Saturday, April 23, 2011

We thought we were gonna die-but we didn't

Click on this picture to see our whole photo album. The pictures are a bit repetitive, but show the craziness of what we did pretty well:)

Ha! How is that for an exciting title?? Anxious to hear how we nearly (okay, not really at all, but it felt like it!) met our end? We went canyoning! What in the world is canyoning you might ask; well, it it when you follow a river down through a canyon, by hiking, sliding down natural water slides, or abseiling down a cliff or waterfall. With our budget, we haven't done many/any organized tours/adventure outings (save for that exciting trip down the Mekong River in tubes that went 1/4 a mile an hour! haha) and we decided that needed to change when we went to Dalat, a beautiful mountain city in Vietnam. Dalat is famous for its adventure activities, and canyoning was something that neither of us had done and I had wanted to do for years, ever since I went to Interlaken in Switzerland and met a number of people who had done it there. Anyways, we decided on canyoning since it seemed new and exciting. The only problem was that neither of us were warned about how scary it is, what an adrenaline rush it would cause!

Now, I was a gymnast when I was younger, and I ride and jump horses, climbed Half Dome in Yosemite, and went sky diving no problem-o. So, I consider myself somewhat gutsy, but canyoning made me feel like a total wimp! After just the first abseil, the completely dry warm-up where we walked/jumped down a cliff with a couple ropes and a harness holding us, my heart was pumping and I felt a little shaky with adrenaline. Floating down the river was no problem, just watch out for submerged rocks, but then we got to the water slide and it was huge and filled with rushing water! Graham went down it without a second thought, but it took a bit of convincing to get me to go. After a minute I did as the two (AWESOME!) leaders told me to and held the back of my helmeted head (see incredibly dorky pictures!) and my nose and slipped down to my utter delight. After a couple more rounds, I even went down backwards-again, Graham did this without a thought but it was especially scary for me! Needless to say it was wonderfully fun, but again, much scarier than even skydiving was!

After a delicious lunch in the sun and a nice hike through the jungle, we met our match: a super high waterfall that we had to abseil down. It is difficult to describe the intensity (describing anything extreme: sadness, devastation, excitement, fright, etc etc is always hard for me, without sounding too poetic or something :)!) of this waterfall, but just the sight was incredibly adrenaline-inducing. It was very tall, with rushing water, it was slippery and uneven, and if you fell you could get knocked over, all scraped up, tangled in the rope, or drowned in the waterfall (this last possibility, well all of these possibilities were obviously highly unlikely, but they ran through my mind nonetheless). Graham went down first and I was so nervous watching him. But he went down slowly and only had one minor fall when he slipped in a particularly difficult area. When he got to the bottom he signaled to me that it was really scary/gnarly. OMG. The next guy who went slipped and fell upside-down and it took him a minute or two to get himself back upright on the wet slippery, nearly vertical slope! I figured after that I couldn't get any more nervous, so I went next!

Stepping up to the slippery cliff was so frightening, I took a few deep breaths though and started down. It seemed to take an eternity! Each step I reminded myself to keep my legs bent, my feet firmly planted (as firmly as they could be!) and my body about at a 90 degree angle with the slope (less if the slope is less). It was so exciting! I kept looking to our wonderful guide for encouragement, and I looked back at Graham, but that made me more nervous because I realized what I was doing: walking down a slippery cliff with a waterfall rushing over it! The most difficult part was the 2nd half, when there was water pounding your face and you had to consciously think about breathing so that you would get enough air and not swallow a bunch of water. I had one slip in the last third of the waterfall, when my feet slipped and I swung against the cliff and scraped my elbow, I didn't even feel any pain at the time I was so in it, you know. Finally, I made it to the bottom of the rope, when the guide at the bottom yelled "juuuummmpppp!" and you had to push off the cliff and let go of the rope. I closed my eyes and did as I was instructed, and felt so relieved, happy, and alive when I popped up after a few moments getting pushed around underwater from the swirling currents. WE MADE IT! I contemplated going again, but I figured I wouldn't push my luck and was happy with one successful, totally insane walk down a waterfall cliff.

Next on the itinerary was yet another beautiful hike through the canyon, to a cliff jump. There were 2 levels you could jump from, the higher was about 12 meters and the lower was about 8 meters. The higer one alse required you to run and leap out far to not hit the ledge, which jutted out a bit. Graham was super brave and ran at the cliff and leaped out. I literally had to close my eyes while he did it. I was happy to jump from the lower point, it still was really high and each time offered just enough fright/excitement for me, but I was the only person in the group who didn't jump from the higher cliff! Even the other 2 girls did the higher jump. My ego was a bit damaged, but I was still proud that I even did anything!

The last stop was the "washing machine." Supposedly the waterfall abseil was the challenge, and the washing machine abseil was easy, but it was almost scarier for me! The first bit was easy, just let yourself down slowly, but then you start getting pounded by the waterfall, and you start swirling (hence the name of the site) and you have to keep letting yourself down, allowing yourself to get pummeled harder and harder, until you hit the bottom of the fall, and get swirled around, hoping you will pop above water soon to get a breath for a few moments before you see the light and thankfully are finished with the overwhelming exciting and scary-as-you-know-what adventure.

We hiked back up a steep hill, and Graham and I just looked at each other with wide-eyes, so alive and excited and amazed at what we had just done. We kept saying how unbelievable it is that the agency didn't warn us about the fear factor of the trip, and we wondered how they get people to do all the insane things we had just done. We kept saying how it was much more frightening than skydiving, which just felt surreal, and diving isn't scary at all-just plain awesome. Which brings me to my next topic...

We are now in Nha Trang, a city in Vietnam known for its diving, and we decided last night that we wanted to get our advanced open water diving certification. We did our first 2 dives today and they were both awesome. The visibility (or viz as divers say) wasn't as good as in Koh Tao, Thailand, but the corals were just so colorful, and the fish were very different. We stopped at a shrimp "cleaning station" where fish go to get cleaned by shrimp, and our guide opened his mouth and a shrimp hopped in and started cleaning his teeth! So ridiculously cool! Then I put my hand out and a shrimp hopped on and started looking around at where to even start :) It was amazing though. We also did some training to work on our buoyancy and skills that we will need to be able to dive without a guide. We also saw huge schools of fish and corals unlike any I have seen. We have 4 more dives over the next 2 days, tomorrow is our deep water dive. We both just love the feeling of being buoyant underwater, and exploring a world where the creatures and physics are so different from the one we know. It is like "Grahamalie in Wonderland" Ah-that would have been a good blog title too. Shucks.

And with that, I am headed to the beach! Gonna wake up Graham from his peaceful nap first :)

Love to you all, and we will say hi to the mermaids for you. If you don't hear from us soon, we'll swim over to the US sometime soon and say "sup"

Natalie and Graham

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