Out of the Jungle
On the third and last day of our visit to the caves, we walked towards the exit of the jungle. It took us half a day to reach civilization. After climbing two mountains and crossing rivers, we finally arrived on a vast plain cultivated with peanut plants. In the distance, we could see some conical hats, buffalos, and a tiny gray dot: our bus.
Delighted with our adventure, my companions and I wanted to celebrate our accomplishments. On the bus ride back to the village, there was a festive air.
As night fell, we stormed into one of the village bars. My three British friends must have suffered from dehydration during the trip, judging by the speed with which they drained their drinks. I could hardly keep up.
I had come back from my expedition totally amazed at the beauty I had seen. And I wanted to discover more. During the whole evening at the bar, I was obsessed with one thought: I wanted to visit Son Doong. But it was impossible to get a spot this year; applications were currently being deferred to summer 2015.
A little later in the evening, our guide Bamboo came to join the party. He was accompanied by his roommate, Luke Ford.
Luke is originally from Australia but currently lives in Vietnam. He does business development at Oxalis. In particular, he takes care of the reservations for Son Doong.
He sits next to me. "This is my chance," I say to myself.
I then bring out my whole arsenal of charm: my soft voice, my steady gaze and my interested questions. After a few minutes of campaigning for seduction, I begin my investigation:
- Luke, how do I get on Son Doong's waiting list? Who do I talk to?
- Do you want to go to Son Doong?
- Yes, I said, looking him straight in the eye.
After a pause, he replies:
- I just got some cancellations for this summer. If you want, I have a place for you in July.
Definitely, it was my lucky day.
- I'll take it, I said without hesitation.
I couldn't believe how lucky I was. Most people wait over a year to make this visit. I would be there in less than 6 months.
Plus, I was looking forward to the fact that I would be back in Vietnam soon.
The evening ended late in the night. As we were all staying at the same hotel, we walked home together. Before we parted, there was an exchange of emails, Facebook additions and promises to stay in touch.
Then, in the silence of the hotel, the sound of three locks was heard.
By the next morning, my friends and I were on our way to new destinations. Despite the short time together, the fact that we had shared such an intense experience had brought us together. The separation was painful for all of us.
For my part, I was on my way to Hue, the ancient imperial city that separates northern and southern Vietnam.
My arrival in Hue would mark an important step: I would have completed the first half of my journey.