Not only did Vu provide us with “welcome dinner”, but a breakfast of eggs, bread, and bottomless coffee on the rooftop patio. All our friends from the night before trudged up the stairs for their breakfast fix. A terribly disrespectful girl from America also joined for breakfast, who made me wish I wasn’t from the same country. Not only was she rude to Vu, as he was cooking her eggs, but she commented to a group of Swedish girls, “But, you all look so different…”, to which the girls didn’t know how to respond. Clearly she was expecting them all to have blonde braided pigtails and be wearing IKEA t-shirts.
The canyoning tour bus arrived early, so all of us scrambled around to find appropriate gear and get strapped into our harnesses. The van let us out on the side of the road at the top of a hill covered in pine needles, dust, and trees that we clung to in order to prevent slipping. The guides started tying ropes to a few trees and instructed us to repel down the slope to practice the technique of leaning back, trusting the rope around our waist, and jumping down while passing the rope through our hands. No big deal, this stuff was easy.
They led us further down the slope until we found ourselves knee deep in chilly river water. We were instructed to lie in the water and go down the natural water slide–head first. We thought they were joking, but the first girl went and sure enough they laid her down, head first, and she survived, giving the rest of us confidence. I couldn’t see the rocks that formed the slide, but the gushing water gave some indication. The rocks were smooth and carried me down the little waterfall and into the pool of water below.
To up the challenge level, we trekked through the forest and stopped at the top of a sheer rock cliff, which we were expected to repel down. The 90 degree angle forced me to trust the ropes keeping me suspended, and lean all the way backwards, against my natural instincts. Byron and I both inched down the side of the cliff, one baby step at a time, letting out the slack with our right hand and clutching the rope in our left. By the bottom, we were taking huge jumps down the rock–careful to keep our feet extended to brace for impact. Soon, we touched the water below and the guide removed our harnesses and directed us over to the picnic lunch they were setting up.
We were in a sizable group, so by the time we waited for every person to climb down the rock, we were hovering around the picnic blanket like flies. The wait was worth it and they made sure our stomachs were full of pork, cheese, bread, fruit, and cookies. Not bad for a $20 all-day excursion.
After surviving another water slide (feet-first this time), we were all feeling pretty confident with our skills. However, as soon as I heard the roaring of the water in the distance, I knew we hadn’t seen anything yet. We gathered at the top of the massive waterfall as the guides started tying ropes to trees as anchors. The drop below was significant, taller than many of the buildings in Dalat, and the force of the pounding water was terrifying. The guide boosted our confidence by giving a detailed explanation of the possible outcomes if you slip on the slimy rock underneath the gushing water. The first alternative was if you landed feet down and had to crawl while clinging to the rope. The second alternative was slipping upside-down with your head dangling down towards the ground. A truly inspiring pep-talk.
The brave one of the group went first and inched his feet down the slope, slipping once and causing all of us to gasp. He regained his footing and continued working his way down until the water started pounding against him, making it impossible to see or hear the guide at the top. Luckily, the guide at the bottom was able to shout directions and with many meters still to go, the guide said, “Okay, now let go and fall. One, two, three, jump!”. We heard a giant splash and a shout of joy as he reemerged.
Eventually, I worked up the courage to step out into the river, get attached to the rope harness, and lean with my back perpendicular to the rushing water. I chanted to myself, “Lean back, inch your feet, don’t slip, don’t slip,” to get me through. The guide gave me encouraging thumbs up, which was great until I couldn’t see through the water splashing into my face and forcing me downwards. The adrenaline was coursing through my veins–I was climbing down a sheer drop in the middle of a waterfall with just a rope and to keep me attached! I turned my head to the guide below, trying to decipher what he was communicating through the roaring in my ears and the water blurring my vision. All of a sudden he told me it was time to let go and jump the rest of the way down. No way was it time to jump, I was still so high up! But, I trusted him and released my hands in a dramatic back flop. I came up for air and was greeted by Byron, congratulating me for making it down. I had a huge sense of relief as I sat back on the rocks below and cheered for the others repelling down.
As if that wasn’t enough of an accomplishment, we went on to the cliff jump–no ropes attached. Surely I thought cliff jumping was the end of our adrenaline boosting activities, but next, we halted our trek at a steep rock overhang. We were informed that this was “The Washing Machine”, and the hardest canyoning we would do all day. Instead of a flat sheer rock face, we had to repel down the mouth of a cave, drop our feet, and release the rope with speed into a pounding waterfall until we reached the end of the rope. At that point, we had no other choice but to land in the tumbling water below and be dragged with the current until we could come up for air. For a second I had to remind myself that I was doing this for fun and not torture.
It was just as scary as it sounded and my heart was pounding as I lifted my feet off of the secure rock and lowered myself into the monstrous, unpredictable waterfall, dangling by the rope. Before I knew it, I was out of rope and tumbling underwater in the hectic currents. I surfaced, exhausted but proud of myself for not backing down in fear. The weariness of the group was pervasive, but we all proudly hiked up the steep dirt stairs back to the vans at the top.
Our group bonded more on the rooftop during BBQ dinner with Vu, now that we dried off and didn’t have any cliffs to worry about. We learned that Vu is an ambitious business man and became the number one hostel on Tripadvisor in Dalat within just a few months of opening. All the reviews gushed about his hospitality and how he would go out of his way to help the backpackers and socialize with them. This was evidenced by the fact that he drove 23km away to pick up Florian’s deceased motorcycle out of the ditch on the side of the highway and tow it all the way back. He was genuinely a good guy and we thoroughly enjoyed getting to have in-depth conversations with a Vietnamese citizen, since language barriers normally prevent us from getting past simple chit-chat.