– V I
E T N A M : Part 2 –
August 11, 2004 – This
week's installment is a little late due to our six day tour of Japan.
We are now back at sea, steaming our way to Seattle, the final port
of the summer 2004 voyage of Semester
at Sea. It will take 12 days to reach port. That should give
me plenty of time to catch up on our travelogue.
Vietnam, Part 2
Last week I ended things just as we
were heading to a large jungle area south of Hanoi. I was not
feeling well, but my husband and the guide persuaded me to stick it
out and continue traveling with the group instead of retreating back
to the ship. (Leaving would have required a three to four
hour taxi ride all by myself with an unknown driver, which was not
a very attractive alternative anyway.) Our motorcoach left the hotel
right after breakfast and headed out of town. From
the highway we saw more evidence of monsoonal flooding. Rivers and
streams were overflowing
their banks and many of the rice paddies were completely underwater.
The landscape of the region
changed as we made our way into Ninh Binh Province toward Cuc Phuong
National Park. Karst limestone
up around us, forming impressive canyons anchored by thick vegetation
streams. Along the way we stopped at Hoa Lu, the site of an ancient
Vietnamese capital dating from the 10th century AD. Once a massive
Hoa Lu was well protected by karstic peaks and provided a safe location
Vietnamese emperor and his court. Today almost nothing remains of
Hoa Lu's legendary structures, however, we were able to visit the
which was pretty neat.
Cuc Phuong National Park
Five hours after we left Hanoi we finally reached the gates of Cuc
Phuong National Park, a 62,000 acre
nature preserve. When it was established in 1962, Cuc Phuong became
Vietnam's first national park. Despite the fact that many areas
inaccessible due to thick vegetation, it is a haven for biologists,
botanists, and nature-lovers. Cuc
Phuong's sprawling rainforest is home to almost 2000 catalogued species
of plants, 500 of which are medicinal. Much of Cuc
Phuong's habitat has been preserved in
its primeval state. Creepers, epiphytes and parasitic species abound.
The park is occupied by panthers, bears, monkeys, gibbons,
boars, deer, bats, lizards, snakes (boas, pythons and kraits),
300 species of birds, 65 species of fish and over 2000 species
Phuong is also occupied by the Muong people, a distinct
minority ethnic group with its own ancient traditions and culture.
passed through the gates of Cuc
Phuong and drove directly to the administration building where we
were joined by a ranger who would act as our escort throughout our
visit. We then toured the park's Primate Rescue Center. There we observed
a wide variety of primates that were housed at the center for various
reasons. Many of them were endangered species that, for their own
safety, could not be returned to the wild. One pair in particular
Next we went to the "longhouse"
where we would be spending the night. It was located 20 kilometers
(12.5 miles) from the park entrance, deep in the jungle. The longhouse
but reasonably comfortable considering its
location. The communal bathrooms were spartan and far from
clean. The individual sleeping areas consisted of
two bed frames, each equipped
a thin bare mattress, a quilt of sorts (no bed linens) and a large
white mosquito net. The windows had no glass panes or screens, but
they could be
closed to keep out rain and insects. Electricity was supplied by
generator from dinner-time to 10pm only. A single bare light bulb
from the ceiling in each room and there were a couple of hooks on
the wall for hanging one's gear. The rooms were damp and clammy, but
the interior temperature was tolerable, same as outside.
We were served an interesting
meal for dinner that evening, which I won't describe. Suffice it to
say, it wasn't very good, but it was edible if you were hungry enough.
Later that night the ranger and our
guide snuck out and brought back a couple of plucked whole chickens
(with the heads still on) and some Vietnamese vodka. (Where they found
THAT in Cuc Phuong National Park, we'll never know.) They built a
big bonfire in front of the lodge and
teaching the students Vietnamese drinking games. I turned in at 10pm
while the party was still going strong.
The Jungle Trek
The next morning
everyone was up by 7:30, including those students who had followed
into the forest for a hike at 1:30am the previous night. After breakfast
everyone left with the ranger to embark on a three hour "jungle
which was purported to require some strenuous climbs up and down the
rocky karst landscape. I was still quite sick so I stayed behind.
I found a well marked trail near the lodge and decided to
own trek at my own pace. I had brought along my camera, but the rainforest
was so dense there wasn't much to photograph along the way. Twenty-five
minutes into the trail I heard a blood curdling screech from
somewhere up ahead. It was very loud and sounded like
a deep bark with a human quality to it. No telling how far off it
was. I heard the call again and again and it gave me the shivers.
was making that noise sounded
very persistant, and too close for comfort. At that point I realized
just how vulnerable
I was, having wandered off into a remote jungle somewhere in the north
of Vietnam, all by myself. If some large beast jumped from the trees
and carried me off for dinner, nobody would have a clue to my whereabouts
and/or demise. Yikes!
I was not alone!
of doom were interrupted by
a soft rustle on the trail behind me. I spun around as two small
green men appeared
the trail. They were Vietnamese, slight in stature
and dressed in green from top to bottom – green hats, green
shirts, green shorts, green socks and green boots. They looked
I guessed them to be in their early twenties. Just then the animal
screeched again. We all jumped.
"What's that?!" I
asked, without even thinking about our language difference. One of
the men hesitated and answered in heavily accented English, "I don't
know." He gave a hand signal to the other, who nodded and slipped
dense green undergrowth with some sort of strange instrument in his
hand. (It, too, was green.) Within seconds he had disappeared. I
wasn't sure what to do next, so I waited until the other fellow started
again. I followed at a respectful distance, thinking that if something
were to attack, the green man would probably be first to go.
I am afraid the
conclusion to this story will be anticlimactic, although that isn't
such a bad thing when you think about it. Eventually I lost sight
of the young man who was ahead of me on the trail, but by then
the "howl/screech/scream" had ceased. The only sound came from birds
hidden in the canopy. I continued my trek until I reckoned I had just
enough time to make it back to
to rendezvous with the rest of our group. When I arrived at the lodge,
everyone was hot and sweaty and raving about their hike through the
jungle. My husband told me the trek was pretty difficult because
they had traveled uphill at a very fast pace, climbing up and down
over slippery rocks. Many of the students were busy removing small
from their legs and ankles.
"You wouldn't have enjoyed it," he said – and I'm sure I wouldn't
quite as interesting as what I saw and heard.
Neither our guide
nor the ranger could tell me the probable source of the screeches.
The ranger had no idea where the green men came from, or why they
there. (Maybe they were bird watchers?) Dr. Becky Houck, Semester
at Sea's faculty biologist for this voyage – and one of
my favorite people
on the ship – speculates that I was hearing some species
of large monkey or gibbon. When I get back to the States I will go
online to see if I can figure out what it was. If only I'd had a
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