Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Am I C-R-A-Z-Y?

Born to be wild

So, I have to admit that the idea may have been mine or was it Ellen's way back last May.  Back then I was keen and open to the excitement of driving around on my little semi-automatic Honda 125.  It was a thrill zooming around the chaos of Sisophon and I thought I was ready for bigger and better challenges.  WELL, driving a manual out of Hanoi was only the beginning of what was to challenge and at times scare the @#$% out of me.  As you can see, I did survive, more or less in one piece, once again with bruised ego and a few scrapes and scabs to talk about.

Fortunately I was travelling with a younger and enthusiastic trio from the Netherlands who were very good at making sure all discussions of a discriminatory nature were in Dutch. Or, maybe they were actually so impressed that they didn't want my ego to be inflated by their praise...right.  All in all, I was in awe of their good nature, sense of adventure, and their ability to avoid the beaten track.  I was indeed lucky to have such an accommodating crew who kept me in the middle on the way into and out of Hanoi as I was paranoid about losing my guides and navigators.  So, from the bottom of my heart, I thank Ellen, Steven, and Tessa for their patience and kindness it taking this "olderling" on an adventure I could never really imagine doing...EVER.


A huge city with an old quarter which is what remains of the French influence before Ho Chi Minh liberated the country in 1954.

outside our hotel in the Old Quarter

Fresh flowers everywhere in Hanoi...I so miss that

you don't really get a sense of the bedlam on the streets

And, our first encounter with Pho Bo which was to be eaten at least once if not twice a day during our tour.

Ellen putting in the order...4 Pho Bo "com un" 
Pho Bo (beef) but there is a variation Pho Ga (chicken) 

On the road...

Yes Andy, get those mirrors adjusted!!! 

There aren't any photos leaving the metropolis as we were all so busy concentrating...Me staying alive managing clutch, gears (which are opposite my little Honda), and ready on the brakes; Ellen and Steven, keeping me in sight and navigating us out of the city.  Once we were on the road, the easy rider in all of us took over. 

Get your motor running

Head out on the highway

Looking for adventure

And whatever comes our way

I took off the poncho after this shot...once I was sure the rain had stopped


Ellen's flat

All good things must come to an end I guess.  The easy riders found themselves on a route with major road construction...let the dirt biking begins.

ubiquitous road construction

Oh my, really dirt biking!!!!!

Oops!  Not very good at it yet.  Crash # 1 (to the left)

It is nice to know that we provided the entertainment in this mountain village when Ellen needed repairs to the clutch/gears.  We ended up sleeping in the most basic accommodation...the local shopkeepers shop and "garage".  
Ellen's clutch/gears...kaput!

The scenery on the border with Laos

Fall #2 to the right.  

Well, okay, crash # 2 happened but by then I was really tired of construction, the black muck covered the edge of the pavement which caught the front tire pulling me down on the right this time.  Well, as our Sapa hiking guide said; "now you are balanced in your falls so no more". I would really hate to take all the glory when it comes to injuries.  Ellen gleefully declared that she was the only one who didn't fall during this trip.  It took me a while to think of a come back but she is right.  Let it be said that no one came out of this unscathed.  How is that burn on your leg healing Ellen?  

the town of Sapa close to the border with China

Sapa, is definitely a tourist destination but our intrepid organiser Ellen, managed to find us a home stay in a remote mountain village amongst the Black Mung people.  We saw few westerners and none on our hike.  How Ellen finds these places is a mystery to me but all of our home stays were with delightful people with delicious food.

High in the mountains with the Black Mung indigenous people

Scene from our mountain village home for 3 nights

Our host for 3 nights and hiking guide Dat. Technology is everywhere.  Count them 2  cellphones!

Ice cold water...so, brrrrr, refreshing
part of the hike through rice fields and jungle

View from Dat's guest house in a tiny mountain village

Sitting in the jungle with 2 friends, listening to music, x-stitching 

Boy, are these people fit and so strong!!!!

such simple amusement

Everyone gets in on the act of carrying bricks along the mountain path.
We left Sapa taking a more direct route to Hanoi. The way back was on a busy highway and luckily for me there was very little construction and mostly solid pavement.It was a petty fast trip with a 2 day stay in a mountain park a few hours from Hanoi.  The last day involved a ferry across the Red River which wasn't all that reassuring.  While we were directed to a temporary ferry landing, we witnessed a boat rescue which involved moving vehicles (motorcycles)  from one boat to another with planks as a ramp between the 2 boats in the middle of the river.  Yikes!  Safety standards, what are they anyway? On the home stretch one minute we were looking for a place for lunch, the next we were in Hanoi, at the Hanoi Motorcycle rental shop.  I should have figured it out when Ellen waved me to the middle of the pack, and the traffic started to get really nutso! Good strategy gang.

My final 3 days in Vietnam were to be in Halong Bay with a bit of kayaking but after a long bus ride, and lunch on the boat, Halong Bay was to be evacuated as Typhoon Son Ting or something-or-other was scheduled to touch down at midnight.  So a long journey back to Hanoi in the traffic jams of a Vietnamese evacuation, then a rescheduling of my flight back to Cambodia. To be honest, it felt great to be back amongst the friendly and gentle people of Cambodia.  Would I go back to Vietnam?  Glad I saw it but probably not.  Cambodia is the jewel of SE Asia to me now.  

I will close with a photo of the only glimpse I got of Halong Bay.  Perhaps in another life.  

Getting back a few days early meant I was home in time for a surprise visit from Lauren (see previous blog)and friend Isaac who stopped by on their way through from Bangkok.  Such an awesome way to end my holiday. Once again, it was such joy to see and talk to people with whom I feel a connection.  Not to mention how flattered I was to have had 2 visits from Lauren during her journey.  I would have tried to keep her here but alas, I had to say farewell, as she continues her adventure in this lovely land.  

I will be very very busy for the next 3 weeks before I head to Bali for my next but very different kind of holiday.  Stay tuned.  

I do hope this finds you all well and not too cold with the early snow.  Those of you in Sandy's path, I hope you stay safe and dry.  It sure sounds like a doozy of a hurricane.  Lots of love and hugs from afar.  Miss you all so very very much.  

Sunday, 7 October 2012

friends, floods, and fiddle-dee-sticks

Time to connect before too much more happens and I either get long-winded or avoid blogging at all.  I love the feedback from all of you and need to say that I am so fortunate to have so many lovely friends.  You are such a wonderful group of people.  What a privilege it is to know so many awesome folks!!! (Okay, it may sound a bit schmaltzy but I can't help it! Being alone in a developing country does that :-)

Angkor Wat in the background
Yippee!!! I had my first visitors from Canada a few weeks ago.  I can't express how awesome it was to have guests, great company, and see Angkor Wat with them.  Lauren, Curtis's cousin (a former student of mine) and Jennifer, young friends from Toronto,  stopped by on their SE Asia travels.  I so missed their company when they left and the one week they were here came and went way too quickly.  They arrived by bus, for an overnight stay before we headed to Siem Reap and one of the wonders of the world, Angkor Wat.  We cycled 36 k that day, not to mention going up and down the steep steps of the temples.  Exercise, hum, I have been lacking it big time in the heat of Cambodia.  I must say Jennifer with her Asian background caused quite a stir.  Apparently many of the Cambodians (especially the younger males) consider Jennifer to be one of the most beautiful women they have ever set eyes upon.  And, no one hesitated to mention it.  Males and females would look at her and openly express that she was soooo beautiful.  Jennifer commented that this is the first time she had experienced anything like it.  Both Jennifer and Lauren are beauties inside and out but I may be biased.  You be the judge:-)

preparing to venture out in the deluge of rain for our 20 minute walk home
Below are shots of Angkor Wat through the lens of Jennifer's camera.  Enjoy.

And now from the lens of my camera.

Then back on the home front, FLOODING!! The thunderstorms are amazing with horrendous crashes and booms and flashes of lightning everywhere.  They happen almost daily.  This particular day, the rain flooded the streets within seconds.  The water began coming into my house so I got bucket and mop trying to stay ahead of it all until it was actually flowing in.  All I could do was go upstairs and be grateful I had an upstairs. Others aren't as lucky.

Sorry about the blur...this is my living room! 
My courtyard

A scorpion that came in with the floods

The trick is to wait until the water subsides, let all the muck dry, then sweep it out.  Fortunately, the landlord was here the next morning and created a place for the water to drain out of the courtyard.  However, the floods have brought some frightening creatures into the house.  Moving my shoes irritated a centipede which not only startled me but got my bare feet a hopping trying to get out of the way of its poisonous bite.  They are fast!!! All's well that ends well as I took out my fear on the creepy crawly smashing it into pulp once I caught up with it, shoe in hand.  (A hammer would have worked but the shoe had a bigger smashing surface Anna W.)

Lauren and Jennifer did get to see a Cambodia that tourists don't usually see.  They participated in an enrolment campaign.  The event takes place two weeks before school starts to encourage the community to enrol all the school-aged children.  Here are a few pictures of the event.

Waiting out the downpour

This kid is like about 7 years old and no one bats an eye! 

More waiting

May as well shop while waiting

Ah yes, the "fiddle-dee-stick

Time to get started rain or not

And the band plays on
And then they left...so sad!!!!   Sob, sob.  The thing I miss most are the hugs from home!
Off to visit Vomith's English class.

A different day...school is now in session in spite of the flooding.  So a few glimpses of what I ride my moto through or wade through to get to my schools.  This is nothing!

Sharing a small bag of white rice for breakfast

There is a beauty to the flooding don't you think?
I'm off to Vietnam for a holiday in 5 days and am excited about a break and new adventure.  I'm sure you will hear all about it in the next blog.  Stay well, enjoy the lovely fall colours, Thanksgiving dinners, and the fresh dusting of snow.

Much love and thoughts from afar!