M1ke

Water, Soil & Mud

First let's pretend I'm writing this from the lobby of our nice hotel (Indochina, Nha Trang) before our train to Hue on Wednesday evening.

The scooter ride to the Ba Ho waterfalls was, as seems to be the trend, the most fun yet. Nha Trang's exit road is far wider than Mui Ne's, and within minutes we were cruising up and down Highway 1 as it wound round the cost to the north. The Ba Ho waterfalls were an almost unknown tourist site a few years ago but are becoming more popular now; despite this we still had to ask a local in a nearby fishing village to show us to the correct road until a sign announced the turn off onto a dirt track in the jungle. When I say jungle we're not quite talking Amazon, but compared to the forests of England this place is crazy - insects, snakes and maybe larger animals, a good proportion of which could do serious harm or even kill an unway traveller. We tried to look wary.

As we arrived a tour bus pulled up, so we wasted no time in setting off up the trail, keen to savour the secluded spot between the four of us for at least a little while. Soon we got to the entrance of the waterfall bed, where one path lead onto the smooth rocks of the small river itself, the other quickly rising into dense jungle. Having previously found the jungle track offered more seclusion Chris suggested we take it, and waving away the nearby guides we strode on fearless. The climb got steeper and the humidity pressed in around us, bus after 15 minutes walking and occasionally scrambling we could hear the distant falls which spurred us on, and the shouts of children below us which indicated the tour was moving too.

We had picked up by now that we were following the traditional "down" leg of the route, encountering marks on rocks and trees left by the guides in order to keep the path worn (without use I doubt it would last a few months). This worn path gave us good confidence, though all nearly went out the window when I spotted the first snake of the day, a long black creature that was there and then rapidly slithering into the undergrowth as our noisy feet disturbed it. After bouying the confidence of the others, that the snake was clearly frightened of us, we made our way ahead, with maybe a keener eye on where we stepped. Another roadblock nearly turned us back as one particular rock formation didn't seem to have an arrow indicating the way out (or way in for those following the correct route) but a quick jump ahead got us back on track, minutes later emerging into the clearing at the very top of the falls.

The view was amazing, a bright turquoise pool surrounded by huge smoothly curved rocks descending from the higher jungle above, turning into some small rapids before dropping over the edge of the next pool, out of site but into the wash of the waterfall below. After the obligatory photos from every angle Dave and Chris decided it was swimming time; after some more rock scrambling and a (what I considered) daring jump over the rapids I joined in, followed by Rosie as Chris took the role of photographer. The water was not immedlately warm and the bottom occasionally sharp and rocky, but a minute or so in and it felt perfect, swimming around our own private lagooon, the sounds of others in the area drowned by the falls which now separated us. We swum for maybe 20 minutes before climbing out and drying off on the warm rocks, a truly brilliant experience.

Packed up we decided to continue the trail in reverse, but as the first of the tour group crested the waterfall we realised to our dismay that the only way to where the route continued was to swim again; deciding we were more in need of food and water than another 20 minutes working out how to get our equipment (phones, cameras, etc) safely across we moved back down the jungle path. The route was snakeless this time and what's more we spotted a route through to the base of the waterfall, finding outself just a leap of faith away from the different route down. Once across we got to watch the tour leaping from high rocks into the water with their guides - maybe next time! The climb down the rocks around the river bed was fun and not too difficult; we returned to the base and encountered a number of people from the tour who'd decided to return early, passing us as we took photos. They were local tourists but spoke some English, pressing into our hands some cans of beer which the men were enjoying and cheersing us with the traditional chant "Mok, Hi, Ba, YO!" (litterally 1, 2, 3, yo, but it seems to have more meaning than that). We couldn't really say no and sipped the warm cans grinning, but a 30 minute scooter ride on unfamiliar roads awaited us and after saying our goodbyes the beers had to go.

The ride back contained yet more exploration of the cornering behaviour of the scooters, though the engine this time wasn't as good as what I had in Mui Ne, and the front brake almost no existant above town speeds. Nevertheless we made it back to town and pulled in at the first beach restaurant; I ordered what sounded like a local dish but turned out to be steak and chips - hard to hide being British!

Despite the cool waters we were already hot and sweaty again, so decided there was just time to head into the local areas of the city and visit the Nha Trang Mudbaths. After a kind girl on a push bike agreed to lead us round the few complexities of local streets we made our way to the spa, joining mostly locals for a late afternoon soak in what I'd describe more as slurry than mud. I had few expectations so what the bath actually felt like was completely unexpected; when moving your body through it the mud felt like slightly thicker water (and was the perfect outside temperature) but a hand over your arm and you felt the slippy texture of the mud itself. Interestingly (though obviously) it also caused us to float, which with four of us sharing a tub kept getting quite amusing, as any shift in weight and people would drift to new equilibriums, desired or otherwise. The mud was followed by a bath in a hot spring, then various swimming pools, ending in a cool mineral water pool where we managed just a few lengths as night was falling (at the uniform time of 6pm) and the centre was closing.

We left in the dark which proved our undoing, as after a turn onto a particularly busy street I had lost Chris and Dave, leaving myself and Rosie to head straight for what we realised was far too long before concluding we were lost. Scrabbling for what to do I realised we only needed to find the coast, but with buildings hiding where the sun might have set and the narrow streets of the Nha Trang suburbs confusing my sense of direction we had to try and find someone who understood the words "sea", "beach" or "coast". The first person we asked, after a few tries, seemed to get it and gave us directions, a minute in however and we reached a railway track, one we knew we hadn't crossed on the way in. Turning back and starting to worry I realised that one particular taxi company had drivers who mostly knew English and tried to spot one of their cabs. Fortunately it wasn't long before one showed up and I was able to ask the driver for directions, confirming them in the Vietnamese Chris had taught me to ensure we were on track. Soon enough we were back by the coast, and in due time returned to find the others at the hotel.

After a tiring day we decided just to visit the Louisianne Brewhouse, a New Zealand bar who brew their own beer on site - hardly local but still something far from home. We tried their speciality, a beer made with local grown passion fruit which quickly beat any other fruit beer I've tasted into submission. Making another English fail of food ordering I ended up with a veal wrap, the noodles or rice with every other option feeling like too many carbs in a diet heavily based on them. Finally succumbing to the day's adventures we headed back to the hotel looking forward to the day on the beach to follow.

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