Rohun Bevan, is an ex-English tennis player, amateur jungle trekker, swims like a shark and until yesterday was a friend of mine. Over a glass of wine a week or so ago he suggested that I may like to enjoy a leisurely Saturday followed by a couple of beers and join him on the ‘Hash House Harriers’ Saturday run, which he quickly changed to walk as I choked on my drink. I hesitantly agreed and at 3.15pm on the following Saturday we assembled, along with 100+ others, at a clearing in the forest behind Tesco supermarket in the Chalong area of Phuket.
I learned quickly that it is a custom of HHH (also affectionately known the World over as “the drinking club with a running problem”) to give members nicknames. Rohun has been given the delightfully charming little name ‘Weisling Dick Brain’ no doubt with good reason. You will understand, if you read to the end, why have chosen to give him a new equally cuddly name ‘Big Chief Lying Bastard’. All new comers, as I was, are called ‘Virgins’ which is something I have long aspired to but unfortunately, as yet, have never managed to achieve.
Rohun had explained to me that HHH was a well organised international, social, run/walk club for anyone, but in Phuket consisted mainly of ex-pats from around the world. The members, he said, were made up of men and women – young, middle-aged and mostly old farts like me. I was therefore a little surprised to find on arrival that the young looked rather athletic; the middle-aged were used to 10k runs twice a week and from the banter the old farts were either ex-Olympic runners or had 250+ runs/walks under their belts and looked like gypsies whippets. The run/walk was due to start at 4pm and after 45 minutes standing in the hot sun listening to the good humoured banter I was already wilting.
As we set off at a good lick I was advised not to be a front runner as there were false trails along the way. This was the best news I had had so far; not that there was any possibility of me getting to the front in any event. We soon turned off road onto a narrow winding trail through the trees and uphill. This part wasn’t too difficult and I was feeling OK until we came through the trees to a new, very steep, concrete road. When I say steep I mean that it was impossible to imagine how they managed to pour the concrete without creating a landslide that would have created a new marina in Chalong Bay as the concrete set in the harbour! It appeared to me like the North face of the Eiger – just 100° hotter. Surely I was not expected to climb this wall without crampons, rope and an ice pick? Indeed I was and so began my painfully slow ascent. With my lungs screaming for oxygen I managed to get half-way up before collapsing onto a ledge that prevented an unwelcome fall and descent. A full recovery was unlikely before nightfall so I gritted my teeth and continued the agonising climb until I was ushered off the road by Rohun who had been patiently waiting for me. I clambered on all fours up some rocks and into the jungle and was greeted by the heart-warming news that this was the start of the jungle trek up the mountainside to the top before the descent home. I naively asked Rohun if there was a doctor and rescue team among the party. You can probably guess the answer.
Before the journey started an old stager named ‘Gorgeous’ suggested that I walk rather than run!! “Then you can enjoy the scenery,” he said. That sounded good and I also learned that the route was circular and we were to follow a ‘paper trail’. I had visions of strategically placed copies of the Financial Times in little clearings with a comfortable bamboo bench and iced lemon refreshments. I was disappointed to find that ‘paper trail’ meant sprinklings of small pieces of coloured paper a bit larger than confetti. The wind and the ex-Olympians ahead had managed to scatter the confetti so much so that I felt like Eleanor Rigby and it was now ‘follow your nose’ or die. Being a keen amateur landscape photographer my idea of ‘enjoy the scenery’ is viewing a stunning vista. But if you like intently staring at the ground directly in front of you for two hours to avoid the booby traps and going arse over tit into the abyss below then I suppose the scenery was lovely.
I sincerely did not believe I would reach the summit and it is at times like this that euthanasia becomes a most attractive option as the thought that, after all, there may be a better life beyond this one flashes through your mind. But thanks to Rohun’s cajoling I now really wanted to believe Big Chief Lying Bastard’s belief in the human body’s power of recovery. And I made it to the top!!
Of course I had to endure the descent and go through the pain barrier in reverse. Now it wasn’t the lungs that took an unmerciful beating but the knee caps that were attempting to burst through aging flesh as I slithered down and down through the undergrowth. I was elated as I strolled out of the jungle back onto the road.
As I dragged my aching body past Froggy’s Bar I saw and heard the rest of the participants gathered in a big circle round the camp fire. The camp fire, quite sensibly, in Phuket is a large block of ice which is used to cool the adjacent air and the arses of those who dare to speak while another member is holding court. I was delighted to learn that the trek normally takes about an hour and that I was the last one home and did it in a record two hours.
A few ancient rituals follow the treks which are performed around the camp fire (ice). I’m not sure but they may date back to the time of the Druids. There are no silly handshakes that I witnessed nor any bloodletting so it is all harmless, good humoured stuff; the kind you would expect to find in any rugby club. Beer flows, vocal chords are exercised and the English language is stretched to unimaginable limits.
If you are a US Marine, Navy SEAL or SAS combatant on holiday I would thoroughly recommend HHH to keep you in trim. Others need to consider their level of fitness before embarking on a jungle trek. For those of us septuagenarians I would recommend more sedate outdoor pursuits like croquet or bowls unless of course you are a super-human geriatric.
My doctor tells me, given time and a little good fortune, I could make a full recovery.
Lastly, a word or two of advice; always follow your instincts and never believe a politician or a Hash House Harrier with a name like ‘Weisling Dick Brain’.