Dak Nong, December 30th 2010
So here we were, at Dray Sap Waterfall, with many other tourists. We were no longer in a lonely planet. Couples after another made their wedding (pre-wedding?) shots here. If only we knew the way, we could have gone straight here instead of wandering around, for the rivers and the falls were dry anyway. But on the other hand, if we had been here earlier, we would have to wait longer for the sun to go down and touch the brim of the valley sending splendid golden light.
Close to the spot in this picture were stairs heading up. Since Tin, our tour guide, told us to take the asphalt covered road, I assumed that the way back must be another route but coming out at the same end. There was an old man in green uniform by the stairs. I asked him,
"Excuse me. Is this the way out?"
The old man giggled.
"Loi ra?" I asked again. I often see the sign on doors and gates under the word "exit". So I guessed that "loi ra" meant "exit".
The old man giggled harder. His eyes signaled us to follow him. Only several steps further we found ourselves in a park with lots of souvenir shops, cafeterias, tables, chairs, and benches. The souvenir shops were about to close. This old man approached a young lady who was closing the doors of her shop. He said something in Vietnamese and the young lady looked at us. Oh, okay. This old man doesn't understand English and he wants this lady's help.
"Excuse me. This is the way out, isn't it?" I repeated.
"Yes, it is," she answered to my relief. "Come with me."
"It's okay. I just want to make sure," I replied.
"I'm going home also," she said.
So we walked together out through a wide gate. It really looked like an exit and really didn't look like the place Mr. Vu and Mr. Tin had dropped us off. A big tourist bus was waiting there.
"Where is your taxi?" asked this Vietnamese lady.
"No, we are joining a tour. Our car is parked over there." I said "over there" with no clue at all where that "over there" actually was.
She paused awhile. I could feel the air.
"Don't you take a motorbike?" she asked at last. I know she meant the taxi-motorbikes.
"Ah, we are used to walk long distance. It's okay." I answered firmly, and proudly.
A few steps further she stopped. "My friend is going to fetch me here. Would you like me to call a taxi for you?"
"No, thank you. It's okay."
Off we, I and Wiwik, went through the asphalt covered road. I was so sure that it would end to the place where Tin had pointed to me.
The road was very smooth, very pleasant to walk on, but just seemed never to end. The sound of Dray Sap falling diminished little by little behind my ears. On our left and right were fields, fields, and fields again. We only saw one or two houses. At times motorbikes passed by us and every time, the passenger sitting behind would turn their head hundred seventy degrees towards us and stare at us as if we were chimpanzees.
Let me quote again:
Save your time to visit Dray Sap Waterfall, to enjoy the pure air at night, to welcome the dawn, to hear the chirping of birds, and to have a sense of how beautiful life is!
from SkyDoor Travel's website.
If I were the editor, I would have edited this paragraph into:
Visit Dray Sap Waterfall and take your time to welcome the dawn, to hear the sound of falling water gradually replaced by the crickets' chorus, to enjoy the pure air at night, and to have a sense of how beautiful an adventure is!
And, we arrived at a crossroad. In this photo you are looking to the direction where we had come from. Please, imagine that.
I think... we are lost.
I hailed 2 passing by motorbikes. "Hey! Excuse me!"
"Which direction is the way out?"
"You want to go to waterfall?"
"No. We had been there. We want to go to the place where our car is parked."
The guys on the motorbike looked at each other.
"Which way goes to the main street? This one? That one?" I asked.
He pointed to our right.
"How far is it?"
"Can you take us there? We'll pay," I tried to bargain.
Meanwhile Wiwik was still absorbed capturing the fantastic sky hovering from horizon to horizon above our heads.
I remember reading the word something like "xe om" in Insight Guide which referred to the taxi-motorbikes in Vietnam. So I said to these guys on their motorbikes,
"Xe om. We'll pay."
"Ahhh! Xe om! Yeah, yeah, yeah! Xe om!"
"Okay? How much?" I almost felt like I would just give them everything in my bag except my camera and memory cards, if only they could bring us to our car or at least to the main road where we could find a taxi.
"There," one of the guys pointed to our right again.
"Yes, I understand. We want to go with you." I pointed at the empty seat behind him. "I'll pay you. Xe om."
"No, no. Cannot."
"We want to pay you." I showed him my purse in case he didn't understand the word "pay".
"No, no, no. Cannot." And they both roamed away.
This is my first after-after-sunset sky which I couldn't truly enjoy.
A man on a motor-cart (a cart pulled by a modified motorcycle very common in this part of Vietnam) passed by. I waved my hand frantically. He stopped. I asked him for direction, and again he pointed to our right.
I and Wiwik did as suggested. But after several meters away, the road in front of us seemed to be going deeper into the mountains instead heading into town. Moreover, the few motorcycles coming out from the way where we had come from mostly turned to the left.
"Wiwik, I think we should turn back. I feel this is not right," I said to Wiwik.
Suddenly a van that's familiar for carrying tourists passed by.
"Stop! Stop!" I shouted.
Sitting in front were 3 guys and all Vietnamese. Behind them I saw some Westerners. There were two three girls among them.
"Excuse me. We need your help. We are lost. We want to go to the main road. Please let us in," I pleaded to the driver.
"No, no! Not this!" I heard Wiwik telling me from behind.
"It's okay," I replied in Indonesian to Wiwik. "There are not only men. It's better than staying here alone."
I saw the Western girl moved forward from her seat. "Please. Take us with you. We are lost. Just up to the main road," I pleaded to her.
"No, no!" said the driver. He rolled up his window and off they went in high speed. Brmmmm!!!
Not far from this crossroad was a house. The doors were shut and the gate was locked. But I thought maybe there's somebody there whom I can ask for help to call the police. Or at least, if we could stay on their porch until morning comes, it will still be better.
I knocked padlock on the gate. "Excuse me! Excuse me!" I shouted.
Dogs barked from inside.
"Excuse me! Anybody there?"
The dogs barked louder. I knocked louder. But, nothing.
"Don't you have Mr. Vu's or Mr. Tin's phone number?" Wiwik asked me.
"No. I never know Mr. Tin's phone number. I have Mr.Vu's name card, but I never save his number in my phone book."
I searched my purse again. I still couldn't find Mr. Vu's name card. Ah... I regreted myself. I used to be quite secure in these things. I usually mind myself to bring with me hotels' and tours' contact addresses with me just in case of emergency. But now I don't have it when I need it so badly.
"I'm searching my Blackberry," Wiwik said. "Maybe Tin's phone number is written in one of his emails your forwarded to me."
"That's useless. I know for sure he never writes his contact address and number there."
"Do you have the number of the travel agent that introduced Mr. Vu to us?" asked Wiwik again.
"Ah! Sunshine Travel? Mr. Manh?"
Huh. I've never thought of that. I do have Mr. Manh's phone number in my cellphone's phone book.
Just a bit flashback. We already knew Mr. Vu since last year. I rented a car from Sunshine Travel and Mr. Vu was assigned as our driver. By coincidence, when I hired Groovy Gecko Tours, Mr. Vu happened to be our driver again. And how I came to save Mr. Manh's phone number in my cellphone was another one and a half year ago when I went to Sapa. That time I wanted to complain to Mr.Manh about the seat in the train I booked through him. We had an argument through text messages. If that incident didn't happen, I wouldn't have kept Mr. Manh's phone number in my cellphone either.
I called Mr. Manh. He answered kindly but told me to wait, because he was still on his way home. He'll text me Mr. Vu's phone number later, he promised.
We went back to the crossroad and waited. The van with Vietnamese guys and Western girls passed by again -- in higher speed.
"Huh! The guys looked drunk and very suspiscious!" Wiwik murmured.
Minutes passed. I texted Mr. Manh: I'm sorry. I just want to make sure. Have you sent me Mr. Vu's number? I'm really sorry for bothering you.
Less than a minute later, I got Mr. Manh's text message containing Mr. Vu's phone number.
Me : Hello. Mr. Vu, please pick us up here. We don't know where to go.
Mr. Vu : Okay, okay. Where are you?
Me : I don't know where this is. Just now ...
Mr. Vu : Okay, okay. Where are you?
Me : Just now we asked someone whether it was the way out for exit and they said, yes. We followed the road but didn't come to an end.
Mr. Vu : Okay, okay! Where are you?!
Me : I don't know! There's nobody here and it's very dark here. There's nothing here. When we headed out of the gate there was a big cafeteria, souvenir shops, and ...
Mr. Vu : Okay, okay! So you are at the cafeteria now. I'll...
Me : Nooo!! I'm not!! Can you listen to me first?!!
Wiwik : Shuni, let me talk to him.
Me : No, no!
Mr. Vu : Okay, okay.
Me : At the place where we exited there was a big cafeteria and souvenir shops. We went straight from that road. Just straiiighttt. We are at a crossroad now. If you follow that road, you'll surely find us.
Mr. Vu : Okay, okay. (Hanged up.)
If you ask me why we didn't just go back to the waterfall, I tell you that's out of question, because it would definitely be impossible for us to find our way back through the rocks and river in such a total dark night. Even when it was still bright, we almost couldn't find the popular spot for viewing the waterfall where all the other tourists were. Let alone when it's dark. Camping under a stary sky on an asphalt covered road would be still much, much, better.
Minutes went by. We always got excited whenever we saw a glimpse of light. But no one stopped for us. I tried again to stop a passing by motorbike. "Excuse me! Excuse me!" I shouted while crossing the crossroad to the other side. They didn't stop. I went back to the other side where Wiwik stood.
Me : Hello?
Mr. Vu : I'm at the cafeteria, but I can't see you.
Me : I said, we are not at the cafeteria! That was the place where we exited. I said...
Mr. Vu : Can you give the phone to somebody over there? Let me ask him where you are."
You know how Rabbit in the stories of Winnie the Pooh is when she looses her temper? You should know. I was worse than that.
Me : There is nobody here, Hunny Bunny Darlinggg!!! I said, nobody! If there were, I wouldn't have called you, Hunny!!"
Mr. Vu : Okay, okay. Calm down, calm down. So where are you now? I told you to wait for me. Why did you go away?
The next, needless to say, was an encore.
We laid ourselves on the asphalt and hugged our knees. It was getting cold.
"Shun, give me Mr. Vu's phone number," Wiwik required.
Another minutes went by. The number of stars above us seemed to multiply.
"Yes, hello?" I heard Wiwik talking through her cellphone.
"Who was it?" I asked when Wiwik hanged up.
"Tin. He said that it would take about half an hour for him to get here, because he has to take a highway," Wiwik explained.
"A highway? We didn't pass a highway when we came here, did we? Do you remember that?"
"I don't remember a highway either. But that was what he said."
By then I was already lying down by the side of the road with my camera backpack under my head. What I saw was nothing I had ever experienced the whole my life. It was like being covered by a blanket of twinkling stars. I say a "blanket", because towards either side I looked, I could see the horizon, and the stars were scattered everywhere till the ends of the horizon. Except for the electricity pole, nothing blocked my view.
"Wiwik! I see a star moving! It's moving, it's moving!"
"Are you sure it's not an aeroplane?"
"No, it isn't. I'm sure. An aeroplane doesn't look like that."
"Well, actually I saw the photograph in the planetarium we visited in KL. I was amazed that the photographer could capture the movements of the stars. I was curious, so I took a look at the EXIF data information under the photograph. Didn't you see it?"
"No... I didn't notice it at all. And then, what did the EXIF data say?"
"I don't remember exactly. But the speed was 10 minutes."
I got up and unpacked my backpack. I pulled my tripod up, attached my camera on top of it...
"Errr.... Wik, no speed feature for 10 minutes here. That camera must have been an extraordinary camera, I bet."
"What's the max there?"
"Only up 30 seconds the slowest."
"Just try that, then."
Failed. Just like when I wanted to take a picture of the fireflies in Kuala Selangor, my camera didn't want to click.
"You should use manual focus." Wiwik said again.
"I have," I answered.
"Tara! I got it! Look!" Wiwik cried.
"Wow!! That's brilliant!"
I continued working on my camera to find out how to capture the stars. Nothing seemed to work. But suddenly... click!
"Wiwik! It's working!! Yayyy!!"
"What did you do?"
"I selected 'Al Servo'," I answered.
"What's that for?"
"I don't know. Hahahahaha...!!!"
30 seconds was due. "See...! I can make it!"
I pushed the shutter button again and waited for the next 30 seconds.
I said to Wiwik, "I bet Mr. Vu wouldn't believe that I am mad at him when he sees us like this.
"Hahahaha.... you, Hunny Bunny Darling! Hahahaha....!"
"Yeah, Hunny Bunny Darling. Hahahaha...! And, if he comes before the shot is done, I would have to tell him to wait. Hahahaha.... what would he say?"
Mr. Tin and Mr. Vu arrived in front of us with his car just right after my next third 30 seconds' shot was done. According to my watch, since the time Tin called Wiwik, we had already been waiting for almost an hour instead of half an hour as Tin had said. I hastily folded my tripod, hang my camera around my neck, and then my camera backpack on one shoulder, while hoping I didn't drop anything on the road.
Her friend turned to her, "You can't see this in Jakarta, can you, because there are too many lights."
Actually it's not the lights, I think. In Jakarta, it's very very rare to be able to lie down and witness the horizon like a circle around you. The sky might be filled by the same thousands of sky. But, the view is blocked by houses or buildings. After experiencing myself being covered by a sky of stars, I really could imagine how these women felt. I can feel their thrill. It's a luxury no money in Jakarta can afford.
Hence, being a girl growing up in Jakarta, the experience I had had far away from Dray Sap Waterfall, was an experience I will never forget. It was an experience none travel agent would offer in their itinerary. It was God's luxury for me and Wiwik to enjoy.
Do you know what Nat Geo Adventure's tagline is? That's right. Let's get lost.