National Geographic : 1964 Oct
fore American AID teams were sent packing last January. It cost more than $30,000,000 to push the broad highway through unmapped jungles of the Cardamom Mountains into the coastal lowlands of Kampot Province. I passed evaporation pans along steaming tidal rivers, where women in conical hats raked up conical piles of sea salt. On ten-foot trellises stretched ripening rows of Kampot's black pepper. If Kampot is hot and dusty, I thought, at least it has flavor. End of Aid Leaves Port Deserted The newly built town of Sihanoukville and the beautiful tourist beach nearby seemed quiet and deserted, as did the port itself. French engineers completed the pier in 1960. A concrete arm, bent at the elbow, reaches half a mile into the Gulf of Siam, with dockage for four 10,000-ton vessels. It was bare except for one last American bulldozer, half-crated, awaiting a ship. "Before American aid stopped, a ship had to wait a day or two for a berth here," the harbor pilot, a Frenchman, told me. "But nowadays-well, I haven't seen a ship for more than a week. All our longshoremen have gone back to their fishing nets." A serious effect of the economic-aid cutoff was Cambodia's shortage of foreign exchange. The price of gasoline had already doubled to $1.50 a gallon. Imported foods such as canned milk and French cheese were scarce. Lack of structural steel slowed building projects. Before I left next evening, two freighters eased in to load rice for Red China. They came without cargo (pages 524-5). Cambodia's export trade today hangs on rice, corn, and rubber. In 1921 the French first began planting rubber in the fertile red basalt soils of the Chup plateau, northeast of Phnom Penh. To day Chup is one of the world's biggest rubber plantations. Stately trees spread in perfect rows over 80 square miles. "We have more than 7,000,000 trees in our garden," said Jean-Pierre Lobrecht. He and 30 other French administrators and engineers run the sprawling plantation. "It's almost a little country within a coun try," Lobrecht went on. "We run our sawmill, schools, pagodas, markets, a dairy-you must try some of our cheese-hospital, and repair shops for a fleet of a hundred tank trucks for transporting liquid latex. About 10,000 work ers live in villages scattered throughout the plantation." That's one man for every 700 trees, I calcu 538 KODACHROMESU NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY Dry-season heat cracks parched rice fields; an ox team takes three days to furrow an acre. Centuries-old technique shows one improvement, an iron-tipped plow. Today tractors are replacing the beasts of burden. Rainy season brings a wader to transplant rice seedlings near Chroi Dang. This girl wears the farmer's typical black homespun and a Vietnamese straw hat. lated. No wonder the forest seemed deserted. Driving down one long row, I finally found a workman trimming a razor-thin slice off one carefully scarred trunk. It began to bleed white into a small cup (page 541). He washed his hands for lunch with a dab of latex, letting the gooey liquid dry, then peeling it off. The last speck of grime came off with it. Vietnamese Looks for Peace in Cambodia Like many of Chup's plantation workers, Nguyen Van Thanh came from Viet Nam. After 14 years he felt at home here. "In 1953 the Viet Minh had this planta tion surrounded," he said. "Many people were afraid to leave their villages. "But that's only a memory," Thanh added.