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Juggling Judgements in the Jungle

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Tagged: source, hydration, meindl, softlines, cambodia, laos, expedition, leader

Juggling Judgements in the Jungle

Having been back in the UK for almost two months, I decided it was time to head East for a spot of sun and to avoid any pre- Christmas madness.

Leading an expedition with a group from Adelaide, Australia would take me back to jungle environments and to countries previously unvisited: Laos first, then Cambodia.

The acclimatisation trek in Laos went fairly smoothly…the team adjusted to the shock of trekking in the humidity and carrying a backpack, fairly well. Although they were by no means the fittest group ever, they supported each other effectively – dealing with fitness issues, asthma and panic attacks on Day 1. Camping by a rocky creek bed meant they could catch crabs (ooh er) and cook fresh fish. Frog soup anyone?

The main trek, in the Ratanakiri province of Cambodia (in the NE) proved to be a tougher proposition. Two students struggled to trek with fully laden rucksacks…they complained loudly and said they could no longer continue. In this region, there are no ponies or donkeys on hand to take the weight of a weary trekker. I took the pack off one of the girls and Tom, a strong lad, took the other pack. We were able to continue walking in this manner for a while. The girls struggled to keep up in the bamboo forest, so we split the team – the stronger ones and myself going ahead to reach camp first and set up the hammocks.

Cress group shot
Cress group shot

As a leader, assessing the seriousness of a student’s ‘illness’ when trekking in the heat, is a fundamental and critical skill. Dehydration and heat stroke are life threatening. In this case, the two girls were clearly unfit, and lacking in confidence – prone, one could argue, to giving up easily. The speed with which these two ‘recovered’ once settled at camp, was indicative of this – laughing healthily with their friends around the camp fire. I knew I didn’t have to worry too much, but giving students just the right amount of motivation and support to push them beyond their comfort zones, takes practise. I think we got it right, but I am lucky – I’ve spent many months in jungles and listening to young people tell me how ill or otherwise they are. It’s a fine line, making a judgement (which includes a medical assessment) but that’s my job. Would I rather have been in the UK, swamped by festive singing, Santa-shaped sweets and general mayhem? Nah – the jungle wins, every time.

3 Top tips for jungle trekking?

• Wear long sleeved shirts to avoid
your arms being scratched by vines and spiky plant leaves (saves you
going through antiseptic wipes and suffering lots of tender cuts:

• Drink LOTS from a Source hydration
pack, to ensure you take in adequate fluids and keep hydrated in the
heat – the beauty of these packs is that you drink on the move,
don’t have to keep stopping and maintain your rhythm -hence saving
energy and maintaining more motivation. In hot, sweaty environments
these factors alone keep you going for longer.

• Look after your feet: I walked in
Softlines (incredibly comfy yet providing just the right amount of
support around the ankles,) but put my Source sandals on in the
evenings to let me feet dry out. Nightly wet wipes and talc mean you
have clean, dry feet – which even smell pleasant (lavender scented
powder recommended - look for purple packaging on the bottles!)

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