Week 51: And Then I Jumped (Canyoning in Dalat, Vietnam)

After being away from the group for the first 1.5 weeks of our last month, I decided to sign up for both upcoming weekend trips that our community leader Travis was organizing: Dalat and Mui Ne.

Dalat is a mountain town about seven hours away from Saigon, and a popular destination for canyoning. Disclaimer: when signing up for this trip, I thought we were going canoeing. It’s not the same.

Canyoning involves exploring canyons via rappelling, cliff-jumping, and all kinds of other extreme sports I normally wouldn’t sign up for. Suffice it to say I was more than a little nervous…

We took an overnight bus to Dalat from Saigon, an interesting/terrifying experience on its own. The bus station was more like a large parking lot, and no one could speak enough English to tell us where to go – luckily one of our Remotes, Anhton, speaks Vietnamese. We waited and hoped we’d make it on our bus. We boarded a bus that was lit up in bluish-purple like a club. It had almost fully-reclined “pods” to sleep, which looked more like bunk beds than anything else. I climbed up to mine and did my best to avoid the AC blowing directly on me all night.

The ride should have taken about 7 hours, but only took 5.5. This is because the driver was speeding like a maniac, riding his horn the whole time. I had looked up that this bus ride is unsafe because you’re basically hugging cliffs the whole way, so I just closed my eyes and tried to avoid thinking about falling off a mountain.

Once in Dalat, we checked into our hotel and went exploring. We had some of the best pho ever at this place, rented bikes and rode around the big lake in the center of town, walked around a park, and checked out the Crazy House: a Gaudí-esque house/hotel. The Crazy House was bizarre and awesome. I walked around the maze-like paths, getting lost several times, and peeked into some of the open rooms, which all had themes like “Bear Room” and “Peacock Room.”

We had tea at Le Chalet, enjoying the cozy atmosphere, and headed to the night market for dinner and wandering around. We also visited Duong Len Trang bar, which was designed by the same guy who made the Crazy House and equally weird/awesome. Lots of maze-like staircases, dim lighting, and plenty of coves made it feel like a perfect bar for this strange town.

We woke up early the next day and drove to the main event of the weekend: canyoning. We got suited up in harnesses and briefly learned how to rappel. It wasn’t as hard as it looked!

Then, we went to the first rappel of the day: down a huge waterfall. At the top, you couldn’t see how big the waterfall was. When it was my turn to go and I stepped closer to the edge, I felt my heart beating almost out of my chest. I was really doing this…

The first few feet weren’t so bad. At some point, though, the water was beating down on my face, I wasn’t sure where to put my feet, I was slipping and losing my footing down the waterfall. Then, something happened and I slipped and fell the last several feet down. (There’s a safety line that’s supposed to prevent this from happening, but I think it had run out at this point.) It ended up fine, since I landed in a small pool of water, but the concerned “are you okay?!” that I got from the staff and my fellow Remotes made me feel like it must’ve looked pretty scary.

I was done with rappelling after that. Tried it, not for me. I skipped the next couple of rappels, preferring to walk my way down cliffs, enjoyed lunch with the group, and took lots of photos.

Later, we body-rode a portion of the river and got to the last activity: cliff jumping. The area most of us jumped from was supposedly only eight meters (~26 feet), but it looked way higher. I had jumped off a cliff in Amoudi Bay in Greece, and thought I’d be totally fine. But, when you’re standing on that ledge looking over, every instinct in your body screams “DON’T DO IT, YOU CRAZY PERSON!”

I considered walking, but the guides told us the path was not safe. I waited til the very end along with Sam and Anhton, who were equally terrified to jump. What made me do it was the overwhelming support I got from the group. Everyone who had jumped and was waiting below was cheering for me, and Charles gave me the pep talk of all pep talks. Earlier that week, in a survey, we were asked to submit one word that described our Remote Year experience, and I had written “courage.” It was now or never…

And then I jumped.

I landed safely in the water and got the biggest hugs from the group when I got to shore. I was still shaking but I had done it.

Looking back now, the metaphor is clear: the jump itself is never as scary as the anticipation leading up to it. I think we talk ourselves out of a lot (well, I do) because of the anticipation. I knew it wasn’t rational fear: the whole group had jumped safely. What else was I stopping myself from doing out of irrational fear?

In the end, I’m proud of myself for jumping – I’m proud of all of us! We got dinner and beers before heading to our night bus back to Saigon, feeling closer than ever from this shared experience.

Everything after Dalat feels more mellow. I worked in Saigon’s cute cafes, attended our last monthly Junction and heard some untold stories of Remote Year… I also enjoyed family-style dinner at Arestia’s and got to participate in the table read of the script she wrote! It was fun to get to act (sort-of) and to see something she had been working so hard on come to life.

On Friday, I took a morning trip to the Mekong Delta to make up for the one I missed when my parents were in town. Arestia, Eric and I joined a tour group that stopped at the three big Buddhas at Vinh Trang temple, took a boat trip around the Mekong, and did a small paddle boat excursion down the narrow offshoots of the river. The trip was underwhelming – nothing like the experience my parents had. It was a far way to travel and the guide didn’t tell us much about life for the villagers living in the Mekong Delta. Glad I did it, but I’m sure a private tour would have been a more rewarding experience.

And just like that, our last weekend together as Remote Year Cousteau rounded the corner…


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