Thursday, July 13, 2006

Safe and sound with lots of stories to tell

Where did I last leave you? Ahh yes, a sweaty day in Hanoi. Let's see if I've got what it takes to pick up where I left off. We're waiting for hunger to kick in so we can eat - I've got all the time in the world.

My mother arrived in Hanoi happy and full of energy, which I was happy to see after leaving her all by her lonesome in Bangkok. She made friends, saw shows, and went to a market by herself. Right on Mom. She lifted our melted spirits tenfold when she walked up to us by the lake in the Old Quarter where we'd planned to meet.

After one night in the guesthouse and a daytour of Hanoi (Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum and house, pagoda something-or-other, the museum of ethnology, the temple of literature) my mom had had it and checked herself into the Hilton. So much for backpacking. We relished in the air-conditioned life of a person who can enjoy happy hour for free. We felt happy. Then we ate ourselves silly at a restaurant when we weren't even hungry. We said our goodbyes, mom went her way and we went back to the little guesthouse (which was fine, really).

The next morning we departed on a three day trip to Halong Bay which is a beautiful bay with 1000s of high, rocky islands. We met some great people (all couples except for one family of four - the kids loved us!) and a friendly solo traveler named Pat. So much for meeting some singles in the bay. They were an interesting crew and we had a good time swimming, exchanging stories, kayaking, and eating with them. Except for that time I was stung (rather badly) by a jellyfish. It hurt like crazy and I blistered up like a freak. I still have marks.

Let's move this along. On Wednesday evening we returned to Hanoi at 5 to catch our pre-booked sleeper train to Hue, a city 13 hours by train South of the capital. The ticket situation was sketchy - we booked it on Sunday with our guesthouse and they kind of flip flopped on us and then told us they'd meet us at the cafe where we were returning from our Halong Bay boat trip. I didn't think the ticket would materialize but it did.

So we boarded the train and half past six and found our berth. Our berth!!! We chose a hard sleeper (we figured we were used to rock hard and wouldn't splurge on the soft) and we were sharing this choice with four others; a father and son, a man, and a young woman. D'Arcy and I were on the bottom bunks, the father and son were above us, and the man and woman were above them. Yep, it was a three level bunk system in a tiny room about eight by ten feet. I may be exaggerating. It was the craziest thing, really. During the night the father and son played tunes on their cell phone (cell phone music makes me want to stab myself in the eye), talked loudly, and generally were disruptive. The young woman decided she would go ahead and sit herself down on D'Arcy's bed whenever the urge struck her.

We were lulled to sleep by the jerking and rocking of the train.

Hooray, horray, we arrived in Hue at 8:30 this morning. We have limited time though so we decided to cut Hue out of our itinerary and head straight to Hoi An which everyone has said is the greatest. Coming out of the station we were ACCOSTED by taxi and moto drivers. I couldn't quite believe it. We took the walking option for a while and then felt the heat and jumped in a taxi to the bus station. At the station it turned out there were only buses to Danag which is on the way so we took it.

The bus pulled away and a few minutes later the crazy-money-collector lady began her collecting. She made her way down the aisle and we were careful to note how much the other passengers were paying: 30,000 dong. When it came our time to pay we handed her 60,000 dong for both of us. She refused and wanted to make us pay 50,000. All heads turned to look at the foreigner freak-show at the back of the bus and we fought for our rights. She gestured that our bags cost extra. Other people had bags and didn't pay extra. She gestured that we have big noses and thus have to pay more. We shook our heads and couldn't believe her. This went on for a good five minutes or more until she got a nun to come speak to us, in French. Luckily D'Arcy is fluent (I can understand and speak well enough but not great) and we talked the situation over with the nun. Everyone was still watching. In the end we payed the bi-atch 40,000 dong and got a healthy tongue waggle and angry face from her. Ugh.

30,000 dong is worth 2 USD, 40,000 is worth 2.75 USD, and 50,000 dong is worth 3.25 USD. (Give or take a few.) It's the principle, people, the principle.

An old woman vomited twice on that ride.

We got to Danang and took a bus that had more sweating people stuffed into it than is really humanly possible. There were bicycles strapped to the roof. I wouldn't be surprised if there were chickens and pigs riding with us but there weren't.

We arrived in Hoi An at around half past noon today. Phewf. It had been a really crazy way. We found a place to stay (and caught a ride on our first motos - yikes!) with air con, a pool, and a cheap minibar and collapsed.

Did you know this is the cheap tailoring capital of all the land?? I'm having them remake a favourite black cardigan so that it's new and fits better. I had intentions of having more things made but can't seem to get myself to do it. I'm too lazy, you see. Any advice about tailoring?

Tomorrow we're going to the beach. Yeah, the beach! I hope there are no jelly fish.

So, things are going well, we're holding out fine, and feeling pretty good. Though it's cooler in Hoi An I can feel sweat pooling in my 'knee pits' and dripping down my calves. Hot, baby, hot.

I think I'm getting hungry.

Miss y'all. See ya when I see ya!


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