It was in the ungodly hours of the cool Cambodian night when Shawn's voice brought me out of my deep sleep. “HEY MATE! There's something out there!” Knowing Shawn, I thought it was one of his usual jokes, but I paid attention anyway. Then I heard it, it sounded like a blood thirsty pterodactyl, its scream so clear in the pitch black night. We knew our end was nigh and all we could do was tremble in each other’s arms hoping for the best but expecting the worst. “I didn’t sign up for this!” That’s what was in everyone’s mind at the time.
My name is Mitch St. Pierre, I have osteogenesis imperfecta, or in other words, my bones are brittle as glass so I use a wheelchair. I know what you must be thinking, what on earth would a person with my condition be doing in a Cambodian jungle, miles from civilization on a wheelchair? Well let's say I'm an adventurous soul. I was here in the jungle, north of Cambodia with my good friend from Canada, Shawn, and our new friend Max who had been working at my hotel.
After doing a documentary film with Shawn in 2011, I was spellbound by the place, so I purchased a small resort hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The hotel was equipped with a swimming pool, bar and restaurant, a cosy haven for any traveller. I have been running this place for the past three years. Siem Reap is the home of Angkor Wat, the world's largest religious monument and temple complex, the floating and flooded villages as well as many other exotic experiences that are to die for. These have made my stay in Siem Reap totally worth it. However, I can't compare it to traversing the Cambodian open countryside and visiting places tourists never go.
DESTINATION SIEM REAP
Four nights in. Our goal: Traverse the country starting from Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, all the way to Siem Reap on a tuk tuk that I had just acquired. A tuk tuk is basically a motorbike-driven carriage. We had to get it home, on the other side of the country so we figured why not make an adventure out of it and drive it all the way to Siem Reap in the North West.
Upon departure from Phnom Penh, we made our way northwards along the great Mekong River. At dusk, we found a monastery where we spent the night. We re-embarked on our journey the following morning after being woken by monks, next stop Stung Treng. We had gone a whole half a day worth of a tuk tuk ride when we realised that we had been going in the wrong direction towards Laos border so we had to come all the way back before going over the Mekong River by ferry. On the other side, our days were spent chasing the sunset across the virgin northern half of Cambodia.
It still beats me how we made it out. From long days of driving, the unbearable heat to the dusty and bumpy Cambodian jungle roads. Not forgetting that all the three of us were confined in the tuk tuk 16 hours a day. However, the greater challenge was navigating the unmarked roads, but we still made it out.
A THIRST FOR THRILL
The scorching sun and the driving may have been a hustle, but I believe that what topped all the weird was the food. It definitely was not we were used to, it was what most people would deem peculiar, to say the least. From eggs with half-formed chicken embryos to boiled piranha heads. The list is endless. It was everything your wildest dreams would imagine an exotic Cambodian expedition to be. Even though I loved it, we did not eat too much but I'd highly recommend it to anyone looking for a new diet plan.
After a long, hot and tough day, the nights are what we lived for. Shawn, Max and I would park at random places, have a few drinks and relive our adventures of the day. Just by looking at us, you would never imagine that Shawn and I had in only 10 years been around the world exploring almost every inch of it. With our wild expeditions came many stories and I was losing track of some of them.
I met Shawn 13 years ago at the university. This is where we discovered we shared a love for adventure. Our obsession for nature and adventure is what made us best mates.
Our first adventure was what I can describe as the beginning of our wanderlust. Latin America was the beginning of our newfound lives. We travelled for a whole four months, in my Quickie wheelchair, and experienced a whole other life nowhere near the usual. From being held at gunpoint to getting stranded on deserted islands, you name it, we have had our fair share. I know you might expect this to be a cause for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. But for us, it is what we live for. The thrill makes it more interesting and calls for us to go even further.
HIDDEN SECRETS OF THE WILD
You might be wondering what happened to us when we heard the loud screeching sound in the dead of night. Well, in a nutshell, we are still alive and kicking so we did not get devoured, neither did we get to find out what it was. We, however, never got to identify the beast in spite of having an audio recording. It gave us a new appreciation of life though, the kind that only someone who has been in the jaws of death can relate to.
Upon arrival at Siem Reap, even I could not stand my own stink let alone that of my mates. Saying I was happy to be back home would be such an understatement. Finally, I could get back to my two or three showers a day and not the once in seven days that was the jungle life.
I looked back with nostalgia at not only this adventure but all the rest that led me to this point in my life. Out of each adventure, I came new. It never was the same. I recall how many a time I would be nervous of what might happen along the way, but I always pulled through every single time, emerging stronger than before.
The one valuable lesson that years of travelling has taught me is that it is okay to be afraid to go into the unknown. It is important to know, though, that everything will be okay regardless of what happens. In the last 10 years, I have travelled the world and I have experienced a lot. As I write this, I am a living proof that anything can be achieved, and there is nowhere you cannot go.
I hope you will be back to hear more of my adventures. I leave you, however, with my favourite quote whose origin is still a mystery to me. It goes: "A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mitch St. Pierre is a world renowned international businessperson, world traveller, political advisor, film maker and former candidate for the liberal party of Canada. He has travelled to over 40 countries in his Quickie wheelchair giving him a view of the world only a few have. From the Asia’s mega-cities all the way to the jungles of Cambodia, not forgetting his role in Canada’s International Trade committee, he has seen, felt and heard it all. Being the businessperson he is, Mitch has several businesses in Asia spanning from a hotel and restaurant to running a tourism business. His premiere film aired nationwide on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Canada and Current TV in the United States. His films, being focussed mainly on the international scene, are from the most remote parts of the globe. Politically, Mitch has strongly advocated for conflict regions enabling him to meet world leaders such as the former President of the United States, Barack Obama, former Colombian President, Álvaro Uribe, and many more influential people.