The Start of Meandering the Mekong – Wenches on Wheels

Our Conservation MSc is over – everyone says it but a year does go really, really fast – we’re out in the world again having filled our heads with knowledge and… things! we’ve  made a host of new friends, travelled to new places and should be doing the “sensible” thing and looking for a job.

Instead, Lucy and I are off in November cycling along the Mekong River from the delta in Vietnam, through Cambodia (short detour to Angkor Wat) and Laos up to the Chinese border – 2600km if we don’t get lost…. Along the way we’re visiting a host of conservation organisations, national parks and projects to meet the people dedicated to ensuring there is a future for the amazing range of animals and plants (see some of them on our page) that can be found in this area and will tell their stories here on this site.

So how did we come up with this idea? Actually I blame our friend Sonia for this whole trip. One miserable, dark, wet winter’s night when we were all in our separate little student rooms on a campus in the middle of bare, black fields trying to find a way to distract ourselves from writing a Darwin application Sonia, remembering sunnier days in Malta, announced she used to be fun and what had happened to her? We reassured her she was still fun and all we needed to do to reassert “funness” in life was do a trip together when the masters was all over. The Lake District was mentioned, then we got more exotic – Scotland surely would be more fun, why not the Ilse of Skye? Then Janani suggested we visit her in India – ooh amazing food there and we could walk the Ganges! On that note we went to bed. The next day (no lie I promise) an email appeared in our boxes inviting students to apply for the College’s Exploration Grant – deadline yesterday!? Lucy rattled off an email to see if the deadline was strict or not, to be told ‘send us your proposal by the end of term’. Amazing, we could be the Ganges Girls! ‘I’d prefer to go along the Mekong’, said Lucy. No problem, I’ve never been to those countries (my main criteria for agreeing to travel plans) and so we submitted the proposal during which time other members were waylaid by those afore mentioned minor details successful job applications….. leaving just Lucy and I.

Now, for those that don’t know, writing a masters thesis for two months, followed by two weeks of goodbye dinners, lunches and partying – beer, wine, pizza, tiramisu, mo mo’s, spinach and paneer, daal, vegetable lasagnes, chicken curries and oh my god all those cakes, chocolate, oreo, sponge and if you’ve never had it, it’s amazing, rice krispies drowned in white chocolate and then forcibly moulded into an abstract form of the Taj Mahal – means that starting training for our trip is a wheezing, sweating struggle. We curse those extra pounds while grinding up the tiny hills in Norfolk and London on the bike, running along the beaches in Bognor Regis and doing our favourite Nike Training Circuits (NTC). The first session back had me on the floor with eyes shut unable to move my legs after 15 mins. Although squat jumps still leave my legs a gibbering wreck I can get past 15 minutes again! The open road will toughen us up – I’m sticking by the idea (based on nothing other than hope) that at least the first bit in the delta is flat……

Despite a promise to ourselves to never be tied hour in hour out to a computer again after handing in the masters’ thesis sadly, expedition grant applications have meant just that! Having moved out of student halls we have become homeless, not so waif like, waifs and moved back home and or in with friend’s – in my case the Smith’s. Now each day Jake, the Smith’s dog who sits on me while I’m at the computer, Lucy and I have been filling in and sending off applications and emails to all and sundry to try and get a few more pennies worth of sponsorship. This will be added to the funding we secured from Imperial College’s Exploration Board. The catalyst for this whole trip.

We’ve had two meetings with Board’s Chair Dr Lorraine Craig and Secretary Dr Phil Power both times leaving with a very strong impression they would like to be coming with us and weighed down by branded t-shirts, a list of people to contact to help us and a satellite phone. For all who know how seamlessly technology and I interface with each other you will know what joy I shall have using this gadget ….. oh and did I mention the garmin? In preparation I have already started the collection of paper maps that will be tucked about my person and kit, being a staunch follower of the good old adage of “just in case”.

So the first on the list of contacts were Ciaran, exploration board’s kit manager, and the student team that cycled the Silk Road this summer www.tourdestan.co.uk. I met up with the latter while Lucy was busy helping put together an incredible fund raiser for “Save Wild Tigers” at the Savoy Hotel on 9th October – it raised £XXXX’s (still be totalled up) through an amazing art auction. There was also an incredible cake (see picture)! So back to cycling, I had a great hour discussing with the Silk Road team ways to carry lots of water on bikes so they don’t pop off, blocked water filters, learning to light the MSR stove without shooting flames skywards, the amazingness of zip ties (a truly indispensable item), airlines charging fortunes to carry bikes despite emails proclaiming anything but and the best bit of long distance cycling – all the people you meet.

Ciaran dug out a tent, stove, plastic bags (didn’t charge me for them) of medical kit and plasters to go through and a water filter. The tent is up (just one false start!) and appears to be waterproof and the same size as me – feet and head touch either end (Lucy will be fine). Also not sure it has enough nice airy mesh for south east Asia! Decisions, decisions…..

So more planning, email writing and sponsor requests await over the next week interspersed with bike rides around a windy, showery North Norfolk. We may even finalise a departure date… Ooh that reminds me need to get those injections and malaria tablets sorted. We seem to be up to date with all our jabs from this summer’s fieldwork in Uganda and Madagascar – just Japanese Encephalitis vaccine outstanding I think and certainly not going without that.

More later.

X Tash and Lucy

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