The evening has been hazy. What could be smoke is laying out across the rice fields as the sun and moon swap out their earth lighting responsibilities. There are still lots of cows moving around somewhere to the east by the sound of their bells. Somewhere, somebody is drumming. Building a beat that slides its way across the town. Soon a few instruments that sound like clarinets and voices add melody. Dinner is sitting warm in a full belly and a second cold beer is set to put me under covers until morning.
Before we even jumped off the bouncing motorbike I hear my friend Nga yell out a greeting. Quick shake of the hands, as lots of folks gathered round to take a look at the foreigners in their midst. Though this little boat landing is starting to see its share of tourists coming for a visit to one of the lake’s largest floating communities, Kampong Luong, we tend to attract a few stares and a number of youthful hellos from kids on the way to school.
Nga, whose helping us unload the motorcycle, is an easy going boat man who carries himself gracefully on board any thing that floats. He and I meet at this same dusty dead end two years earlier. Two of my good friends from the city and I had hired Nga to be our transport and kayak shuttle driver for a few days of exploration on the lake before setting us free to paddle downstream to Phnom Penh.
Two years later his boat still looks good and he’s got a new ring on his hand, so I ask “still single?” “No, no money,” he laughs. I, understanding, nod my head.
The morning is calm and we drop off a few other’s who have taken advantage of Nga’s taxi service. The town’s brightly colored houses stand out in the gray toned morning, over the tan water. As we head north the flooded vegetation show signs of a rapidly dropping water level. It’s been dry season for a while now and bands of leafless branches, under leafy tree tops, show the rate the water has changed. We pass lots of fishing boats that are using the flat calm morning to pull in their seemingly endless nets. Knocking tiny fish from the mesh into their boats.
We cut into a small stand of trees and round a bend into Akoal, the village where the small research station we work on is located. The channel into this small town of about 40 floating homes is marked by two long red flags that flank a spirit house perched up in the tree tops. The flags hang limp today. And the ancestral spirits seem to be off on other errands.
Later, after our work is done those flags start to whip on their posts. Waves roll at us as we head back to the boat landing. Water sprays over the gunnels. Before long we are soaked. Cotton shirts plastered to our skin. Finally cool in the tropical heat. Maybe we don’t have any money, but damn if we don’t have the wind and the water.