|On the crocodile trail in Cat Tien|
I woke with the impression that I had had a fitful night’s sleep but I woke in the morning feeling relaxed and well rested. We were out early, heading down to the crocodile lake, the current home of the crocodiles released through the genetic research programme. Leeches were anticipated on this walk so before we left we donned anti leech measures. The park provides leech socks and very strong DEET based anti bug cream. The socks are made of tightly woven cotton and fit over your own socks, coming up to the knees where you tie them off and roll the tops down. You then smear the DEET around your shoes as this acts as a barrier to the leeches jumping on in the first place.
The jeep took us 10km down the track to the start of the trail. On the way we passed two young men who looked like they had spent the night sleeping on the main track. Our trail took us 5km through the jungle to the lake. It was still cool this early in the morning and Erica led the way setting a fast pace to get us to the lake as early as possible. She is a good spotter and would often stop because she had seen something up ahead or heard something moving in the jungle next to us. Even though I was right behind her I never saw or heard what she spotted until she pointed it out to me.
Normally people have to be accompanied by a guide on any walks they do but because they have been here so often Tim and Erica are allowed to go on their own. They served us well as guides telling us not only about the birds, macaques and other monkeys we saw but also about the trees, plants, fungus and spiders webs as well. Unguided walking was stopped after a couple of Australians got themselves badly lost with less than a litre of water between them. One managed to make it back to headquarters to raise the alarm but by that stage it was already dark and to late to send out a search party. That meant the other spent the night alone in the jungle. When they found him the next morning he was in a bad way and looked like he had had a pretty hairy night.
About halfway along the walk Tim took us on a detour to show us a “small” tree. It turned out to be a hug tree stretching up to the top of the jungle canopy and with large buttress roots holding it up. Erica pointed out to us the webs of tunnel spiders. At ground level they are densely woven, leading into a hole where the spider waits to feel from the web that its dinner has arrived.
The path eventually came to a wooden walkway raised above ground level. It was a little rickety and wobbly but safe enough and it wound round to the lodge at the side of the lake. It is possible to stay here overnight so that you get the chance to see animals at night and in the early morning. There is a small lookout platform and our early start and quick walking pace paid off. We were the only people there apart from an Aussie couple who had stayed overnight and they left shortly after we arrived.
We spent the next few hours enjoying the scenery and the wildlife. Below us was a large lake with a few islands dotted along the way. Trees fringed the lake and stretched away into the distance. We saw lots of different birds and also some of the crocodiles. Our walk back through the jungle was pretty hot as by this stage it was midday. We were soon dripping with sweat and soaking wet again. As we waited for our jeep back up the road butterflies and bees darted around us trying to get the moisture we were giving off.
The jeep soon arrived and took us back to base. We showered, packed up, and had a cooling drink in the bar before heading down the river and the boat back to the other side. Monkeys came to see us off and Cuong was already waiting for us with the air con on full pelt, much appreciated.
With Tet just behind us the roads are still busy with people visiting family and friends. There were scooters all over the place but Cuong as usual steered us safely through, his lack of conversation meaning that he focussed solely on the traffic. As we reached the outskirts of HCMC the traffic ground to a halt due to the volume trying to navigate around the same island. It was chaos. Scooters and mini vans decided to go off road and bus conductors were out on the road trying to create space for their drivers to squeeze through. It was like being back in Delhi!
Back at the house we all showered and changed and headed out for dinner. We went to a local restaurant run by a young Italian couple. This is their second venture in HCMC as their local Vietnamese business partners stitched them up over their first venture. The husband is an ex-kick boxing champion who moved here to further develop his boxing skills. They are pretty busy having just had a baby as well as setting up the restaurant. We had a very tasty meal washed down with a good bottle of wine.
By the time we got back to the house I think we were four tired bunnies. I know that I nodded off pretty quickly as soon as my head hit the pillow and I suspect that was the case all round.