Hi there, went dark there for a time while on a boat for a night on Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I am now on the bus for the three hour ride back to Hanoi, in the rain.
Quite an early start yesterday, woke at 5.00 am, as usual, and went downstairs to see what was happening to find the front door locked. The night time receptionist appeared to let me out but have to wonder about fire escaping! Anyway, breakfasted and the bus came round to pick me up, on time at 8.00am.
A digression: a number of people have raised a couple of points so let me try to address them here. Yes, this has been a crazy, crazy week, I have been cramming events into my eighteen hour days leaving very little down time for me to just relax. Well that is now done, I have knocked so many destinations off my “bucket list” that I am taking the next two weeks off. I should be on the banks of the Mekong tomorrow in Luang Prabang where I fully intend to just potter and refuel. I wonder if there will be anything to post a blog about? Secondly, so far so good with the gear. Shirts and pants functioning as predicted, amazing how much pleasure I now get from a bath tub with a clothes line. My Packsafe Duffle bag is just right and I can now almost anchor it to an immovable object with my eyes closed. (it has built in theft deterring steel cable and padlock). The e-vest is truly a lifesaver, not only for going thro airport security, but on a daily basis too. I don’t get any odd looks on the street and the hourly tap round inventory is now second nature, as is the zipper check. A quick count reveals that I have eleven zippers sown into what I am wearing right now, not counting that one ! Lastly, the gadgets are proving their worth, here I am typing this into the Notes App on iPad, then will copy and paste it into WordPress when I am back online. I love the camera, Canon S100, it has a great low light feature which over rides the intrusive flash. The phone, with it’s Vietnamese SIM, is a useful tool for calling home (s). I have to say that standing on the shore of the South China Sea this morning having a detailed discussion about the plumbing in San Anselmo Ca. was somewhat surreal. What an age we live in, but I bet every generation says that.
Back to the tale. The three hour bus ride was dull, we, the thirty of us, had to introduce ourselves which I think I coped with adequately. Raised a slight ripple of laughter describing my accent choice, Merkin or Brit. We did stop once at a vast warehouse full of products made by people with physical challenges (PC). We were encouraged to go see the products being made which I did, for about thirty seconds, then I had to leave. I have thought a lot about privilege lately and may discuss the subject later when I have “got it sorted”. The fellow trip mates are six Aussies, four Brits, two Americans, three Canadians, four Dutch and can’t remember where the others are from. Mostly twenty somethings but also some my age ish, which is gratifying, and all very gregarious, going out of their way to be helpful and kind.
We arrived at Ha Long City and embarked into a small boat for the ride out to the cruise boat. Embarked without mishap, the locals really go out of their way to ensure their charges don’t fall in, ha ha. Found cabin, really nice, with bathroom and a back deck on the stern. Off we went. The crew tried to serve lunch as we entered the Bay but those romantics among us bailed on that and took to the top, open, deck. There we stood, open mouthed, gaping at this incredible scene as it unfolded before us. The splendidly named Janet Beveridge Bean, her particular friend Michael Wilkie from Chicago, the nurses from Canada Sandy, Jennifer, Lindsay and a couple from Windsor, UK, just stood there, speechless, taking photos, glancing at one another, I won’t say anyone gasped but there were audible “Wows”
Look up, round, down, up, forward, back, at every angle there was an ever changing exquisite view. Nature at its most magnificent.
We paused to disembark at a cave complex, “The Surprising Caves”. There were three interconnected caves, each one bigger, wider, taller than the previous, high up inside one of the limestone pinnacles. Many stairs but worth the energy. I was reminded of the movie “Logan’s Run”. Vast chambers, flood lit so we didn’t stumble, stalagmites, ‘tites and mutters of spelunking from Janet.
Back on board there was a cooking lesson on how to make Spring Rolls which I chose to ignore until it came time to roll your own, which I did. I have say that as Spring Rolls go mine was a masterpiece, however, MISTAKE, I took a bite. Kuong, the guide, rushed over, “Mr Tim Mr Tim, they must be cooked”. Oh. Mr Tim blanched, looked stupid, felt stupid, as Kuong fussed that I must immediately drink a bottle of water and take meds. I did. And panicked a bit. The Canadian nurses thought this was a huge joke, ha ha look at him, he’ll be dead any minute. As someone quipped, I failed cooking class. Please, no more talk of trichinosis. It seems to be ok, thus far. Consulted with nurses during bus break and their general opinion is that as I’m not dead yet I should be all right. Here’s hoping.
Then we got to hang out for a while. Had a beer with Janet and Michael. Determined that Michael is a metallurgical artist and Janet a singer, in three bands. So off we went on that one. We all changed for dinner, well I took my scarf off. Dinner was good, some mystery objects, following my earlier error I was cautious, to say the least. A couple of bottles of Shiraz then Michael kindly broke out the Johnny Walker Double Black Label. A couple of those and a great night’s sleep followed, just as well as my cabin was over the engine room which turned over all night, I didn’t hear a thing.
Up in darkness and was on deck to watch the dawn. Despite a light drizzle it continued to be stunning, I especially enjoyed seeing the monochrome turn to color with the strengthening light. Gallons of tea and a shower later we were off to a floating village, a ride in a bamboo boat and perfectly delicious fruit from a floating market boat.
Back on board for breakfast, more soup, omelets, toast, usual stuff. Then a huge hang around just off shore waiting for the little boat to take us off. Then a shorter hang around while we waited for our bus. And now here I am, 30 minutes out of Hanoi. This has been a great way to spend a bus ride, thanks to those who got this far.
Happy Birthday to Janet Beveridge Bean, and all in all it really was “quite good”.