I believe in magic, just not the “conventional” kind. Magicians can keep their top hats and magic wands, witches and wizards can keep their sorcery and potions, just give me a wild place, laughter from a friend, a really good song, extreme weather, hope for change, food so delicious you must stop and savour it or anything that conjures a special moment. Magic is everywhere, you just have to adjust your mind set to find it.
Whilst travelling there has been many magical moments, in the little things as well as the big things. Yes climbing a mountain or diving with Sharks is magical but I love finding it in the more unexpected places. Forming a bond with someone who doesn’t even speak the same language as me has been a truly magical experience whilst in Vietnam. Receiving help from a complete stranger, watching positive changes occurring where they need to be, discovering something new that you never even dreamed you would enjoy, all of them completely magical experiences from Vietnam alone.
And then there were the Langurs.
Animals obviously hold the ultimate magic for me and coming across them in the wild is the holy grail of all experiences. Whilst watching these creatures I was completely bewitched. Nothing could break the spell as I sat, entranced by the antics of these beautiful primates. And what made it even more special was that this excursion was not planned. There was no build up of expectations, no preparation, no research. We just rocked up and took it from there.
For fear of this place being discovered and overrun with tourists I will not be divulging the exact location but somewhere in Vietnam exists a critically endangered primate which was unveiled to me in the most spectacular of fashions. My friend and I made a spur of the moment decision to visit a beautifully undisturbed marshland one evening. The whole place is teeming with life and we sailed silently through the reeds and water in a tiny bamboo boat.
The evening was descending but lazily and for once there was no threat of a looming storm. It was a perfect evening to spend in the company of a weathered old Vietnamese woman and my friend who is also immensely passionate about wildlife. There was certainly the promise of magic in the air. Of course when it comes to wildlife there is never a guarantee of a sighting but the journey in the boat was magical enough without seeing our sought after species.
As the Vietnamese woman rowed us onwards through the water with the reeds bowing to let us through we would pass bright red blobs of mystery glued to grass stems. My friend informed me that these were snail eggs. The bird life was abundant and the insects were even more so. Dragonflies danced around our boat, enthralling us with their aerial acrobatics and multitudes of colour combinations as we ploughed ever onward through the vegetation.
The sun was sinking just low enough to start tinging everything with a hint of gold and the silence that surrounded us was exquisite. That evening alone was one of sheer beauty which I had so far failed to appreciate in Vietnam.
And then the Vietnamese woman started pointing excitedly. There they were. Delacour Langurs, one of the most critically endangered primates on the planet.
And they looked like they were wearing shorts!
These Langurs are rather large, lanky and almost entirely jet black but for a bright white patch around their crotch and thighs. I have puzzled over the biological implications of these colourations for a long time but in all honesty, each Langur just looks like it has decided to wear a pair of bright white shorts, fresh from the wash. The contrast in colour is really striking and made them very obvious to spot, even with my short sighted eyes.
We sat adrift in the reeds, watching them on the other side of the bank in their rock fortress. There were quite a few of them and the Vietnamese woman also told us that she had occasionally seen babies. My friend confirmed that there were certainly more than the last time he was here which was fantastic news for the species. Not only were they surviving but they were thriving.
Watching them jump from rock to rock and through the trees that had forced their way between the crevices was incredible, even to just being in their presence felt life changing. Although I had worked with primates for years I had never seen a wild one and particularly one so very threatened by extinction. Whilst planning this whole trip I never even expected to come across wild primates as we weren’t visiting the usual primate strongholds such as South America or Africa. But here they were!
All three of us settled down in the boat as they hopped in and out of our field of vision, far enough away to be comfortable and undisturbed by our marvelling gaze. Although the evening was setting in properly, the heat, in typical Vietnamese fashion was still intense, shimmering off the water and coaxing the sweat from our backs as we watched the Langurs. In fact the old woman became concerned about how hot I was and decided to plait my hair to keep the heat off my neck. Normally this kind of uninvited human contact would create a lot of uncomfortable tension but I was too ensconced in the magic of the moment and just let it all happen whilst the evening blanketed itself around us with a mysterious cozy and calm quality.
The whole evening was sparkling with magic.
We eventually headed back through the reeds and the water whilst the glow of the sun silhouetted the nearby mountains in great contrasting peaks of black against the golden skies. And then we were back on land. The spell was broken, the magical experience committed to memory.
Without a doubt it had been my best evening in Vietnam and an adventure so wonderfully different from all my experiences in Hanoi. There was peace and quiet, nature and wildlife, clear water and open skies. I had doubted whether I would get to experience this side of Vietnam but I am so glad I did. I can easily understand the draws of this kind of escapology that many hope to experience within Vietnam when they come. And the place itself had slowly weaved its magic into me.
Within three months I had gone from fighting it to appreciating it. Hanoi had shown me its charms and quirks, assuring me of its qualities within the illusions of every day life in the city. Thankfully the whole time had been blissfully snake free too. But my time in Vietnam was up, I was to leave this brand of magic behind in search of a new kind in our new destination of Canada.
Leaving the zoo was an intensely sad time, not only saying goodbye to all the keepers and animals that had become like family, but also leaving behind opportunities to create further change. However reuniting with Peter after seven long weeks apart, knowing that I would not have to say goodbye to him again was wonderful.
And as for the fate of the Langurs, let’s hope that they do not turn into magicians themselves and perform a vanishing act that would see them disappear from this planet forever. I hope that they continue to cast their spell over anyone who looks upon them and will forever be able to conjure the light of hope from the darkness.