I promised in a previous blog to tell you about our climbing experience in Cambodia so here it is. One of the ways I used to get my husband more excited about our trip before we set off was to tell him about all the places which were called climbing “meccas” in the guide books. Kampot was one of these places.
After doing some further reading we found that Climbodia was the best company to use and although the office was in Kampot itself the climbing takes place between Kampot and nearby Kep which we were planning to visit next. We went into the office to have a discussion with the guides at Climbodia and came out with a full day itinerary with transport provided by our guide’s father who had a tuk tuk. Included in the itinerary was a trip to a pepper plantation, which we had also wanted to do but hadn’t got round to ourselves as we were enjoying lazing by the river.
The climbing experience came first, we were picked up at what felt like the crack of dawn after some very much enjoyed ciders the night before and headed off with all our bags towards the karst. On arrival we were brought to one of our other guide’s homes where the family were all hanging out. We were told we could leave our bags in a room there which would be locked. We also picked up our harnesses and my husband picked up some climbing shoes for later and our guides stocked up on water bottles, which we were extremely glad of due to the weather, it was a gorgeous but very hot day.
Then we made our way towards the karst which stuck out from the otherwise flat landscape in a somewhat daunting manner. We had opted for the climbing experience rather than straight climbing as I am not as confident at climbing as my husband and would otherwise have ended up sitting around all morning and getting board.
Our guide went ahead to set up the ropes, but soon it was our turn. I went first as I felt more comfortable knowing my husband was behind me, not that he could have done much if I had fallen, but it made me slightly less terrified than I already was.
I made my way up with a bit more difficulty than I would like to think I would now (I have been practising on indoor walls since getting home) although the rocks were very sharp and I got a nasty scratch on my leg on the way up. Our guides were lovely but they did have a habit of telling you where to put what foot when you felt like you had only just moved into place and the next instruction felt impossible. I did feel slightly rushed, but perhaps that was my inexperience at the time.
After I made it to the top and was safely secured by my harness I had a chance to take in the view. I wouldn’t say it was spectacular as we saw so many spectacular views on our journey, but it was definitely beautiful. Part of the beauty is that it was so normal and yet not to my eyes which were used to seeing British farmland, but this was Cambodian farm land. It also helped that the sun was strong making the colours of the scenery to really pop.
I didn’t have that long to sit and admire as my husband made short work of the ascent I had struggled over, and soon we had to move on to our via ferrata. Via ferrata is essentially where you are walking along somewhere at such a height that you need to be secured. We had a dual lead system where you were always attached to a wire which was bolted into the rock by at least one lead with a carabiner at the end of it. When you reach a bolt, you unclip and clip one lead while the other remains clipped on the other side of the bolt, then once securely clipped on the other side of the bolt you do the same with the second lead.
Our second guide followed us up and then took charge of my phone to take photographs while my husband kept a hold of the gopro. I was glad not to have to think about photos as all my concentration was on not looking down.
We made our way along and I was ok as long as I looked out or at the rock, although I must admit a few times I wondered what on earth had possessed me to go up there in the first place.
Those feelings came to a head when it came time to abseil down again, as can be seen quite clearly in my face when we were having the process of it explained to me. It is less obvious in my subsequent smile, unless you know me well and then you know it is a smile masking terror.
Even getting around to the point of descent was scary in itself as there was a last bit of via ferrata on what felt like a very thin ledge between the cliff on one side and the hole down which we would descend on the other.
I have always dreaded descending more than ascending, even to the point where on a previous occasion I found myself stuck on a climbing wall when I realised the height I would have to go down, to the point where I had to be physically pulled from the wall. So it did take me a bit of time to come to terms with what I was doing. Particularly given I am used to the safety standards in the UK and I knew these would be nothing near as stringent. The guide was very patient with me and at this point I did not feel rushed at all although he still seemed to be asking the impossible, to step out into the void. Eventually I did it though but hanging there while he took a picture was one of the hardest things I have ever done.
I had paid very close attention while we were given instructions on descending and with a death grip focusing on nothing but the rope I started to go down, until at intervals I was asked to stop and look up for a picture. I was even asked if I was having fun after I started to which I replied a resounding NO!
Eventually I got to the point where I had to push off with my feet swing and bring them together as the sides were getting too far apart, it seemed impossible but I did it and things seemed a little less scary afterwards as I could feel myself more secure on the rope and I felt less like a slip of my feet would cause me to face plant or plummet to my death. Eventually after what seemed like an age I made it to the bottom and although I was shaking and hadn’t enjoyed the experience I was glad to have done it.
My husband of course made the whole thing look easy and was down at the bottom by my side before I had finished recovering.
We were given a few moments to have a break and re-hydrate before we headed to the next part of our adventure, caving. We entered the cave nearby the point we landed after abseiling and one of our guides stayed behind to set up ropes for my husband to climb later.
The caves were very different to our experience in Malaysia, they were generally much larger, light and airy, we didn’t need to use a head torch nearly as often although there were a couple of tighter squeezes. In some sections of the caving we did more via ferrata which made me feel much more confident walking than I had done in Malaysia as well.
We were also shown a number of shrines, these were from a time when the caves had been inhabited, although I can’t remember whether it was as a result of the Khmer Rouge and their ban on religion or not. The final shrine we were shown was on the exterior of the caves and is still used for some festivals by the locals.
After our wander though the caves we were to return to our point of origin, it was at this point I realised how far we had gone as we walked quite a long way back through farmland and some deeper vegetation.
There were a few deep pits on the farm land which we asked our guide about he said that when there was a lot of rain sometimes fish and frogs would end up in there and people would catch them for food between rainfalls.
When we were on our way though some of the thicker vegetation, my husband clearly had not been looking where he was putting his feet as he managed to stand on a giant millipede. It made a rather spectacular crunch and I am afraid to say that I don’t think it was long for this world, which he felt pretty bad about.
When we got back to our staring point we found that the guide left behind had been very industrious and after a quick shoe change my husband started climbing. He climbed about five routes of a much higher standard than I could have managed and I think it is fair to say he was exhausted by the end of it.
He would have to rest on the tuk tuk though because we were soon back on the road to our next destination. On the way we passed a rather beautiful lake and stopped to take some pictures.
We reached the Pepper Plantation and our tuk tuk driver pointed us in the right direction for the free tour. We went up the stairs to a beautiful open building where we were told that as soon as there were enough people the tour would start, but for now we were the first, so just to take a seat.
It didn’t take long for more people to arrive and the tour began with some history and a pepper tasting.
Kampot pepper was first made famous while Cambodia was a French colony and this plantation had historically belonged to a French family, after the fall of the French and during the Khmer rouge production stopped entirely. More recently though this particular plantation had been revived again by a French chef, only this time with much fairer conditions for the Khmer workers, providing many with the opportunity of work, onsite housing and even schooling for their children.
We tried a variety of different pepper and pepper mixes which were all harvested at different times of the year along with the other spices which are also grown there and the salt which is collected nearby at the coast.
After the tasting the tour could begin, we were shown the pepper plants themselves as well as a number of other plants as they were trying to diversify. We were even shown some of the worker housing.
As we were walking around our guide caught a dragonfly and showed it to us. I am not entirely sure why, unless he was just unleashing his inner karate kid, but it made a good photo and the dragonfly seemed unharmed afterwards.
For someone who isn’t really into plants pepper plants look very similar to other plants, and I was really more interested in the human side of the plantation, but I have to say the pepper itself looks a bit odd. Especially how different it looks during the different stages of growth.
The tour came to an end and we had a quick look at the shop, but couldn’t justify the weight of any purchases adding to our backpack, said goodbye to a rather noisy caged bird and headed back to meet our tuk-tuk driver.
As our tuk tuk driver took us to our accommodation for the night we were both very tired from a long and interesting day and ready for some more relaxation by the beach in the days to follow.