mountain trekking with a hangover and a rather wet kayaking experience

I was awoken at 5am by the ship moving noisily from its anchored position in the middle of the bay. Emma stirred and then awoke in a panic wondering when, how and why she went to bed fully clothed. At breakfast Caroline had remembered crying in front of everyone but was a little embarrassed and confused about the fact that it was over something so petty as a missing flashlight.

The boat pulled into Cat Ba harbour at around 8am, we all checked into the fancy (by backpacker standards) Sunflower Hotel and Sam, Emma and I spent the next hour watching a moving film (based on a true story) about 2 austistic children. By 9am, only 9 out of our 14 group members had made it down to do the 3 hour mountain trek, the other 5 still fighting monster hangovers from their hotel beds.

When we started the trek I was starting to wish that I had stayed in bed as well. Exercise is a great way to cure a hangover but not with the level of concentration that our trek required. For the most part we were picking our way through a pathway that didn’t exist. We were either climbing hills so steep we were almost on our hands and knees, or clambering over huge rocks with gaping holes in between, or clinging on to every available tree branch as we slid down dry slopes, the earth crumbling beneath our feet. It was just beginning to rain so the air was extremely muggy, and coupled with the fact that we all had so much alcohol running through our bloodstream meant that we all sweated more than we’ve ever done in our entire lives. I couldn’t tell what was rain and what was huge beads of sweat dripping from my face. I was pleased that I’d made the trek at the end (it had cleared my head and my body felt a lot lighter and less sluggish) but I wouldn’t exactly say I enjoyed the process of getting there.

After lunch at the hotel, we had just about enough time to grab well needed showers before we set off to do some kayaking around the bay. The rain had turned the skies all grey and misty so that the huge limestone rocks now looked more mysterious than picturesque. I shared a kayak with Sam, who’s done kayaking several times before and knows how to steer and reverse as well as simply paddle. However, Tasha and Neil, the only 2 in the group other than me who hadn’t done kayaking before, shared a kayak; the weaker of the 2 (Tasha, purely because of her sex) taking the stronger position at the back of the kayak. It was doomed from the start . . .

It didn’t seem to matter too much that it was raining as it was warm rain and I was already sitting in an inch of water at the bottom of the kayak. However I do think it would have been an altogether more enjoyable experience had the sun been shining down upom our shoulders. Nevertheless, i’m pleased that my first kayaking experience was through the beautiful waters of Halong Bay.
We lost sight of Tasha and Neil about 15 minutes after leaving the boat, and it was a little worrying that our only guide was in a kayak with Emma, several metres in front of everyone else. When the rest of us returned we were seriously concerned that Tasha and Neil had lost their way amongst the collection of rocks, rocks which to an untrained eye, look very much the same as one another. Our guide eventually took his own kayak out and went to search for them, just at the moment that we spotted a one kayak appear from behind the farthest away rock that we could see. The pair of them slowly zig zagged back towards the boat, cursing each other and dodging large ships and fishing vessels and hawkers in small paddle boats who swarmed around our boat like bees to a honeypot, calling,”hello miss, you buy something?” It may have been a stressful experience for them at the time but hearing about the obstacles they encountered certainly amused the rest of us and at least it was a memorable and exciting first time kayaking experience!
After kayaking, we stopped briefly at Monkey Island where we watched a few monkeys playing in the trees, took a a couple of group photos on the beach, and several people were stung by jelly fish as they swam in the sea. Ouch!
This evening, I don’t think any of us wanted a repeat of last night, but as it was Colm’s birthday we all congregated in The Noble House bar for some celebratory drinks. As there are a distinct lack of cake shops on Cat Ba Island, we bought him a bottle of tiger beer and attached a candle to each side. So when he returned from the toilet we had lit the candles and all 13 of us were singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to him in the middle of the bar. We subsequently provided him with several shots of Yagermeister (I seem to be the only person on this earth who actually likes the stuff!) as birthday chasers for his beer.
Photos : Tasha and Neil kayaking back to the boat
Sam and I at The Noble House celebrating Colm’s birthday.

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