We knew, as we left Ziyardam and our gloriously dry quarters — the upper story of a bamboo clad structure with hard sleeping platforms — that any sense of luxury would not be had again for several days ahead. It rained heavily during the night that had awakened both of us repeatedly. By the time our packs were on our back and the party left the last village under heavy rainfall, we had resigned ourselves to a wet day ahead. We knew we were at last leaving this valley and heading to altitude and hardy plants, so the steady rain did not dampen spirits.
The trail to Phangan Razi had not been used for some time and was impassable for our porters carrying large loads. In addition, one of the porters had developed malaria and was unable to carry his share, making other loads that much larger and heavier. Rain continued to fall heavily as we followed Joseph, progressing in five foot increments, as he hacked his way through stands of timber bsmboo that had fallen across the path. The experience seemed quaint for the first hour, and then progressed from intolerably slow to unbearably boring; when Joseph pointed out a very long, yellow and black striped snake slithering its way through the canes not far from our heads, I became again more tolerant of his methodical and noisome modus operandi.
We gratefully broke into a more open terrain a considerable distance above the next river, and though Joseph seemed obsessed with cutting away any possible handhold when the trail narrowed to only inches wide, I was grateful for the light and quicker pace. We were now fully into a pristine river valley and overhead were thrilled to see significant flocks of a large hornbill; I recalled what I had read in Frank Kingdon Ward’s books of this same area; seeing even a pair of hornbills was a good omen. They noisily, but shyly, flew above us in the canopy for some distance. By the time we had reached the river for lunch, at 1:30pm, and drenched to the skin, the sun had broken through. Everyone immediately disrobed on the rivers edge and commenced pulling leeches still attached to virtually all body parts; one of the porters had a corpulent specimen still attached in his navel while I found several on my torso and along my beltline.
Leechless and enjoying the sun and sounds of the rushing waters, Shayne bathed in the river while I began battle with a swarm of small honey bees that seemed to find me and all of my belongings of particular interest. It took only a few moments before one delivered a painful sting to my right hand, and only minutes later, with swelling fingers, lips and difficulty swallowing, I realized I had had a significant reaction to the sting. I took an oral steroid and the swelling ceased. The bees, however, continued their relentless assault, made more annoying by my. (By days end, after removing my gloves, these creatures were so abundant that one could not see a bit of the glove material itself so thick were the bees upon them; my day pack and duffel seemed to have the same effect.)
An hour’s hike after lunch took us across our river by means of a suspension cane bridge; it would be the last running water (except for that pouring from the sky) we would see until our return 8 days later. inch by inch, we noted the change of the flora, with beguiling and beautiful Begonias and tall, evergreen Disporums enticing us to higher elevation. Yet, we fully well knew we were still in the mild zones of the sub-tropics. Large specimens of the commonly known climbing Phellodendron ( Monstera sp ) and the beautiful Cymbidium iridioides in its prime made it quite apparent that we were not yet within our target elevation for this latitude.
Upon arriving to camp, at 5500′, we noted two specimens of a sensational species of Dichroa. Related to Hydrangea, these possessed petioles of an arresting blue color, though there was no indication that it had blossomed or fruited. We noted their location to take cuttings upon our return we if failed to procure seed. The porters had arrived to camp before us and dinner was already being prepared. Annoyingly, right up to nearly complete darkness, the same bee species that had plagued us throughout the day was present in angering numbers. We wrote in our journals and processed seed in our tent after dinner; as we climbed into our sleeping bags I will admit to feeling quite beat up by the day.