Extreme double jungle trekking in Ratanakiri

18 Feb

More cash dramas ensued the next day as it turns out the one cash point in Banlung only takes Visa…which would be fine but it’s a picky cash machine that only takes Visa credit cards and I have a Visa debit and a Mastercard. We tried to get a cash advance from a guesthouse (twice) but the owner wasn’t in. Luckily Chris comes to our rescue again and gets out enough on his credit card to last us, and Emma does the same for a couple of other people.

This means we can go trekking, which the Banlung area is apparently really good for as it has a massive jungle. Five of the group we ended up want to go for three days two nights, and the other two want to go for two days one night as they haven’t got much time left in Cambodia. We spend nearly a day deliberating the pros and cons and finally flip a coin – three days two nights. It was a shame not everyone could come but it did mean we could do the extreme double jungle trek with one night in the jungle, one night in the village, so we immediately booked it.

Several beers later, our quite cheerfully heavy-handed peer pressure and sheer joy at the thought of double jungle have meant we have recruited one more person, leaving Bonny to stay in Banlung. She was feeling ill so decided it was probably best to stay at the hotel…until she saw our jungle gear the next morning (pretty much the stupidest, inappropriate clothes we could find, plus weapons) and made a decision to power on through!

The pickup truck came to fetch us and we all piled in the back…so cool when it started but we all forgot that Ratanakiri province is famous for trekking…and its red dust. So whoever could see the most had to shout for us all the duck when lorries went past otherwise you got a faceful of road.

We started at the ranger’s village – slight mis-start as the first ranger thought we were a group of 4 and then saw all of us, saw how much he’d have to carry and then said he wasn’t going to do it. We did find another ranger and had to carry our stuff, hammock and mozzie net, 3 litres of water, blanket and food for the first day so that he, the guide and the porter weren’t overloaded, which is fair enough. Our ranger’s dog, Kill, came too, which was great because I’ve been missing a good dogwalk now I don’t have Holls.

So off we went into the jungle

and acquired more sensible attire

We had lunch, peppery beef or egg for the veggies and rice, and then watched the guide cut down some bamboo to make us the most awesome bamboo cups for our rice wine that evening. We’ve all kept ours as they are amazing!

We walked for about three and a half hours through the jungle until we came to our campsite spot. By now we were off the sweatiness scale so you can imagine how good it was to see that our site was right next to a deep pool

so we all stripped off, jumped in (or leapt in from a vine, tarzan-style) and cooled down a bit before tea. Our ranger and guide were really good cooks – we got a kind of aubergine stew that was made by steaming it in a piece of bamboo next to the fire, beef and morning glory (yes, that really is a vegetable!) and rice. It was quite funny as some French people who were staying at the same guesthouse as us were there on the other side of the pool – they had said they wanted to go trekking but didn’t want to join our group as it was too big to see any wildlife because of the noise. We had been joyfully crashing through the jungle, singing and shouting along the whole way, so I doubt they got to see any monkeys that day!

The rice wine was brought out…I couldn’t drink it as it’s really strong and gave me goosebumps every time I had even a little bit, but the boys and the guides had quite a bit. Our guide got quite drunk and was giving us riddles and puzzles to do

The poor have it, the rich need it, it is greater than God and if you eat it, you will die

That one had us stumped for a while but Grace got it once we’d had time to think. We curled up in our hammocks

and tried to get some sleep with all the sounds of the jungle in the background…frogs, crickets, birds, rustling, running water…and distant chainsaws from the illegal loggers that work at night to avoid getting caught cutting down trees. No one slept really well but Chris was the last to go to bed and went frog-catching with the guide. Apparently you need to sneak up on them, turn your head really quickly away (as he had a head torch on) and grab the frog at the same time. Quite an art but obviously one that he is good at as this was what was left in the morning

They were then crunched up and refried for breakfast, but I didn’t fancy that as they’d been left out all night so wasn’t sure what had been crawling all over them. And talking of crawling, when I went for a wee in the night, I was just about to climb over a massive tree to a private spot and there was a scorpion on it. Obviously I ran away (for my camera, not because I was scared…well mainly for the camera) but it had gone by the time I had got back. Which was much worse because I didn’t know where it had gone so I was scared I was going to wee on it and it would bite me. Eeeep.

The next day we set off to get to the village, which was about another five hours’ walk away. The guide made Bonny a hat

Amazing

I didn’t get too many pictures as we were knackered from walking in all the heat but the views were stunning

We got to the village and walked into a crazy party for someone who was celebrating putting up part of his house, which seems like a bit of a tenuous reason but hey, everyone was partying like it was 1999 because of it! There were huge jugs of rice wine (nicer this time, less strong) with straws, music (the guy who owned the one speaker brought it over from the other side of the village by motorbike especially), dancing and food. All the kids thought we were a bit strange but they did eventually join in with games of hopscotch and volleyball, and we paid a man to go and get some beers for everyone from the next village. Mark came back with the best thing possible – a slab of ice so we could have cold ones! People kept popping up to the village hall where the bucket of beer was and having a few with us, and so did the rangers, so it was nice as they said beers are a bit special to them because they don’t have them very often.

I was quite tired so decided to go to bed a bit earlier, but the string of my hammock broke and I ended up on the floor. There’s nothing like a bit of ritual humiliation to make you feel like actually, you are going to have another beer, so back out I went and watched everyone dancing. I think the woman who was sitting next to me felt a bit sorry for me because she kept trying to make me go and dance, but I didn’t feel like it, so she brought me some fried chicken and rice. Or maybe she’d just heard about the hammock story and figured I probably needed feeding again :)

Craig and I went to bed on the floor (after everyone was marched back to the homestay we were staying at by the guide who told me to tell everyone not to go too wild) and the rest of the group went for a wash in the stream. Most people were feeling a little bit worse for wear, which was not an excellent plan seeing as we had six hours of walking “up and down mountains” according to our guide. Worse news was that because they had boiled river water which doesn’t taste like clean water (obviously), the guides had made us all tea to take with us for the walk. Boiling hot, disgusting tea. Yummy!

We all sat around after breakfast and comforted ourselves by playing with the family’s puppies. There were three big puppies, probably around 8-10 weeks old, and a tiny one

He wasn’t being fed by his mum because she was starving and had clearly made the decision that she should try and feed the ones that were going to have the best chance. Every time the little one went near her, she bit him really hard and hurt his leg. We fed him a little rice but he was a pathetic little thing – he’d been trying to get warm overnight in the embers of the fire outside the house because all the other dogs wouldn’t let him snuggle up to them, so he’d got singed whiskers.

We all felt so sorry for him and I think this came across as the family brought some food out for the dogs who clearly were not being fed at any other time. Someone came up with the bright idea of trying to buy the small one, but the guide said that that was impolite because in Cambodia, to buy someone’s dog implies that you think they are so poor they need the money. You are usually given a dog rather than having to buy it. We didn’t want to cause offence so we reluctantly said goodbye to the tiny one, knowing he was going to die as he was so weak he could hardly stand.

We were waiting outside for the guides and suddenly the owner came back…he had seen me put on Craig’s leather cowboy hat and the guide said that actually, we could swap the dog for the hat and that would be ok. The stakes had been raised! Craig and I looked at each other for a couple of seconds, and being the sensible and rational people we are, chose the dog. He was bundled into a makeshift sling over my shoulder and off we went!!

The six hours we did that day were definitely “extreme double jungle” – hatless, waterless, but with a dog and a steaming hot bottle of tea, we went through the jungle…the ranger at the front cutting a hole that he could fit through, up and down the mountains. As we are significantly bigger than the Cambodians, every three seconds someone would scream or swear as they got impaled on a thorn bush, a spider web in the face, scratched by the sharp vines that covered the floor, bitten by termites or smacked by bits of tree settling back into place. Strangely, we didn’t see any monkeys that day. It was very funny though to hear everyone in pain as they were lacerated by the jungle.

We were going to go to a waterfall for a “power shower” but as it was dry season the river had dried up. The guide hadn’t told us that so we had all had visions of jumping in cold water a couple of hours in (having only had vile warm tea to drink) so we were fairly disappointed.

Where the waterfall should have been

I just couldn’t drink enough tea to keep myself hydrated – I knew it was bad when my sweat went cold and then stopped…I obviously just didn’t have enough liquid in me to keep sweating! The last bit felt like I was floating I was so thirsty. The ranger did show us how to cut down certain vines and then drink the water within them, but that was only a few drops. Best drops ever though! Luckily the dog slept pretty much the whole way, and kept his toilet breaks to when we stopped for a rest.

We reached the end village after over six hours of walking with no water. The first bottle of water didn’t even touch the sides! We settled down for lunch and to compare wounds, but we made it! I think it is one of the best things I’ve done so far. It was so fun, we had a great group of people, lovely guides, welcoming villages…and we swapped a hat for a dog. Legendary trek.

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3 Responses to “Extreme double jungle trekking in Ratanakiri”

  1. semplo 26 February 2012 at 7:29 pm #

    It sounds intense – but I agree it does sound like the best thing so far. I love the puppy story. But I’m wondering what you’re going to do with him? Can you take him out of the country, or are you just hoping to get him strong enough to survive and be able to give him to someone that will provide him a home. I know we American put more value in our pets than the countries you’re travelling through.

    But don’t forget to tell us his outcome. Plus He needs a name! Enjoy

  2. rutheh 17 March 2012 at 3:50 am #

    Thanks for the “like” today.

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