Phillip Cabrera's Blog

March 16, 2011

It's time to relax

We had our final dinner with Project Vietnam Foundation (PVNF) Friday at a hotel restaurant in Hanoi. I got contact information from PVNF members and then we went our separate ways the next day. My class’s destination was Halong Bay. This entire trip has been one big highlight reel.

The bus ride to Halong Bay took three hours from Hanoi. We immediately boarded our private boat – an entire boat to ourselves for the night. It was time to relax and enjoy the scenery of what I consider to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. I would come to Halong Bay for a honeymoon or would travel here with that special someone.

Puppy in Bac Kan, VietnamClassmates share a beverage at the top of a restaurant in Hanoi. Courtesy of Melissa Hoon

We went cave exploring and saw the Surprise Cave, which could easily have been mistaken for an Indiana Jones movie set. A great part for me while exploring the caves was the exercise. We hiked almost vertically to get to the entrances of the cave. The next morning, some of my classmates and I hiked a steep incline to the top of a lookout point. Other adventures included me putting my body to good use and setting off a sweet cannonball off the boat into the bay. The water was so cold that I didn’t want to stay in long, but that jump made it worth it. I swam with my classmate Keith, while my classmates Johnny and Lucio shot photos of our sweet dives. The rest of the class kayaked around the bay. Then we had dinner and relaxed for the rest of the night.

My favorite part of this trip aside from the beautiful surroundings was the quality time I spent with my classmates. I haven’t had bonding time like this with people since my semester abroad in Italy in 2008. It’s great to sit in a group talking about anything and everything. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much in a 24 hour period. Being able to share this experience with my peers is what made this experience so bittersweet – bitter because it’s almost over and sweet because I was lucky to be involved in a program with such talented and amazing people. I’ve been lucky enough to gain 14 new lifelong friends.

A friend of mine gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever been given. They told me once I get home and I begin to adapt to reality, my old friends at home will be eager to know about my adventures and how I was a celebrity in Vietnam among the other shenanigans. I will do my best to describe those stories to them and they’ll appreciate what I went through. But they will never fully grasp what I’ve seen. They won’t understand the pain of having to turn people (including children) away from getting the medical attention they desperately needed, or how happy we made people who needed help. My classmates and I are lucky to have that bond, which is why I know that in 10 years when we get together for a reunion, we can talk about these things as if they occurred yesterday.

The first few days back home are going to suck, especially after such an experience. I’ve been through it before a couple times. Now all I can do is reflect. I am changed.

“You were lucky enough to see the other side of the coin,” said Tom, the PVNF dental team leader. “Now you have a responsibility to spread the word that this is real.”

Being on this trip has brought so many smiles and tears to my eyes that I still get goosebumps thinking about what I have seen. The great thing about this is that I know I’m not alone.