Tuesday, November 27, 2007

You know you have GI stress when.....

you're afraid to sneeze. Well its part of travel I guess. Of course I didn't think it would happen to ME. Thankfully Dr. Bankston gave me antibiotics and such. The boat ride tonight should be interesting. I did not read the fine print on Thai Visa's and therefore did not get the right kind of Visa. I have to go to Burma to renew my Thai Visa so that I can stay longer than 30 days. Not a big deal just a day of travel back and forth across a river. Maybe Burma has toilet paper.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

When it says "sleeper: You ain't sleeping.

Another "sleeper" experience. This time a boat. "Show up at 11pm and you are at the island of Koh Tao by 6 am. No NO don't take the midnight boat; to rough, no blanket and pillow. This better, comfortable." I wished Cindy had been there we would have been cracking up. Well I bought the ticket and showed up at the pier at eleven but could not see my boat. There was a boat there but this boat had all kinds of things on it's deck. Gravel and bricks, wood and other building materials in haphazard stacks, cars, scrap metal, old engines, vegetables in crates, chickens in cages and people in bunks. Yes people in bunks. On the deck, but with a roof and sides to the "bunk house". That was my boat. I wished Cindy could have seen this sleeper. I took the rusted out teeter totter of a plank from dock to deck and made my way over the building supplies and around the chicken cages to the bunk house. It was dark and I was glad. There were about 40 "spots" in bunk bed fashion and lucky for me there was one top bunk position open. ( You'll know later why I was lucky. ) I get up and on the "bed" and am again glad it was dark. I was against a wall and the corner was ... full of ickies. I put my pack there and settled down happy to have a window directly in line with my head. Fresh air. The engine started, there was loud yelling and the engine stopped. This happened several times. Then revving the engine, yelling and stopping. I began to worry about my safety and located the life jackets. All three of them. But before I could log a complaint with the captain we were off. It was smooth at first and I fell asleep to the sway of the ocean. I thought as I fell asleep this isn't bad. The next thing I know the light fixture above my head is rattling so hard that it wakes me and eventually the light bulb pops out and lands beside me. In addition I am making my way to one end of my body then the other inside my skin. You know how you do that, your skin stays put and you move? Then my butt cheeks are being squished to one side and then the other while my body is sliding around inside my skin. Next I begin to slide across the bed as the ship begins to really pitch and yaw. People are letting out a few gasps and I am contemplating my life. During one pitch half my head slides out the window! Lucky me I get the window. I could have slid out to sea at night and all that would have been left was my gear. Now I'm worried. I survey the window and am relieved to see that I probably will not go out to sea. Just about then someone heaves and I hear it hit the floor with a splat. And again. Thank god for top bunks. I put my hands over my ears and start humming. I think of Cindy. We would have been; cracking up? I wonder if chickens get sea sick. I wonder if I will get sea sick. I contemplate my life, again. I am so exhausted I finally fall asleep and when I wake everyone is gone. The ship is docked and being unloaded. I crawl over the light bulb, out of the bunk, around the chickens, over building supplies and off the ship. In two days, I go back to the mainland. On the same ship.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Feeding the Monks

Susan and I decided to participate in alms while in Loas. Alms is the daily early morning ritual of the monks accepting offerings from the people of the town. Everyone lines up on the sidewalk and waits for the monks to go by and when they do the people make an offering of food in exchange for a blessing. I didn't know this was the ritual, so you might say I missed the whole thing. And I did at first. Susan and I hit the sidewalk at 6AM and waited for alms to begin. Of course as soon as I get there I have to poop. I am dancing around, I am anxious I might miss the monks. I don't want to miss the monks. I look way down the street both ways and I can't see any monks. I tell Susan what I have to do and I run back to our room. When I get back all I can see is a dot of saffron. Chit! Dammit if the temple wasn't right across the street behind some trees. As soon as I left the monks slipped onto the street and were completely gone by the time I got back. We did it wrong anyway. We brought no offering, we got no blessing. We decide to try again. The next morning Susan's little Loas boyfriend ( our guide the previous day) picked us up on his motorbike ( I got the "back seat"). Having been a monk himself he was able and willing to give us a lesson in participating in alms. I thought you buy a bowl of rice and give it to one Monk, he says something like "bless you my child" and that's it; I am blessed. No it is even better, you give just a pinch of rice to each Monk and you get many blessings. One blessing per pinch. Susan complained becuase she ran out of rice before I did.

A better cross section than they thought.

Cindy and I had been on a "mountain" trek with a guide in the morning and were on a tour of the city Dalat when our guide got a call. He smiled at us during the call and then after hanging up he said " special offer tonight". That should have been enough fore warning but instead our ears perked up. "You come to village for dance, barbeque and music; half price tonight". "Well maybe" we thought, "free food" I thought, and soon the answer was yes. Later that night we found ourselves on a bus bound for ... little did we know ...glory. Cindy and I, as fate would have it, took the front seat behind the driver. Soon after setting down a man with a huge video camera and serious light started filming people getting on the bus and Cindy and I talking in the front seat. I of course was complaining while being filmed about these canned tours and how they were now going to sell us a film of the whole event. He filmed us while the bus was moving, and us getting off the bus, us going into the "long house" and us sitting down on the tiny benches lining the walls. When I say "us" I mean us in particular. He was filming others but seemed to focus on Cindy and I and an Aussie couple. "This is weird" I said. All night the camera man ran around like crazy filming the ceremony and seemingly, the white people enjoying themselves. While we danced (see the pictures), while we drank wine from a crock ( after everyone else in the place), while we listened to the music and clapped, and every time we participated in any of the ceremonies (see me with the chief). We were offered a barbeque sandwich but poor Cindy ended up with bread and butter (vegetarian). She did get a beer (which helped wash the bread and butter down) and we both drank rice wine. We toasted to good times with the Vietnamese guides many times over. We had a good time really. It was fun to dance and sing but it felt strangely disneylandish. And it was. The film was not for us to buy, it was the beginnings of a tourism commercial to intice Americans and Westerners to Vietnam. We represented a cross section of tourist. They got more than they wanted I am sure.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The last of Vietnam - datbeit

Hue, Hoi An, Dalat - floods, elephants, tribal celebrations, rice wine... karaoke.

So, we suffered through two typhoons that pelted us and flooded the towns we were visiting. We kept moving south hoping to get to better weather. Hue was flooded so we left a few hours after we arrived, staying only long enough to slosh around a bit. Hoi An was flooded as well but we stayed a couple of nights anyway. It would be a charming and beautiful town if not flooded.

On another bus trip to yet another town we stopped in the middle of the night at a roadside bus stop/restaurant. We were traveling along the coast now and the place had a patio out back where the "bathrooms" (squat toilets) were. Stepping out on the patio I looked up and said "Tracy... look!... Stars!!!" That meant clear skies! We rejoiced.

We eventually did get to better weather and things got better as we moved south. Our last stop in Vietnam was a town called Dalat. By the time we got to Dalat we were feeling pretty comfortable, thinking "yeah, we got it now". We were crossing the streets like natives. We had gotten some of the language down well enough that we could be understood now, at least for things like "hello", "good bye", "please", "thank you" and Tracy's favorite "Excuse me, I'm sorry". I was feeling pretty ready to try out the new phrase I had been practicing on the bus. I found it was very important to be able to order coffee with fresh milk instead of the sweetened condensed version they usually drink. I practiced and practiced, repeating it over and over to myself. The next rest stop finally gave me my opportunity. I walked in first and in my best Vietnamese ordered coffee with fresh milk. Tracy walked in after me, ordered coffee and pointed to the fresh milk container in the see-through cooler. Our order came up... Tracy got coffee with milk... I got black coffee. Chit! Vietnamese is hard.

In Dalat we took an elephant ride. I was terrified. It had been raining (duh) and so there was a great deal of mud. This kid (our elephant driver was an 8 year old) was taking our elephant down a path so muddy she (the elephant) was sinking up to her elephant knees. When we started going down a very muddy hill straight into a rushing river I knew we were going to topple head over trunk and be crushed. Of course we didn't but Tracy did say she was a little freaked as well. At one point on the way back she pointed at a path that went up this steep hill and said "someone takes these elephants up those hills!" Not more than a minute later our elephant turns and guess what, "WE'RE taking an elephant up those hills!" It turned out to be a good ride.

Dalat is in the mountains where there is the culture of the hill tribes. We visited one of these hill tribes but that is a story I need to let Tracy tell you.

After Dalat we were on our way to Cambodia to meet Susan.

video

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The sleeper bus

About 90% of the hotels and guest houses in Vietnam also double as tour operators. Some legit some less so. Our hotel manager/tour operator talked us into taking a "sleeper bus" from Cat Ba Town to Hue which was our next destination. We had previously considered taking either a train or flying. "Oh, no... Sleeper bus better, cheaper, more comfortable..."

It was an 11 hr. ride. We met up with 3 other backing-packing travelers and we all took the upper bunk in the very rear of the bus. When several people came back yelling at us in Vietnamese we realized there were assigned seats. With gestures we indicated we weren't leaving and hunkered down as a bastion of stubborn foreigners. We began pointing to the seat assignment on our tickets and pointing in the other direction indicating they should just take our seats. This worked for most. However, one woman.... that onnnnne woman... she just kept yelling. Even without an interpreter we could tell several people around her were telling her to "just go to the other seat for crisssake". Eventually the bus driver intervened and she went away. Tracy said, looking back at us from the front, that we were one big white smudge in the back. What an experience. Being like a roller coaster ride it was dangerous to assume any position other than prone. I cracked my head on the ceiling a few times, smashed my mouth on the back rail, then realized I had better just lie down.

The bus slowed at one point in the middle of the night. It woke me out of my scarce sleep. I looked out of the window and saw what I thought was a roadside accident but then realized it was actually more like a funeral. A woman was lying on a stretcher obviously dead, hands crossed, face covered with one of their conical hats, she was ceremonially dressed. Nearby were lit candles and a coffin. It was so puzzling that this was happening in the dead of night by the side of the road. We often wished we had someone we could have explain to us what we were seeing.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

another side of vietnam

After only about 3 days in the city Tracy and I were ready for some nature so we headed east to Ha Long Bay. According to the wikipedia: "Ha Long Bay (Vietnamese: Vịnh Hạ Long) is a UNESCO World Heritage site located in Quảng Ninh province, Vietnam. The bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various sizes and shapes."

We booked ourselves on a "cruise" on a Vietnamese "junk" which included kayaking. While there were lots of cruises and the port area is very touristy the bay is large enough to absorb all of them and we were often in more remote areas where we were the only tourists to be seen, especially when kayaking. It was amazing. We made friends with an Austrian couple and two British ladies whom we saw again later in one of the towns we stayed in further South. The Austrians were on their way to a wedding in Ho Chi Minh City and invited us to the party. All of them invited us to visit them at their homes which is a distinct possibility. It was such a welcome change from the city. The food was great and we often sat on the deck after dinner drinking wine and talking culture and politics until well into the night.

Our guide "Chu" was wonderful and took very good care of us. He was impressed at our kayaking skills and basically let us go where we wanted which was very excellent. While kayaking in the bay we were able to visit the floating villages. People live in these villages floating on the bay year round. We were able to get out of our kayaks and visit the village school house and meet the teachers and "speak" with them a little bit. This was a special treat as it was not a standard stop on the cruise tours and it was just Tracy, me and our guide visiting.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

jaw dropping hanoi

Cindy here. Tracy has wanted me to post about our Vietnam experience so here is the first of the installments. This first one is of Hanoi. It really was an indescribable time so I've posted some movies and another slide show.
You can see Tracy was still a bit stunned later that night. You can see a professional street crosser (dressed in blue) towards the end.
There are no rules, no traffic lights, and no hesitating. This is not rush hour, it is like this constantly. video

Tracy and I eventually did very well crossing the street. video

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Live on the Vietnam show...

More coming soon... maybe on your T.V. screen...... Miss all of you guys. Cindy just left. I am sad; we had a great time and could have gone on and on.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Goooood bye Vietnam

Well we've had fun but we are on our way out. But not yet. Right now we are in Natrang which is a tourist town. The Miami beach of Vietnam,sort of. There is not as much abject poverty and panhandling here as in the North of Vietnam. People still do "accost" us at any time, during dinner, breakfast or any walk we take. They sell everything from raincoats to the tours on which you will you use the raincoats. They sell books, postcards,shoes, sunglasses,and watches. They sell food and drinks of everykind of course and they do this on every corner. Cindy and I noticed that also on many of these corners there were old water bottles filled with pink, green sometimes orange fluid. We wondered what on earth these bottles were doing on the ground ? They were often tied to a post or a large rock; they were obviously meant to be there. Then we saw the answer. A bicycle pump. The fluid was soapy water used to find the holes in the tires of the passing motorbikes and bicycles. (Well they had to stop to find the holes. ) Once we noticed the pump we started noticing tools, compressors and patches, usually stashed behind a tree or post and a waiting repair man close by. It was the only entreprenurial venture we had not been subjected to. And I think the only one we will NOT be subjected to. We've met travelers that were brave enough to rent a motorbike or bicycle and had actually seen a few blue eyed white people going by, but we couldn't bring ourseleves to do it. Call us chicken, go ahead. We just didn't want to end up in the market.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Finally

I picked up Cindy at the Hanoi airport at 11:30 pm. (No, I did not drive, are you kidding?) It was, of course, a relief to finally see her beautiful face. We had our hello's and such but quickly had to follow the driver to the car. It was great to watch her in the taxi. Vietnam was so compelling she was drawn to look out the window as I talked (what about me... me, me, me, me?). The next morning we hit the streets... around noon. When we got out there I watched her and I realized what I must have looked liked the day before. I would start down the street, eventually realizing I was alone. I would turn around to see Cindy, still where we started; standing, mouth open and eyes wide. The Vietnamese must wonder why we are so surprised at their life. What hit Cindy as particularly interesting were the street "restauraunts", but they would be more aptly named sidewalk kitchens. Every ten feet on the sidewalk there would be one to three tables as big as a milk crate and a few tiny, tiny chairs (think kindergarten)around each table. The cook would be squatting,working over a small hand made ceramic "stove" set out near the street. The "restauraunt" would be serving one thing. Of course that one thing had just been killed and cut up at the market and then prepared at the feet of the squatting cook. It took us a long time to get up the nerve to eat at one of these places but we were determined to do it. We would stop,stare, discuss our options and usually move on. Then we did it. We stopped at a noodle soup kitchen. Oh my gawd that chit was good. Luckily,our dinner was "saved" by a nice woman who sat down at our table. The woman grabbed Cindy's hand after Cindy had pulled a small scoop of reddish liquid from a bowl and made her pour most of it back, then smiled and nodded at her. It was a good move. Just the little bit left on the spoon was a potent amount of heat. We ate, waited to watch a local pay, then walked up and offered the same amount. The total for our dinner... $.70 USD. Of course the very next minute I spent 4 or 5 dollars on orange pop and desert.