We said good bye to our host at the project Ko Wha who seemed genuinely pleased with the little present the boys had prepared for her….apart from rice being served on a daily basis (usual in South East Asia) there have been very little complaints from any member of the team…even Jack Ross has been eating things he wouldn’t normally back in NI.
Mai, our Volunteer Coordinator, cracked the whip to get us away as near on time as possible…
The journey to Halong Bay was uneventful, if you have experienced motor bikes coming the wrong way down the main road, pedestrians crossing without prior warning and trucks overtaking each other like a scene from Whacky Races (only for those old enough to remember that Saturday morning cartoon) and can deem this as ‘normal’. We dropped the other local volunteer, Bick, at her village and said our goodbyes to her.
The boys seemed pleasantly surprised by the look and the standard of the Junk boat we were to stay on for the next two days…The boys are only really starting to trust me on this trip and when they ask me what to expect I had said the cabins are Five Star standard, they looked at me with suspicion, however, upon their further inspection they found out that I wasn’t stretching the truth at all.
Halong Bay itself is a beautiful place, only spoilt by the sheer amount of tourists visiting the area…The limestone jungle topped islands dominate the view and give plenty of interest as our boat cruised to our mooring for the evening. First up was a visit to Ti Top Island where it is possible to land and climb to the very top of the peak. Of course the top was the obvious place to do our daily 22 push ups and with an international audience the boys pushed their way to a little bit of glory.
Upon reaching the bottom, Ti Top has a beach and swim area which was too inviting to ignore. A quick swim in the warm water was just what we all needed after a sweaty walk to the top. Also on the beach was a volleyball net which we all took advantage of. Poor Jack Ross(again) made the manoeuvre of the day but in the process split his shorts, not only on the outside but the inside too. Playing volleyball after this with one hand, while the other kept his modesty covered proved to be Jack’s challenge of the trip to date.
During the latter stages of the project, Mai mentioned that Kayaking was planned for the afternoon; however, having been on these trips before, I realised this wouldn’t be possible without the approval of Outlook Expeditions…This was confirmed an hour before our allotted time by the manager of the Ops room back in the UK (the boys are very thankful). Being the only experienced kayaker in the team it was my responsibility to safeguard the group…due to numbers we split the team in two, teaching a few basics in the double kayaks before setting off on a little journey around the nearby Island. Being up close and personal with the islands from the kayaks is a great way to see their magnificence and they didn’t disappoint. Of course Mr McMillan only had one thought on his mind… racing! And at every opportunity he was challenging the boys to paddle as hard as they could and ‘attempt’ to beat him…having me in the back of his kayak gave him an unfair disadvantage of course and we remain the INST kayak champions of Halong Bay.
Following the beautiful and tasty evening mean the boys entertained each other, and probably those boats surrounding us, with a karaoke…I’m not quite sure but Charlie et al singing Dancing Queen was a little surreal…his reasoning being the lack of choice from the five hundred other songs just doesn’t quite sit right. A special mention has to be given to Patrick and Robbie who actually managed to sing in tune, unlike yours truly….I’ll stick to my day time job thank you very much.
At 0600hrs this morning we were awoken with a huge crack of lightning and the storm of the century, in Halong Bay at least. The rain was leaking in everywhere as Mr Carson tried to remain calm, witnessing the cabin crew running around frantically, in his mind trying to keep the boat afloat. Mr McMillan nonchalantly strolls into the shower again trying not alert us to his concern... Their vision of the boys cowering under their bedding was becoming too much to bear…we assembled for breakfast at 0700 hrs with a few of the boys looking like rabbits caught in the lights of a car. At 0800 hrs we travelled the short distance to the show cave in torrential rain and full waterproofs. Now show caves are not my scene and I struggled to look enthusiastic for the boys as I dragged my lip around the interior and tried to change the sour look on my face, to no avail!
I’m currently sat writing this blog cruising back to the main land surrounded by majestic islands and cliff faces…our trip to Halong is now over and we have the next stage of our expedition to look forward to.
Parents please note we are on an overnight train tonight to the very north of Vietnam and our trekking location of Sa Pa…Please relax these boys are doing a very good job and representing the school in a very positive way.
Cliff Lowther (Expedition Leader)