At the behest of Pete and Natasha, we've rented a motorbike this afternoon. They did a loop in the mountains around Da Lat a few days ago, and hearing their story convinced us we should head out for an adventure of our own. This will be the second time we've rented a motorbike in Vietnam—they are a great way for us to "fill in the gaps" for areas that would normally take several days to see on a bicycle.
For the minuscule price of $3, we're able to leave the city behind on our own motorized transport for the day. As we putter into the countryside on our little red scooter (LRS!), the landscape surrounding us transforms into an undulating canvas of scenic mountains covered in terraced fields, coffee plantations, and translucent greenhouses.
Passing by one of the many plastic-draped structures lining the road, Tara squeezes me and says we should stop. Unable to resist a look at all the flowers, she sneaks into one of the humid nurseries to take a zillion pictures of the orange and pink blooms. Tara's note: Most of them happen to be one of my favorite varieties: gebera daisies.
When Tara's flower hour is through, we head back down the road in search of the first of two waterfalls we hope to find today. Most of the ride to Gougah Falls is an engines-off, downhill coast. As we descend peacefully, listening to the quiet whine of our tires rolling on pavement, I am silently thankful that we won't have to pedal our way home from today's excursion.
When we make it to Gougah Falls, what we find is a slow moving river with a slight two-foot cascade. It's not exactly an impressive showcase of nature's power. Unmoved, we leave without even snapping a photo. When we returned to the hotel, I looked up photos of the falls and they left me wondering if we actually found the right place? The sign said we were there, but the site bore no resemblance to the pictures online.
Pongour Falls is our second stop, and getting there is proving to be a little tricky. After an hour of riding around, asking just about everyone we see for directions (using the tattered paper map Pete & Natasha left with us), we're lost. In a last ditch attempt to find our way there before giving up, I turn us down a rutted dirt path which seems to head in the general direction most people had pointed.
Twenty minutes later, it doesn't seem likely that my road selection is going to pan out. Happily, we no longer care, for we're really enjoying our unexpected ride through the fields and farms of rural Vietnam.
I've all bit given up hope, when we come across a gang of schoolgirls; they're riding scooters just like ours, and they're hanging out in the middle of nowhere. When we ask them about the waterfall, they all burst into giggles and then point down the road we're on, indicating (we think) that we're almost there!
Leaving the twittering group behind, we push on as the road deteriorates rapidly. Soon the bouncy ride is reminding me of our partially failed attempt at piloting a 30 year old scooter to a Star Wars set in the desert of Tunisia. I'm starting to wonder if this is such a good plan, when we dead-end into the road we're supposed to be on. Phew. A right turn should lead us directly to the falls.
There is no one at Pongour Falls except us and the two people manning the gate. Though there are signs for facilities, the whole place seems abandoned, and it becomes clear that our search for the elusive falls isn't over yet. Though we've made it to the site, and we can hear the falls in the distance, we're not entirely sure how to reach them. There are several dirt paths to choose from, but none lead towards the water's edge.
Surely there is a more direct route, but in the end we give up and climb down a steep embankment to the river. From there, we go rock hopping as far as we can towards the edge. I am so proud of Tara as she leaps ahead of me, nimbly jumping from boulder to boulder. It wasn't so long ago that this sort of thing would have terrified her.
I'm sure this track would have been covered in water during the wet season, but as it is, we're able to climb right down to the crest of the falls, peering over to watch great gushing streams of water leap off the cliff. Even though the water is hardly flowing compared to what it could be, the rocky view is spectacular.
Getting comfortable, we sit on a large boulder, side by side, mesmerized by the view. After watching the flowing falls for a bit, enjoying the misty spray in our faces, it's time to go home. The golden hour has arrived already, and we'll have to hustle to get back before nightfall.
Though we're a good eighty kilometers from Da Lat, and will likely arrive just as the sun is setting, there is relief in knowing that no matter what kind of terrain lies ahead, home is just a flick of the wrist away.