Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Day 7 - Dalat - Canyoning

We got a free breakfast, although originally we were told that it wasn't included in the price. We protested that it had been advertised with a free breakfast on Hostelz.com and they capitulated. It was pretty good, with eggs, bread and jam and a fruit bowl (mostly watermelon, yuck!). Definitely filling enough. 

We were picked up around 8.30 for our canyoning tour. We picked up two other individual travelers who both happened to be Israelites. The man, Avie*, was traveling alone by motorbike and from his words seemed to be a thrillseeker. The woman, Tal, was traveling with her boyfriend but canyoning alone because he was recovering from pneumonia. She and Avie spent a lot of time conversing in Hebrew but were nice fellow tourists. We had three tour guides, Loc, Tal and Quong. A nice and small group of seven. 

We set off to Datanla Falls, put on our life jackets, harnesses and helmets then walked to our first practice spot. The whole area was very busy with mostly Vietnamese tourists gawping at the waterfalls. Once we were at the small eight foot cliff that was to be our practice area Loc started setting up the ropes. Another group arrived and began doing the same thing. 

Soon he was teaching us to hold the rope behind our backs with our dominant hand, lean back (lean back more!), keep our legs straight, jump and "slide rope". Because of its similarity to coming down the top rope in rock climbing I was comfortable with the leaning back, which to me feels more like trying to sit down into the harness. Controlling my entire weight with just my right hand concerned me until I tried it, when I discovered that with my hand in the right position behind my back it's very little strain at all. From there it was easy and Avie said I looked like a pro - although I doubt our guides agreed. 

We moved to the first abseil spot and were stymied by a much larger group taking a long time in front of us. We agreed to skip that one and went to a spot that Loc said used to be used until the waterfall became popular. I chose to go first because of my streak of bravado that says I have to outdo guys, especially guys who brag about the crazy things they do. I have to admit it was definitely scary backing over the lip of the 18m cliff and being told to "lean back" over thin air. 

Backing over the cliff edge

 Once I was over the lip and had my feet firmly planted against the cliff edge, I knew I was fine. We had a safety rope attached so Loc could control our descent anyway, but I felt secure. My only problem was that my rope was twisted in my caribiner; Loc told me it was fine, but when I tried to let my rope out it felt stiff and moved really slowly. When I got to the gap in the cliff where I was told to jump, I did so and barely moved, despite trying to let the rope slide through my fingers. The guides at the bottom were yelling "slide rope, slide rope!" at me and I screamed "I'm trying!" back at them. The whole way down the rope just would not slide easily, despite my best efforts including letting go of the rope entirely. 

When I got to the bottom I got a lecture about letting my rope slide, to which I obstinately insisted I had been. I did admit to Dad that perhaps I had been clutching it more than I thought and resolved to pay more attention to the next one. Dad did well and found it easy enough. Avie didn't lean back enough and Tal found it scary, but we all managed. 

From there we walked to the bottom of the waterfall the others had been at and did some jumping and swimming. I had to be super careful that I didn't lose a contact and had a panic moment when I thought I had, but eventually a flash of vision returned and I was fine. 

Whee, waterfall!
 
Quong was trying to get us to backflip into the water. I considered it even to the point of crouching in place but decided it was too risky for my contacts so said no. Quong grabbed my arm as I walked away and tried to pull me back but I glared at him and said "khong!" (no!) vehemently before wrenching my arm away. He let me go, mostly I think because he was surprised at my use of the Vietnamese word. We have found most Vietnamese are surprised when we use even the most basic of words such as no, hello, thank you and goodbye. Obviously most foreigners don't bother which I consider arrogant and lazy. 

We had a slide next. Tal went first, slipping over the rocks through the water on her back, then plunging into the pool below. It wasn't much of a drop but it looked big enough when you knew you were going to be tumbled over the rocks into it. I went next and got water up my nose, which ruined the experience somewhat. 

Onto the next abseil point, which was beside a waterfall and ended in the river, but was dry for the abseil itself. Well, I say it was dry. Actually it had started raining by that point so it was slippery. We had a bit of a wait for the other group - by this time there was a group behind us too, so we were sandwiched between two of them. Finally it was our turn. Avie went first, then Tal. I've no idea how they did because you couldn't see most of it from the top. I was nervous waiting for my turn but as soon as I was backing over the lip of the cliff I felt fine. My rope slid through my fingers a lot faster this time so I think I was right about it being twisted last time. It was easy. Loc was shouting at me to take big jumps and while I didn't want to end it too quickly I obeyed, bouncing down the cliff like a sucker-footed goat. Dad did even bigger jumps than me and was finished in moments. Nothing like the young men in the other group trying to prove their manliness by falling down the cliff though. I watched them and quietly thanked God they weren't in my group. I know I have my silly streak of bravado and I try to put it to good use as a catalyst for things I'm nervous about doing and then keeping my mouth closed about them (mostly - nobody's perfect). The others can brag as they like, I'll just be glad not to hear it. 

The waterfall we abseiled next to. We are all to the left of it.

Mid-jump

Dad landing a jump

Happy father in water


It was raining again, but it eased off enough for us to have banh mi for lunch next to the big waterfall we were about to abseil into. I chatted with a couple of American sisters but sadly didn't get their contact details due to the strange occurrence of nobody having a pen or paper.

I let Avie go first down the big waterfall, then began backing down it myself. I'm being honest when I say that my only worry was losing a contact in the water beating on my face - I think people with really bad vision understand that losing a contact/breaking glasses is often a far bigger concern than any kind of physical harm, especially when your day is only half over. The slippery rock and rushing water was unnerving though, as slipping over meant trying to regain your footing whilst really being battered by the water. I made it down the first, easier part of the waterfall, to a ledge which marks the start of the water being thrust further from the cliff and therefore more into your body and face. Soon into the second part I completely lost my vision in my left eye (by which I meant I went back to my normal blur of indistinct colours, not that it went black) and stopped moving, to everyone's concern. You can't really communicate through the noise of the fall and since I couldn't tell anyone what was going on or fix my contact while my helmet was being showered, I kept going and prayed I wouldn't lose vision in my other eye. 

Being royally buffeted. Note scrunched eyes and concerned face.

La la la, just backing down a waterfall.

Dad hurling himself backwards over the cliff.

 Four metres from the bottom, the cliff angles inward. You can't walk on that because your feet will slip and you'll headbutt the cliff. Instead the instructions were to jump. Scary but easy in that there's literally no choice once you're there. You can't go sideways and you can't go up. They count to three, yell jump, and you let go of everything and fly backwards. Only I had to cover my face to protect my eyes and piercings. Somehow I managed to hit the bottom of the river in my exhilarating jump, perhaps because I had my arms tucked in over my face instead of breaking my fall. Either way it didn't hurt and the jump was awesome. When I got to the surface and flailed my way to Tal (the guide) to help me out, I could barely see out of one misplaced contact. I scrambled up the rock and blinked like a demented owl, terrified I'd lost my left contact. 

After what seemed an eternity my contact slid across the top of my retina and I relaxed. Dad made it down with no dramas. One of the guys from the other group, going at the same time as us due to having two abseil spots, slipped over in the middle of the heaviest part of the waterfall. He scrambled about, totally forgot the instructions we'd been given about getting back up and slid off the cliff and into the water. It was not dignified but he was unhurt. Tal came very slowly as she was very scared. Unfortunately she fell over too, her legs slipping down the cliff so she was lying against it. I could see by now she was terrified but after struggling for a while she remembered what to do and made it to her feet. Sadly she'd lost her nerve and instead of jumping backwards when told to, she just let go of the rope and fell down dangerously close to the cliff. Despite my worry, she was OK. 

We had quite a long walk after that bit, culminating in a cruise down the river on our backs to another small waterfall that was another slide. We were told the options here were feet first, head first and then "Superman". I was pumped from the big waterfall so I went first down our first option - feet first. This time I knew to breathe out when I hit the water so I was perfectly comfy and got no water up my nose. It astonished me that we could slither down and fly out over a metre or so drop without hurting ourselves. I was nervous to lie down backwards and be pushed headfirst into the water but again, perfect! Finally the men and I opted for the Superman, which was head first and on our fronts instead of our backs. This one made me worry my piercings would get jolted when I hit the water and that I'd lose my contacts, being unable to cover my face. No need! It was awesome. 

We had a long wait for our final abseil, as the group before us took a long time. We waited quite a way away from it so we knew nothing about it except that it was called the Washing Machine. Avie and Tal chatted and Dad and I talked with our guides about our countries and languages. It was sad hearing them say they want to leave Vietnam on holiday one day, probably when they are old because they earn so little money with the dong being so weak. It's not fair that I can afford to travel and they can't just because of the countries we were born in. At least those three have a fun job. We could tell they were enjoying themselves. 

Even when we got to the Washing Machine it was a mystery, because none of it could be seen from above. Loc told us that almost all of it sloped inward, like the last 4 metres of the one before. He told us what to do and we were off. Avie went first again, slipping to the side at the top before recovering and disappearing from view - he told us at the bottom that Dad and I did it way better than he did. Tal was next but her nerve was broken from the last, so she refused. I was next. 

Again, by now it was easy. I sat into the harness and started lowering myself right away, though to myself I was wondering what on earth I was supposed to do when I hit the waterfall coming at me from my left. Trusting that Loc wasn't lying when he said this one was easy, I walked myself down until I ran out of cliff to touch, then was left hanging, one hand locked behind me. That was an interesting experience. It felt harder to control my speed when all of my weight rested on my right hand. I kept going slow and steady until I hit the waterfall - or more accurately, until it hit me. "Don't go too fast or you'll lose control, but don't go too slow or you'll start spinning and hit the wall." Goodoh, if you know what's too fast or too slow! To add to my complications, I was now getting so much water in my face that I was forced to close my eyes or say goodbye to vision. 

I was now hanging in midair above the churning water of the Washing Machine, being buffeted by a waterfall and knowing that I was about to lower myself into that narrow, angry channel of water to be sucked under. With my eyes closed. I believe I have used this word before, but it was awesome. And scary. But more awesome because of the scary. 

Me dangling over the Washing Machine

Eyes firmly closed


At that point I took a deep breath and lowered myself into the water. I let go of the rope and felt myself be pushed under, left and right and finally to the surface, where I spluttered gracefully. I made it the whole way to Tal (guide) to be pulled out of the water before I could rub my eyes and risk opening them. I instantly wished I could do it again. Dad was as graceful and controlled as you could be in the circumstances, although he said he was alarmed when he suddenly ran out of rope underwater. I'm not sure what he was expecting to do with it at that point. 

Eyes still firmly closed! That is a happy, spluttery face. Not a sad one.

Dad showing how you run out of cliff face to walk on.


That was our last hurrah and my pride was then squashed by my abysmal progress up the steps cut into the mountain for our return. I really hate steps. They have me wheezing like an asthmatic bulldog within seconds. Probably for the best, for my shame kept me from bragging about my abseiling prowess. 

Then it was back to the hotel for a shower, out to a Japanese pizza place (I know, what?) for a yummy margherita pizza and a banana and passion fruit shake, then to sleep. Best day of trip hands down. 

Our happy little group


*Although I could pronounce everyone's names I'm having to guess at how they were spelled.

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