His second trip to Cambodia is in the company of a fellow American language-teacher. The arrangement turns out to go against McCann’s belief in trekking alone, however, and the two predictably have an argument about Buddhism versus animism, though they unite to cure a child with an infected sinus, sponsoring him for a trip to a distant hospital.
McCann makes his third trip in response to an email appeal from his guide — 400 men armed with chainsaws were preparing to put an end to the supposed “national park” as they’d known it. After contacting all the newspapers and NGOs he knows, he decides to try to make one last attempt to reach the spirit mountain of Haling-Halang on the Lao-Cambodian border. He fails, finding logging and poaching rampant and everyone with any authority on the take. He ends the trip by drowning his disappointment and dancing with local teenagers to amplified Lao pop-music.
This book is depressing in its general drift. Not only is there little hope for Virachey, most of which has now been scheduled for mining exploration, but a Sumatran forest area McCann takes an interest in is, as the book closes, about to be bisected by two new roads, opening the way for poachers and illegal loggers. The course of action the author opts for in these cases is not less tourist access, however, but more. Only in this way might effective pressure be brought on the authorities.
It may well be, as McCann surmises, that his love for these places is rooted in childhood experiences back in the US. But when the causes someone espouses are as admirable as this, the deep motives that drive them become irrelevant.
All in all, Called Away by a Mountain Spirit is a well-written account that mixes description with passionate advocacy. It’s self-published through CreateSpace, but it seems to me that, given a little light editing, it could well be re-issued by a commercial publisher — if, that is, McCann can find one with sufficiently clean environmental credentials. For the time being, the book can be bought through Amazon.com.