14 Mar Cat Tien National Park: About lost hikers and family picnics
Well, the initial instructions sound easy enough: “Just follow the yellow blazes.” Maybe after the young park ranger added “The trail has not been used or cleaned for the season yet, but you should be fine using your GPS” some sort of alarm should have went off in our heads.
Our heads do not work that way though. All we are thinking is more along the lines of: “Wow, that’s cool, we get to go tracking through the jungle without having to have a guide!”
We pick up the very ambiguous map from headquarters and ask the young ranger, where the beginning of the “elephant hill hike” is actually located. Afterward, we head over to the animal rescue centre to find the trail head. After going back and forth several times without finding a trace of a trail, we decide to try our luck further to the right and behind another building to find the path and finally get lucky.
The trail looks pretty maintained and the blazes are easy to spot. We hike along and check out the lush vegetation and insects along the the way. After stopping a few times to be amazed by the big trees and vines, Jessica notices a pinch on her leg and finds a leech attached to her. Even though we took precautions and wear long pants with our socks pulled over the pants legs, those tittle suckers find their way right through our socks. Luckily, we already found out in Thailand that it is easy to scrape the little bloodsucking pests off our legs with an old credit card.
Form then on, we just try to keep our feet moving whenever we are stopped to keep the leeches from latching on…and so we continue on our hike.
As we keep going, we notice that the path is becoming more overgrown and we find ourselves climbing over more and more fallen trees and branches. Many of the painted blazes on the trees become harder to spot, some of them almost disappeared completely; more than likely they were washed away during the rainy season which just ended. At times we find ourselves backtracking for a few yards, or heading into different directions in search for another yellow paint spot and eventually we’d get lucky and would find another one.
Unfortunately, once we make it almost up the hill, our luck is running out and the blazes finally vanish. We consult our map and our GPS and decide to continue uphill where a few more big tung trees are located.
There, we should run into a path again or we’ll make our own path toward the road. So we continue making our own path until we hear some commotion and voices coming toward us. We figure, “cool, there are other hikers, the path must continue right around here somewhere.” And before we know it, we run into three people. The German couple and the British fellow, look relieved when they see us and ask us about the path. Supposedly, they are following red blazes to the Crocodile lake, which is about 14 km from headquarters and are hoping, that they are almost at their destination. Their disappointment is obvious when we tell them, that they are only 2 km away from headquarters and they are not even close to their trail. Apparently they have been hiking for a few hours already to make it 2 km. According to the three, they just lost a very nicely, cleared trail a few steps back; unfortunately though, they got themselves all turned around and are unable to retrace their steps. A little sad, they come to the conclusion that they are not going make it to the Crocodile lake today and ask about returning via the yellow-blaze-trail, that we took.
After finding out, that the yellow blazes do not always pan out so well either, the three decide to tag along with us to the top of the hill. Occasionally, they would stop and hem-ha or second guess our decision to bush whack our way through the jungle or they’d debate which way to circumvent some of the very thick vegetation. But for some reason they continue to come along, anyway…maybe because we are not hem-ha-ing but follow our GPS confidently through the jungle, past a small lake and back to the dirt road.
Once on the dirt road we check our blood stained socks and find several more well fed leeches rolling out from our pant legs.
The three hikers are very happy to be back on a familiar road, tell us thanks, and return back to headquarters, while we continue our hike down the road to head back into the jungle to see a few more tung trees.
While checking out more of the forest, we wonder where three hikers would have ended up if they would not have run into us, or what they would have done once they found out that they were lost and at a completely different location than what they thought.
We do not get to marvel over it loo long though, because Ron notices his glasses and glass-case missing about a kilometer into the walk. They must have fallen out of the side pocket of his camera bag when we were bushwhacking. What else to do than back track. When we find the area where we exited the jungle before, Ron tries to backtrack his steps through the jungle. We already figure, that the chances to find an earth tone glass case on a jungle floor are slim to nothing. Trying to spot it in an area of no path with lush vegetation must be like looking for a needle in a haystack. We decide to give him about 20 minutes to look for it and then just call it a loss.
Jessica and I wait at the dirt road while Ron heads back into the woods. He follows the breadcrumbs on the GPS of our previous track. He hikes past the small lake into the thicket and thinks to himself how ludicrice it is to believe he’d ever find that case again. Second guessing himself, he decides to take a few more steps, before returning to us on the dirt road…and there it is. Right in front of him, where he wanted to call it quits, lies the brown glass case. How lucky is that! Happy, he returns to us and we continue our hike back to our camp.
Things got a little livelier back at the campsite. A big group of people with grocery bags turned up at one of the big family tents to be rented. We soon get to find out, that New Years Day is THE day to have a family picnic. People are gathering everywhere to meet with family members to celebrate the new year. Lots of food gets consumed. Most women chat on one side of the party and prepare meals, while many of he guys toast to each other and have a couple of drinks on the other side. They all get together and have a grand old time chatting away and joking with each other over dinner.
As we reach our tent we notice one of the guys taking a rest in our hammock by our tent. Apparently, he thought it was a community hammock. Not sure what to say, we just let him be and sit in our chairs and watch the party. Eventually, somebody who notices that the hammock actually has a owner, comes over, apologizes and lets the stranger in the hammock know. However, it does not take long for another fellow to ask to lay down in it again. Since it is a holiday we do not mind.
The following morning it is time to pack up and get going again. Not before taking a few more pictures with a group of teenagers who love to pose with the foreigners