A bit of backstory is necessary to fully capture this event.
- I have a fear of heights. I once nearly fainted simply standing in the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. You know that walk way in-between the two buildings? Yeah. I never got that far. The view was so terrifying I couldn’t step away from the safety of the elevator.
- I. Can’t. Swim. Ok, Ok. I could save myself from drowning in a swimming pool and would admittedly "doggie-paddle" for my life. Due to this, I have a fear of being in water and in particular water I cannot see or feel the bottom. I am TERRIFIED of the Ocean.
And so my story begins…
I arrived in Da Lat, Vietnam and stupidly looked around for interesting things to do. I had never in my life been a tourist before, nor had I played by the rules most backpackers seemed to universally follow. I was eager to test out a local touristic activity since I had much to catch up on. I asked the hostel operator for tours and he recommend: Canyoning.
“What’s Canyoning,” You ask?
I was told I was going to rappel down several different canyons and waterfalls into the river below. I would be jumping from around 70 meters and that I did not have to have any prior experience and that the guides would take me through the process easily. If a jump was too big, they would accommodate my fears and allow me to take an “alternate route” (this should have been my big red flag.) I was told that another German girl had already signed up and that I would not be the only solo woman so I forked over some cash and dreaded my early morning wake up the next day.
The Vietnamese man was solid muscle, though he was easily a foot shorter than I. He pointed at the massive, raging waterfall beneath my feet. He failed to mention that it was Monsoon season and that the current aggression of the waterfall was beyond normal capacity. He also failed to realize that I was, albeit taller than him, a delicate woman with half the upper body strength and weight as him. Don’t get me wrong. I ride 1200 lb horses for a living. I’m no wimp. But working with horses has taught me two things:
1. Never Mess with Mother Nature
2. You Can’t Let Your Fears of Dying Keep You From Living
The tiny man leapt off the cliff face and straight into the waterfall. There was a sweet spot, roughly in the middle, where the three raging water falls came together as one. Another, to my eye, safer route lay just to the edge of that, where you could rappel between the two waterfalls with slightly less repercussions. The man went straight for the middle.
Maybe it was because it just so happened that this group consisted entirely of women. One American (me) one German (my new friend) and three Vietnamese girls. I guess he had a point to prove.
The rapids thrashed him but his bulging calves flexed as he managed--to all our horror--to stay upright. He jumped elegantly down the cliff-side, disappearing from all our view entirely. The man who had remained on the top with us ladies, motioned that it was our turn.
“No way, buddy!” I shook my head. My three biggest fears in life all coming to fruition right here in Da Lat, Vietnam. I was only 24 years old for Pete’s sake! I was too young to die now!
The German girl stepped up to bat and carefully began her descent. I couldn’t see her once she disappeared over the edge, but a moment of waiting and the man beside us confirmed she had made it safely below. The three Vietnamese girls looked to me, signaling it was my turn. I felt my body tremble as I let my legs carry me closer to the edge.
I strapped onto the rope and held on tight. The small man below came into view as I slowly began my descent. Then, for reasons I will never understand, he began shouting at me frantically, signaling me to go INTO the current of the three major waterfalls. My better judgement told me to ignore him, but my extreme fear of heights and water wouldn’t allow my brain to think. I followed his orders, praying he knew what he was doing.
As soon as I rappelled into the path of the waterfalls, I lost my footing and the rope slipped. I spun uncontrollably in the air as my body was impaled against the cold cliff face. I somehow managed to push out of the path and found myself wedged, in the wrong direction, literally between a rock and a shit place. I couldn’t go back up the way I came. The waterfall was thrashing on either side of me and somehow I was stuck between the two currents. My legs were stretched far apart as I balanced on the slippery stone in a desperate attempt to maintain my footing.
I was trapped. The man below refused to come up and instead kept signaling for me to go back into the gigantic current to my right, the very current that had nearly just killed me. And to the left was the same story. I don’t know how long I held my ground, refusing to move anywhere. Finally, my thoughts took over and I realized I was on my own. This guy was absolutely not going to help me. Nor was the guy above. It had been more than 10 minutes and I had already tried to wiggle my legs into different positions, only to lose my footing and slip and spin uncontrollably in midair.
I was going to have to go into the current. I could see from my viewpoint that the river below was deep, though just how deep I was unsure. I knew it was deep enough that my inability to swim would be a severe problem. I also concluded that the strength of the Waterfalls current would keep me pinned beneath the water whether I knew how to swim or not.
24 years old. Traveled to nearly 30 countries. I guess now was as good a time as any.
I leapt off the cliff and into the abyss. The water hit my helmet hard and I was knocked off my footing and fell down the cliff into the depths below. My hands caught hold of my grip on my rope, moments before crashing with the bottom and from the sheer force of the water I was flipped upside down. The water began hitting my face and suddenly I realized.
I. Was. Going. To. Die.
UPSIDE DOWN IN A WATERFALL. IN DA LAT. VIETNAM...
I let go and crashed into the freezing water below, allowing my body to sink. I let the current push me away from the pounding waterfall as I took a breath of fresh air. I drifted towards the calmness of the water and collected myself before standing upright. Ok, so I guess I wouldn’t die today after all. Until I realized that was only the second jump of the day...