We pulled bits of bike from Mr Kim’s taxi and assembled them in front of the MoE station at Preah Ang Thom. The same ranger from the last trip slung the AK47 round his shoulder and piled his moto with our bags, Alistair carried the supplies while we cycled free in the forest with Mr Leang the policeman who was to be our guide along the logging trail to Kbal Spean.
It didn’t take long to reach Porpel and not much longer to arrive at the stream where we’d camped 2 weeks ago.
We reached the ridge where we had lunch then plunged down the other side into thick green forest, exhilarating to ride through before emerging into the valley where we camped. A technical cycle ride navigating ruts and plowing through sand, minding fallen and felled trees and sharp stumps of hacked saplings. An easy day until we tried the sunset stroll to see the view from mount Ganja.
The campsite nestled in a vale of deciduous dipteropcarp from where we walked along a riparian corridor of mixed evergreen along side the stream. The path lead up the hill into a glade of silvery Sra laos trees rising above a bronzed crisp of burnt leaves. Next a mosquito infested ravine, broad green leaves hid its swampy bottom where we’d left a camera trap on the last trip. Then the escarpment and onto the plateau of tall trees and seemingly open undergrowth, that is until an innocuous looking green sapling with thorns like fish hooks ripped the t shirt of my back while it’s trip wires of trailing roots and vines grabbed my legs.
We seemed to be going round the whole mountain to find our previous lunch stop and the last view of unbroken forest left in Kulen. 50 minutes later, pouring sweat with wobbily legs we stood on the rock and gazed to the distant ridge on the other side of the valley. The tree below us appeared to have a large clump of bees around a branch. We looked again and it had gone, probably a giant squirrel.
We hastened our return as the light was going and I didn’t want to walk through the thorns in the dark. Safely off the mountain and into the Sra Laos glade Mr Leang spotted deep scratch marks through the bark running up the trunk of a tree that could only be a bear. No one knew they were here any more.
When we got back the cool stream was now tepid but it was still a welcome relief to wash away the days sweaty grime.
The next morning was marginally and briefly cooler until the sun appeared over the horizon dissipating any remaining freshness, replacing it with sweat laced with whisky from the night before.
Our route appeared as a gentle path meandering through open forest until we tried to ride it and realized the patches of sand and tree stumps were an over the handle bar experience. The tree roots contrived to catch the pedals and well placed rocks did their best to castrate as you violently reconnected with the saddle on landing.
The forest taken as a whole is still beautiful but the logging sad and depressing. Its epicenter was a clearing above Kbal Spean where Leang counted 20 ox carts used to collect the timber. At the base of the mountain were crude planks and rough cut poles naively hidden under leafy branches.
We were exhausted by the time we reached the summit of Phnom Sroch (lit sharp mountain). I felt too shaky to get back on the bike. My shirt was wringing and I’d no water left. We’d stopped to recover when we heard the sound of men coming up the hill behind us. I walked back to get a view, they saw me and ran as I shouted impotently at them.
The logging trail we cycled reached a graded road not far from ACCB, the Angkor Center for Conservation and Biodiversity. The good guys, they confiscate and rescue illegally hunted animals with the aim of rehabilitating them to the wild. As the second beer sunk in the weariness was replaced with well-being and a sense of ahcievement. It had felt like a real adventure.