Surgery in the jungle

Trip Start Feb 20, 2010
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Where I stayed
In the jungle

Flag of Cambodia  , Kaôh Kŏng,
Thursday, July 8, 2010

Just an hour and a half on the bus from Koh Kong took me to a tiny local village in the middle of nowhere called An dong Teuk where you have to get a further two and a half hour boat ride from there to the village of Chi Phat which is situated in the South Cardamom Mountain range. At one time this area was a centre of poaching and logging but a few years ago the Wildlife Alliance set up a community based Eco tourism project that was designed to give the villagers of Chi Phat an alternative form of income to logging and poaching. The village has 500 families and was just a traditional rural village in Cambodia before the project began, now the project provides hundreds of jobs such as guides, moto drivers, boat crew and guest houses for the local community.

After being dropped off at a little wooden shack at the side of the road where I was to wait for the boat, I was taken back to my Vietnamese days when I came in to contact with the people. First of all they told me there was no boat and that I would have to take a motorbike for $5 before trying to sell me onward tickets further East. Had I have been on my own, I would've accepted this as gospel because I wouldn't have wanted to have been stranded there but I'd met an Australian guy in Koh Kong who was also on his way to Chi Phat so we sat waiting together ignoring their blatant lies. It was only 10.30am by the time we got there and the boat wasn't due until 13.00pm but as the time went by, we were joined by a further three people also making the journey to Chi Phat who were also told that there was no boat coming by the same people!

Our boat arrived on time but it wasn't quite what we expected; a long, narrow wooden boat which looked hardly fit for a stream let alone a big river; with all of the space already taken by boxes, we clambered on top of them and sat on the lids using these as our seats for the journey. As if this wasn't enough, just five minutes from leaving the pick up point; we sailed straight towards another boat which was also filled to the brim with supplies and tied it to the back of ours so we could take two boats down the river all on the one motor board!

Throughout our; what turned out to be a four hour journey; we got tangled up in the mangrove, over-heated the motor, wrecked the cooler system and repaired it again and got caught up in a storm; so all in all, a relatively normal journey travelling throughout South East Asia! Once we eventually got there, we reported straight to the eco-tourism office (who run everything in the town) and decided what activities we were going to do from the options of cycling, trekking, boating and kayaking. The more people there were on one tour, the cheaper it was, so all five of us decided to take a two day trek into the Cardamom mountain range with a sleep over in the jungle in a hammock!

Our first day was a 21km hike through the forest to stop over at a waterfall for our lunch of rice and vegetables before reaching our campsite for that evening. The walk was really enjoyable, going through some beautiful scenery out in the mountains while singing English and Khmer songs on the way. Since I'd done this length of journey back in Tiger Leaping Gorge - I didn't think it would pose much of an issue. The walking wasn't the problem, it was the fact that we were in wet season so we had to walk through many streams and pools of water along the way which in dry season wouldn't be there, making our feet wet and prone to blisters as the skin had now turned to soggy mush in our socks.

Nevertheless I perservered with the whole walk all the way to our campsite spot where we would put up our hammocks while it was still daylight. After taking my shoes and socks off - I realised the full extent of my pain; blisters covering the tops of every single toe, the sides of my feet and at the back of my heels. They were so big that there was no way I would've been able to put my shoes back on without popping them so it was decided by the group that I should do it manually that evening - that way I could then lather them with antiseptic before putting on the infamous compede that one of the guys had lent me! (I say infamous because compede was the cause of my hospital trip back at home last May; five hours spent waiting on a Bank Holiday which left me with a swollen, infected ankle, a course of antibiotics and a seven pounds twenty five pence bill later!)

As I lay in pain making wounded animal noises (as my mum would say!) one of the boys in our group, Ben, had a bit of a sadist streak and volunteered to do the 'popping' for me; as it was difficult for me to reach. But between us all, none of us had bought a needle so another guy in our group offered him a pen knife to do the job. Soaking it in alcohol before commencing the operation, the guides and trekkers gathered around us both like student medics as our only source of light from the candle flickered at the bottom of where the surgery was taking place. On the times that the pen knife went in a little too far and pierced the new skin underneath, a guide would be on hand to offer me the 20% volume rice whisky to stop me from wincing! One of the suggestions from the onlooking crowd was to use the candle wax to seal the wounds back together - I think they'd seen it in a film once; but luckily for me, although Ben had had quite a few glasses of the rice whisky before operating, he was sober enough to know that this was not a good idea and decided against it. Instead, he poured antiseptic cream all over the fresh cuts and sealed them with the compede; that I had vowed never to use again - then I was discharged!

The next day, although I was still in pain, I could still hobble without too much discomfort but one of the guides thought it was a much better idea for me to wear his open sandals while he wore my shoes. They were a little small for him, so his feet were overhanging over the backs of my shoes; while his sandals were a little big for me and kept on slipping beneath me. After trekking for 15km, progressively getting slower, it occurred to me that I was beginning to develop more blisters but on the soles of my feet this time where the pressure pads were. I was sweating profusely with every step because of the amount of pain eminating from my feet so I was getting more dehydrated by the minute.

We had taken quite a lot of water with us at the start of the trek but once we'd run out after the first day, we had collected river water and boiled it on the camp fire so that it was safe to drink. The only problem with this was that there was no lid on the pan we'd used to boil the water so all of the smoke from the fire had infiltrated in to the water, making it taste very much like an ashtray! Because of the taste, I tried to drink as little as I could but because I was sweating more than anyone else - I should've been drinking the most. With just 6km left to go, the ground started moving, I could see pink and blue stars and everyone around me had turned in to twins! It was at this point that I knew that I really couldn't go any further, even though I'd wanted to cry and give up 10km before. I'd pushed myself so hard because I didn't want to be a failure - I wanted to hold my head and say 'I did it' but it was impossible.

A motorbike driver came to pick me up along with the guide who'd been wearing my shoes and take us the 6km back to town. The journey was an adventure within itself, a tiny 125cc bike had taken three people and a big backpack up steep rocks, through thick mud and across deep sand. Granted, we nearly crashed a few times and feel off twice as we'd either got stuck in the mud or skidded on the sand but we made it back in one piece. The highlight of the motorbike journey though definitely came towards the end. At the start of our trek, we had been made to walk through a waterfall. I just assumed that the motorbike would have a road access that would go around the falls but I was wrong. The dirt track that we had been driving on, ended at the stream and the motorbike, without hesitation just took the whole bike through it! It was quite deep too - when I stood up in it, it came just below my waist! The engine cut out three times, the backpack fell in the water and the bike nearly collapsed on top of the driver, burying him under water but he got up, shifted the bike and carried on regardless.

Arriving back at the village, I had almost forgotten the pain in my feet as I'd been more concerned about the safety of my life, squished in between two skinny Cambodian men on the back of the bike but as soon as I touched my feet on the ground to get off - the realisation came flooding back! That night though I was waited on hand and foot by the men from our group while I sat with my feet up drinking rice whisky to dull the pain - now that's what I call a fair deal!
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Comments

rosiejonesie on

OMG Mandy... your poor little feet look so sore!! I hope their better now! xx

Dave of the BG kind on

Your feet look like Monster Munch... Mmmm... Monster Munch...

You poor thing you, not only have you been half eaten, now you have cankles! Bless ya x

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