Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Cat Ba Island continued...

First paddle in the sea - like a true Brit!

So here we are, still on Cat Ba Island after nearly a week. After we said goodbye to Brian and Jane, who set off early on Sunday morning on their further travels through Vietnam, we went off to book a days kayaking with Asia Outdoors to find Sundays trip was fully booked! Where had all the people come from? Must have been the business party of 200 odd people, possibly from Samsung, who descended for the weekend and were seen pedaling around town on tandems, in groups, often the person on the back not pedaling but playing with their smart phone!

So, instead we booked the kayaking for Monday and went for a coastal walk from the beach and then up to the Ho Chi Minh hill for a view over the bay. At least it would have been a good view if they'd kept the trees and shrubs pruned back! As it was, we managed to get a view by standing on a bench, just where the ants wanted to build their nest. 

Saw lots of these birds of prey. Think they called them Black Kites
Ah well, lazy afternoon, planning our our onward travel (which was quite successful) and seafood dinner at our second choice. First choice, one Jackie had been eyeing up for a while that had big tanks with crabs, prawns, clams, scallops and big mantis shrimp swimming about, we discounted after sitting down and ordering a beer, then seeing most of the prawns dead, feet up on the bottom of the tank. They fished them out and took them away, but the remainder didn't look well and who's to know they wouldn't have served us up the already dead ones!

The view from the top of Ho Chi Minh's Hill
Chugging out from the harbour
Monday morning, up early (for us) and down to breakfast for 07:30 and met Simon and Diane, also doing the same kayak trip. They are from Edinburgh, about our age and on a years trip away, having left their banking jobs. They came over on the Trans-Siberian railway, stopped in China, Japan and Hong Kong before coming here and have other adventures planned. They are rock climbers, skiers and winter mountaineers so we had a lot in common and they were great company for the day.

Not a bad Monday morning view, even if the sun isn't shining
Arriving at the canoe floating platform
Met all the others at Asia Outdoors, drove to the harbour and off we went on our boat. At least it wasn't raining, the cloud was above the summits and it was warm, just warm enough for shorts and t-shirts, but only just. We chugged out of the harbour past traditional fishing boats and floating houses, each seemingly having a guard dog and, in a few cases, cats. Beyond are the towering limestone towers or karsts, sticking up of of the sea, giving a fabulous view. 
First tentative paddle
Over thousands of years the tide has eaten away at their bases, leaving some of them tottering. There were many through caves, some with very low roofs, giving access to hidden lagoons and these were the main targets for our canoeing expedition. The deep water soloists were transported to another boat, we docked at a floating platform, given our canoes, had a practise and then, guided by Lauren (5 months with A.O.) and 26 year old Nick from Manchester (1 week with A.O.), off we went, Lauren leaning back and crossing her legs on top of her canoe while beefy Dan paddled behind her.

Heading through the cave to the hidden lagoon
In the lagoon. That's Simon and Diane in front
Paddling through a small, low cave in a huge rock wall we entered a hidden lagoon with warm sea water. Lauren was in, Dan took off his t shirt, to the swooning of most of the girls and went in too. Getting in is OK, its getting back out again, but after watching how Lauren did it I decided to have a go and it all worked very well, although Jackie was apprehensive I may capsize the canoe, sending her in as well! 
That little cave is the only way in and out of this lagoon
Back out and off somewhere else we came across the deep water soloers, being taken in on their boat and helped onto the rock above the water worn overhangs and left to climb. The limestone looked fabulous to climb on and the climbs looked pretty easy, but it’s still the thought of letting go and dropping into the sea that would be difficult to get your head around. The people we watched climbed up and then back down before dropping off, so they weren’t seasoned ‘deepers’ as they are called here, but nevertheless it looked a lot of fun.

Beefy Dan's in the water, guide Lauren on the kayak and trainee guide Nick on the pink canoe
That's the splash of Nick having just jumped in
Lunch on board was big, a little bland, but quite nice and then, with the ‘deepers’ doing afternoon kayaking with us, we set off in a bigger group to little sandy beaches, other hidden lagoons and a swim/crawl through shallow water with desperately sharp rocks unseen under murky water to tread on in bare feet! 

A couple of deep water soloists and one being helped onto the rock from the boat
The guy in blue has just jumped off. Next stop, deep water!
It went through low roofed caves and into a now dry (the tide had gone out) lagoon. No-one relished the thought of going out the same way over those sharp rocks (blood was seen oozing from my and other peoples feet, so we opted instead to go out through another cave and a swim back round to the canoes. ‘Swim’ was an exaggeration, it was really too shallow, but preferable to walking on razor blades so, going out far enough it was possible to swim, with only the occasional grazing from the sharp rocks where it was unexpectedly shallower. Think it was enjoyable, but an adventure anyway!

Queuing up to enter another cave
Arriving at a beach only accessible by boat
At 3:30pm we were by the boat, but Lauren suggested we go through one more cave, if we wanted to. We could just see it in the distance, shoulders, arms and stomach muscles were aching, but we went for it. Our canoe and a few others tended to drift to the right, meaning reaching out with the paddle to the right to swish round to correct were constantly necessary and that made it quite tiring for me in the back (that’s my excuse anyway!), so we were all (even the younger testosterone fuelled males) pretty tired and glad to get back to the boat and chug for home as the light faded (no sunset!). 
No caption necessary!
Preparing for our scramble/swim to the dry lagoon
A good day and we thoroughly enjoyed it, although Lauren and Nick were way ahead of the pack and we wonder how many emergency procedures they knew and what would have happened if someone capsized or there was some other emergency! Maybe they knew, who knows, but we all survived and have aching muscles to prove it!

Wading out, people are swimming, but there's very sharp rocks just below the surface!
Paddling back for the boat home!
For last nights meal we were lured by the smell and sight of BBQ’ing fish and seafood outside one restaurant. It looked fabulous, so we had a beer elsewhere then went back for ‘the fish’. She thrust a menu card showing 100,000dong (£3) and 60,000dong (£1.40) set meals, so we ordered one of each. We didn’t get ‘the fish’ but fabulous fresh tuna cooked in garlic, clams, rice and some green stuff, followed by an orange for dessert. Delicious! 
Roving moustache masseuse sorts out Jackie over breakfast this morning
To wash it down they served us rice wine, which I’m sure was whisky, in a big glass. We’d ordered more beer as well so today my head is ‘foggy’, bordering on a hangover, even now at 3:00pm! Quiet day today, we said goodbye to Simon and Diane who caught the 1:15pm bus and ferry back to Hanoi, then a night train tonight to Hue (we said we’ll be thinking of them tonight as we sleep in our comfy bed here!) and, tomorrow it’s our turn. We’re catching the bus and ferry to a place called Ninh Binh, which is 100km or so south of Hanoi and an inland version of Halong Bay apparently with towering rock spires and huge caves. 4 days there and then off on a bus journey NW into wild jungle territory with a poor road infrastructure, should be fun!

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