I said it in the last post but I feel it important to say it again here... this trip of a lifetime, yes a lifetime was made possible by Eddie Bauer. We were sent to work and play and be alive in spirit and adventure - they gave us the open ended opportunity to create our own itinerary, to move freely through countries and place as well as offer the unimaginable freedom to create our imagery the way we best see fit and therefore in its truest form. It was an experience I will always be thankful for and it is one we do not take lightly.
We arrived in Vietnam after 34 hours of travel. I remember not knowing what day it was or really what time it was and that to me was ok, better than ok really because the disorientation was necessary to experience this trip in full. I needed a clean slate, to be a blank sheet of paper that would leave with ink blots, scribbles and eloquent nonsense written in every margin and on every line after five weeks in Southeast Asia.
Hanoi is sound and color. Scooter horns overpower any conversation. It is its own language too, indicating, "I'm here, watch out" instead of the western, "move out of my way." It's a form of courtesy, a means for safety. Observing the streets of Hanoi is to witness organized chaos at its highest level. The congested streets of NYC are infinitesimal in comparison. We walked around for hours, getting lost down back alleys, stopping for 25 cent coffee and $1 fruit smoothies. We found the night market, a mile long street market selling everything from light bulbs to underwear. The air was thick, almost swimmable. Vivid blues and greens appeared in everything from the plastic stools we sat on to the street signs.
The next morning we woke at 5:30 to catch a 30 minute cab to the local bus station. The Hoang Long Express took us two hours to a mini bus that took us another two hours to a ferry. The second we were on the ferry it took off, possibly leaving behind some poor fools who took the opportunity to use the bathroom. 45 minutes later we were on another bus to our destination, Cat Ba Island.
Cat Ba is a vision. "We're in Jurassic Park," I whispered to Matt, over and over again. The road to the island snaked up and around vines, lush greenery, endless plants and trees. We were in a globe of those greens and blues - for miles and miles this was my only reference of colors.
We checked into a modest room leaving everything we owned on the bed and made quick to find the cheapest scooter rental. For hours we rode around the island. I sat close behind Matt, squeezing his legs with my own, my fingers on high alert snapping photos of the treasures at every turn. Over the next few days we explored the lesser known island by foot, scooter, wooden boat and kayak.
The floating fishing village caught me off guard. I've never seen so much life on such a small portion of water. Kids playing in their floating homes, satellite dishes on top every roof, power running from cords secured to the sides of cliffs. People were eating and sleeping and fishing and cleaning at every glance. No one bat an eye at us. What does it feels like to be looked at with such curiosity, to be ogled as if you're in a fish bowl? Does it feel like anything at all?
That afternoon we made the hike back to Hanoi, from bus to ferry to bus to bus to taxi. That night I slept like a baby, the sound of the city my comfort.
Journal entry for November 14th: 9 PM on 13 hour sleeper train to Hue...
"I lay in my top bunk as the train coo's. There is a light outside and then it disappears. Again, and just as quickly it is gone. We slither by towns, villages and jungles in the moonlight. Shadow's play on the door to our cabin, our bunkmates fast asleep. For 13 hours we watch a country that is not ours inch by our window. We listen to the trains' work song of metal and rubber. It's our Vietnam lullaby and it is dangerously beautiful, as it has made me never want to leave."
We arrived in Hue around 10 AM. Our guest house fed us generously and we took to the city exploring street food, markets and the Citadel. It was a warm day, the kind of day that has you sweeting from every body crease but I didn't mind because I was in a new city in a new country across the world - everyone I knew and loved was back home, dealing with the fallout of an election and my only worry was the blister on my big toe.
The following morning we rented a motorbike and took off for Hoi An via the Hai Van Pass.
The 145 KM journey was a dream. We rode through villages where men were making boats, Noah and the ark scale colorful wooden boats. We watched women tiny to the ground, crouched over boiling pots of meats and herbs feeding whole communities. We saw goats, chickens and cows roam freely on the dirt road's we were navigating. We rode up Hai Van, an epic collusion of lush green mountainside and ocean and maybe I cried as I sat on at the back of the bike from the overwhelming beauty of it all. We stopped for a coconut at a tiny local hut. We rode over bridges, highways, jungle villages and alongside ocean side resorts (the latter a sad sight.) We arrived in Hoi An and took off by foot to stroll every side alley and dirt path.
Our first week in Vietnam I experienced all the feels. Initially I had this sense of sadness lurking over everything. On the surface it appeared that everyone was living in poverty. That people were forced to sit on tiny stools on the sidewalk and cook their meals outside because they don't have proper ventilation. That grown men are cleaning shoes because they have to, that people are riding scooters because they can't afford cars. I told Matt about my concern and he looked at me lovingly, but slightly mortified.
"Don't you see!" he said, "Don't you get it? This is their culture. This is the good life. They're sitting on stools drinking tea together because they are communal people. They are enjoying their city the best way that exists - close to the ground. They are not hungry, they are not dirty. Look at their smiles. Smell their food! Look at their hands. Look at their eyes. This is a culture of tradition and beauty."
My blind was gone after that conversation. I began to see to and to think that these are the values I should put stock in. I should do more with my hands, be closer to the ground, sit eye level with my neighbor, watch the day turn to night on a bench in my city. Why not right?
The rest of our time in Vietnam was a beautiful blur. We experienced intimate moments of laughter, swam in new bodies of water, indulged in local cuisine. Matt even got a suit made. We exhausted ourselves and yet we barley touched a pinky toe to the surface of the terrain that is Vietnam.
On the Taxi ride to the airport en route for Thailand I wondered when I'd see this place again. How many years will it take me to make my way back here? There are still so many places I want to go that I've yet to see, will I make a repeat trip before I'm thirty, forty? Will tourism change the social climate and am I a contributing factor if it does change? These rhetorical questions have always been in conversation - they are, more than likely, a large part of why we explore. The goal in all of this, I think, though this position will change 123214 times, is to be present and let whatever you may feel or not feel be your authentic experience. Just lean in to your adventure.