Trekking for Marie Curie

For the last 2 years I have been raising money for this charity that is close to my heart. They helped us enormously when mum was dying and to give something back has been cathartic. Heres the story of how I and 12 other brave(mad) people trekked Cambodia for Marie Curie!

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As I’m sure a lot of you already know I recently completed my Marie Curie trek No.2, this time in Cambodia.
Much like the first one, where we climbed 3 mountains in 3 days all over 3500 M, I had no concept of what I was asking of myself.
Often people assume it’s a bit of a jolly, having done it twice now I can assure you it’s no holiday. However the people that you walk with are often the most wonderful people you could ever hope to meet, and this group were absolutely amazing from start to finish!

There were 12 trekkers, 1 Marie Curie rep. a brilliant Doc. and the most incredible support team of local guides, drivers and all the ladies and gents involved in setting up our camps every night and feeding us the most amazing home cooked meals.

I learnt that I really like Cambodian traditional food and I absolutely love this particular type of catfish we were served one night and quite a few other fish dishes. This is a big deal for me as normally I won’t touch fish… I still don’t like prawns though, I tried but nope! I also learnt that Cambodians LOVE karaoke and practical jokes!

And the biggest surprise was how much Cambodian people love their gardens! Not just for edible crops but for ornamental shrubs, trees and flowers!

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Before starting this trek I made up my mind I was going to give up smoking. I had smoked 20+ a day for 31 years and given I was raising money for Marie curie it seemed a bit hypocritical to continue.
I’ll be honest, I liked smoking, I have very few vices and this was my one indulgence… but! It needed to go.

I waited for a week I would be mostly on my own as no one needed to experience my grumpiness. What I hadn’t betted on was the chain reaction of illnesses giving up would preemt!
At the end of July I came down with the worst headache I’ve ever experienced and flu like symptoms. The doc, when I eventually managed to drag my sad, sorry carcass to their surgery wasn’t exactly sure what was wrong but gave me several blood tests. Long story short all tests came back saying I was in perfect health but I was still experiencing exhaustion, aversion to light and blinding headaches so viral meningitis was suggested.

I returned to work, I tried to do a phased return but best laid plans meant by week 2 I was back to full days and in retrospect I really wasn’t ready. Within 4 weeks I was once again ill, this time a weird stomach illness combined with 2 other things. Without going into all the details this time the doc ran a full battery of tests, 17 or so, internal and external scans and I was put on 2 separate sets of antibiotics. This was with just 2 weeks till I was due to set off.

My head was a total mess, I was trying desperately to stay positive but without anything concrete to pin these weird illnesses on my mind was running rampant telling me terrifying stories and I have an amazing imagination at the best of times. Added to that was my concern that I wouldn’t physically be able to do the trek as I was aware how physically demanding 20km a day for 4 days would be in the UK, never mind in heat and humidity I wasn’t used to. Then there was also the selfish but very real concern that I could find myself out of a job if I didn’t get better and soon! This is a huge fear for me personally, If I lose my job I lose my house. If I lose my house I become homeless and I know from experience that once you’re in that position recovering is bloody impossible. It was hard enough when I was 17 to come back from. To slip though the cracks at my age now is horrifying… anyway!

Two days before I’m due to set off I see the doc for results.

Absolutely every test had come back saying I was in rude health, which whilst wonderful in some ways had the doctor and myself totally bamboozled! In fact the only thing that had seemed to have a positive effect was the 2 sets of antibiotics, so the doc issued me with more and gave me permission to do the trek.

My head was still a mess.

I thought I would quietly slink off social media for a while and no one would notice…. This was not the case and to everyone who I concerned I’m incredibly sorry… awks…

Enough of the preamble! You’re here to hear about the trek itself! Right?

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Airport selfie!!

The first 24 hours is a bit of a blur, I find it really tough to sleep on planes, a combination of excitement, lights, noise, other people etc. mean that I rarely do until complete exhaustion takes over. This meant that I was awake at around 4.30 on the Saturday morning, did around 19 hrs in various airports and planes. Got to Siem Reap and our hotel, refused to sleep so myself and my tent buddy went exploring. Then we were taken to a temple and out to a traditional meal by which time id been awake around 36 odd hours and I was tripping!

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Very few people seem to walk anywhere in Siem Reap, transport is limitless and inventive, pavements are optional!
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I’ve not slept in so long and look very manic, temple selfie!!

Day 1

After an excellent night sleep in our air conditioned hotel room we were escorted to our start point… I literally remember NONE of this!

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If I hadn’t taken photos I would be hard pressed to prove to myself that id been there! We set off and I had 3.5lts of water in my backpack plus snacks, a few other things I thought might be useful like sunscreen, mozzie spray, antibiotics,  lipbalm, plasters, plus t’big camera etc. By our first break stop, at around 1.5km I had drunk 2.5 litres of water and I shed anything in my backpack I didn’t consider absolutely essential. The heat was ridiculous! Apparently it was 34 degrees but felt like it was low 40’s. We were walking on a partly shaded dead straight road, the humidity was partly a blessing as I felt like I was gasping for air so I was panting with my mouth wide open. In a dry heat my mouth would have dried out in two seconds adding to the misery. However here this was not a problem as NOTHING dried out… EVER!

And honestly, I was miserable. I expected it to be hard work but this really was miserable. I felt complete tat still, to all intents and purposes I looked fine but my stomach was in bits because of the antibiotics, I was still feeling swollen, plus now I was dehydrated and over tired. What possibly made me feel worse was the fact the locals were just leaping past us gazelle like, to them this was no effort whatsoever, just a normal day and certainly not hot enough to break a sweat over. My mental state was taking a complete battering… and losing… which is not something I’m used to.

On that first day I managed 8.83 miles, which is 14.21 Km before giving up and crawling defeated onto the support bus. I felt like a loser for giving up. On our itinerary sent out months ago our first days trek was supposed to be 16Km in total our group ended up doing 24 Km.

Day 2

So today was a new day! Despite my feelings of failure from yesterday I was determined today would be different! From our start point we could see in the distance tomorrows start point, the foothills of a range of mountains called the Naga’s tail. Naga as we had learned from our guide meant snake. You can see it in the pic below, the shallow rise to 500M was to be our goal but for now we had to concentrate on getting there!

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All started well for myself, buoyed by the encouragement from my team mates I set off with a spring in my step and for the first hour or so was ok, however the thing I was taking the antibiotics for soon began to make its presence felt. I spoke to the doc as we took a break. I could at this point have jumped on the tractor and took the easy way out but I gritted my teeth. This was only the second day and if I was wimping out now I would never make the week!

So I began botanising! Even better my fellow trekkers seemed to realise how much this motivated me and started pointing out things I might have otherwise missed!

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Jackfruit in someones garden
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Abelmoschus, unconfirmed species, growing by a rest point

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A member of the Malva family at present unconfirmed

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I was given the name of “cucurma ginger lily” for this plant initially but a little bit of research has led me to believe it it possibly Curcuma alismatifolia, Siam tulip or summer tulip a close relative of Turmeric. Found a good 2Km from any settlement.

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This beauty was found on the fence line of a rather posh looking property surrounded by paddy fields. It has been identified as Cheilocostus speciosus, or crêpe ginger. Cambodians are incredibly keen gardeners and private houses often sport well stocked gardens. I saw many nurseries as we travelled through Siem Reap.

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The going today was more radical than yesterdays gentle march down a road though. It started off sedately enough. We soon migrated off piste into paddy fields finding the going a touch more squelchy. We had found out only the previous evening that our tour guides thought wed been told to bring more than one set of footwear… we hadn’t…oops!

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Finding a dry footed route through the paddy fields

It soon became clear that although we were getting off relatively lightly regarding wet feet we would not be able to escape it entirely…

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and the day was about to get much, much muddier!

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We stopped at someones house for another wonderful lunch, hiding in the shade of their trees, trying to avoid the ginormous red ants crawling over everything. Our rice came in wonderful hand woven boxes of reeds and wrapped in Nelumbo leaves, never has plain rice tasted so delicious! This was the point though I had to make a big decision. Did I jump on the tractor and go back the way wed just been to meet the coach? or did I feel fit enough to carry on as from this point on in the journey there would be no transport support. It was a scary call. The morning had been awful. But! I was here to do it, no one had said it would be fun, I would feel worse letting everyone down so! I put my backpack and my big girl pants on and walked!

Thankfully the route became, if not easier as such, certainly prettier and we found a lovely rocky streambed to take a cool break from the sun!

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By the time we met up with the bus though I was pooped! Id walked 9.41 miles, that’s 15.14 Km not the full 20Km as predicted in our itinerary but still I felt a good achievement on my part so I felt no shame in jumping on the bus and riding the last few Km to the coffee place where I had my first decent coffee in 3 days and almond M&Ms!

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Nelumbo and Colocasia growing in the moats surrounding temples
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The Buddhist water blessing we received at our campsite that night

The water blessing we received was very special in many ways, I asked for the mental strength to get through this and to make everyone who had, had faith in me, supported me, proud. I asked to be made strong and healthy again, all very selfish I know but its what was playing on my mind.

I don’t know if it worked or if it was a placebo but I did feel cleansed and more positive by the end…. this was however prior to discovering how much Cambodians LOVE karaoke and remembering that Buddhist temples never really sleep…. Suffice to say no one got huge amounts of sleep that night! Its funny now but I’m pretty sure none of us found the 2am and 4am drumming/chanting amusing at the time.

Day 3

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I was awake before the sun rose so took advantage of the moment and had a quick explore of the temple we had camped in. All week we had been seeing a “Rival” group of trekkers in various stop off points and this morning they were camped in close proximity. It was Lloyds bank apparently and they were raising cash for a mental health charity. Their seats around the breakfast table had fancy sashes and they had waiters serving them food! Our guys were playing practical jokes on us and having a giggle, I know which ones I preferred! …. not the waiter service, just to be clear

As I mooched around I realised that there was aother ruined temple not 50 ft from where we’d slept!

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After my blessing the previous night I was feeling super cocky and confident that I was gonna nail todays trek and smugly stepped it out on the approach to the accent of the Naga’s tail!

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Look at the smugness of that face!

and I was doing great, right up to the point we started actually climbing the hill. It wasn’t murderous steep but it was relentlessly steep and my position near the head of the group slipped further and further back. This had a knock on effect in my mental attitude, I don’t like losing, I hate it! I know I’m a smug bugger but I have to say that whenever I’ve set my mind to doing something in life I’ve done well. I may not have been the very best but I’ve always been proud of myself. So to find myself trailing further and further behind was hellish! At one point there was myself, a chap called Graham who was also struggling, the doc Ailsa and our guide Vannek. Vannek flagged down a motorbike and we persuaded Graham to jump on as, as much as I was struggling he was worse. I put my head down and set small goal points to reach, Vannek taught me how to say “slow, slow” in Cambodian and the Doc Ailsa was an absolute superwoman who carried my pack AND hers!!

I got a second wind, I wasn’t leaping around but I didn’t feel like I was about to die and when the motorbike returned I was given a choice. Give up and get on the bike or make it to the top of the hill… which apparently was only 1 more Kilometre… such a lie!

So I did it, I walked! I felt SO proud of myself… and knackered… and sweaty… but very proud!

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I mentioned our crew liked to play practical jokes, right? This was the best one! They tied random fruit to the trees in the yard of the peoples house we stopped at. In my tired befuddled state it took me a minute to realise they were tied on with baling twine!

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After lunch I managed another 2 Km or so but discovered my shorts which had been fine in the UK had chaffed me in a most unpleasant way making walking a very miserable task. I took refuge on the bus, reassuring myself that I had defeated the mountain and there was no point in breaking myself so I couldn’t work once I got back home!

I along with my limpy buddy Graham arrived at that nights camp ahead of the rest of the trekkers, who had been promised a short cut… by this point we were all beginning to learn there were no short cuts, if our guide said just another Km then it was going to be at least another 3!

By this time I had met my Spirit guide, who I named Doggo (and yes I cried like a baby when he eventually left us and I really hope he’s ok but more on that later!) and we went for our much anticipated waterfall swim!

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I realised something looking back on that day, I need to be needed. I do best when someone else is relying on me… just a little thing I thought… anyway!

I managed just 8.09 miles/ 13 Km on day 3

On the way down to the waterfall we saw our trekking rivals Lloyds coming up. Apparently they had refused to swim as it was dirty! Mentalists! It was one of the best experiences of my entire life, standing in the spray, looking around at the ferns, my fellow trek buddies, it was beautiful!

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Day 4

Well rested on volcanic rock beds with just the normal cacophony of cicadas, frogs and various jungle beasties for company the previous night we set off at a slightly later time of half past sunrise!

Todays journey was started by walking through another Buddhist temple, this one boasting the largest carved buddha in the world and to be fair it is very large! You climb a small hill to the centre of the complex, with various shrines to Hindu gods

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Once at the centre you see a huge rock with a set of stairs leading up its side and a pagoda defying gravity and clinging to the top. You take off your shoes and climb the steps to view the reclining buddha at the top…

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Once again we started walking, our guide Kong treating us to some translated local botany, telling us about the plant called “the leg of the bull” which apparently is a good medicine for skin and/or pregnant ladies, I wasn’t entirely clear which.

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I found walking in the jungle absolutely sublime! for the first time since I arrived I felt like I was operating as normal, striding out, not struggling, it was brilliant!

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Even better when my little spirit guide Doggo unexpectedly joined us! He made sure the group were all ok, kept other dogs away from us with a sassy growl, his strong white incisors bared and his hackles rising, only to turn to us with a happy wave of his tail once danger was past and bound to the head of the group again!

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Photo by Kong Ouk

 

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Doggo in the monsoon by Hannah Harding

None of us expected what was to come next though! Kong had been reassuring us “No rain, no rain” all morning but we could all feel a change in the atmosphere as we decended the mountain through the jungle. All of a sudden the heavens opened, we quickly shoved electronic devices into plastic bags. I lamented leaving my waterproofs on the bus but quickly realised it wouldn’t have made a dammed bit of difference anyway. Our path was now a rushing river of ochre coloured water 3 to 4 inches deep. Roots had become waterfalls, leaves flying along with passengers of ants clinging on for safety. Doggo clearly hadn’t got the memo that he wasn’t expected to escort us the whole 5Km down and that in this weather it was above and beyond his canine duty to do so and valiantly forged ahead!

Suddenly the jungle gave out and we found ourselves in a surreal moment of being in another buddhist temple and sheltering under their porch. Doggo was soaked through as we all were but continuing to make sure we were all ok. Our group reformed, everyone ok we launched ourselves back out into the rain. From this point on iy was a series of endless steps. My thigh and calf muscles cramping in the now cold rain I resorted to swearing loudly at each step. Safe in the knowledge that the sound of the rain was covering the worst of my foul mouthed tirade and that very few people were likely to be offended if they did hear.

As I reached the last 100 or so steps, the end in sight, I looked up and my lovely Doggo was headed straight for me. He stopped for ear skritches, made sure I was ok, said goodbye and headed back up the hill doing the same for each and every one of us. What a star! I may have cried ❤

On day 4 I managed 8.13 Miles/ 13.08 Km

That night our guides and support crew organised a treat for us! 2 people had birthdays Vannek and Alex. We discovered Cambodian people don’t really celebrate their birthdays but the crew as a surprise had made him a sticky rice cake and we had made him a birthday card. They then played a practical joke on Alex telling him there was a problem with his visa and the police wanted to talk to him. Ushering him round the corner out of sight they then brought out this enormous black forest gateau cake!! It was amazing! We then sang karaoke and danced a messed up conga type dance, brilliant!

Day 5

The last day trekking! It had come round quick! everything I owned was still soaking but there was nothing that could be done about that. Everyones spirits were high and I had finished my antibiotics at long last which immediately made me feel a million times better!

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With no more rain predicted I hoped stuff would dry off quickly, which it did… but then of course I sweated again so I was soaking once more!

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The first part of our walk was along a main road, busy with traffic and street vendors selling food. Do you remember the Lloyds guys? Well they sped past us on TukTuks some shouting encouragement, others looking ahead grimly like Lott, convinced if they looked to the side or behind they might turn to a pillar of salt!

We soon turned down a side road and ended up going along a quiet and beautiful track

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More botany ensued when I spotted a Tibouchinia with white anthers and a marvellous creeping hibiscus type thing, technical terms!

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We were starting to flag when the end was in sight!

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We had done it! and like those Lloyds guys before us we were about to get our well deserved TukTuk ride!

I managed 9.3 Miles/ 15Km

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This is where the fun part began, so a quick thank you is needed for everyone who sponsored me, I did my dammedist to make you proud. I hope it was enough?

Thank you if you managed to read this far and if you haven’t sponsored and feel youd like to heres the link

For my trek buddies, who will probably never read this and who can blame them, you guys were truly amazing. I never ever want to lose touch with a single one of you. Extra special big love for my wifey and tent buddy who saved my life with her comfy leggings, Pritti ❤

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So heres for the holiday snaps! 😉

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6 thoughts on “Trekking for Marie Curie

  1. Lou it sounds like you had a wonderful time on your Marie Curie expedition.
    I hope your feeling better as a result of your poor health.

    I personally have been on an antibiotic regiment for two years with an infection of the prostate. But thats what happens when we get into our senior years.

    Hopefully your return to work is a healthy and prosperous one.

    Liked by 1 person

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