I am now back from my Cambodia Hiking challenge and I’m feeling proud but emotionally sad having got through the most eventful, traumatic, yet amazing and most inspiring week of my life.
Although this trek proved to be one hell of a challenge, it has been a pleasure to have accomplished this in the spiritual conditions of Cambodia, even though it resulted in some intense low points for me.
Hopefully some of the photo shots in my blog will help to dispel the myth that this was some kind of jolly holiday as the trek proved to be:
Challenging: 108 km walk over 5 days from Siam Reap to Angkor Wat in temperatures of 35 – 38 degrees, little shade and high humidity, poor sanitation at each base camp, no shower or wash facilities (wipes only) and a early morning roll call @ 5.00am.
Rewarding: In that I have been blessed with making life long friendships and have had the pleasure of enjoying some amazing high points whilst delivering and receiving some amazing banter.
Traumatic: This resulted in having to come to terms and dealing with some very intense emotional low points for me.
Big hugs to all those that gave a tremendous amount of support to me (R and the Doc) and to those that showed great strength and character in getting across the line as a result of good team working. It’s been an inspirational journey and one that I will never forget and I thank all those that supported and made donations to my just giving page in support of this great cause for Macmillan Cancer Support.
For the purposes of the blog below some fictitious abbreviations have been used as follows:MB (Male)
After spending our first night in the comfort of a hotel room in Siam Reap (which I shared with PB), day 1 of our trek starts with a 7km walk before stopping for short water refill break. Although we have 35 trekkers on board (whom we all made friends with) I developed a strong bond with PB, PP, and R from the first night, when we all first met at Heathrow. We undertake a further 5km walk (the heat is awesome) followed by lunch. Lunch was in a basket with small dishes wrapped in banana leaves. 4km walk in aft. Rain comes in for the last hour of the trek, but its nothing significant.
It’s a 16km walk for the first day.
We make camp. The tents are already erected for us (by the back up crew), which are located in what looks to be a giant sized pagoda in the grounds of a monk’s monastery. Its fortunate that we all have a tent each but its not long before I come to realize that many nights will be sleepless due to the excessive noise from those that snore! Toilets are basic and no running water available to wash your hands and one has to flush the loo with jugs of water that had to be thrown down the hole. See pic to get a real sense of this!
Dinner is served outside and the back up crew do a cracking job of attempting to make this look like a banquet. The back up crew then dismantle the tents, chairs and tables which are then moved on to the next night base camp – it’s not long before it's pitch black and the head torches start to shine!
We break for bed early at 8:30pm having finished a few beers.
We wake at 4:30am as the monk’s enter the temple by candlelight and all sit on floor within 12 inches of our tents and start chanting – they finish around 5.30am in time for our 6:00am breakfast.
We set off at 7am to start our 22km walk. 34,000 steps covered. We walk along a straight road which is a red sandy colour passing many dwellings with children to greet us with friendly smiles. The children all look so small! On route we see some cows and creepy craw-lees. We can see Roy revelling in the moment as he gives a high five to every child that greets us; they do so with a wonderful smile of happiness and yet they have so little but remain content in being self-sufficient. It’s not long before we realize that we are all far to materialistic westerners! There is no sign of any infrastructure here: i.e. gas, electric, generators, cars, phone lines……. Nothing.
We break for an early lunch as the heat is hitting 35 degrees and some are struggling today with blisters, heat rash so the Doc is kept busy. Lunch is in a vine box with banana leaves, potato, rice, coated spicy bread prawns, veg.
We trek off again but stop after an hour for a water refill break due to the heat. We are now going through a tight narrow forestry area, so we get a little shade for about 5km.
It's a long trek, so we lose about 5 persons (blisters) who rest up in the 4x4 and head off to camp. We finally make camp, which has a very long entrance to a monks temple grounds. Toilets here are the same but (for one night only) we have a large clay vessel to wash in. Tents are squeezed in under a pagoda with about 2 inch space between each tent.
Diner is served at 6:30pm and we take pleasure in having a few cold beers – it’s the usual round of x4 beers!. Dinner is a veg curry dish with rice with spicy noodles and seafood to start. Everyone turns in at 8:30pm. The monks fire up at generator at 1:00am and start doing some work in the grounds so I'm woken and again at 4:00am by a big goby cockerel as well as the many that snore in camp. This isn’t easy after a long trek but the sleep is marginally better than the first night!
We wake at 5:00am for 6:00am breakfast having done our bag pack. We start the trek in sandals at 7:20am as it’s the ‘Rice Paddy Fields day. We know it’s going to be a tough day, as we have no transportation following us due to the locations that we will be in. It's a hot day and even though its only 16km the effects of yesterdays and today's heat will take its toll - for sure!
We start off down a sandy trek and it's not long before we hit the rice paddy fields and water. The banter starts as PP notices that my sole on my left sandal is starting to disintegrate. The chuckles start and within 40 minutes I loose the best part of my sole. I need to carry on as far as possible, reluctant to change into my boots, as I need to keep them dry.
We reach a water crossing – it looks deep so camera and videos come out as it looks to be a good shot. As I'm filming one of the guys in the group looses his footing and falls in, complete with rucksack; it’s on film and he pulls a laugh as the water is only knee high.
On we trek and I go another 3k with these sandals. We reach a hard surface road, so now I need to change into boots but our leader says there is still much more water to cross over the next 12k. Nothing I can do but to get my boots wet and hope they dry out back at base camp. It's getting hotter!
After a couple of small shady water breaks we stop for the 11:00am silence for Remembrance Day and have a 2-minute silence. It's very fitting given the environment and company we are in.
We stop at 11:30 for lunch in need of recharge. We take cover from the sun in what can only be described as a wooden shack - bit like a old disused farm outhouse at home but family live here and we are made welcome for our stop. A chance to dry out my boots.
An hour later we set off. It's not long before we have to cross a deep-water crossing - thankfully there is a small and narrow plank to walk across. We now only have a small narrow bank of ground to walk on with a drop to the left and right hand side of us in water. PP looses her footing as the right edge of the bank gives way and PP goes into the water head first carrying a full rucksack. We turn back to help and drag her out but she says that her foot cracked and she is in pain.
The Doctor comes up from the back. PP needs a splint and we are miles from anyway with no transport to get through. Painkillers go in and PP, Doc and one other crew-member have to turn back and seek a GPS rescue but they still have to walk about 1.5k for a clearing and it's not easy. It turns out later PP is in Siam Reap hospital with a broken fib tib on ankle.
We stop for another break and I can see signs of PB (my room buddy) suffering with the heat. I inform team leader and nurse as we have lost the doctor. PB takes in the water but we have just over 1k to go through rigorous undulations before reaching a clearing. Team Leader goes in front of PB and I go behind to keep an eye on him. Yet another single file undulation with a 2ft drop to the sides. PB loses his footing and falls and is badly shaken. We get PB to his feet and have to crack on. It's 1:30pm, the heat is sweltering, and my story ends here for day 3 as things get very emotional which is personal to me, PP, R and the rest of the group tour.
R and me bond as usual for the day and share the messages rcd from PP about her broken leg. PP is in pain but her spirits remain the same. PP is now in hotel waiting for a flight back to Berlin. R and me crack on and climb the mountain which takes us two hours or so; it's a hard climb but we make it, but not without taking in a few casualties due the heat exhaustion. We have a good 17km still to go but we get shade as its now like walking through the new forest. You can sense that the poverty is far less so here in this area which is sign that we are making our way into the tourist domain of Angkor. We make camp base around 5pm and are greeted with a rain down pour. It's like the rain forest here and our tents are pitched on individual wooden platforms about 2ft from ground level and we look out to the flowing river, which calms off into small lake Pools. It's pitch black but we manage a dip before dinner to cleanse ourselves. It's candle light dinner by the river and we bed at 8:45pm time to reflect over the last few days! I wake in the night - midnight - things are not good so I wake up R and ask her to wake the doctor – I’ve experienced a bad anxiety panic attack. The doctor leaves me around (1:30 - 1:45am) - I try to get back to sleep but without success.
It's 5:00am and I've been awake since midnight. The river is flowing fast from all the rain that night. Emotionally I’m feeling better and start to pack bags in time for 6:00am breakfast and our 20k trek. It’s 7:00am as we now work our way down from the mountainside. Before we do R and me take a stroll immediately following breakfast down to the waterfalls – Roy joins us both. The scenery is stunning but poor R just cant get to grips with that Go Pro as she films the first 2 mins of her face before relaising she needs to flip the camera lens around! We trek off on our last big walk of the day. We pass through many temples and stop for photos and a chance to gather our own thoughts. Soon into the aft, following lunch the thunderstorms descend upon us. It's torrential and the trek route starts to flood so it's not long before we have to seek backup transport to take us base camp for the last 4K. We arrive at an Eco lodge and have a few beers before getting an early night for what will be a 5:30am departure into Angkor Wat.
No asleep again from midnight and I’m up at 4:30 am - I'm in pain again with chest. It’s 5:00am and I have another big anxiety panic attack. R and Doc come to my rescue. R kindly holds my hand and doc gives me the painkillers. 5:45am I'm on my feet but walking like an old man slowly step by step. 6:00am and a dry breakfast is forced down me.
We set off to Angkor Wat and take in the wonderful sights of this temple followed by Angkor Thom. We get back to the hotel and on route R and me are thinking about PP as she has not texted us back today. We arrive at hotel and as we go through the foyer PP is there as she greets us in her wheelchair. The emotions kick in as R and me are reunited with PP.
We have a celebration group meal that evening followed by a few beers in town but not before going to my room to have a long welcomed shower - something I've not been able to do in 6 days. I consider myself to be blessed by having what many would consider to be basic materialistic items.
I wake at 6:30am having slept though the night for the very first time but my chest is in pain, so time for a painkiller as I end this blog.
Thank you all for helping me to raise over £4,500, but more importantly our group total was almost £154k - what a fantastic achievement by all.
It's been a life changing experience for me!
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