Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Snakes, Islands, flat tires, and a moral dilemma

I finally watched the video that inspired Danny to want to do this trip.  It wasn’t youtube... it was actually an episode of Top Gear, which is a british car show.  This particular episode they do just what we did (or we them really). Buy bikes in Ho Chi Minh, and drive to Hanoi. If you’d like to get a visual idea of what we did, and laugh till your belly hurts, watch these!
We left off last in Hoi An. What a quaint and charming city. We sat at a little riverside cafe, indulging in local flavors, relaxing enjoying the atmosphere that I picture for Barefoot Village! Open, airy, a bit disheveled but well thought out, natural, inspiring, and with fantastic views :). We took a little boat ride with a tiny little Vietnamese woman (she being more than happy when I wanted to help paddle). We partook in Hoi An’s biggest claim to fame: custom clothing. This was just plain fun. I went thru magazines, picked out whatever cuts I wanted, whatever fabric I wanted, whatever fringes I wanted. I bought 5 dresses and Danny 4 suits. Went there 3 times for fittings and adjustments. And they made it ALL in 24 hours. One day! Crazzzzzyyyyy!  Can’t wait to wear them in 2 months! hah ;). Then to the beach where we had a swim, a sunset, a margarita, and a great conversation w/  a lovely local girl named Lan.  Her father was in the war. He was injured and could never work again. He won’t talk about it, brings back bad memories. I bet:(.  She says she thinks a lot of US people say they are from somewhere else when here. I have intense mixed emotions about that. I couldn’t do it, even though a couple times (around old men especially) part of me pondered if I should, but I just couldn't.  This RTW trip has shown me more than ever what an absolute extreme incredible blessing it is to be an American, and for no reason will I ever deny or dismiss that.]

Great sign at Slow Food, an awesome cafe
Despite the brown water, Hoi An is super cute :) 

She hugged me when I gave her extra $. Love her :)

Loookkking sharp in a custom made suit!

From there, we drove to Hue. Hue was the capital of Vietnam from 1802 till 1945, a UNESCO site, and supposed to be well worth a visit.  Our plan was to leave early for the 3+ hour drive, stop at marble mountain (caves and climbs and a zillion statues = super neat) and spend the afternoon touring the 100km perimeter moated citadel, in time to catch our scheduled 5pm bus (We needed to buy some time in order to do all we wanted up North).
The drive, by choice, ended up taking forever. Marble mountain was too neat to speed thru, a stop at the famous China Beach seemed appropriate, and then we reached the Hai Van pass. This section of road was p-h-e-n-o-m-i-n-a-l.  Oceanfront, thru the mountains, a green and blue heaven. Amazing views and barely any other traffic. I got neck cramps from looking around so much ;).  Ammaaazing. If you’re a road tripper, add this one to your bucket list. Once thru the mtns, we pull into a cafe for lunch. It rained while we were eating and stopped before we were done. How convenient :)   We drive on, intending to gain some time for our Hue visit, when my back wheel starts tweeking. Luckily I was able to stay upright, and fortunately we were only one block from a shop. How convenient. :). 30 mins repair, pay and drive on. Unfortunately, five minutes later, second flat. One block from a shop :). 30 mins, a new tube this time, we pay and drive on. Five minutes later, a THIRD flat! Obviously something in the tire, a hand signal/ demonstration/ somewhat humorous request for an extra thorough search thru finds a sliver of steel the others had missed. Whew!  We got to Hue at exactly 5pm on the dot. Bus was late, so we had time to baby wipe wash up, reorganize our packs, and get some snacks.  So much for our Hue adventure! We did get to see a bit of the moat and the outer wall from the bus window ;) HA!

Marble mountain treasures :

I've never been around so much cheese in my life ;) 

Heeellllllooo Hai Van Pass!

Truly awesome drive
Flat #1. He did a super thorough patch on the inner tube... 
HUE! ... from the bus ;) 
This may seem like an afternoon of inconveniences, but we both felt like it must have been meant for us not to see Hue. How lucky that every flat tire happened to being right next to a bike shop and to arrive exactly at 5pm? Too perfect.  Maybe Hue was a place we’d have gotten attacked my killer slugs? Who knows, life works as it’s supposed to :).

Our ride was a sleeper bus (which I didn’t even know existed) with double decker chair beds. Awesome. I slept all thru the night, and our bikes came along in the storage compartment underneath. I suppose we ‘cheated’ in our cross country adventure, but certainly I still feel like an accomplished road tripper :) We arrived to Hanoi at 6:30am the next day. The big reason we jumped ship on driving was a famous 3day-2night excursion to Halong Bay Danny had heard of. We wouldn’t have had time if we’d driven. First thing we do is go to the booking place, only to find out there’s a typhoon coming and all trips to Halong are cancelled today and tomorrow! Shucks! Instead, we take a very leisurely 2 days exploring Hanoi.

Free deer rides at the Botanical Gardens

Sweet dragon at the Temple of Literature
I’m quite impressed with this place actually, Hanoi. We stayed in the Old quarter, just a mess of crazy streets with zero rhyme or reason.  Each street is set up as a seller of certain things. There are a few exceptions tossed in, but for the most part, there’s an entire street selling stuffed animals. Plastic goods. Handiman stuff. Swimsuits. Flowers. Mystery meat. You name it. And my shopping weakness: shoes! This street was hard for me to ignore, but the thought of haggling helped keep me away ;)
Hanoi, like any big city, is a crazy mess of people.  A zillion bikers (saw one guy carting huge ceramic pots and a goose!) and haggling galore. Danny came up w/ a hilarious (to us) joke that the haggling in Hanoi is hannoying ;) heheh. The bikes are a very welcome escape. I love freedom. We go see some sights, take a lake swan boat ride in the rain (to make up for the missed one at Ta Cu), have ice cream on a giant boat shaped like a dragon, and my personal favorite, we drove around the entire West Lake!  This was awesome. +/-90% of it is right on the water!! Such a great medley of Hanoi in less than an hour. Definitely some of the swankiest parts of the city, mixed in with the little tiny fish shacks. Tons of fishermen, expats, even some swimmers, a ferris wheel, architectural gems of temples and pagodas, giant dragon statues, and... ginormous ponds of lilies!!! Soooo cool! Some had giant pink flowers on them, loved these! We came across this honestly (even though now I see it's all over the internet) so it felt like we discovered a real treasure. Glad to see others enjoy it! :)

As you can see, the swam are immaculately maintained ;) 

Our last two days we got to do the much awaited Halong Bay trip, and it did not dissapoint! This place, also a UNESCO World Heritage site, is absolutely amazing. The bay consists of some 1,600 mostly unihabited islands! They have been formed in a similar fashion as the Pinnacles I just visited, by millions of years of erosion, but these jut up from the water, creating this simply wonderful polka-dotted-island-venice-type-water-journey unlike anything I’ve seen. The islands themselves are beautiful, being on a boat of course just a pleasure, plus then you come across these little floating villages-- where some people live their entire lives, never setting foot on the mainland! Wow!!!  At the place we went kayaking (which was super neat, going in and out and thru little caves and tunnels) there were two little boys about 3 and 5.... interesting to think they may not know what running thru a field feels like.  We toured through a ginormous cave (also reminiscent of Mulu), and spent an afternoon on one island with a beach and a stairway to the top for a 360 view. Wow-- this place is amaaaazing! Boat jumping, drinking and Becky’s famous games followed on our overnight boat stay ;) At one point, I decided to sneak off for a midnight swim to see what the other boats were doing, which may or may not have have resulted in the freaking out of staff when I turned up missing, the launch boat being sent to look for me. Oops! Luckily I was almost back by then and they were actually quite chipper when I swam on by yelling how great the water was ;). Hhaha. Probably not the best decision I’ve ever made... at least I was conscious enough to take a life jacket ;)

Best vantage point ;)

Approaching the amazing!


Up close and personal

Floating village
Floating 7-11 ;)

View from the cave. We weren't the only ones that thought this place was awesome.
It was a bit like Disneyland in some part
This cave was humungous!
Kayaking thru mini caves!

Group jump!!!
View from the top of Titop Island :)
This place really is amazing.
Back to Hanoi the following evening, just in time to join a tour to Snake Village.  We’d heard of this Vietnamese tradition, of  killing, eating, drinking the blood of snake. I wasn’t sure about it but I thought I’d go and experience the culture of it. I found out something quite definitively about my adventurous spirit; it does not extend to killing of animals.  I’m not trying to be an animal activist, I am not a vegetarian, I don’t condone what the others did (well, mostly) ... I just couldn’t stomach it. Here’s a random, strange fact about me: I don’t like to eat meat off the bone. I will (and have) in circumstances that required it (like accidental orders or being offered or trying something like frog legs just to try) but in normal everyday life, I eat chicken breast, only. Not drumsticks, thighs, or any other part where I might see a vein or a bone, or god forbid that nasty poop line in shrimp. I don’t eat chicken wings, prefer a fillet if I’m going to eat a steak, and when served fish, lobster, crab, etc...I prefer it just the meat, not all the stuff that keeps it looking real. Pretty much I’m someone who prefers to not think (or see) that I’m eating an animal. Vegetarians and animal lovers please don’t hate me for that comment. And maybe don’t read on about what went down next at snake village. 
Eight of us go. At first it’s cute, there’s a dude letting us play around and hold the snake, being silly with it like putting it down our guide’s pants! Is that a snake in your pants or are you just happy to see me? ;) hah. Then the question comes, who want to eat a heart? 5 people say yes (Danny too!), that means 5 snakes have to die:(. Not even a question for me.. no way jose.  Then we sit. They bring the snakes. It’s not just eating a heart though, it’s actually slicing open the snake, and biting out it’s still-beating heart. Squeeze some blood into a vodka shot, and you drink that to chase it down. Then they turn and whack the snack against the ground to finish it off. I was thoroughly appalled.  On the verge of sick stomach actually. This is a strange paragraph for me to write. We killed a snake in Nepal because it could possible kill us. This though, just seemed cruel and unnecessary. But then again earlier in the week I ate a roasted pigeon (or sparrow or quail, we weren't sure which). I eat chicken, pig, cow frequently. Goats, lamb... here probably even some dog and rat, who knows. I just don’t want to see it done? I even tried the snake meatballs and some other tray of snake matter later in the evening. I’m a super hypocrite and I’m feeling sorry and uncertain about it. :(  I decided to drink excess amounts of vodka (plain vodka!) to stop my lips from curling down all night and my mind from fighting. It’s worthwhile to mention the tour we came with is one of the biggest party hostels, and our guide was suggesting shots about every 5 minutes. A few hours and a zillion bottles later, we’re smashed, me more drunk than I’ve been this entire trip.  I forget my heart string tugs, my thoughts that maybe I should go veggie, and party my ass off. It was a ridiculous night, yelling and jumping and chanting and dancing and making more local friends than I've made the whole 2 weeks. Lordy lordy I can be a wild gal. Still crazy sober, but insane drunk. I should not be allowed to have more than 3 drinks, ever!

"make a face about how you feel about all this"

A few hours... and bottles later ;/ Haa
But now I’m sober again. I’ve thought of it many times. I don’t like to be a hypocrite. A sugar coater. Obviously I’ve got a problem with the killing of animals (but spiders or ants are okay?). In 7th grade I couldn’t dissect the frog in science class. I hate seeing all these animals bunched up in tiny cages or overworked. I don’t like to eat things that look like an animal. Maybe I should become a vegetarian? Im super torn :(  Is this a moral issue? I don’t know, I just know I feel bad sometimes, but not when I’m eating a juicy cheeseburger. Is that what being a vegetarian is though? Just a conscious choice not to eat meat, regardless of whether you like the taste of it or not? Can you be a good vegetarian if you aren't strongly invested in that choice? Feel free to share your experience/opinion.
In the end, Vietnam was super beyond any thoughts I had of what it might be. It’s an absolutely beautiful place, friendly people, great new experiences. One complaint, it was definitely too short, missing the real bonding I like to get with more time! Still an excellent adventure... plus now I feel way better wearing socks with toe sandals. Way cool :) 

I sold my bike in the end for $75, tossed my amazingly wise helmet in for free ;) 

1 comment:

  1. OMG the snake thing is disgusting!!!!! I don't think you're a vegetarian though, I think you're just a nice girl who doesn't like to eat gross things!! me too :) however I love shrimp and cracking crab legs :) Mandy <3