The horror, The horror!
19.04.2012 - 20.04.2012 41 °C
Several hours later we emerged back at the beach front, covered in cuts, bites and bruises. At some forgotten point the well-trodden path lined with jackfruit-laden trees became a rough jungle track and meant walking in single file. Soon, we were pulling ourselves up through gaps in the trees and having to maintain constant movement due to the sheer number of active ant and termite colonies. The branches gave way with increasing reluctance and the hill became steep and crumbling with dry red soil. Only Steve and I had thought to take proper boots and equipment. Letizia, one of the new volunteers, had decided to attempt the trek in only a blue summer dress and casual trainers and was soon slipping and swearing in thick, continental tones. Once, we were able to catch a glimpse of the sparkling blue water between the mainland and the islets; just before a colony of fire ants swarmed over our ankles and started biting at our skin. Visibly patterned in a bold black-red-black, mosquitoes and biting bugs gave us large, welt-like bites on our joints.
Land mines became a concern at this point. The path to the bunker was no longer discernible in the overgrown bushes; with lash vines grasping at our ankles like snares we started to debate whether we should return to the beach. The "proper" path to the bunker was almost certainly cleared of KR traps and mines, but was this other approach safe? The decision was made to press on in an effort to find the summit (where we assumed the bunker and nice views were). I regretted this almost immediately as a brush with a snake-vine sprinkled a handful of angry ants into my hair, where they bit and crawled around as I clawed at them furiously with my fingers, whilst a cloud of midges and the big mosquitoes added to the tally of bites and stings.
Reaching the summit made us despair: there was nothing to see but overgrown bushes and yet more ants. Our group decided to descend with speed; alternately sliding and stumbling down over trees and tripwires of long plants, spiny vines and barbed thornplants. My arm was cut and it was only due to my tropical vest that I avoided the fate of the others - namely having a host of nasties seething under t-shirts and underwear. We had returned defeated and beaten by the forest, amassing more bites in those few frantic hours than in the whole of my time in Cambodia thus far. Naturally, the sensible thing to do would be to attempt another jungle trek around the island after lunch.
This is exactly what Steve and I decided to do. With hiking boots, equipment pockets and first aid kit we set off at a strong pace - we had more than 13km of jungle to cover in a couple of hours before the sunset gave way to the evening's insects and snakes. With a host of interesting and dangerous-looking thorn trees blocking the way, we pushed through to unattended beaches strewn with near-tragic amounts of litter: this was clearly the part of Rabbit Island the tourists weren't meant to see. Confused looking fishermen gazed out at us from salty shacks on stilts where lines of old water bottles were deployed against the tide to catch crabs. Strange rock formations took on the likeness of the skin of some forgotten sauropod; giant red beetles with large domino spots scurried before us and the snake vines grew as large as pythons overhead. Amidst this there were brief, exotic flashes of colour in the jungle flowers, their shapes at once alien and severe, yet delicate.
After three or so fishing villages we were stopped by a sinewy fisherman and his lurking teenage son in faded sarongs. They carried nets and machetes, so we took their advice to "go, you go now before [biting hand motion] they come out. They come with night, water high you cannot walk island - coral cut you water too much. Snakes and She come out with night and hurt" very seriously. The pace back was close to a run, and we almost erupted on to the tranquil, tourist-ridden beach, with sweat pulling at our clothes and threatening to stick limbs together. It was time for a beer and to plan the journey back to Hope - via Phnom Penh.