Thursday, 9 February 2012

The story of the Break Bone fever

The story of the Break Bone fever

Here’s the story of the Break Bone fever. It begins with a little mozzie called ‘Little Bugger’.
Little Bugger used to live in the heart of the Kardamom jungle in Cambodia. From this sentence you can already assume that either Little Bugger is dead or the jungle is no longer there. In this case, both are - almost - correct.

The Kardamom is a truly amazing jungle. It stretches from the mountains in North Cambodia to the Gulf of Thailand in the South. It has gigantic trees, exotic birds and it’s the last jungle in SE Asia where tigers and wild elephants still roam free. This jungle was also where Little Bugger used to fly happily around and suck tasty blood from passing mammals – or from the odd jungle trekkers, in our case.

But Little Bugger is now dead. I killed it. I smashed it against my leg, splashing streams of blood and inner mosquito bits on my hands.

I’m certain it neither thanked me after finishing sipping my western-flavoured blood nor a moment before it spread its wings to fly away. Too bad. If it had stuck around for a bit longer it might have still been alive. But it didn’t.    

Unfortunately it was also too late for me. And for Jen. We both got bitten by Little Bugger.
The Dengue virus that was injected into my blood didn’t spread immediately. There’s no rush apparently when it comes to Dengue. After 10 days the incubation period ended and the first sign finally appeared: high temperature.

Then it all came at once. Symptoms: horrible muscle pain, bones, joints and brain ache, weakness, extreme temperatures and then the horrifying realisation of ‘so this is why Dengue is called Break-Bone fever’.

It definitely feels like it: body is immobilised, sight’s disabled. Appetite vanished, brain’s screaming in agony. The only piece of though that’s still hanging around like undesirable requiem is ‘why am I not dead yet, Moses, why am I not dead...?’

I was laying in bed for 10 days, recovering from Little Buggers’ gift. 10 days is enough time to think about our jungle experience and decide if it was worth it.

Was it?

If jungles were cars Kardamom is definitely a Land Rover; Mighty, powerful and full of surprises. To penetrate it we needed to get a local guide, a bag of determination and a good pair of boots. The team: Lady D, Jen, Anna, another British backpacker we met on our way, and I.

Our first stop was a little remote village of hunters and loggers called Chi-Pat.
The only access to the village is through a long muddy track, endless plantation areas and a number of river crossings. The village itself looks like it was taken out from the classic fairytales: one main dirt road with wooden hats alongside, small herb gardens, a few paddy fields in the back and a tiny market. Smell of fresh food mixed with livestock and dried fish. Locals wave to us, kids chased us to greet hello, dogs barked to us, chickens run away from us and only the pigs ignore us and kept playing in the mud. I loved Chi-Pat from the first moment.

We spent the night in the village, linked up with our guide and set ourselves to our jungle exploration: packed our bags with food, hammocks and enough mosquitos repellent to crack another hole in the ozone layer.

And into the jungle we went.

We rowed a little boat upstream. It was early morning and the jungle was awakening. Bugs were zooming, birds tweeting, huge Hornbills flying above and orang-utans jumping from tree to tree. Magic.

After a couple of hours we arrived to a little clearance and it was time to disembark and leave our boats behind. We started to walk.

And immediately – leeches. Millions of them. And they are all crazily obsessed: “Blood! Blood! We want your blood!!”

Sensing our footfalls they’re crawling fast on the jungle floor, climbing on our boots and finding their ways through leather and socks. Then pinching the skin to get to their favourite juice and suck it until they’re about to explode. Hey you – leave some for Little Bugger, he needs a drink too!

In the beginning we fought back. Armed with sticks, knives and a flame-thrower we stood firm and bravely manned the defences. We beat them, sliced them and burned them. But there were too many of them and soon we had to give up to those parasites and accept our own bloodshed – Jen won the beer for been dined on the most with 9 leech marks.

During the day we came across several monkeys, big cats’ paw prints, elephant’s beds and a huge pile of what they left after digesting their massive breakfast.          

In the evening we set up camp. We washed in the stream, cooked our meals and got into the hammocks, slung high above the jungle’s floor. It was then, while changing our sweaty clothes, that Little Bugger spotted the opportunity of its lifetime to taste some of that exotic Westerner blood.
He came, he tasted, he died.
No hard feelings, Little Bugger. You did what you needed to do and I did what I needed. You suck blood, I killed you.  

Night time. Light breeze puffed fresh air through the dense jungle, bringing smells of green and moist. The jungle was switching shifts. Night shift is on. A beautiful harmony of creatures singing lullaby, late bird calling its partner and fireflies were flying around my head, getting attracted to my torch. So relaxed. So remote. What a beautiful night. And the Dengue virus has just started to feel comfortable in its new host.    

The bad guys of this story are, again, the Chinese. A new development is currently underway to transform this jungle into a lively complex of resorts. In the next few years these trees will be bulldozered to clear way for 7 new holiday cities. Yes – 7 cities.

On the agenda: beachside towns with exclusive shopping malls, restaurants with the best selection stretching all along the coastline. Airports, coaches, high speed trains connecting the boulevards to the fluorescent lighten hotels and the pearl in the crown: a gigantic massive casino, the biggest even built in SE Asia – how exciting.  

This is just another of the disasters the Chinese impose on our nature as part of their blindness race to ‘develop’ the world. For Little Bugger it won’t matter anymore but for the elephants, Serval, monkeys, hornbills and other endangered creatures of the Cardamom jungle is will simply be the end.

So was Kardamom worth the visit?

Was it worth the Break Bone fever?
Probably yes. Sadly, the last pristine jungle for a few weeks of sickness – it’s a deal I can handle.

Jen & Noam
Photos, stories and more on our website

Note: In general we object to the killing of defenceless creatures. Mozzies, however, can fly, bite and kill therefore are not defenceless. 

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