rain blew horizontally into the house through the screens, soaking books and clothes. By the morning the water had risen another two feet and the electricity is out.

We grabbed breakfast, preparing food for Om Rien (he slept with his dogs tucked under his arms). He guided us into les manguiers and we took a boat ride into Kampot. The streets are flooded here but it’s business  as usual.

We made a quick trip to the market to stock up on food and a treat at the local espresso joint. IMG_20150916_120331

We’ll head back to the house shortly. Waters should recede soon, we hope.

The Flood Issue

Boy oh boy! Overnight we went from thinking about peppers and food to precipitation and flooding.

On Monday evening local time, tropical storm Vamcoe made landfall in Vietnam south of Da Nang, bringing 305mm of rain and 70km winds. Today is Wednesday and we woke to heavy winds after a night of thunder and lightning and rain. As I was cooking breakfast I saw the Kampot River jump its banks and flood the field surrounding our house. We have never seen so much water.

Om Rien, the fellow who manages the grounds (along with his four dogs), has come and gone from our place all day. His dogs duly follow him.

image  They’re good swimmers, when they’re not hanging out under the building.

Our house is built on stilts that stick out of a big concrete pad, 40 cm above the ground. One fact that I was not aware of is how many critters congregate on whatever dry patch of land they can find during a flood. Ants are everywhere.

The frog and the dog coexist quite comfortably.

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I grabbed a couple of kayaks that we’ve used to reconnoitre the property.

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Les Manguiers is flooded.

image The reception area is sitting under 10 cm of water. We walked through the property and discovered that if we strayed from the brick pathway, we would sink into mud and risked losing our flip flops!

The road to Kampot is also flooded.

image Some cars and motos were braving the road but for the most part the highway is deserted.

We have stayed mostly indoors. Class was held at our dinner table rather than our usual location by the river. It is still super windy and we have battened down the hatches; locking all the windows. Fortunately for us we have food for a couple of days and stocked up on some books from the local bookstore. This, in addition to our Toronto Public Library access, will keep us in good shape.

No idea of what the flood conditions are like in Kampot. We’ll hope for the best and see tomorrow.

The Food Issue

Food is an important aspect of our trip. We like to eat. We have young children with us and a household with full bellies is a contented household. The converse is also true: empty stomachs can send the anxiety level through the roof. This post is about how we’re keeping our bellies full.

Our house has a kitchen and we get our food from the local market.

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We can get all the typical fresh vegetables we like.

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Rice abounds: it’s everywhere. Noodles too, particularly the instant ramen variety.

The fruit is delicious. We’re enjoying mangosteen, passion fruit, dragon fruit, durian, rambutan and tasty little bananas.

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There is something really reassuring about making our own food, rather than having to order it from restaurants. We’ve learned how to make a vegetable noodle soup that the girls can’t get enough of. A mild chickpea, tomato, potato stew in a coconut broth served with rice is quickly becoming a staple. The local baker sends fresh baguettes to the guest house every morning that the girls pick up on their bikes at 7am. This food is quite mild, using few spices and relying mostly on the flavors of the vegetables for taste.

Kampot is famous for its black pepper. Yesterday we visited a pepper plantation and tasted the fiery peppercorns. Kampot produces black, red and white pepper. The peppercorns grow like vines on wooden stakes, approximately nine feet tall at this plantation.

The stakes are lined up in rows. image

This vine has small peppercorn clusters growing on it.  image

The pepper itself is very fragrant, with citrus and herbal tones. And when crunched in the mouth the distinct smell of pepper fills the nose while a pleasant burn settles into the mouth and down the throat. We also tried green peppercorns, fresh from the vine. I was tempted to pop them like candy.