Boating through Kampot
Happy Earth Day. In honor of the occasion, I’m taking you back to Cambodia, to a place I won’t see this trip, though I’ve thought of it often. It’s a place where salt and pepper meet on the edge of land and sea:
It’s just about this time of year. Jerry and I rent a moto in Kampot and drive eight sweltering, beautiful kilometers to the end of the road at Koh Trey, a spot whose name means Fish Island. We park beneath a giant strangler fig and hoof uphill to a lookout over the ocean. Two girls beat us to the spot. The four of us chat lightly. But mostly, we all sit in the shade, craving the little breeze that blows through in a tease—then leaves us sweating again for endless minutes.
Koh Trey is an idyllic little island of farmers and salt fields. Bony white cows speckle the land below towering sugar palms. The season’s first rains turn these acres to emerald green. And then, for miles, the landscape opens and saltwater shimmers beneath the oven of a sky. It spreads forever, it seems, in every direction: shallow, rectangular ponds glistening at the edges with fleur de sel. The air smells salty, the water feels greasy to the touch.
Salt of the sea, pepper of the Earth—the two converge along the Cambodian coast. Thanks to the local revival of a long-lost crop, Kampot’s markets now teem with these two tableside companions. Vendors sit beside sacks of pepper, both dried and fresh from the vine. Black and green. White, too. And satchels of salt that comes in varying grades of grinding—from rocks to grains to powder. I take bags of it home with me, doling out little gift packages to friends and family, and keeping enough to last me through a year beside my stove. They are Mother Nature’s gifts to the kitchen.