Winter Break: Castaway Island

Previous: Day and night on Halong Bay
Next: Back to Hanoi

Breakfast was at 7:30 AM the morning after our first night on Halong Bay, which was spent on the junk boat. All of the passengers had to be checked out of the bedrooms by the time we gathered in the community room and awaited instructions on how the day would play out. Breakfast consisted of an omelet type egg dish with chopped onions, as well as salty ham, fresh cucumbers and tomatoes, watermelon and stacks of bread with butter and jam available. My girl and I strutted in feeling pretty good, somewhat refreshed and excited to see more of amazing Halong Bay. Others looked like they got run over by an 18 wheeler, most likely welcoming the day with only a few hours of sleep.

After handing over the room keys and throwing down our food, most of us wandered up to the top of the boat to catch the beautiful scenery as the anchor lifted and we set off to meet the transfer boat. It was here that we found out indeed, a handful of these people in fact did only get a few hours sleep. Turns out the party went well in to the evening. We had no idea. I said it before, we totally lucked out with the location of our room because we didn’t hear a thing. They may have been up late, but at least the people we were sharing our time with weren’t too out of control. I’ve heard awful stories of people having no such luck.

Several conversations broke out as we lounged on the deck chairs and admired Halong Bay, and the sun finally decided to make an appearance for the first time. We discussed the differences between American and Japanese culture, and how that compares with Korean culture. A few of the girls from England started talking about their years teaching English in Korea. I enjoyed talking about Korean food and culture with other foreigners who had spent more time there than I had up to this point. They brought a reflective perspective having been removed for over a year now as well. One of them had some crazy things to say about dating a Korean man, and what it was like attempting to assimilate in to a family that could care less about who you are and where you come from. And before we were done, somehow the group conversation even turned to how crazy Sarah Palin is.

We had to say goodbye to the few passengers that were not continuing on with us to Castaway Island as we boarded the transfer boat. At the same time, the people that stayed on the island the night before were hopping back on to the Jolly Roger. As far as I know, no one talked to any of them, or had the bright idea to ask them what their experience on the island was like… and it’s probably better that way.

Yang was spitting some Halong Bay history as we traveled past some of the floating fishing villages on our way to the island. This part of the commute offered a new view of the bay because we were able to see the picturesque surroundings from a few feet above the water instead of from way up on the Jolly Roger. We ate Oreos and talked to Yang about life. He shared some of his story with us, talking about moving from the country to Hanoi for opportunity, learning English and gaining employment in the tourism industry. I shared a bit about why I was living in Korea, and some about my former career and the downturn of the American economy. He came across as a good dude who has learned a lot about the world as a result of meeting so many interesting people coming and going to Halong Bay.

As we pulled up to Castaway Island a bit of a panic spread among the group. At first glance, it was not very glamorous. We could see a rock climbing area, a few huts and some kayaks, and that’s about it. And making matters worse…it was not any warmer than the previous day. In fact, the sun was gone again and the wind had picked up.

The first group of us had to gain access to the island via little rowboat that was leaking water. The remainder of us were able to jump on the ski boat that is used for wakeboarding and tubing. Once on the island, most people dashed to the sleeping area to claim their slumber space for the evening. There were sleeping mats, thick blankets and mosquito nets as advertised, but to everyone’s surprise… the huts had no walls, and although they did have a roof over top, you were completely exposed to the elements. I think it was then that someone in our group informed us that their friends who had been to the island before shared their time with rats. Awesome.

We gathered under the main hut structure to meet the people from the hostel that lived and managed operations on the island. Not to sound judgmental, but what a group of burnouts. I don’t remember dude’s name but one eyebrow was white. He spent a few seconds explaining that lunch was at 12:00, dinner was 7:00 and that we’d know it when we heard the gong. If anyone else hits the gong, they would have to buy a round for the whole island. The bar is over there. The bathrooms are over there. Sign up for wakeboarding and tubing so he has something to do. Then he was off to who knows where. I don’t know, maybe if I was stuck on that island day in and day out I’d be a burnout too, but dude was very short and gave the impression that he didn’t give a rip about much.

The afternoon consisted people contemplating whether or not to set out on another kayak expedition, consider tubing or wakeboarding. Those of us that decided not to get back in the water enjoyed watching the water bound get tossed from the tubes at high speeds. There was a lot of complaining about the accommodations and that fact that nobody was warned that the weather would be so frigid. Some of the girls wrangled up the Santa suits that were hanging on the volley ball net and used them for extra warmth. At some point in the afternoon, I think everyone ended up in the sleeping huts for a nap. As we did so the wind was a howling, leaving us with a frigid uneasy feeling about the night ahead.

During this afternoon downtime I ended up having an amazing conversation with the guy from England, who by the time he joined us in Vietnam, had been traveling consecutively for a year. He too was laid off in the world economic downturn, but the difference between him and I… he received a fat severance package and I got nada. I never did ask him what kind of job he had. With this cash he decided to travel, which is exactly what I would have done in the same situation. I still chose to travel, however I’m working as a teacher in Korea. So while he is dominating the world one country at a time, I am only able to take small trips here and there.

His journey had taken him from Mexico, through Central America, South America, India and now in to SE Asia. The most exciting part of this trip was his experience getting to Colombia. If I’m not mistaken, I believe he departed Panama for Cartagena, Colombia. I don’t fully remember the reason why, but he ended paying a private yacht owner to get him there. It was explained as a common practice, something to do with complications crossing borders. But this boat broke down mid-voyage, turning it in to a 2-3 week experience instead of a few nights. He spoke fondly about learning how to sail, learning survival techniques, and becoming extremely close to his hosts through sharing so much time at sea with them. Eventually, a passing freight ship spotted them, dropped a survival kit and informed the Colombian Navy of their whereabouts. A Colombian Navy warship ended up rescuing them, and they were greeted by several news reporters and cameras when they finally stepped foot on dry land.

Summoned by the gong, we all gathered for dinner at 7:00. Post dinner, instead of a party breaking out, everyone took it easy. Partially because most were partied out from the night before, part because the cold day was a bit of a letdown, part because it was now dark, and if you’re not gonna be up late drinking, you might as well go to bed. We sat around talking under the flickering lights of the main hut. The burnouts brought out a deck of cards and failed at a weak attempt to get a game going. One of them slept with his head on the table next to an open beer, the other kept turning the volume up on the ipod speakers even though we kept turning it down. It was too loud to hold conversation, but apparently his Bob Dylan was more important than anything we might be doing.

So by 9pm, pretty much the whole island was snoozing the night away. As the tide rose and the ocean water got louder and closer to our sleeping huts, we all thanked God that the wind had died down and it wasn’t nearly as cold as it was earlier in the day.

My description of the island and everyone’s reactions might make this place seem like a miserable, horrible experience, but it was actually a pretty cool. I enjoyed the people we shared our time with. Even more, I loved the beach and sandy time I got with my girlfriend. It’s fair to say that some sunshine and warmth would have made all the difference in the world.

Learn Korean with KoreanClass101.com

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~ by ripcitytoseoul on January 17, 2010.

5 Responses to “Winter Break: Castaway Island”

  1. […] rest of the Angkor Temples Angkor Wat Hello Cambodia Goodbye Vietnam Back to Hanoi Castaway Island Day and night on Halong Bay First full day in Hanoi Christmas in […]

  2. My name is henry you wanker

  3. […] Winter Break: Day and night on Halong Bay Previous: First full day in Hanoi Next: Castaway island […]

  4. […] in Hanoi First full day in Hanoi Day and night on Halong Bay Castaway Island Back to Hanoi Goodbye Vietnam Hello Cambodia Angkor Wat The rest of the Angkor Temples New […]

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