Mark Smith completed this challenge in October. I was lucky enough to grab some time over breakfast to talk about the trek itself. Here are some of his most memorable moments and observations:
1.Team spirit really, really works!
The hardest day was day 3 – a 16 mile walk with 1600 foot climb in 40 degree heat and very, very humid. The previous day the local guides had been chopping down the undergrowth to allow the group to get through the thick vegetation. Sometimes we walked through sand and streams – it’s really tough walking on the sand. The support and encouragement of the rest of the group was all that kept some people going yet everyone made it safely to the end of the day.
No need to say more here – some were so large I was seriously alarmed.
3. The scenery was stunning.
Most of the villages had Buddhist temples and we were able to camp in the shelter of their pagodas. Because of the remote location, the water supply was often coloured. It was a treat to be able to take a dip in a river on the evening of day three. We didn’t really notice many insects but the size, colour and variety of the dragonflies and butterflies were amazing. Angkor Wat itself was an amazing experience and it is a major site for archaeological discoveries.
4. The Cambodians are incredibly welcoming.
The hospitality of the people was great. The children were on their school holidays, so would greet us as we approached their villages. They were always smiling. We gave out hundreds of pencils so they could use them in school! One day of the walk it rained so hard everyone had to walk through running water. A local family offered shelter from a thunderstorm in their house built on stilts. Everyone squeezed into the living room of their two bedroom house and all the mattresses were bundled into the smaller room so that everyone had enough room to sit down. After a couple of hours the storm abated and the walk could continue but everybody left feeling very grateful for local hospitality.
5. Food is basic but delicious.
The variety of fruit and veg was huge, with most evening meals stews containing either rice or noodles. The local bananas were tiny and their oranges were coloured green.
6. There are no bin collections
This was a sad observation – it’s caused by visiting tourists. Any dropped litter – mainly plastic water bottles and energy bar wrappers – is swept up by the local villagers, but simply deposited at the boundary between villages as there is no local infrastructure in place to collect or recycle waste.
7. Personal organisation
The challenge of doing this trek as a diabetic is do-able. Blood tests, insulin injections and tablets CAN all be managed in a jungle if you are sufficiently focused and organised!
Chatting to different members of the group revealed a variety of reasons for taking part and many had either suffered themselves from mental illness or seen close family members suffer. The group came from many different functions in the bank and many different pay grades but all were united in their commitment to raising money for this good cause. The 70 people in the two groups raised over 1/2 million pounds for Mental Health UK.