Solo adventurer Remi Camus is barely 300km away from completing an incredible 4,400km riverboarding expedition down the Mekong River, from its origin in Tibet to the point in Vietnam where it joins the South China Sea.
The 28-year-old Frenchman is currently in Phnom Penh and will take the final plunge on Friday morning towards Vietnam to end in early April his charity mission of raising awareness and funds for safe drinking water in the six countries through which the Mekong flows.
Camus first caught the attention of the world when he ran alone across the Australian continent in support of his charity organisation, Expedition Terre Inconnue, whose motto is to bring clean and safe water to every person on Earth.
“Why I chose the Mekong is because of its geographical significance,” Camus told the Post on Monday.
“It flows from the China-Tibet border to the South China Sea in Vietnam, passing through Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar, and it touches the lives of 70 million people on the way.”
“Disgusting” was how the adventurer saw the pollution levels in Mekong.
“It is really bad how people all along its route have turned this vital source of life into a trash dump. Sadly this river has also been a medium of politics. It is time something drastic is done to clean up the Mekong.”
A specially built small boat-sized riverboard, which also holds some of his daily needs, is all Camus has for company on lonely stretches of water.
When the currents are favourable and water free of pollution, he has gone up to 28 hours non-stop.
“If the water is still, like it has been in many parts, it takes a lot out of you. Then there are so many piles of rubbish thrown into the river.”
Since the day in October 2013 when he first dipped into the Mekong on the border between China and Tibet for this long odyssey, Camus has had to deal with difficult and unpleasant experiences.
The first shocker was the huge rapids in deep inaccessible gorges in China. But more devastating than the challenges nature threw at him was the bizarre situation he had to contend with in Laos, when authorities detained him for over a month.
“They suspected that I was a spy and that I had weapons. Then they said I was trying to enter the country illegally. It took an entire month for me to convince them and get out of this,” Camus said.
The expedition has also been physically demanding, with the Frenchman having to battle through intense pain after his entire body became covered in nasty rashes caused by the river’s polluted water.
In fact, with just three days left before he resumes his river swim, there are still tell-tale rashes all over his legs, making it difficult for him to even wear his shoes, but he is determined to swim through this pain and touch the finish line.
“When I dip my finger and taste salty water in Vietnam, that is it.”
Camus has a clear vision of what he has to do as a follow-up once he ends this mission.
“I have to meet the people who have supported me through all this. With the first-hand knowledge I have, we need to make people and governments aware of the need to clean up the Mekong and make lives better for people who are depending on this great source of life.”
He has been fortunate to have by his side one of the world’s most experienced riverboarders, Josh Galt, who has been in Phnom Penh since last December.
The two met met in May last year at the French Slalom Championship for Hydrospeed, as riverboarding is called in France. They were also together while swimming the rapids in Si Phan Don in Laos.
“Only one person in the 30 years of the sport has riverboarded farther than Remi will have once he finishes the Mekong, and that’s Mike Horn doing the entire Amazon,” Galt told the Post.
“The main difference is that Remi is doing this not just for the exploration but to bring attention to the plight of some 70 million people in the Mekong drainage who don’t have access to safe drinking water,” added Galt, who was the director of the first riverboarding world championship held in Indonesia in November last year.
Camus is not travelling with any type of support crew – he is completely on his own. But Galt will be with Camus, not on water, but on the road right up to the finish line.