Greetings again from Hue. In a respite from the heat and the city life, I headed to nearby Bach Ma National Park with Hanh, a fellow English teacher of Doug and Cindy. Formerly a French resort and then a US helicopter base, it is now one of the most impressive National Parks in Vietnam. The summit is around 1900m, so it was nice to get away to the coolness and green of a sub-tropical forest.
The trip started with a jeep (though I use the word loosely, as the vehicle was some Soviet Bloc era 4×4 that didn’t have much of a suspension) ride 12 km up towards the top. Hang and I started up a path that at first we couldn’t find, and after we found it we started climbing up to the summit. After the first overlook, we continued on what I assumed was the path, following and old jeep path long overgrown and subject to random landslides. After the clear path slowly dwindled to nothing, I came to the brilliant conclusion that once again, I was lost in a National Park in a foreign country. Fortunately, it wasn’t hard re-tracing our route back to the overlook. Unfortunately, I was introduced to Hang’s fear of anything that crawls or bites, as she screamed and grabbed my arm once she discovered she had attracted one of the native creatures of the park. In the midst of the screaming (something like "Its a leeeeeeeeeeeeeech!") and hopping on one leg, I was able to figure out that she had a leech on her ankle and she wanted me to somehow remove it while she hopped up and down. After this mission was accomplished, we did a check only to find other ones on our shoes heading up to juicier opportunities. After another session of hopping and leech removal, we found the real trail and continued up to the peak. She wears her wounds proudly and made sure that Cindy saw the bite mark and blood on her socks when we got back to Hue.
And speaking of leeches…. After lunch we headed down to the 5 "lakes" trail and quickly found ourselves hiking along a small creek. We soon found out that the translation of lake was rather inadequate and would be more accurately translated into "pool." Regardless, we started descending into this canyon where the trail was a suggestion at best, essentially boulder hopping, cliff walking, and rock climbing aided by this lovely railing/guide-rope/rappelling-line that was made out of three to four small strands of rusted wire, anchored by being wrapped around various tree trunks, roots, and anything else that looked relatively stable. I heartily enjoyed myself, while Hang was a bit more cautious but still made it without difficulty. It was an amazing descent through a pool strewn canyon, the pools deep enough to swim in and the rocks big enough to lounge on. I then realized that this type of adventure is typically only in places where the lawyers haven’t managed to drive up liability insurance, and everyone understands that they participate in these activities at their own risk. Now, before I get flamed by any lawyers, I know they serve a vital function in our economy and I respect most of that. However, I stand by my observation that way too many things in the U.S. simply are not available or are cost prohibitive due to liability insurance. So I relish in the opportunities that exist in developing countries where you can enjoy adventurous activities without the "Life Without Risks" approach that dominates the U.S. Without devolving into a diatribe, let me just state that I think most people spend more time worrying about unknown and low probability risks such as SARS, avian flue, and plane wrecks than known and familiar risks such as getting into a car everyday. Let’s just say I was glad I was in Vietnam today and had the opportunity to see first hand this wonderful place called Bach Ma.
Towards the end of the hike, amidst pealing thunder, the skies finally opened up and poured down a hard but warm rain that gave me my first free Vietnam shower. We were at the top of a 600m waterfall, and the effect was surreal. After refreshing our senses, the rain stopped and revealed a fantasy land of flowing fog, lasting until we climbed out of the valley and back to the main road.
In a land known to hold animals such as bears, tigers, monkeys, and other large mammals, we could only claim to see countless butterflies, two turtles, frogs and some birds despite our best monkey calls; Hang’s was more a hoo hee, while mine was more like whah whah whah. And to Hang’s great relief, the rumored giant cockroaches never did attack.
But, it was nice to see a park that was seemingly well prepared to educate the Vietnamese regarding ecology, bringing a country whose natural habitats have been scarred by war and illegal logging, farming, and poaching for almost 50 years back to place where they can protect their unique habitat and the life that exists within it.
And for all those lawyers out there, please don’t hesitate to rant about ignorant American backpackers romping through foreign countries spouting ill-informed opinions about life, the universe, and everything.