Snooker, snakes, sea-eagles and spiders
Ma Dot's friend Horz, who runs the No 1 Bar in the village, has branched out from making fishing nets to knotting hammocks. Neil and I were willing customers and soon had a hammock each strung up under the strangling fig on the beach outside our hut. It is bliss swinging to and fro in the sea breeze gazing out to sea, watching the Big Yellow Boat picking up the divers. The only thing missing is a nice glass of wine.
The local tipple is AngKor beer and there are a variety of strange canned fruit drinks. One of them, called Winter Moon, tastes as if it has been distilled in the bottom of someone's trainers. Everyone congregates in one bar or other after the evening meal. There's a choice of two. One is just a table on the beach and you can help yourself out of a cool box.
The No 1 bar is in Horz' house, with her bed in the middle of the floor. She also has a snooker table out on the veranda, with a cloth so cratered and wrinkled, shooting a ball towards the hole is a complete lottery. The local boys are skilled at swerving the balls round them so they're difficult to beat. Under the table a network of blue plastic drainpipes funnel the balls in different directions.
There are people of every age and nationality here - the only common factor is that they all love diving and they care about the environment.
Stuart and Jane are both diving instructors and they co-ordinate the volunteers. Others are here for a gap year, or taking a break after university. There are lots of more mature people here too. P. is an Australian who came to Cambodia on his way to Vietnam and somehow never managed to leave. He's raising money to send young Khmers to university. He himself was one of the children sent to Australia by the British Government in the nineteen fifties. He had been placed temporarily in care when his parents separated and was sent away without their knowledge. He has only recently been able to trace the family he lost.
Everyone here has a story. Danny, who owns the Big Yellow Boat, is a diving instructor who came here from France almost twenty years ago. He has a very simple lifestyle living on the boat and is a passionate conservationist. He has tied saffron ribbons round all the big rain-forest trees here in the hope that they will be recognised as sacred and not cut down.
We went on a marine trash clean-up round the bay this morning and were lucky enough, not just to see the fish-eagles, but to get good photographs. Their wing-span is impressive and they are unimaginably beautiful, cruising around over our heads.The rainy season has stopped abruptly and we haven't had any rain at all for three days. It's very hot during the day with clear blue skies and temperatures up in the high thirties. At night the lack of light pollution means that there are more stars than you could ever believe possible.
We are in a new hut on the edge of the conservation project's plot. It's still not completely finished, but we don't mind that, or being on the fringe of the forest. Neil's son detailed the night watchman to take special care of us.
Unfortunately Net took his instructions rather too literally and he came and put his sleeping mat right on our doorstep, about three feet from the bed platform. As he speaks only Khmer and we speak only English it was a little difficult to convince him that we were fine on our own!
But we were very glad of his presence, when we discovered another unwanted visitor on the inside of our mosquito net. Not quite a tarantula, but as big as the palm of my hand. It was a tree spider and the following morning we saw his sibling on a web outside.
That hasn't been the only encounter with the inhabitants of the rain-forest either. During supper tonight, the cat suddenly ran in with something in its mouth and there was a cry of 'Feet up! It's got a snake!' I had my feet on the table in a time that would easily break the world speed record. Danny managed to detach the cat from the snake, which he carried outside on a stick and I got my camera out to get a shot of it for identification purposes. Nobody is very sure what it is yet - possibly a krait (not a good species!) - but someone is going to check when they get back to the mainland. Fortunately they do have a stock of anti-venom here, but I'm not intending to have to use it!