The bus wound its way up the mountains, the countryside growing greener around every bend. It was a pleasant change from the hectic pace of Ho Chi Minh City. I arrived in Dalat late afternoon and, on checking into a hostel, found myself simultaneously booking a Canyoning Tour with Du Lich Da Lat Highland Sport Travel for the next day. It was only $25 for the day- too good to resist! Later in the evening, I took a walk around Dalat. I remember the smell of yams cooking on small barbecues on the side of the street, fresh strawberries for sale at the markets and an icy breeze, which immediately made me doubt if canyoning down waterfalls was really the best activity for the next day.
That night, the hostel provided an inexpensive group meal for anyone who wished to join. They spread a woven mat out on the floor and out came endless plates of Vietnamese dishes, including ingredients to roll our own rice paper rolls, along with crispy fried spring rolls, rice, noodles and various meats and vegetables. Stomach satisfied, I climbed upstairs and fell asleep on the top bunk in a six bed dorm, a little nervous about the day ahead.
In the morning, I joined a dozen young backpackers waiting nervously downstairs. We jumped on a rickety bus and drove into the forest, where we spent about half an hour getting fitted with harnesses and helmets. The tour guide introduced himself and he taught us how to belay each other down a gentle slope. I felt in safe hands and the equipment was in good working order. We proceeded onto a small rock face and practiced abseiling to the bottom.
Feeling confident, we approached our first wet slope. I bounced down, feeling like a professional! The sun shone as we hiked further into the forest and through the river, with our newly wet shoes.
It was not long before we arrived at the top of some rocky rapids. “Who wants to go first?” asked our tour guide, with a huge grin on his face. I couldn’t see any safety ropes or cliff face. Thankfully, I did not volunteer. Another enthusiastic backpacker put his hand up. “Lay down backwards, hold your nose and keep your hands crossed on your chest,” instructed the tour guide. A look of horror shot across the volunteer’s face. Before you knew it, off he went, down the rapids and into the pool below. When it was my turn, I went down screaming!
We spent the next hour making our way down the river, occasionally floating, often hiking, other times jumping 7-10 metres off a cliff into a deep pool. Cliff-jumping absolutely terrified me. I stood teetering on the ledge for a while, peeking over to the pool below and immediately wanting to flee. But instead, I took a deep breath, held my nose, counted to three and jumped!
We stopped on a large rocky platform for lunch, feasting on baguettes, fresh salads, cakes and tropical fruits. The next waterfall was only metres away. In fact, we were sitting right on top of it. Another group were already dropping over the edge. It was too late to back out. Double-checking my safety harness, I slowly edged across the river to the top of the waterfall. The slope was slippery and my shoes had no grip. There was a lot of cliff to abseil and the water was gushing fast. At this moment, I wondered if I had pushed myself too far out of my comfort zone. Here I was, dangling off a 25 metre waterfall in the middle of the Vietnamese forest. No-one knew where I was. This could be the end of me and no-one would ever know!
I crept slowly down the first few metres, before stopping to have my photo taken. Heavy rapids of water flushed over my face. On the next step, I slipped and landed flat on the cliff. I lowered myself further, using my knees, as water sprayed into my face. Somehow, back on my feet, I made it to the end of the rope…but there were still 6 metres to go!
I was now told to jump – I screamed for my life, blocked my nose and shot into the deep pool below. It was over. I had done it! Bursting my head above the water, I gasped for air and used a rope to pull myself to shore.
Full of renewed spirits and running on adrenalin from the previous jump, I was ready to face the Washing Machine. This drop was terrifying – even when you were hanging at the top of it, you were not able to see the pool below. Large torrents of water swirled about, as I abseiling down between the cliffs. About half way down, I took a deep breath and let go of the rope, immersing myself into the whirlpool below. It held me down for a good few seconds before shooting me out the other side!
On a high, we hiked the last thirty minutes up the steep slope to the bus. We were exhausted and cold, but alive! That night, we feasted on barbecued crocodile and ostrich meat, sipped on Saigon beers and then fell into a deep slumber.
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