Inside-Out Caving

Day 16: Kampot

Breakfast is a flurry of eggs and baguette with the dorm crew before they all disperse to their separate adventures. Flo and I are left staring at ketchup-smeared plates.
“Want to play a game of pool?” He asks.
I let him win a couple games before we go to the dorm room for a singing session. He teaches me some chords and once I’ve surpassed his teachings, it’s already time for lunch.
Then we fly towards Kep on our scooters, making a quick stop to check out the White Elephant Cave.
Ignoring the kid telling us we must have a guide to enter, we go to the entrance and venture in alone.
A stone staircase descends into some kind of Indiana Jones movie set. After ten minutes of walking through semi-darkness, a light appears. A hole a few metres up leads outside to the other side of the mountain.
We climb up and stand at the outer layer of cave, looking up the side of sheer rock face in front of us. It’s blanketed in sturdy vines that creep upwards until thick foliage blocks anything else from view.
“I kinda wanna climb it,” I say.
“Yeah? Well I’ll follow you.”
I look at Flo, then back at the stone fortress. I grasp onto the side of the mountain like one of the creeping plants themselves and up we go, Tarzan and Jane style, clinging to tiny rock holds and thick vines. Up, up, through spiny brush and trees covered in tiny red ants that bite our ankles and crawl up our shorts.
The foliage becomes so thick it’s impossible to tell if there is anything solid left climb on.

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“Let’s go just a little bit further.”
It becomes our mantra.
When it seems pointless, impossible, or ridiculous to move on, we decide to go “just a little bit further,” adding to our collection of bug bites and scratches each time.
Near the top, I face the bottom of a tree trunk, roots spilling over the edge of the cliff as though it has given up hope. The bush surrounding it is too dense to see past. Must.. go.. FURTHER.
I grab a root and a few scrapes later, the cliff is cleared.
We rest on a craggy rock that pierces our butt cheeks, taking in the view of a glowing green land stretching out for miles before us. Palm trees and farms and mountains and rivers.
We continue on in search of a clearer path down the mountain, navigating like a couple blind sages.
Every so often a hole appears on our path, offering views into the cave from a bone-breaking height.
At one such viewpoint, we climb in, hoping to find a way out through the cave. I stretch my body to it’s full length, reaching the rock below with my big toe.

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Climbing around a couple boulders, an opening ahead proves to be a free drop thirty feet down. Next.
Pulling ourselves from the fruitless pit, we continue our bushwacking. An owl flies out of one of the cave holes. Flo climbs down a twenty foot divet that has no other exit. Ants feast on my ankles. Something slithers past my foot.
“That was a snake,” I say.
“Where!?”
Flo nearly falls off the mountain rushing to get a glimpse. He’s never seen a snake before.
Coming to a vertical valley that gives no promise of a safe escape from this godforsaken mountain, it seems that this time, we can go no further. Condemned! to climbing back down that damn cliff!
The sun hangs low. An hour left of sunlight is motivation to shove our bodies back through the brush from whence we’d come hours before, and to the cliff with the overhanging tree stump.
The angle from above is much less welcoming than from below.
The initial climb up, then adventurous and funny, now appears gruelling and impossible in our tired state, but the sinking sun and promise of beer propelled our slow descent to the ground.
With dirt under our nails and finally our feet, we high five; sweaty, scratched, and thirsty.
We laugh on our scooters as we soar through the dusk. The road is a laneless dirt expanse; an abandoned desert highway; a dusty Martian surface.
Beach appears, and we rush into the  warm black water, floating as the saltiness cleans our scrapes.
Flo discovers phosphorescence for the first time and waves his hands through the water like a fish who just discovered his fins, eyes thisclose to the surface.
The water starts to feel cold, so we cross the street to a haven of hanging hammocks and laze there laughing over canned beer.
Only our empty stomachs are strong enough to pull us from the comfort of the hammocks, all the way to a dinner of prawns and crab legs. It’s far too late when we get back on our bikes and head back to Kampot on the highway. Our tiptoes go undetected in the snoring hostel and soon our own snores join the choir.


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