One of the most recommended activities in Dalat is canyoning. Prior to moving here, I had never heard this term. Apparently, it just means moving through a canyon using whatever means are necessary including swimming, sliding, diving, trekking, and abseiling (rappelling). Two friends from work went a few weeks ago to celebrate Alex’s birthday, and they had positive reviews. I was looking for adventure and a challenge, so I decided why not.
At 8:15 on Tuesday morning, a young man named Three (everyone had “English” names) came to the hotel to pick me up. We drove around to a few other hotels to pick up other participants, and then drove about 20 minutes out of the city to reach a canyon full of waterfalls. All together there were 20 of canyoners, 3 guides, and 3 photographers/porters. The staff was wonderful. Three and Lee taught us some basic rappelling skills on a small hill near the parking lot after fitting us with harnesses, helmets, life jackets, gloves, and shoes if needed. We did a few practice runs on the little hill where we clipped onto ropes and practiced jumping backwards with correct technique. Now the hill seems like a silly way to prepare for what we were about to do, but it built confidence. Then, after a bit of trekking downhill, we arrived at the first dry cliff beside a waterfall. Our guides set some ropes and prepared us to descend. It was a pretty straightforward cliff where we would walk down the first part of the slope and then do a few jumps down the vertical face before landing in the water below. Lee was my guide for this one and after watching a few other team members go, I was ready for my turn. I wasn’t terrible at this one, but I wasn’t very confident either. I made it down without incident, but was told my steps were too hesitant and my jumps were wimpy. Gotta love the honesty.
From there we swam in the waterfall beside the cliff and walked beside the river until we reached some rapids that served as a natural water slide. One by one, Three held our legs, instructed us to lay flat and keep our arms in, then he shoved us face-up, head-first down the slide. Wee. At the end, we floated and trekked a bit further downstream until reaching a taller cliff.
At this point, Blackbear, our third guide, arrived after catching a cab to the canyon from the airport after returning from his wedding in his hometown. I learned that later. At the time, I didn’t question the appearance of the man who was seemingly in charge. I later learned that he and Lee have been guides for 8 years, and even without knowing that, their experience and confidence showed. So, at the taller cliff, I was near the back of the line and I ended up being the last girl to go. All the waiting and the heights got to me, and I was extremely scared. I kept freaking out about my footing at the top and really didn’t feel safe even though I was clipped into my own rope and a safety rope. Finally Blackbear convinced me to just do it, but I pretty much walked down rather than jumping as instructed. To give you an idea of how painfully slow I was, you should know that 4 guys descended Lee’s rope in the time I descended Blackbear’s. Still, I made it and that was good enough.
Then we did some more trekking and another water slide, feet first this time. Finally we reached a giant waterfall and stopped there for lunch. While filling up on baguettes, fruits, and veggies, Blackbear came over to see if I thought I could handle the big waterfall. He informed that I was the second worst in the group but that he thought I could do it if I just had a stronger heart and mind than I had on the last cliff. After listening to the safety directions multiple times and watching another tour group do the waterfall, I decided that I could too. Weirdly it was reassuring to see a few other people (all in the other group) fall. Each time, they were able to stand back up and keep going. Of course, I am certain they swallowed more water than they wanted and that they were more scraped and bruised than was ideal, but the big, bad waterfall couldn’t dish out more than they could take. This waterfall had a few little ledges and then a larger outcropping. At that larger outcropping, the face of the cliff was flat for awhile but then curved inward. So, we were told to that once we got over the ledge, we would take a few steps and lean back so that we were perpendicular with the cliff until Three (at the bottom) counted to 3 and yelled for us to let go. We were supposed to just push off the cliff with our legs and fall backward, landing mostly on our bums rather than our feet or shoulders. Seemed simple enough.
So, this time, I was determined not to be last since I got too freaked out the time before. There were 2 girls who opted to hike down with the photographers rather than brave the water. That meant that there were 5 girls and about 13 guys to go. Blackbear put himself in charge of the girls while Lee handled the guys. I was the 3rd or 4th of the girls to go. Again, I was scared by my footing at the top, and I made the mistake of leaning forward which essentially locks the rope in place. Luckily this was at the very top, so Blackbear could just fix it and tell me to stop being scared. Then, I just did it! And I liked that there wasn’t supposed to be jumping. I had practiced careful steps all day, so this was my jam. It was a little different since there was water everywhere and our shoes had been confiscated. I was wearing a pair of Three’s socks that had seen better days, but it was easy to feel the rocks through just the cloth and feel like I had a good grip. While I wasn’t brave enough to make a peace sign for the camera as suggested, I did have a smile on my face as I descended the overhang. Then Three told me to move a few steps to the left so that I was properly lined up over the deepest part of the pool below, and I let go! It was awesome! After swimming to the rock and having my ropes unhooked, I got to watch the rest of the group make their way down. We did pretty awesome. Only a couple of people slipped, and usually it was so close to the bottom that they could just line up and drop in. I think this means that our guides did a better job preparing us than those of the other groups we watched, and that it was a good thing they took our shoes.
After we all made it to the bottom, we did some more trekking through the water until we got to a cliff that we had to jump off of into a pool below. There were two ledges, one at 11 meters, and one at 7 meters. I opted to jump from 7 meters, and it was fun. Many people climbed back up to jump multiple times, but I was satisfied by my one jump. I think that I was beginning to run out of adrenaline at this point. Once everyone had their fill of cliff diving, we were back off. We did a bit of floating followed by trekking beside and in the water. This is where I sustained my only injury, a bruised knee as I hit it on a rock under water. How was walking the most dangerous part.
Eventually, we arrived at the next waterfall which is known as the washing machine. I listened attentively to the directions while standing precariously close to the edge, though holding onto the safety ropes. At the end of the description, I decided that this was probably not something that I wanted to do. At this point, my body was tired, and the idea of rappelling down another cliff and getting tossed around in a whirlpool didn’t sound like what I wanted to do. Added to that, there was only one rope since the cliff was narrow, so everyone would have wait while I made my way down with my customary slowness. So, I asked Three what the other way down was. He said that there wasn’t one. I refused to believe him. It turns out that he wasn’t exactly lying, but what he didn’t tell me was that everyone who went down had to come back up anyway because the trail out of the canyon was pretty close to where we were sitting. This time 5 girls and 1 guy skipped the waterfall, a sure sign that the day was wearing us out. We waited at the top while our brave friends dared one more challenge. Though most of them seemed glad that they did it, everyone said it wasn’t nearly as awesome as the big waterfall. I knew that I would regret not trying the big waterfall, but I have no regrets about skipping the last challenge. I felt like I had proved to myself that I could do it, but I didn’t see the point of pushing myself when my adrenaline and energy were gone.
So, once the brave souls climbed back up the cliff, we were off on the hike to the top of the canyon. It was a hot sweaty hike, but the jungle never ceases to be beautiful and noisy and surprising. Once we got to the top, we unhooked all our gear and helped the guides load it in the vans. Blackbear was missing again, and once we were loaded onto vans, the other group left, but we were waiting for Blackbear. It turns out the one guy on the trip dropped his go pro camera into the pool at the bottom of cliff diving, so after all that he had done that day, he went back to try to dive to the bottom and find the camera. He was unsuccessful, but still dear for trying. I was really impressed with the professionalism, competence, and energy of our guides. Though they were brutally honest, they successfully pushed us all to do our best and respected us when we decided to opt out. I strongly recommend Highland Sport if you ever make it to DaLat and want to try canyoning. I am even saying this after the van ride home with Blackbear, Lee, and Lazy Tiger telling me how I should really have a boyfriend to do things like this with me. Especially since I am so old. It is true that I was the oldest person in the group, including the guides. I was also the only American. Wild. I did love all the European, Israeli, and Korean 20 somethings, but I was super glad to return to my luxurious hotel instead of one of their crowded hostels. Apparently, I am sort of old.
Upon my return, I showered and set out again to find the train cafe. There was still a little daylight left which made it easier than looking in the dark, and I was successful. I enjoyed a delightful dinner and some Johnny and June classics on the stereo. Steph and I were talking about the odd and amazing music choices of business establishments in Vietnam. We love the surprises. My hotel in DaLat was no exception. Every day during breakfast, there was instrumental music, and it ranged from Vanessa William’s “Save the Best for Last” to Jesus Christ Superstar’s “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” to Christmas carols. Seriously?
So, all in all, I say a Tuesday full of canyoning is a day worth having!