A few years back in Cambodia I made an assessment in a remote part of the North-East with the help of my translator and a surveyor. Not only were we to do this via an equally remote province to the north, but it was to be carried out in the rainy season, on mopeds.
The first day out in the bush involved fourteen hours of mopeding. We were either drenched in sweat from the heat, or soaked to the skin from downpours. Much of the time we were just covered in mud from dragging our bikes through swamps, or muddy ravines, or just falling off.
We eventually arrived in the cluster of villages and made our assessment over the following days. On completion, my two companions refused to return the same way, stating they’d rather wait there until the dry season. Democracy dictated that we would take a new route to the south.
The team set off early. There was only one road, along which the villagers drove buffalo and oxen. We spent six hours of slipping in the mud, falling, sinking, and recovering bikes from buffalo deposit-filled quagmires, to reach the last village 12 kilometres away. The next challenge was the deep forest. Progress improved, however, as the light faded, there was no sign of civilization. The mud track also deteriorated as it had rained. In the dark we tried to navigate the water-filled potholes. By 9.00pm the surveyor’s bike became too damaged to continue. The team were horrified that we would camp alone in the forest, with fears of robbers and wild animals. However, with no choice I set about tying our hammocks to some nearby trees.
I lay in my hammock, trying not to think about snakes, and watched as the stars gave way to the black shadows of encroaching clouds. And then the rains returned. Our synthetic hammocks, I soon discovered, were just the right design for catching and storing large amounts of water. I lay shivering and miserable for what seemed like hours.
By midnight the rain was less heavy, and through the muffled forest orchestra, movement could be heard from inside the camp. I turned on the torch to see my translator stomping around, muttering to himself. His hammock was now on the forest floor, and the small tree, to which I had tied it, was uprooted and bent over where he’d been sleeping. I don’t think I have never laughed so much. He re-attached it to a different tree, mumbling to himself throughout. Within ten minutes I could hear snoring from his new nest through the patter of the ever-persistent rain.
This is one of the experiences in my life that taught me that a good expedition is an excellent setting for an entertaining story and is something that I have draw upon in the series of books about Mr. Tinfish and his lighthouse. It has also taught me that a lot of care is required in selecting where you choose to tie up your hammock.
Chris Wardle holds a bachelor’s degree in physical geography as well as a Master’s degree for water supply in developing countries from Cranfield University in the UK.
Over the last ten years Chris has travelled extensively in developing countries working on charity projects in poor communities. He has been able to draw on his numerous experiences to inspire his creative works, particularly living for long periods in communities with different cultures in Africa and Asia.
An orphaned kitten in Northern Uganda was the inspiration for Mr. Choli’s character in the Tinfish series. He now lives in the UK with Chris’s family (via a few months with a foster family in France to organise his European passport). Please visit the Tinfish website at www.mrtinfish.moonfruit.com