Drenched in sweat and covered in mud, ex-French legionnaire David Minetti felt refreshed after completing a two-day deep jungle trek in Sre Ambre, Koh Kong – with only his survival skills to keep him going. Minetti and his business partner Chris Pieters have led numerous treks out into the wilderness of Cambodia with groups of adventure seekers, through their company C4 Adventures, for the past few years.
But this expedition was special.
“Every year I run a deep jungle RECON [Reconnaissance] to explore new territories and find new spots for future trekking,” Minetti explained. “To do so, I allow only select people to join me – especially those who already have gone with me on many treks, land navigation and jungle survival courses.”
He warned that during these treks, they can encounter many wild animals and slippery steps, so anyone accompanying him, must be “physically sharp.”
Sre Ambre, Koh Kong is a quiet area where ecotourism has been developing for visitors to enjoy the local wildlife and community. Small villages and elephant signs cautioning oncoming traffic are part of what make the area a potential hidden gem for those interested in exploring what little wilderness is left in Cambodia.
This was Minetti’s first time exploring the region with a group. “We did explore the southwest part of the Cardamom Mountains. It’s always extremely exciting to be the first or at least part of the few to discover an area,” he said.
“For this kind of event, I have to study the map of the area in order to decide the best routes between the stiff mountains and the cliff. Land navigation is critical as I have to be very accurate to reach all my expected points and bring back the group safe.”
As a veteran of Southeast Asia for the past 16 years, Minetti has used his training as a French legionnaire surviving in the South American jungles to build a business of customized treks with survival training courses. His courses are also a way to encourage the next generations to appreciate nature by knowing how to survive it and understanding the flora and fauna without the luxury of modern technology.
He teaches basic skills that every person should learn, like how to fish, start a fire, and read a map with a compass. These are things everyone should know, Minetti says, adding that even his seven-year-old daughter is becoming an expert.
After observing the market for what he calls “green activities” over the past decade in Southeast Asia, Minetti’s expansion of his business from Vietnam to Cambodia has created a deep love and protectiveness over the country’s endangered environmental status.
“Cambodia is home to very beautiful fauna and flora, but unfortunately illegal logging and poaching destroy it so fast,” claims Minetti. Even the various men chosen to participate in the expedition noticed the dangers Cambodia’s natural landscapes were facing.
Photographer Jeremie Montessuis was one of the men who joined Minetti to Koh Kong, and lost his camera on his first trip with him a year ago. They were wading through a river and carrying supplies on their head when his camera fell out. On this trip, Montessuis made sure to not only capture the harrowing journey through his lens – but also the beauty of Cambodia’s nature.
“There is no trail and you have to cut your way through the forest with machetes,” Montessuis explained. “At every trek I learn a few more details about good preparation – in order to reduce the difficulty, I learned each detail counts like shoes, bag, knife, food etc. I also learned about how the forest is in danger – there are poachers and wood contraband [illegal loggers].”
He struggled to keep his camera dry and clean, battled hordes of mosquitos and struggled with his physical stamina, but he felt it was all worth it to get a glimpse of Cambodia’s breathtaking natural landscapes.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to reconnect with nature, marvel at the beautiful vegetation, observe the wildlife, cross river streams, and listen to the sounds and noises of the forest,” Montessuis explained. “Nature makes one humble. One can’t help but stand in awe of its beauty and greatness.”
Minetti’s treks can range from family courses to expert level, the highlight of which is when he takes a team into the jungle and plays nonviolent war games of escape and survival for 72 hours.
There are three levels of jungle survival courses, including an orientation course and medic course, which all participants must complete to register for the yearly Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP Deep jungle RECON) and Jungle Navigation challenge SERE Challenge (survival, evasion, resistance, escape).
August 27 to 28 is the next trek, when C4 Adventures will run a “Jungle Land Navigation” course, teaching map reading with GPS and compasses. To learn more, check out www.c4-adventures.com.
David Minetti reading a map with a compass. Jeremie Montessuis
C4 trekking group travels through water. Jeremie Montessuis