Le Grand Détour

Bokor National Park and Kampot Pepper

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[29 décembre 2015]

france_french_flag Une matinée ensoleillée à la cool, en prenant notre petit déjeuner sur la terasse envoutante de la Belle Villa. Nicolas nous prépare un petit déjeuner canadien de pain perdu au sirop d’érable et de pommes de terre. Rapidement nous sommes hypnotisés, ensorcelés, engloutis dans les fauteuils, le regard vautré sur la montagne de Bokor, sous le ciel du Cambodge.

Combien de temps serions-nous restés dans cet état de zenitude si Sandra et Stéphane n’étaient pas arrivés pour briser le sortilège ? Nous réussions à nous extirper des fauteuils pour se joindre à leur table en profitant de leur très récente expérience du Vietnam pour challenger notre itinéraire, avec tous les petits conseils qui vont bien.

Finalement, vers 11 heures, nous sommes prêt à partir pour attaquer la journée… Nicolas nous propose de prendre le scooter qui est garé chez lui et ni une ni deux, nous voilà casqués et filant sous le soleil vers la montagne de Bokor.

Nous avons hésité avant de nous lancer à l’assaut de cette montagne de 1000 mètres car à la vérité, il n’y a pas grand chose à voir vers le sommet. Mais comme souvent, ce n’est pas tant le but que le voyage lui-même qui compte… Et nous ne sommes pas déçus car la vue panoramique qui s’offre à nous à mesure que nous prenons de l’altitude est tout simplement fantastique, avec le Vietnam et l’île de Phu Quoc faces à nous et toute la côte du Cambodge jusqu’à Sihanoukville que nous rejoindrons le lendemain.

Nous prenons quand même une bonne heure pour parvenir au sommet en zigzaguant le long des très nombreux lacets. A l’origine, ce parc national permettait de faire des treks et de voir éventuellement des animaux sauvages mais de nos jours, la plupart des animaux ont pris leur baluchon vers d’autres contrées plus tranquilles car un promoteur chinois a décidé de faire construire un énorme casino / resort / hôtel au sommet de la montagne. Franchement j’ai dû mal à croire au succès de ce truc mais, paraît-il, les projets d’aménagement du port au pied de la montagne devraient drainer énormément de monde. A voir.

En attendant nous glissons sur la route, contre le vents frisquets et les lacets jusqu’au sommet, en nous arrêtant le long de quelques points d’intérêt tels qu’un’e énorme statue de Bouddha puis une église en décrépitude et enfin un ancien casino colonial abandonné par les français. Bien que cette montagne ait eu une certaine importance lors de la période des khmers rouges du fait de son positionnement stratégique, son sommet n’offre plus aujourd’hui qu’un spectacle fantomatique de bâtiments épars, abandonnés à la végétation qui reprend peu à peu ses droits.

Pendant une bonne partie de la montée, nous avons suivi des filles sur un scooter… En discutant avec elles au sommet, il s’avère qu’il s’agit d’une vietnamienne et de sa copine japonaise en vacance dans la région. Notre première rencontre vietnamienne ! Et celle-ci est très sympathique.

Au retour nous bifurquons pour voir des chutes, normalement impressionnantes mais qui sont quasiment à sec en cette saison. Sur la photo on arrive à distinguer ce petit filet d’eau qui tient plus d’un pipi de chat en fin de miction plutôt que du torrent infernal mais bon, on a vu les « chutes » 😉

Il est temps de redescendre tranquillement vers Kampot car il se fait faim. Aller-Retour il y a quand même pas loin de 90 kilomètres.

Nous déjeunons en ville, dans le café-patisserie où j’ai acheté mon gâteau la veille au soir et nous y apprécions un super sandwhich et des frites maison. Pas très cambodgien tout ça mais ça fait du bien quand même !

Nous terminons l’après-midi par une visite de la coopérative de poivre FarmLink. Oui, car comme je le mentionnais dans l’article précédent, ici la star, c’est bien le poivre, le poivre de Kampot, le meilleur du monde dit-on, avec une appelation d’origine contrôlée liée au terroir. Cette coopérative achète du poivre d’une centaines de plantations de la région pour le commercialiser ensuite.

Si tôt arrivés, une jeune et jolie cambodgienne nous propose de visiter les locaux tout en nous expliquant les secrets de cette épice dont nous ne connaissons pas grand chose finalement. Savez-vous par exemple que les grains de poivre ne poussent pas dans les poivrières, contrairement à ce que nous croyons en Europe ? D’ailleurs nous apprendrons aussi que les grains de sel ne naissent pas non plus dans les salières 😉

En tous cas les grains de poivre se récoltent sur des plantes, par grappes, qui prennent plusieurs couleurs en fonction de leur maturité, du vert vers le rouge. Le poivre vert se mange mais doit être consommé dans les quatre jours avant de perdre sa saveur. Le poivre blanc est obtenu à partir des grains rouges auxquels on retire la peau, le poivre rouge est simplement utilisé à partir des grains rouge et enfin, le poivre noir est obtenu à partir des grains rouges qui sont séchés au soleil. Ca vous en bouche un grain, non ? Désolé…

Pendant la visite nous nous arrêtons pour observer une douzaine de petites mains qui trient un par un (!) les grains de poivre noir ! En plus il ne s’agit que d’un tri cosmétique pour faciliter la vente des sachets de poivre car le goût ne change absolument pas entre un grain un peu aplati ou un grain bien sphérique… Un boulot bien pénible à la pince à épiler !

C’est enfin le moment de la dégustation… et je dois avouer que c’est très bon, même sans accompagnement, notamment le poivre rouge que je ne connaissais pas et qui dégage des arômes un peu sucrés et fleuris. Nous en profitons pour acheter un sachet pour l’oncle Brian de Susie qui adore cuisiner.

Nous retournons ensuite tranquillement à la guesthouse où Nicolas nous offre une bière pour finir l’après-midi, de nouveau avachis sur les fauteuils de sa terasse, cette fois pour admirer le coucher du soleil… et pouvoir enfin publier nos aventure d’Indiana Bob.

Stéphane et Sandra sont également de retour et ça papote jusqu’au soir.

Pour le diner, nous optons pour le « Loving spoon », « La cuillère qui vous aime », où nous dégustons de superbes curry thaï bien de là-bas. Normal car ce sont deux thaïlandaises aux commandes, l’occasion de sortir les 3 mots de thai que nous connaissons 😉

Une journée paisible et sans stress comme nous les aimons aussi parfois.

 

english_flag [29th December 2015]

Feeling blue

I discovered this morning that I had messed up with the dates and had missed Skyping home for their Christmas dinner (which was yesterday)! Mum had sent me an email and Charlie had sent a photo via Facebook of the Hubbard Christmas, but we’d already gone to bed!! I would have loved to have seen you all and wished you a Merry (2nd) Christmas face-to-face. I’m so sorry! It’s difficult being away from home at Christmas! Luckily Stéphane was here to give me a big hug to try and cheer me up.

Pull your socks up, Susan!

Our plan for today was to hire a moped and drive up to Bokor, after a yummy breakfast on the balcony — which again sucked us in for longer than we had planned this morning! Nick had already got a moped for us which was waiting outside the villa and so we donned our helmets and headed off from the Villa for the day. First stop though was the Tourist Office where the staff were next to useless as they had no map to give us and their directions consisted of “Cross over the New Bridge and turn right just after the petrol station”.

So we headed over the New Bridge and just at the other side, on a roundabout, there is the petrol station…or, at least, a petrol station…I’m not sure how many we drove past before we arrived at the entrance to Bokor, but they were multiple!! Oh well, at least Nick had explained how to get there this morning! ^_^

Bokor is a National Park that has a long winding road leading up to the top of the hill where there is a hideously monstrosity of a Chinese Casino/hotel complex but, more interestingly there is an old Catholic church and a “ghost town” of buildings that were abandoned when the Khmer Rouge arrived and were used as strongholds due to their position on the hill during the various wars between the French/Vietnamese/Khmer Rouge/etc. The park is supposedly home to loads of different types of animals (according to the Lonely Planet), but we, sadly, didn’t see any on our day out.

The very windy (as in bends), windy (as in nearly a gale) road made for an interesting drive for Stéphane and we weren’t the only ones heading up there on our moped — it was actually relatively busy and we overtook quite a few international tourists heading up there on less powerful mopeds than ours…thanks to Nick for hiring a decent one for us!!

Our first stop was when we spotted a HUGE brightly coloured Buddha on the hill in front of us. It was massive! And with stunning views over the coast we had to stop to take some photos (and to give our bums a rest!). It’s also the occasion for me to put my cardigan on as it’s pretty nippy on the bike and with the wind. It’s quite a lot higher up than the surrounding land and you can really feel the difference in the temperature.

Later on we passed in front of the big casino and hotel complex. It is just so out of place here as there is hardly anyone. The car park is massive and empty. The only people there are the staff working on the flower beds that must cost a fortune. It’s hard to understand how such a thing could get planning permission, how such a thing can actually make enough money to keep it running…though Nick explained to us later that there is a new port being built nearby and when it opens then this place risks to be in the right place to receive people fresh off the boats…wait and see?!

Next to this monstrosity is a Chinese-style temple, a little like the one that we saw in Sukhothai, with bright colourful dragons everywhere. We don’t stop to take any photos, instead heading straight past to the Catholic Church further up the hill which is covered in a brightly coloured orange lichen. It’s a beautiful little church from the outside. The inside is very plain and there is a lot of graffiti on the walls. There was even a little kitchenette on the side and a toilet — though we don’t investigate that in any detail, seeing the state of the rest of it!

We spot a little path heading up to top of a small nearby hill and discover with great joy the stunning views from the top. Plus, this was a first test for my ankle on unsteady ground…a little bit of rambling and it held up!! Yeah!!!

On the way back down a young blond girl stops Stéphane to ask him if he knows whether this is the Hill Station. We hadn’t really looked into Bokor National Park and hadn’t brought the guide with us either, so we shrug, apologise and explain that we don’t really know. She’s fine with that and wanders off with her friend, but both Stéphane and I are a little narked to not be making the most of this place and scared that we’ll miss out on something!

There was another couple of tourists here too, a Vietnamese girl and her Japanese friend. Stéphane spoke to them a little in Japanese and we’d already seen them at the big Buddha so we were on smiling terms. When we stopped at the next building along the road, a large, abandoned, concrete shell of a building, they had just pulled up too. We chatted to them a little and they said that it was probably better to head back to Kampot for lunch than to eat something from the stand in the car park. We agreed, but it was starting to get late and we were starting to get pretty hungry.

We decided to go and have a really quick look at this building and I’m glad we did, as the views from the garden were just breathtaking!

Reading in the guide now, I discover:

For several months, the Khmer Rouge held out in the Catholic church while the Vietnamese shot at them from the Bokor Palace, 500m away”

It’s hard to believe that this empty shell was once a Palace. That these bare concrete walls and floors had once been ornately decorated and housed the rich and powerful players in order for them to escape from the warmth of the lower lands in the region.

Back in the car park and we meet the Japanese and Vietnamese tourists again. The Vietnamese girl is from Hanoi and, after we tell her that we’ll be heading there in a few weeks, she tells us that it’s quite cold there and that it may even be snowing in the mountain regions to the north when we’re there. Ooops…we’ve just sent all our long-sleeve t-shirts back to France in a parcel…we’re no longer equipped for cold weather!

On the way back we opt to quickly go and see the waterfall before heading back to Kampot for lunch. There are quite a few people here, but the rocky bed where the water dribbles over the precipice is slightly disappointing. We both stop for a couple of minutes and try to imagine it in the rainy season…I bet it’s pretty impressive then!!

We stop at a supermarket that I saw in the car park near the big Buddha statue. The shop only has products on half of the shelves and those products are mostly out of date or incredibly expensive. There’s nothing that really tickles our fancy and so, instead, we buy a bunch of bananas from the stall outside. There is a building here too with a Restaurant sign above it, but having seen the supermarket and realising that it’s the same two women that run it all we stick to our original idea of heading back to Kampot for lunch. It feels a little like a horror film here, a little incestuous where you don’t really know what or who you’re eating and a place from which you may never be able to leave…I get back on the bike quickly, “Let’s go”.

Strangely enough the journey back down the hill was a lot quicker than on the way up, despite the presence of several mini-vans taking it very slowly (I’m imagining how many of the people inside currently have their heads inside plastic bags….it’s an incredibly bendy road!).

We wanted to head to Nick’s café for lunch, Reggae Café, but it was closed and so we ended up at Mary’s (where Stéphane had bought his Coconut and Chocolate brownie the other night). A couple of ham and cheese sandwiches and a plateful of homemade chips…pretty Cambodian as a meal, isn’t it?!? ^_- That said, the bread was lovely, as were the chips, and it was very reasonable too!

Kampot Pepper

No trip to Kampot is possible without tasting the pepper and so, before heading back to the villa, we went to a place called Farmlink where they buy pepper from around 100 local farmers. They then dry it, sort it and sell it. The “ugly” pepper goes to local restaurants (as it has the same taste as the rest). The girl that showed us around was dressed like she worked in a hospital or laboratory and the women that were doing the sorting too…all with their hairnets on. She patiently explained the processes and answered all our questions (even if we had to reword them several times to find the right combination of words that she could understand).

At the end of the presentation we were invited to smell and taste the different peppers, first white, then red and finally black before tasting their sea salt and palm sugar too. I hadn’t realised that all the three colour peppers came from the same plant. The black ones are dried green berries, picked before the berries are ripened, the red pepper are the ripened, red berries (and is therefore sweeter) and the white pepper is simply the red pepper with its skin removed (therefore less strong).

After this we headed back to the villa for a bit of a laze on our favourite balcony! Sandra and Stéph, the swiss couple, joined us on the balcony when they got back and we shared stories. They’re travelling for 7 months and have just arrived from Vietnam, so we listened carefully as that’s our next stop.

Before we know it it’s nearly 8pm…cursed balcony ^_- and time to start thinking about dinner. Stéph and Sandra had been to a Thai restaurant called The Loving Spoon in Kampot the night before and told us that it was delicious, so we decided to go there this evening.

My green curry was absolutely gorgeous, with all the right spices and even the small aubergines, Stéphane’s massaman was yummy too…though he had confused the massaman with panang and so was slightly disappointed (as the massaman contains mainly onions and potatoes rather than various vegetables) though it tasted yummy all the same.

Back at the villa we had a quick Skype with Mum which was nice, but I couldn’t apologise enough for having missed them all at Christmas!!

 

 

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