Langblang mountain and the story of scar #4

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April 14th 2016
Published: April 14th 2016
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I'm up high in Da Lat, a city in the central highlands. A place of towering pines, cream French architecture with a dash of the fairytale; a city dot to dot of Banh mi and pho stalls, fresh mountain air; exquisite coffee dripping teasingly into your cup from its throne, and hilly roads jumbled by moped journeys.

After team 'nam departed, I'd been finding it a little strange. I had been chilling, which was rewarding, but a little lacking in my own motivation.. my day high points of energy so far being my 5pm 5ks about the beautiful city lake (the book said it was 7k around, but I refused to believe that given the Casio readings!).

In another blog I'll tell the other tales of crazy house, the karate kids, the finally found paradise lake and the rock bar.

But today, it was time to get on a scooter and go explore. Hoorah! About time. It wasn't easy to get out of bed, but I skulked round the corner to a breakfast spot - eggs and baguette, iced coffee. And got my eyes onto a map (given to me by a friendly local I met on a walk yesterday). I settled on the highest point on the map reachings, and in turn of the physical area, for my destination - Langblang Mountain (and if time, a waterfall, maybe the valley of love & dreaming hill - very kitsch).

I talked with the hostel manager, Tam, a really cool and helpful person, as we waited for the scooter to arrive. He showed me his phone's weather '100% rain! Maybe a storm.. I guess, 3pm?', more encouragingly he said that the drive was a good 'un and pointed me to where I'd make some key turns on the way. My anorak already packed, I waved him off from my now familiar feeling stance on the bike.

The empty tank was filled up around the corner (no problem today!), the waiting crowd helping me to get in the ordered place for fuel95, and off I rode up the way. The bike felt so good! And there was so much to take in. At times I roared with a happiness and shook my head knowingly at how I suddenly felt energised again. And the city stretches and tucked away nooks that I'd ride through had such variety.

I caught a springing of school children streaming in groups to get lunch from stalls, in sweet navy uniforms. Navigated rocky dusty roads with such a movement of people and of items being carried, an obstacle course. In one bustling colorful street I made a stop, a cafe of eclectic pieces - a laughing young group drinking coffee, huge stitched pictures of cowboy scenes, bamboo seats, croissants and cakes, and a glamorous woman in lovely jewelry and denim outfit banging and chopping up sugar cane in the corner for the juice spot out front. Here I grabbed a Banh mi - they never be far from my mind here! The next road stretch was signalled by a flashy, silver, formula1 esque gateway - a smooth, modern runway ahead; sandwiched between the rocky pathways.

- Just caught an advert in this restaurant for house of cards series 4 on Vietnamese TV, hm.

And there it was, the entry to Langblang. I was imagining gorgeous mountain windings, pine forest shade as the sun gleams through, wildlife movements to spot.. then setting the scooter to one side, taking in the peak views..- 'motorbike parking this way' - Huh? So, there was no more scootering allowed, despite the teasing peak of smooth twisting roads that I could see. A little miffed at my daydream and sweet disposition interruption, I cut the engine, and slowly clomped into the space. Just staring up at the road ahead. Then, with my best puss in boot eyes, I asked again 'can't I, ride up?' No. Two options - the tour jeeps, or walk.

I didn't imagine I'd be walking much today, but in just a few steps from parking the bike I was pulling my rucksack straps tight and happily bounding up the first hill! (I could have saved the puss in boot eyes). Infact, i started by running the upward stretch, then an american family came past and wooped 'you go!' which, serving my comeuppance, meant i couldn't stop until i was around the corner.. Phewf! What was I thinking? Time to enjoy the walk..

One of the first things to notice, beyond the entry mound of beautiful grass and big Langblang letters, was a zebra?! Oh that's so cool, like, oh, oh okay.. it's a body painted horse! Cute though. I hoped his peers didn't treat him any different, did the rain wash it off? Even his bottom is well striped..

Onward and I dipped into the pine forest, and would stay in here as best I could, getting deeper in but keeping track of the road. This area was gorgeous. I had the pines rug underneath, sometimes slippy where I'd use the rocks and trunks to clamber up. The sun was indeed gleaming between the trees. I walked by old campfires, noticing sun faded playing cards scattered about the greenery (the folded queen of hearts I took as a memento). And different sized pine cones, brown non-striped horses, and a few shells?!

It was a beautiful afternoon, nature and I.

At times I listened to some very interesting podcasts by Invisibilia (the invisible forces in our lives). So I learnt about fear and its relationship to reality - including stories of people who, due to rare excesses of calcium deposits in the brain, don't have a sense of fear, and how that impacts their lives; and an investigation into how those oft feared creatures (snakes) actually move, with the fascinating science of released chemicals that incredibly pass fear into other animals in the distance. It set a real, relevant tone as I walked alone up the forest. And I saw a small grass snake meander away steps after the credits! Then I listened about entanglement, in physics and in emotion - our experiences of empathy, conformity and even contagion - with stories of people with Mirror Touch Synthesesia, living their lives in others' physicality and feelings.

Wandering, wondering, wowing, laughing.

I was back on the path, unsure of how far I'd come but then started seeing signs to the peak - up a nature trail route, 3km. The jeep road curved the other way to a lower view point. I'd been walking two hours now, knowing the park closed at 5; I had time, right? Some scooters (I presumed locals passing through) and jeeps had passed, but no walkers.

As I started up the rocky incline, a guy walked down, sweating and knackered looking! Though with a nice smile he told me it would be twenty minute walk then about forty minutes up the steep part (biiigg steps!), he wished me good luck. Okay, here it goes.

I walked on purposefully, never seeing much beyond the twistings through the forest; and once the lit, clearing spots were met there was ever higher to go (and I hadn't reached the biiigg steps yet).

I suddenly touched my shorts pocket 'the scooter key!!' Shit. It wasn't there, was it there before? Nor in my backpack's places that I'd not expect, let alone the expected parts. In my left pocket the queen, in my right a shell. So, deduction from my pocket memory, if I lost it then it was in that first stretch before the items were spotted. Or, was this just an excuse to stop the tough walk? - nope, I really didn't have it..

!The ignition! I now had two alternative endings - a lost key in the forest, needing to suss ideas on how to get home and sort this; or, a dangling key back at the bike, a bike that was hopefully still there.
I played out that parking scene in my head, how I'd popped open the seat to get my water bottle before paying the parking fee.. yup very possibly in the ignition.

An instinct was to go back, jump in a returning jeep. If the key wasn't in the bike, I'd have time to retrace steps.. If the bike wasn't there..

But, I walked on, of course! However the next part was to go, I decided I was going to get up to the top. This was a comforting certainty, to walk on to a known destination, as I tried to put the uncertainty away (in a sealed pocket).

As I came out the tree shields of the trail, I saw a high mound in the distance - the highest point around - it had to be, inexplicably, Langblang peak. The mound was completely netted in trees, I could see no path or way to tackle the acute angle ahead. I walked on. And the steep steps begun.

Over tree trunks, grabbing up onto roots above, then a series of big steps curving up corners. I'd see wooden distance signs on the way up, often with aged numbers so I had to guess the metres left. One seemed to signify 120m, but - after a long haul up, through small rests and panting, and blimey-ing on seeing that more rising steps were needed - the next sign also had three digits! It really was tough, a more challenging section than I could remember in my trip's treks. There was a point I did think about heading back - time getting on, legs hurting and some recent conversations on how I need to get better at accepting my physical limitations ringing in my ears. But I kept on.

I was so glad I did! Those last 50, 100 steps were taken in short bursts. I could nearly feel a wind unimpeded by trees and more highs.. sure that I must be almost there. As I walked out into that wind I called out - yesssss! Ah! Get in!

The views were stunning. Though simple. That's all they needed to be. I could see other, lower risings netted in trees; a whole province of cities and towns; farmland, plastic coated fields; the higher buildings far away that I knew were ones I passed just this morning on foot. The top flat was modest, overgrown grass and a faded sign, but this time I knew the metres - 2,240. I looked out, down, feeling good. I even tried to take a selfie by the sign! Fresh, fresh air.

No evidence of the new scars yet, you might ask? That was on the way down..

So, I had a few pulls - 1) a lost key/left key/missing scooter situation (influenced, of course, by my earlier concern of not riding my scooter further - and thus setting off absent minded and keen to get up the hills!) 2) knowing that the park closed in less than 1 and a 1/2 hours (and how this might impact pull #1!), aaand Tam had mentioned the 100% rain and possible storm! Then, a much lovelier reason, 3) I was on a real high from the hike, happy from my day in nature and receiving endorphin and dopamine hits from actually making the beautiful top of Langblang.

Taken all together, is there any doubt that I would scamper, jog and bound my way back down? It was fun, quickly dropping the big steps, running down rocky paths, getting swiftly over familiar tree trunks, round the slopes.. Then walking.. Then bounding.. I was full of beans and urgency to solve the missing key case.

But, prodding out and wobble ready, a stone awaits, as pounding feet approach.. Feet now slow to a brisk walk.. Stone stands strong.. They clash - foot rolls, body slips, arm to hold off a full slip, knee crashes down on a neighbour stone. Archh! Bleeding knee, I made a little laugh. Another one for the collection!

I'd but a few sips of water left in my big bottle, 'go on then..' my dehydrated body appeased, cut knee washed and socks dampened, blood trail dabbed off.

And I walked on.

This time I stuck to the smooth road, jogging where I could to make up time, passed by a few jeeps, with a few bemused faces at my mode of transport and red left leg.

So now, the final part of the story approached.. Key in, key out? Bike there, bike...

I'd made good timing, and so had to pass through crowds of tourists awaiting jeeps, I guessed that a last stop of some package trips was a ride through the forest to the viewpoint. This built tension. The parking area obscured, my walk slowed as I waded through.. There, scooter is there! Get in! Lucky me. My head then played out conversations with the park staff about a missing key as I walked toward the bike.. and imagined the forest area where a key now joined scattered cards and old campfire spots. I imagined seeing the key and its leather heart dangling in the scooter frame, not yet making it out.. A park warden walked up, and smiling he handed me a key from his pocket. Lucky, lucky me. I thanked him several times, and made an action of 'd'oh, i know, silly, forgetful me' (I think he got it), he smiled and walked on.

Back on the road home, beaming from a surprising, beautiful day - of beautiful pines, scattered items, stripey horses, podcast snakes, tough walks, revealed peaks, heaving pants, light pockets, kindness and good luck.

Langblang - I left with wonderful memories, a new energy and four souvenirs - a faded, bent queen of hearts; a shell of unknown origin and travel; a dented pine cone that caught my eye, and a grazed (soon to be scarred) left knee.

And that's what its all about.


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