Sunday 7 June 2009

Beauty and the Leach

It's 30 degrees and the humidity is a physical weight on your shoulders. Hours have passed since you last saw the sun and it feels like you will never see it again. The ground is crawling with bugs, huge lines of ants work together to carry away their latest kill and their bites sting your bare legs. You tredge forward, one foot infront of another minute after minute hour after hour and all you can see in every direction is a dense green. Stopping would mean allowing yourself to think about all the discomfort, the cramps in your legs and the sweat pouring down your back so you keep on walking onward deeper and deeper into the unknown. Welcome to the Cambodian jungle.

Ok so in my last post I left you just after I met ........ so if I say “the next day” it means the day after the day I met them.

The next day we hired bicycles and rode the 14km to the dolphin sanctuary. A good ride with no rain, we left early to miss the heat and as the road was so flat we arrived at about 10. Along the way I got to know them a bit better as we talked about our journeys, they had all met on the bus from Laos and, with a welsman thrown in, it was a bit of an international group. At the sanctuary we went out in two boats to see the dolphins, the photos are not so great but it was good to see them rising out of the murky water to take a breathe. We saw a pod of about 5 dolphins and a mother and cub. We rode back in the midday sun. It took longer and we stopped to checkout a temple that had images that depicted heaven and hell which is not supposed to exist in the buddhist culture. The temple had a cult feel to it and, being midday, it was deserted which made it all a bit creepy.

By the time we had got back we all had various degrees of sun burn, fortunately I wasn't the worst for once and I didn't peel but a few beers and a nice meal made the pain go away and we started talking about where we were going next. I had planned to go North to Laos but figured a small detour would be no problem so agreed to go to Sen Monorow with them. The next morning we left in convoy with me following the pickup so I didn't have to navigate but I soon got bored of the speed and so headed off infront with the intention of sorting out the hostel before they arrived.

Within 5 minutes of leaving them behind I took a wrong turning and almost illegally crossed the Vietnam border. The big men with guns decided for me that it was the wrong way so I turned back around and found the right turning. By now it was all offroad riding. The mud was in good condition so I got some speed going and was soon flying along. Every now and again there was tarmac so I was making really good time. The road conditions changed pretty quickly though and I was riding too fast. I came to a bridge that was no more and had to ride through the river. Walked through it once to check the depth. Stared at it for 10 minutes, walked through it a second time to take stuff over that I really didnt want to get wet and then went with the bike. The water came up over the wheels so was at least 21 inches deep and the force of it was incredible. The bike was slipping further sideways than it was going forward but, with the help of some locals, I made it over and emptied half the river out of my boots. Back on the bike and the road turned to thick wet mud. I was surprised at how difficult it was to ride and had to really slow down, unfortunately I still lost control and dropped the bike. One of the panniers was ripped clean off my bike and the front end had dug into the ground breaking the fairing. I gotta tell you this crash scared me. It was infront of some roadworkers and still mid crash I started screaming for help and not the scream of a man in control. I'll never forget it "fuck fuck fuck help HEEELLLP God it hurts Please help me, please" My voice broke and I was close to tears. My leg was trapped under the bike and I was freaking out. I was sure it was broken. The irony was that, once the bike was lifted off me, the pain was gone and I was actually pretty much unhurt. I don't know why I panicked but recalling it still sends shivers down my spine.

The road turned good again and I was moving at 70mph for the second crash. This time I dropped it on the other side completely destroying the pannier and breaking more plastic. The weird thing was I was going in a straight line. One second I was sitting upright and the next I am sliding down the road with the bike pinning my leg down. I still don't know what happened but the bike took a beating. Breaking the hand protectors and the taillight. No panic this time, just shock.

By the time the guys caught up with me I had reached the hotel and was caked in mud. A cold shower kind of cleaned me up a bit but I left the mud all in the bathroom and was really in need of a beer so we walked into town to eat. We found a good place to book a trek and booked 1 days trekking and one nights home stay.

The next day 7 of us jumped on the back of scooters and headed into the unknown. We met our guide, stocked up on food, compared machetes and started walking towards the forest. I guess the walk took a total of 6 hours and we covered about 22km. We started in the early morning and finished at about 4pm trekking through open plains and unspoilt forest. We tried wild fruits, Wouter trying them far more than anyone else. Inn fact I don't think I remember a moment where he didn't have a weird pink or orange thing in his hand which he was chewing on. We traversed slippery mud slopes with deep drops on one side and had to hug trees to stop us from falling. Sometimes grabbing something covered with thorns was the only option to save yourself and it wasn't long until the first person fell. Followed by the second then third and then we started a score sheet. By the end of the day we would be too battered to remember the scores but I think Christine "won" After what seemed like days of walking we reached the waterfall where we would have lunch. It was a practical vertical climb down moss covered rocks and once we had navigated that with only a few slips we had to wade through the river still fully booted. We were all soaked in sweat and mud so we stripped down to our boxers and went for a swim under the waterfall. It was incredible sitting under the water letting it fall on your back. The force of it knocked the wind out of you but it felt good. After the punishment of walking the pure water really cleansed and revitalized. After the swim we had lunch and started to head for home. Our guide pointed us back at the vertical climb we had come down and we all groaned. It was not going to be easy going back.

Back at the village we started cleaning up, taking our shoes off revealed leeches by the hundreds. Most were dead, crushed by our shoes or poisoned by the paint thinner we had soaked our socks in but some had survived and the blood stain running down my trousers hinted to one such bastard! swear the thing had swollen to the size of my thumb, we cut him open and my blood literally flowed out of him. It was a massacre, we killed them by the tens so they would not make a sneak attack later. Once we were "cleaned up" our hosts brought out more food, beer and rice whisky so we had a game of "21", got wasted and relived our war stories. When the whisky ran dry we carried on the game but switched to water. When everybody finally realised it was water we called it a night and headed into the house.

4 of us had to fit under one mosquito net and I was lumped between Christine (who did not stop elbowing me all night) and Wouter (who kept on pushing me into Christines elbows) We probably kept the village awake for several hours by laughing far too loudly. Even the local wildlife probably complained.

The next day was a day of rest. We lay back and let the pains pass. Half the group was leaving the next morning but Elje, Christine and me were staying 2 more days for an elephant trek. I've complained about this trek to some friends. The guides didn't speak English, we didn't get to wash the elephants and at one point they abandoned us by the river for 3 hours. It was not what we expected. I did get to 'drive" one though and it was a unique experience. I was told off for complaining. Apparently if I don't think an elephant trek is cool then I have experienced too much which may very well be true. Maybe my expectations are too high now. We did have a laugh though. Someone was filming a TV series called "You the man" which was a show about being manly. These 4 guys dressed up and probably wearing make-up were going into awkward places, blowing on horns and yelling "YOU THE MAN" while being filmed. We watched and placed bets on which one would fall in the river first.

Ok, that pretty much sums up cambodia. The following day we all packed and headed in our seperate directions. I have since seen Christine and Elsje again and I am hoping to see the others too. Rob and Roh are now in China, Juan is back home but Rose and Wouter are still in Vietnam. After leaving I rode the same road back and didn't crash, the flooded river crossing had dried up and everything went pretty easy. I made my way to the Laos border and stayed about 40km from it. The next day I crossed without too much hassle but that post isn't written yet. As a live update, I am in Chaing Mai and will be leaving tomorrow for Koh Tao to start my diving course. Really excited about that and, in a way, it will be the end of my trip as I will be stopping for 6 months or so. Mixed feelings about that one and when I get there I will probably stop blogging so only 2 or 3 more posts left. Sorry about no pictures again....