Today we returned from our 5-day trek through the jungle. Much hotter than our training in Wales, the Cardamom mountains provided the perfect setting for this expedition of just under 80km.
The scenery was incredible; so beautiful it could be confused for a computer screen saver. Obviously, it changed drastically day by day. Sometimes we were surrounded by impenetrable jungle; others the backdrop of the mountains stood out against the skyline. The rivers were constant and beautiful, and despite the jungle being part of the mountains, the surrounding terrain was much less hilly than what we’re used to back home. At night, the stars astounded all of us. You could see a breath-taking amount, and Orion’s belt (aka Brians Belts – thank you, Tom’s brother) featured in the centre of the sky. We even learnt about the big circle star, and cheek star – Khmer names for some of them.
Speaking of rivers, we spent much of our time submerged in the cool waters. The whole time, we washed in the pools in addition to swimming in them and relaxing in them. The first one we went to were the rapid (fairly different to Romsey rapids) but twice as fun. We slid over the rocks very quickly which resulted in a few bruises and scrapes. After the first 9k of walking, we stopped at O Tuek Vat Waterfall before lunch. This is the first waterfall most of us have ever swam in, this was a brilliant experience – not only refreshing. Sitting on the rock under the spray felt like Khmer massages none of us had tried yet. At the river on the last day, where we stopped for lunch, the boys decided to build a damn while our brilliant guides caught their weight in fish in a matter of seconds.
Aside from the company of the 11 of us we made many friends in the form of wildlife. They may have been able to kill us, but that didn’t deter us. We didn’t even realise half of the insects existed! Our guides were brilliant in making sure we didn’t miss out on the tiniest details of the jungle, whether that was a giant millipede or the remnants of a rampaging elephant. One thing we didn’t need the guides to notice was the incessant screeching of the cicadas, described as a hoard of demented kettles that would never shut up. There’s nothing like a natural car alarm going off around you as you try to sleep. One exciting moment was when our guide saved us from a very poisonous snake with his machete-on-a-stick (the snake may have been the size of a small pencil but we appreciate his heroicness). The coolest plant that caught all of our attention was the fantastical water vine. This morning our guide wandered off the path (like always) and returned with a section of the vine that he had slashed. As the name suggests, the water vine sprung a trail of fresh water that we all drank happily.
Our favourite animal friend in the jungle was our chefs dog and loyal companion, Lok (aka Kipper, as named by Rosemary). We had adopted our ginger friend by the third day when he happened to follow some tourists into our campsite; we say it was fate.
The chefs were brilliant – they made us delicious meals 3 times a day, as well as providing pineapple and The Best Coffee in existence. Noodles and rice for breakfast was strange and something we found hard to adjust to, especially with the spice. A month ago, I never thought I could be sick of rice, but after 15 meals of rice with fried egg and veg, we all reached our limit, despite the glorious cooking of our chefs.
New Year’s Eve was made very special for us. Our guides kicked it off with banana pancakes and sweet potato fries for breakfast, and after days of only rice, our taste buds were in heaven. We finished our walking early that day – after all it was only 12km – and so spent the rest of the day lazing around the campsite. We freshened up in the nearby stream, and swung around in hammocks for a long time. Like most days, we ended up playing long card games as we counted down the hours to the new year. For tea, again we had sweet potato fries and barbecued pork (with a veggie option for Tom), with lime and pepper dip. The food was incredible, and even though our guides weren’t experienced with making western food, they did an amazing job. Each of us got a can of coke, which nothing beats after a few days of hiking with ashy water. Around the campfire, we played Werewolf, a game we all love. We even played with Key and Vannak (two of our guides) as well as Elodie and Lucy (two Dutch tourists) which was made even more fun by the hilarious issues caused by language barriers. A highlight of the night was going round the group and sharing our biggest achievements/highlights of 2016; both expedition related and personal. The whole group has had a year to be proud of, and the “Achievable Goals” for 2017 (copyright: Rosemary) show that the coming year will be another great one. Gathered round the fire as the clock struck midnight, we all sang Auld Lang Sine, as taught to the group by Becky throughout the trek. A great start to the new year.
The whole trek started and finished in the same way, by gliding down the side of the Cardamon mountains by boat. Undoubtedly, an experienced we all loved. The hour or so journey was quickly filled with anticipation of what was to come, and its worth saying that the jungle experience was even better than what we had hoped for. We even had George the gnome on board, brought all the way from England, to celebrate New Year’s in the jungle with us; however, on the journey back he may have had a few more cracks. After the final 11k hike this morning, we were greeted with an armada of rowing boats ready to take us part way down the river. Once we had boarded in pairs, with no slip ups, our boats were making their way along the jungle serenely. Everyone was astounded by the beauty of the landscape, with tropical palm trees branching out way over the water’s edge; filling our minds with ideas of hammock villages and rope swings, as well as the lush, green plants contrasting brightly with the clear, blue sky. We couldn’t have asked for better conditions. Around 40 minutes in, we made our last boat change slap bang in the middle of the wide river into the motor boat. to our surprise no one fell in this time either, possibly helped by the dramatic soundtrack provided by the engine. Within a few minutes most of us were napping in the golden sunlight and relaxing after our most physical week of the expedition before getting to the village in order to head off to Phnom Penh tomorrow morning.
Anna, Becky & Cerys