28 July 2008
Only A Few Jellyfish, I Think. But Maybe Many, I Think.
Thanks to Kyle’s phenomenal internet searching skills, he was able to land us a two-day all expenses paid cruise of Halong Bay on the “Classic Sail,” Vietnam’s finest junk boat. “We welcome you to our junk,” the email read. In return, Kyle will be reviewing our experience for a travel website. As for me, I will just be blogging about how amazing the shower was.
It was the usual scene to begin with – wake up early, get on a minibus that stops at a tourist trap warehouse shopping center before dropping us at the docks, where we boarded a small boat that took us to our big boat. By us, I mean Kyle, Gayle and Mukti (the life-wise awe-inspiring Australian vagabonds), Fabio (the Swiss homeopathic medicine man), Gabby and her son (the too-cool pierced and tattooed Belgians) and Brad and Brawn (the musically inclined saxophone and obo players who live and jam in Singapore). Quite an eclectic bunch.
It all began with the largest feast of seafood, beef, chicken and vegetables I have ever seen. The nine of us, who became fast friends, all sat around one large table on the second deck of our three-story dreamboat. We dined as the boat pulled anchor and set sail out toward Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site made up of more than one thousand limestone karsts that jut upward out of the sea. It is unlike anything I have ever seen, as it is unlike anything else on earth.
Our magnificent lunch was followed [for me] by a equally divine post-feast nap in our perfect cabin – clean, air-conditioned and equipped with an uber-modern sick, toilet, shower combo. It was one of those rain showers with the massive showerhead that poured straight down from the ceiling, simulating showering in the rain or under a waterfall (two experiences I just happened to have in the two weeks prior to our boarding the ship).
Rejuvenated and recharged, it was time to descend into an enormous cave that nature had carved into one of the karsts. It was huge. Enormous. Otherworldly, really. Then we hit the beach of another karst. That’s when things got interesting. Before taking a dip the younger crowd hiked to the top of the island to get a birds-eye view of the enormous expanse that is Halong – massive limestone peaks emerging from the sea in every direction.
Post-climb we found the rest of our boat-mates standing around some sort of sea creature. Anyone who knows me is definitely aware of the fact that I am deathly afraid of sea life. I’m fairly certain I was attacked by a shark in another life. Well, turns out this beached creature is a big, slimy, iridescent jellyfish! Mind it, it was beached just inches from where I was about to take a dip. I turned to our guide and asked how common such creatures are in the area. “Only a few jellyfish, I think. Or maybe many, I think.” Good answer.
Tough as nails, Kyle still went in. I waded a few feet, dunked my head and kept a watchful eye on the water around me. Just as I was building up the bravery to swim out further (Kyle was now twenty feet from shore) I saw Brad of Brad and Brawn Singapore fame b-lining for land. “Did you get stung,” I yelled. Kyle was shaking his head. “Yeah, all down my arm. Oh my gosh, it hurt so bad. It felt like I was being electrocuted.” I was out of the water before he could finish saying the word “electrocuted.” Our entire group was. Gabby was waving at Fabio and her son to evacuate, which they did, reluctantly. Ten minutes later we were all clothed and back on the boat, taking turns asking Brad if his arm still hurt. “Yep, like hell,” he would reply each time.
Of course, this didn’t stop Gabby’s son from jumping off the top of the boat into the water. “Just be done by dark,” she told him. Naturally, he decided to keep going and just after the sun had set, a jellyfish got him from the base of his spine all the way to his neck. So while we all dined on yet another perfect meal he and Brad sat semi-writhing in pain. I was just surprised that I wasn’t the one injured. I mean, when does that happen? Kyle was surprised as well.
The rest of the voyage was injury free and verged on perfect. Post-dinner we all chit-chatted on the top deck until 10ish, when everyone retired, eager to get a full night’s sleep before our early breakfast, second cave dissent and lagoon hike. We dropped Brad and Brawn for their kayaking adventure, left Fabio, Gabby and her son on a deserted island then cruised back to civilization with the Aussie ladies, Mukti and Gayle. There’s not time to go into it here but basically, they’re awesome. Both have kids and grandkids and decided – in their 50’s – to sell their homes and hit the road, turning the world into their plaything. How cool is that? There’s way more too it, but if you need a personal anecdote on living life to its fullest, these ladies can provide it.
Another four-hour bus ride and we were back in Hanoi, our [free] luxury cruise a distant, yet fond memory. With that, it’s back to China…WHOA.