Our final day in the cave started slowly as cave karaoke went late the night before. It turns out our porters may not have felt very comfortable communicating in English, but they are experts in singing along to Michael Jackson and belting out Bohemian Rhapsody with Explorations students. They were also experts in providing plenty of strong coffee to get us moving once again and hearty bowls of phở to give us energy throughout the day.
We soon left the comfortable confines of Pygmy Cave (only in Phong Nhe is the fourth largest cave system in the world referred to as “pygmy”) and returned to the more difficult terrain of the jungle. Unfortunately, there was no acclimation period. We left the cave and proceeded straight up a mountain while doing our best to not slip right back down to where we started. When we were not navigating mud, we were climbing the karst landscape and scrunching through narrow crevices in the rock. Along the way, we encountered some of the most striking flowers that I have ever encountered as well as several vines that provided us with the opportunity to swing through the trees.
Eventually, it became clear that our group was moving too quickly. Rather than finish the trek only to sit by the side of the road to wait for our bus, Captain took us on the scenic route. We climbed up waterfalls, marveling at the moss-covered rocks on either side of us. Some students elected to move right above the water as they used the perfect holds to boulder along, while others elected to slosh through the thigh-deep stream. Miraculously (at least in our minds), Captain’s route through seemingly impenetrable jungle met up with the faint trail right as we began to hear the distant honking of horns letting us know that we were approaching the winding country road that would lead us back to the land of laundry and showers.
We arrived at the road with smiles on our faces and just enough time to see who won the leech championship (Joseph in terms of sheer numbers, Bacchus in terms of biggest bloodsucker). We had just wrapped up the first round of extraction when our bus came around the corner, offering a cooler full of victory Cokes. We had actually done it! We had finished a journey that no school had completed before. In fact, fewer people have completed this expedition than have summited Everest. And while the countdown to showers and laundry had begun, several students were already making plans for a return trip to this incredible corner of the world. We were all fully aware of how fortunate we were to be able to take part in this adventure, and we knew that we would be telling stories about it for the rest of our lives.
Thanks for supporting the school and making these sorts of trips possible. We could not have done it without you!
It’s not too late to make a gift that will enhance the experience for all Explorations Academy students.