There are two kinds of people in the world. Camping people and non-camping people. I swear. Think about it. Are you a “camping person”? Is your best friend a “camping person”? I have met people who would rather get a speeding ticket than spend an evening in a tent. And non-camping people, well, they talk about camping like it is sent straight from the realm of satan to punish humankind. You never hear a non-camping person say, “It’s not that bad, but I prefer hotels. But I could go either way, really.”
What do hear is, “Last time I went camping, man, I was swept away in a monsoon, broke my iPhone, and sprained a muscle in my back. Never again.”
Or, “Oh, God! Camping? You all are crazy. Camping is the worst. Like, really. I feel bad for you that you subject yourself to bug bites, sunburn, and no respite from the elements. Have fun.”
Or, “Have you seen Deliverance? No thanks.”
They view “camping people” as mentally-unstable fools, searching for a Shangri-La they will never find.
Or, whacky NPR-listeners, hammock-swingers, plaid-wearers, pack-out-your-own-poo-in-a-bio-degradable-bag campers.
But maybe I’m wrong. But I like to think of the division this way—it’s mildly amusing to me. For a more complete list of the “types of campers”, click here.
You’re probably wondering, “Kim, what does this have to do with Cambodia?” If you remember the end of my last post, I promised you the secret to a mind-blowing hike. You see, as I am of the “I sincerely enjoy camping” type, I connect camping and hiking with the similar traits.
So, if you love camping, and equally love hiking, you are in for a vicarious treat.
If you hate camping and hiking, prepare yourself to enter the world of Alfred Hitchcock and his many horrors.
I’m not going to lie, this hike was brutal. Brutal in a way I have never experienced before. Normally, people classify a difficult hike by the following:
– elevation gained/lost
– difficulty of terrain
– trail condition
– your personal physical fitness
Well, when Sean and I chose to hike in Koh Kong, I had to throw all that criteria out the window.
What classifies a difficult hike in Cambodia?
– complete absence of a trail
– crawling on all fours
– wading through water
– suffocating humidity
We were clearly underprepared. Our shipment from Kuwait hasn’t arrived yet, so we were tramping through the forest in our beach gear. The guys at the lodge told me to wear socks. I didn’t get it. They said, “Oh, socks and sandals. Perfect. The best prevention for leeches.”
I thought—You’re kidding.
They then proceeded to take this picture of us, saying, “You need a ‘before’ photo.”
I thought—It’s a small hike, guys. Five hours. Get over it.
I have never been more wrong.
To begin, we start climbing up a 45 degree angle. Maybe 60. Needless to say, it was hand-over-foot. It was slide-back-down-with-every-step. I felt like Prince Charming, climbing Rapunzel’s tower through a ravine of twisted vines, if you took him out of a fairy-tale and put him into Dante’s Inferno.
And then began the leeches. Sean took this picture at our first resting place when he removed his socks and shoes. The leeches aren’t like American leeches—these guys are thin, wiry things that jump on you with such tenacity that they are impossible to prevent.The rise up from the forest floor, wave their body around in the air, searching for carbon dioxide, temperature, and movement. When they smell these three things, I kid you not, they crawl at you at a scarily quick speed. Once they’re on your skin, the sucker on, and you have to pull them off. But when you pull them off, they attach to your other hand. Then you convulse into a hand-flinging-and-whining frenzy, trying to get this possessed leech off your body. There were countless times on the hike that Sean just stopped turning around when I would cry out, “Oh! No! Agh! Oh! Ee! Ow! Agh! No! No! No! Stop it!” It became a usual occurrence. Sean would calmly pull them off, calling out, “Sixteen.” “Seventeen.” Whatever tally he was at. Why is he bleeding so profusely in the above photo? You see, when leeches bite you, they inject an anti-coagulant into your bloody that allows your blood to flow freely. Leeches can then suck up to fifteen times their body weight in blood.
The shocker, if it hasn’t come already, is the sheer number of leeches that attached to us on the hike.
By the end, I had 32 leeches.
Sean had 33.
We started counting after we had gotten four bites in the first ten minutes of the hike. It really detracted from our ability to relax. But it made us hike faster…
More wild mushrooms.
At one point we came to a riverbed that we could walk up. Leech city.
Here I am, lost in the jungle ahead of Sean. You can’t stop long to take a picture because the leeches will crawl up to you and attach themselves.
Then this guy showed up. He was monstrous. The size of your whole hand—fingers included. I didn’t want to stop for the picture, in case he had hidden jumping abilities.
Finally, we got to resting place number one. The bend in the river. It was a sanctuary of peace. There were no leeches! We could lay out, swim, relax, and play around on the rocks.
Here is a leech I found on the bottom of my shoe, as we were gearing up to head back out on our hike. Nasty creatures. Right now, in this photo, he is doing that “smelling for a body” thing I was talking about. Then he would inch-worm himself around, until he found his victim. Ugh.
Then we came to places where we had to wade through water. My shoes became a wet sponge. I was delirious by this point.
As we reached our final destination, I was hot, hungry, tired, and out of water. But was it worth it?
We found a shaded grotto in the waterfall and froze time for about an hour.
Then, I guess the hike WASN’T as rough as I’m making it out to be, as a boat met us at the waterfall to take us home. Our friends opted out of the hike (they’d been here before) and took the boat up the river to meet us at the falls.
Saying goodbye to the Tatai Waterfalls…
Biscuit had quite a relaxing day.
Along the river on the way back, we marveled at the thick of the jungle.
We could now fathom the density of the forest. We crawled through it, swam in it, tramped under it, really got to know it inside and out. It was beautiful.
Then it was time to head home. We loaded up into Anna and Chino’s car and began the drive back to Phnom Penh. But like I said, an adventure is not an adventure without….
Alas, everyone was a great sport, and after a few card games on the side of the road, everybody was mobile again.
It was the trip of a lifetime, and all in a mere three days.
If you ever plan to hike the Cambodian jungle, send me an email. I’ll give you some pointers.