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Early August 2001 (Day 1)
Airborne in Vietnam
Greetings from Dalat, Vietnam. As you may or may not know I've been in Vietnam for the last two weeks. I've traveled from Hanoi to Saigon, North to South, with my family and I'm spending the last couple of days in Central Vietnam to do some flying. Today I finally caught some air, Vietnam style.
Dalat, Vietnam is in the Central highlands, known for it's cool climate, everywhere else I was melting like butter. I didn't know what to expect when I got here. Would I be flying with others? Will I have to hack my way through the jungles like the ones I had seen in every other part of the country? Jungles so thick you couldn't see your hand if you stuck your arm in. Land of towering Cumulus, everywhere!
Well to start, my guide that I had been emailing from the states has never paraglided. Not a good sign. One of the LZs they showed me was the top of a conical hill... not good! And the peak they pointed out as the launch looked like I was in for a 15 minute sledder!
We headed up a grueling fire road that makes our drive ups look like 101. Once at the top, I saw the backside. That was more like it. Lots of room to land and absolutely no sign of power lines. The wind was coming up that direction too. I pointed off to the river where I saw a thin brown line and asked my guide if it was a road. "Yeah, road!" He said he could be down there in 15 minutes too.
The wind was coming up kind of strong but nothing unlike the Grade or ridge soaring. A small crowd gathered and with in a couple of minutes I was airborne. Luckily got above launch and flew for about 30 minutes buzzing the crowd. I top landed and got my first taste of "15 minutes of fame." The crowd loved it. My guide came up with eyes as wide as saucers and said "Some people would like to shake your hand!" I shook some hands and had a few publicity shots taken and sat down and had some water. Things were looking good.
After a short while I decided to fly again. I told my guide that if I got below launch I would head out in front. I flew close to launch for 15 minutes and then started sinking out. It seemed there were better thermals out front so I headed out over the flat lands. I generally boated around and found one fatty but it was under a rather ominous cloud so I climbed above launch within about 500-1000 ft below cloud base and then opted out of it. I wanted to land or boat and then ride up for another flight.
I headed out in front to the "road" which started more and more looking like a nasty 4 wheel drive kind of beast. I landed on a gentle rolling hill and was immediately approached by the local kids. I was wondering if I would be overrun by locals when I landed where I would have to keep them from trampling my wing and lines. These were the cutest kids that shyly approached and sat down 10 ft away. I packed them up and tried to figure out where the real road was. No joy, they didn't understand my comical pantomime charade routine (vroom vroom, beep beep, acting like I'm driving). They shook their heads and smiled.
I ended up walking down the "road" which quickly turned into a path. This was rural Vietnam. I padded down the little paths they've built up over years that divide up the rice paddies. I could have walked forever. But I quickly found that what I was walking to was more a collection of farms then a small town. I wasn't sure which direction my guide would come from so I decided to walk back to where I had landed up what appeared to be a road... which quickly became a path! I had been walking for a little over an hour but I knew I was close to civilization, some kind of civilization, and I had a little water left so I wasn't too concerned. Before panic set in I heard someone yelling in the distance and it sounded like "TTTuuuuuuuuummm". Luckily it was my guide. Yeehaw saved.
We sat down and I explained what happened. They obviously came from the other direction. I passed around the last of my water to my guide and his... guide and I asked where's the car. "Back up there" and they pointed to launch. I was like, "You didn't drive down here to get me? " Nope". They explained that we would have to hike back up. I haven't figured out the numbers but it would be like hiking from somewhere between downtown SB and Parma back up to the Skyport.
What do you do, laugh or cry. Hee, hee, let's go. It took us 2.5 hours to hike back up some relatively steep climbs. Twice we stopped for a break and I was dieing for a nap. Some guy came down from the top with water when we were still 30 minutes from the water. This is the type of place you want to see them break the seal on the water you drink but I took a swig anyways... pond water!
I was kind of pissed by the time we got to the top. I told my guide "You need to get some donkeys or llamas if you want to attract more paragliders. He told me we were in some back country that was inaccessible by car ever since a bridge washed out 3 years ago. Now he tells me.
Half way down the "bladder buster" fire road ( and let me tell you, Mr. Brown was knockin at the back door, and if you've ever traveled in countries where the food/water cause a "rumble in the jungle", you address Mr. Brown promptly or he beats down the door!) I started thinking. I still have another day to fly and that's why I came here. I'll either top land or land and the first opportunity I have on my way down with out the killer hike back up. I told my guide "you on for tomorrow". He said something in Vietnamese to our second guide, the paragliding specialist who also wanted to shake my hand after the first flight, and our cab driver who followed us up to the top for, I don't know why, and they cracked up laughing. "OK!" the second guide said!
I'll keep you posted. Maybe not the best flying but definitely entertaining!
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