Two Savages in Southeast Asia

Into the Wild

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Rocks slowly erode
Under water’s swift power
While plants flourish

Good thing we packed all our bags last night, since we have a date at 8am with a tour company! We hoist everything onto the bike, take some farewell photographs with Daniel and Hung, and speed over to the shop. We grab some Banh Mi for a quick breakfast, then store our packs behind the travel desk and lock our bike up on their sidewalk for the day. As in Europe, scooters park anywhere and everywhere.

On the bus, we make friends with a South African fellow named Henry. He’s a film student who is interested in digital marketing. Anyhow, we pass the time chatting with him on the way to Datanla, which we learn means “river under the leaves”. When we arrive, we see that this is a highly appropriate name, given the jungle-y-ness of the area.

Our day starts with gaining confidence in rappeling, which most of our group has never done before. We tie onto some trees on a slope and practice walking and jumping backwards while letting out rope. I feel myself quickly remembering Sean’s lessons on this when he took me and Giorgia out for adventures back in college.

The rest of the day is a series of rappels (here they call it “absailing”, actually) down ever more improbable surfaces. We start with a dry cliff. We hike back up. Now a cliff where at the bottom we land in thigh-deep water. Alongside the pool at the bottom, a great, beautiful waterfall. We trek through the water, praying that no piranhas or similar flesh-eaters live beneath its murk, to the waterfall, where we enjoy a waterfall massage under its thundering streams. Evan and I sneak in a kiss behind the waterfall, giggling.

Trekking through the forest! Some kind of vines different from the sort we saw in Australia pervade the jungle, making its foliage look knotted and alien. Bamboo sprouts everywhere. Lawyer cane threatens to trap all of us in its snarls. We come upon a waterfall, where we get a quick briefing. It’s a slide! We clutch our helmets and go down head first, filling our noses with brown water. Evan and I go again, tandem.

We stay in the river, allowing it to carry us through the jungle and floating easily thanks to our life jackets. Our guides fish us out as the river widens near a cliff. At the base of the falls is a deep pool, which we’ll be jumping, rather than rappeling, into. From 4 meters.

It’s certainly more challenging to rappel and remain standing while water is clawing at your feet, trying to rip them backwards and set you on your face. We thank our past selves for springing for the fancy shoes we’re wearing. A fellow traveling with us was not so shopping-savvy; his cloth shoes cause him to slip everywhere. Like pros, we descend the waterfall, laughing as water shoots into our faces, and opening our arms wide to fall into the pool.

Lunch features a smorgasbord of tropical fruits and tofu sandwiches. We’re treated to dragonfruit, bananas (much more flavorful here than in the US!), watermelon, rambutan, and more. Plus cheese, confusingly? As much as we could eat.

Further trekking. Another float down the river. We come to a falls with another deep pool: this one deeper than the last. The guides explain that there are two platforms: one at 11m meters for the men and one at 7m for the ladies. But, they clarify, sometimes ladies are men and men are ladies. A girl in our group hesitantly clambers down to the 7m platform and jumps in. I size up the 11m jump. You have to get a running start, because otherwise you’ll wind up on the rocks of the 7m platform rather than actually in the water. Mud sucking at my sensible shoes, I take a flying leap into the air and shoot more muddy water up my nose. Evan follows from 11m, and we each go again to get some photos. I’m told that the group would have been highly disappointed if Valkyrie Savage had just done the 7m platform.

The final trek led us through some serious Indiana Jones scenery. We were half in the river and half out of it, clutching at rocks and vines to keep from being swept away. Trees blocked out much of the light, and the rain that was starting to fall added to the mystique of the place. The final waterfall was called the Washing Machine, because there’s no cliff to hold you steady as you rappel. The underside was washed out, so you spin freely in the waterfall’s clutches. We go down, being swept gracefully to the shore. Soaked and happy, we head home.

We’re later getting back than we’d anticipatd, so we text Daniel to ask if we can stay one more night. He fortunately says yes, so we grab a coffee with Henry and make a few plans for the evening. After collecting our belongings, we drop them off at Daniel’s, and he and Hung sweep us off to dinner at a hole-in-the wall place. Henry meets us there.

On the menu: pig brain soup and Vietnamese whisky. Both are served in flaming cups. Brain, for those of you who haven’t tried it, is basically like every other organ meat in its slipperiness. It hasn’t really got a flavor of its own, but the soup broth it came in was fabulous. And it sure looked like a brain. I had an easier time with it than I did with the Balut, to be honest…

Daniel and Hung wouldn’t let us drive home after the Vietnamese whisky, so they hopped into the driver’s seats of the two motorbikes and whisked us back. Evan seems to be in bad shape stomachly, having stopped three times to go to the bathroom during dinner, so we’ll see how that develops…