Disclaimer: These are my views and do not reflect the views of the Peace Corps.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Mountains and Islands

Hanoi, 12pm. Off the plane, onto a bus. In the city, kebab stand. Lunch, more Pho. Killing time, read East of Eden. Walk to train station. More kebabs. Sleeper train, 8 hrs to city outside of Sapa. Met some Europeans on the train (Belgium and Sweden?) Woke up to "Taxi! Taxi!" The drivers had come onto the train at 5am to peddle for customers. The first guy, though not pleasant to wake up to, quoted a reasonable price for a ride to Sapa. I slept off and on looking at the terraced rice fields on the side of the mountain. Found a hotel with an awesome shower head and hot water. Went out to a cafe. Hiked up to this natural park/area.

Found this roundabout/twirligig. Hiked in the clouds and mountains. Pictures of mountains on slide show. Spent four days up here in the north, close to the southern border of China.

Afterward, another sleeper back to Hanoi, then straight out to Halong Bay. Spent the rest of the trip on Catba island!

Kayaking (this is posed though, the kayak is actually on the sand...)

The view from the hill on Monkey island.

This is Halong bay.

The crag in the middle of the jungle. (Crag = area to rock climb) A ton of bolted routes. Led a 10b, still got it!

Ho Chi Minh / Saigon

We went out after we went bowling. After splitting a bottle of some fine local beverage in the hotel room, we started off toward a "house/reggae-Japan-relief-fundraiser-concert." The music was ok, but there were hipsters! I hadn't seen hipsters in quite some time, and didn't expect a large hipster population in HCM, but there they were. The most stereotypically memorable one having a rather ridiculous mustache, skinny jeans, large rimmed glasses, a tight plaid shirt, and hair that was intentionally just a little off.

I woke up the next morning with a sore throat. Blah. I think the back and forth bus rides and stale air took its toll on my immune system (maybe the late night and slight inebriation helped too...) We had Pho for breakfast, which was great for the sore throat. It's basically chicken noodle soup. Our plans for the day were: see a movie. We strolled around the city for awhile and went to a couple of different theaters until we found a few English films. We had popcorn and watched Winter's Bone. I thought the film was fascinating, but I don't know if this is because my standards have changed and I hadn't seen a movie in theaters for such a long time, but I want to say it was good. Seeing a real winter and being in AC brought on a feeling of cold that lasted awhile after the movie was over. After a bit more street food, we called it an early night.

The next day we wandered around the city looking for rock climbing. I was jonesing for some rocks. We walked nearly all the way across the city, but finally came upon a small indoor gym. I was still sick, but I pushed through and climbed until my arms gave out. Matt found some dip'n'dots and we took a cab back across town.

Our flight to Hanoi left the next morning, the only snafus being a slightly rigged meter on our taxi to the airport and half a 1.5 liter water bottle (I chugged the first half in front of the security guy, it was completely unopened and sealed, really?)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

On the way to Vietnam

I came into the Peace Corps office a little early to do my mid-service medical exam and dental cleaning. I still don't like the dentist. My teeth hurt for awhile afterward, but they did something to make them very shiny too. I'm not exactly sure what it was as I just lay there with my eyes closed and mouth open and let them do their thing.

A note of explanation (which will make sense later): I have two passports. My personal passport and a PC issued passport. The PC passport has a label on the front "This passport is not for personal use. Return after service." Seems like a pretty unambiguous message.

I had gotten my Visa a few weeks before and put it in my personal passport. The guy at the Visa office assured me this would be fine. The border guard disagreed. My four to five hour trip to the border of Vietnam, stopped there, and I waited around for a bus to bring me back. I didn't have both of my passports and the PC passport has the Cambodia Visa, which you need to leave Cambodia. Blah. False start. Peace Corps was really great about helping me at this point though. They sent a driver to my site to grab my other passport which I'd left at my host family's house and I was on my way back to Vietnam the next day.

At the border, I ran into a few other Peace Corps volunteers who were coming on another bus, but I got pushed through customs and didn't think I'd see them again (as our phones don't work). My friend Matt had brought both passports and was in the day before. I met some friendly Americans on the bus and went with them to eat street food and find an internet cafe. Coming out of the cafe, I ran into the group of volunteers again, and yet again, wandering the streets looking for Matt. We all ended up in a park together and then went to the mall. Matt and I stayed in Ho Chi Minh, while the other volunteers took off for the beach. We played in the arcade and went bowling that night.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

April is the cruelist month?

I'm cold. It' s a wonderful feeling. I'm in northern Vietnam. I've been hiking in the mountains and loving the French influence of this aging resort town e.g. they have chocolate croissants. I'm finally getting over my cold, and it's nice to have energy again. I tried grog yesterday, wow, it felt and tasted so good, they had mulled wine too. My friend and I are heading out of here tomorrow night after we go and see a waterfall, and then off to the perfume pagoda followed by Halong Bay. I have pictures, but I don't have my camera cord with me, it's in the room, and I could go up and get it, but that's two flights of stairs that I don't really want to climb. Peace and love.