Earlier this spring, Oxalis received an email from a very special family indeed. This family was represented by Tina, a Wish Coordinator at Make-A-Wish® Minnesota, who wrote to us on behalf of a tenacious young man and his family. For those who may not be familiar with Make-A-Wish®, the foundation’s mission is to grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy.
Tina explained that Robert, the young man she wrote to us about, had expressed that more than anything else in the world he wanted to see the world’s biggest cave. We learned of his thirst for adventure, his love of caves and the outdoors, and his extensive hiking and camping experiences. We spoke to Robert’s mom Jennifer and heard stories of his strength, determination and ability to overcome. Through her testimony, we recognized that she just wanted for her son that which he wanted most: the chance to live life to the fullest and join us for a great adventure. After some discussions with the ever-patient Tina, and chats with our cave expert/technical advisory team, we all decided that the best fit for him would be a private 3-day tour into the wild jungle and caves of Tu Lan.
Located over an hour from Phong Nha and nestled into an expansive and beautiful river valley, the Tu Lan caves system is comprised of a variety of thrills and amazing scenes: hiking, swimming, and spelunking through caves with dry passages, river passages, and some of the most beautiful formations around. A tour to Tu Lan includes trekking through lush jungle, camping in the remote jungle and a cave, and swimming through mysterious river caves. We planned their tour for early August, and also set up a homestay for the evening before their tour in the village located next to the Tu Lan caves system, for an added cultural experience and chance to see how the true local Vietnamese live.
Robert’s family was high-spirited as they set off on the morning of their excursion with Oxalis tour guide Vu leading the way. Vu is a gentle yet strong leader, hailing from Hue, and he has just completed his first year on the Oxalis team. As Jennifer recounted after the tour, “Our entire family loves Vu. He was the perfect match for us. He is such a genuine soul and we felt completely safe with him as our leader.” (Great work Vu!).
Over the course of the next three days, Vu, the porter team, and Robert’s family made their way past both physical obstacles including caves and jungle, and many mental obstacles as well. As Jennifer confided in us, her daughter Elizabeth especially overcame some past fears. Whereas she had once been a bit tentative of trying new things and traveling too far from home, she developed a new found desire to travel more and has even said that she is homesick for the jungle since arriving home! Her fears most likely stem from worrying about her brother, but by the time she reached the end of the tour, she had witnessed her brother’s strength and gained some of her own. She loved swimming through the caves, and her sister Hannah loved climbing up through the steep and tight spots, such as in Tu Lan cave. All of the kids were in awe of the countryside and villages, and gained a new self confidence in themselves and their abilities. They discovered the joys of international travel and immersion in different cultures.
With Jennifer hoping to return to conquer Son Doong, Elizabeth planning to return for another trek after her collage graduation, and Robert’s love of the caves, Oxalis certainly hopes to welcome this incredible family back to Phong Nha in the future.
@Robert: We wish you all the best and are proud to have been able to help you achieve your dreams, albeit on a slightly smaller scale than Son Doong. Thank you for trusting Oxalis to do our part in fulfilling your aspirations to journey through the Vietnamese wild with us! We couldn’t be happier to hear from your mom that the trip was even better than you imagined and exactly what you wanted.
@Make-A-Wish Minnesota: You are a fabulous organization serving a very worthy cause and we are thankful that you connected us with Robert and his family. All our love and best wishes,
Oxalis Adventure Team
Pictures provided by Robert’s family