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Take a Hike!

October 5, 2011

Today I woke up early, got covered in mud, and worried about leeches.

It was a pretty good day.

So my friend and fellow English teacher Theo knew these people in Da Lat who were working on training tour guides for Bidoup Nui Ba National Park, a national park right outside the city. For their “final exam”, the tour guides were giving the project leaders a tour around the park, and Theo was invited to come. He thought he would have to work, and recommended me instead (I don’t actually start officially teaching until tomorrow, but that’s another story). Given that I like parks and like helping and like touring and want to see more of Vietnam, I said “sure” and rolled out of bed at 6:30 (which is usually an unreasonable time for me) and got driven to their association’s Da Lat Headquarters.

The following is important to remember: when I signed up, I had no idea how far away the park was and what we actually would be doing. So when we piled into the cars that would take us to a place I was told was an hour away, I was a little thrown off. When we reached the park and traveled down a ‘road’ that was actually more of a linearly shaped clay/dirt pit (our car struggled a few times, but the greatest thing about Vietnamese drivers is their ability to get you where you need to go, no matter who or what is in the way), I was even more thrown off. But nothing quite threw me off as much as announcing that the tour the guides were being tested was a three-hour hike around the park, and that we’d have to tuck our pants into our socks to protect ourselves from leeches.

I’m okay with hiking, and three hours is actually a fairly short hike (especially with all the stops we took, it was only 3.7 km), but leeches? I looked at my sandals and inwardly groaned. This is something that I should have known about.

So we were off, and the hike started pretty well. The first tour guide taught us about pine trees, which is something that didn’t really grab my attention, because we have several pine trees on my lawn back in America. The only real difference I noticed between American and Vietnamese pines was that Vietnamese pines never seem to have low branches: the branches always seem to start around 10 feet up and congregate near the top, and the trees are far less Christmas tree-shaped for it. More interesting were seeing wild bamboo groves and chestnut trees. What was most interesting, however, were the guides stories about how the indigenous ethnic minorities used the food and land in their daily lives. We learned about medicinal plants, basket weaving, and even the important functions of rocks. For me, this jungle was a day trip. For them, it’s their lives.

What brought me back down to earth was the mud. The trail that we walked on was a dug out one that had been used for cars as well as people. The daily rain in this area made the trail as muddy as could be, and after the first half hour the bottom of my sandals were caked in mud. This made things like “walking downhill” extremely interesting, and I helped my tour guides prepare for the real thing several times by slipping and falling nearly face-first down a muddy hill.

This problem was exacerbated when we reached the stream and climbed up a stream/waterfall’s bank (Mr. Oda, who was my major liason on the trip, helpfully told me that this was when I’d probably get a leech). Here the trail stopped being a dug out trail of any kind and started being more like an animal’s path through the woods, including 80-degree climbs up muddy hills. Oh, and it had started raining, which is something that I had packed for with an umbrella, but not a real rain jacket. However, by this time, the endorphins from hiking and the rush of being in nature drove away any negative feelings I had towards the endeavor, and the beautiful sights of the waterfall were good enough rewards to justify the trip.

After we finished our climb, our hike was over and we returned to the park offices to eat lunch and finish up. The advocators and I offered our comments, advice, and suggestions, and the tour guides passed their final test with flying colors. I was wet, muddy, and exhausted. All in all, a pretty good day.

And I didn’t even get a leech.

But I did get a bunch of pictures!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. October 5, 2011 11:24 pm

    Nicely told story. Leeches: eeeew! Bravo for braving a possible leech for the actual experience of a hike through the woods in Vietnam.

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