Waking up on Castaway’s boat in Ha Long Bay and walking to the sundeck for a relaxing morning would have been fantastic. It was cloudy and we had to transfer to a smaller boat soon after breakfast and hustled across the side to the other vessel. A few hours on these choppy seas caused the worst hangovers to grow exponentially worse. Luckily that wasn’t me.
I jumped up and down enjoying the sway of the ocean while dancing to a fellow traveler’s tunes. Some of my companions huddled inside fearing each swell while the bravest of us enjoyed the salty spray aboard the bow. Green islands skirted along either side towering over of us when suddenly someone spotted a massive jellyfish off of starboard.
Lighthouses and tour boats grew scarcer the further away from the mainland we sailed. Unfortunately the trail of littler seemed to intensify as each luxury liner was replaced with smaller local fishing & market boats. Around the next bend we began spotting small floating houses and villages; their nets already hauled in from a morning catch. It was suddenly clear that no one wanted to haul the trash that these natives generated and we all felt a twinge of guilt for bringing even more garbage to the seas. At least everything we brought would stay aboard and get shipped back to shore.
Slowly the waves died down and a happy calm swam across the ship. Our vessel turned and glided between the green monsters which now protected us from each treacherous wave. As the waters calmed we began to see more floating houses and islands with tropical beaches. Most of these lush paradises were devoid of all signs of humanity. Simply a beautiful beach protected by an overgrown jungle filled mountain.
Before we knew it our boat slowed and turned towards one such beach. Castaway Island was clearly inhabited, albiet there were a few shanties, a solitary bar and 2 docks roped off in the waters. We landed, had a beer and found out that electricity would only be on for a few hours in the evening. Rock climbing began after lunch as did tubing and some other festivities.
After eating I tried my luck at rock climbing debuting the cliffs for our trip. Without too much struggle I reached the peak of the “easy” climb. It was by no means easy but certainly a ton of fun. I took my free beer for making it up and waited while plotting my ascent of the “hard” path to secure 2 more cold ones.
Meanwhile tubing began with a hilarious group of Brits who affectionately referred to me as “dirty Mike” and themselves as “& tha boys.” Conner an unusually short gentleman was hilariously tossed great distances from the tube; a fate I later found out that it was inevitable as I too flew into the tropical waters. (no one went nearly as far as Conner in this dwarf tossing experiment)
After getting a good laugh I took a chance on the tough climb. Harnessing up, my belayer (who was an expert climber) gave me some last bits of advice.
“Keep breathing. Follow the crack on the right. At one point you’ll need to brace your back legs and use a technique called ‘stemming’.”
Alright, I thought to myself. I got this!
Well that could be tougher. He said he’d remind me and I can’t pass the biner without unclipping it anyway so up I went full of energy and excitement! The first few boulders were easy and I found myself in the crack within minutes. Stemming eh? Well Might as well try it.
Placing my back foot behind me and front foot in front I inched upwards. One handhold at a time I made slow progress. But, progress was progress when suddenly my right foot slipped free! I swayed away from the rock as my front foot accidentally pushed off. Swinging back and forth I managed to get a handhold just above the slot.
Unclipping the next carabiner I managed a few more steps when I my grip faltered. I had to move quickly or bounce back and forth again! I nimbly manuevered my legs into the slot and crouched down for a breather as I glanced upwards to plan the rest of my ascent. The 3rd carabiner was only a few meters above. From there the climb slowly grew inverted!
Realizing that holding onto this shallow reprieve was draining my energy I decided to move onward. Pressing my body close to the rock I shimmied horizontally. My belayer shouted “Don’t stop breathing! The handhold is just above you. Keep stemming!”
Reaching with all my might I couldn’t get to it. I pressed with my feet and thought about jumping for it when I noticed another crack to the left. If I can just put my foot there I know I can reach it! 1, 2, 3! I went for it, managed the foothold and moments later the handhold. Shit! I was just out of reach of the carabiner. What now?
I had to shimmy horizontally again straining to hang on. Thankful for the harness I swung out and grabbed the hook with my left hand. Fumbling with the right I unclasped it and was free to keep ascending. But I couldn’t let go of the clasp. My energy was completely drained.
“Let go of the hook” he shouted from 30 meters below. “There’s a handhold to your right.”
I reached for it. Almost there! Falling forward my eyes were set on he hold and I was sure I could make it. Stretching as far as I could my hand grasped rock just shy of the handhold and I began to slip again. This time I couldn’t catch myself. Thankful yet again for the harness and my belayer below me I realized just how exhausting climbing was. Barely able to grasp the rope I slowly swung back and forth from the mountain as my belayer lowered me back down to Earth.
The rest of the day was a filled with beach activities, swimming and of course plenty of beer. Most of us took a turn tubing behind the motorboat around the bay. We played drinking games well into the morning hours as stars began to peek through the clouds promising a sunny day tomorrow