Where The Sun Is Born
“Helloooooo!” The voice is distant and sounds out across the large stretch of dark green water. “Hellooooooo!” It’s five in the morning and the small bamboo-crafted boat is a silhouette as it cuts a path through the water towards the large junk boat I sit atop. “Hello! You want Pringles?” she yells up to where I sit on the boat two floors up. “No, thank you.” Her boat is filled with cookies, chips, cigarettes, and alcohol, it is a miracle of weight distribution, and a demonstration of a gift of spacial awareness that could easily take her to the top levels of Tetris. I wonder how much money Vietnam has earned off drunk tourists deep-set need for Pringles. I take a deep breath as she turns her small boat-market towards the next junk boat. “Hellooooo!” By the time I exhale another small woman in an identical bamboo boat repeats her predecessor’s questions. This time I ignore her as politely as I can and turn my gaze back to the sunrise.
The engine and generator rumble gently behind the boat, throwing small circular rings out into the otherwise tranquil waters. Caramel-colored Vietnamese coffee peaks through my slowly tanning web of fingers, wrapped around the glass cup to absorb it’s precious warmth. The rising sun peaks through two round mountain tops; a bright yellow yoke birthed between it’s cracked egg shell. This is the part of the world where the sun is born daily. As the sun pulls itself higher into the sky, color pours over the mountains and into the bay. The world I find myself in shifts from a quiet grey to shades of green. As light fills the surroundings with color, people being to awaken as well. Before long the boat is awake. The staff serves breakfast to groggy guests as the boat imperceptibly pushes itself towards the island shores of Cat Ba.
The forest envelops the eight of us as we hike up to the top of the mountain. The natural stone steps provide easy access to the top, but also force us to change the pace of our steps as we climb; a large step that clenches my quadriceps as I force myself upward, then a two quick steps to change my footing on a sturdier rock, and then crossing back and forth between stones that split the path. All of us move in a single-file march up the hill, all of us except one. Our guide looks human, he speaks Vietnamese, but he is most definitely a monkey masquerading as a human. He throws leaves and flowers at us as he passes me, then he grabs the sunglasses off of the tattooed British traveler from Cornwall. Before he can ask for his glasses back, the guide has jumped off of the stone path and grabbed onto a dangling vine of a tree. Without any effort, he is up in the treetops looking down and laughing at us. Once we reach the summit, he lavishes in the attention he gets from other tourists. He poses in impossible yoga positions on top of precarious rocks as camera shutters click in unison. A small tower with a “Do not climb” signpost compels me to decline it’s suggestion. The steps are sturdy, but the handrail is rusted and jagged. Don’t grip the sides, don’t grip the sides. At the top, I step forward and my leg doesn’t meet anything solid. The top of the tower has several wooden boards positioned across a 30 meter drop onto the rocks below. I steady myself and look out over the green, rolling mountain-scape that spreads in every direction. A small sliver of the sea hides just shy of the horizon; a perfect place to kayak.
We grab kayaks from a floating restaurant. It’s foundation is a series of plastic crates and buoys that cause the wooden boards to rise and fall with the sea. “Don’t go out of the bay, the ocean water is strong and dangerous,” the restaurant owner warns us as we place our feet into the long, red kayak. We know as they warn us that the ocean is the only place we can go, our rebellious streak continues. The ocean pitches and throws water into the kayak, but the paddles still push us forward around small top-heavy ocean islands. Each one of the islands is built of dark grey stone at it’s base that widens as it rises up to the forested top. I imagine a chess board beneath the surface of HaLong Bay, only bishops and pawns still in play. I wonder where the King is? Perhaps he has been tipped and the game ended long ago, before all the water. Hidden beaches lie around some of the larger chess pieces, each one a soft secret whispered only to fishermen and kayakers. The sun begins to dry the salt that the wind has blown past us, drawing small lightening patterns of white over our arms and shoulders. This is the mark of the ocean accepting us in this place. Our kayak gently splits the water as the sun continues it’s journey to the West, eventually aging and being put to rest by my family and friends in California. A new sun will be born tomorrow, HaLong will hatch a new yoke that I will warmly welcome before sending it to all of you.