Mishap in Kep

from: room 108, Nameless Guesthouse, Kampot, Cambodia.

They say that there are only two types of people who ride motorcycles. Those who have crashed and those who will. So it is herewith that I submit my application for removal from the second group and induction into the first with all attendant rights and privileges.

The village of Kep-sur-la-mer, founded in 1909, was where the French and Cambodian upper crust built their seaside retreats to escape the rigors of administering their possessions here. Beautiful villas, ornate gardens and broad boulevards kept the town popular with the wealthy until the Communist victory in 1975 made the wealthy very unpopular indeed. Kep was summarily deserted and by 1979, with famine widespread, the villas were soon stripped clean by locals looking for anything salvageable to sell the invading Vietnamese army. Cambodians have since moved back to Kep. Some into the better preserved husks but most into the thatched huts or stilt homes they have built in and around the area. Today the shells of these once beautiful mansions remain abandoned and slowly disintegrate at the centre of large walled plots of increasingly unruly jungle. Perhaps the melancholy feel of the place makes the houses uninhabitable to superstitious locals.

We visited one such place down a long dirt road that once ran through a neighborhood but now serves only as a track to move cows from one grazing area to another. Those same cows had kept the last vestiges of a lawn around the house cropped to a uniform tidiness that seemed to provide it some last line of defense against the encroaching jungle.


inside one of Kep's abandoned villas

We were bouncing down this dirt road that was once a street, lined with wrecks that were once grand houses, when we came upon a herd of these cows dozily walking in the same direction. As we came upon the last two cows they split and walked to either side of the road, as if inviting us to pass. I gunned the engine and fell into their trap for at that moment one of them inexplicably switched directions and stepped right into our trajectory on his way to rejoin his partner yonder. I slammed on the brakes. We skidded. We fell. Julie landed neatly on my ribcage and the bike pinned my leg with the motor running, gasoline leaking and the rear tire spinning madly near my foot. It was an alarmingly brisk change in fortune and for a moment we were silent. Then,
"Are you all right Julie, Are you all right?!" She said yes,
"Are you sure?" she confirmed her first answer.
"Well get off me then dammit!"

A small crowd of children began to form around us, one of them pointing at scratches on the bike and shaking his head in as serious a way as a filthy naked child with snot all over his face can. Julie, taking revenge on my clumsiness, would dab one of my cuts with an alcohol swab making me hop from one foot to the other, hooting with pain. The kids thought this great fun and they made a game of finding cuts I was previously unaware of so Julie would come at me with the swab. The children would cackle and clap with joyous anticipation at my coming pain.

Of course no-one was more interested than the cows who had been quietly walking down a quiet road, minding their own business when suddenly behind them there was a loud crash and shouting and yelping and dancing. I glared stonily at the poor uncomprehending cows all gathered a few meters away, their eyes wide with lazy curiosity. I made a move towards them and they bolted.

~ Nigel
12.27.01


note - Julie had been using our camera to take a short video from the back of the bike. The entire event is captured for posterity. Unfortunately the camera sustained some damage and some time later, moments after entering Angkor Wat, it shut down for good.

   

 

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