is Vietnam's trekking capital, and we had gone there with a vague
idea to do just that. With loafers left over from the wedding being
my only shoes, it shows just how vague I am. I hiked to Cat Cat
village in them and nearly descended the steps in world record time
by slipping and snowballing down the steep hillside in a
conglomeration of profanity and broken limbs. Other than having
absolutely no trekking equipment at all, our enthusiasm was further
dampened by foggy and unpredictable weather.
shop and stall around town sold North Face knock-offs cheap enough to
be completely kitted out for the price of a trekking map in the West.
Lindsay took full advantage of that by buying a jacket and shoes for
the Dutch winter back home. Every item looked virtually identical to
me but the perfect jacket took another hour of deliberation because
the zip was on the wrong side. Knowing women well enough not to know
them at all, I hardly gave a second thought to her constant questions
about which colour looked best.
had tried to lead by example, seeing a backpack I wanted, checking to
make sure the quality wasn't too dodgy, bargaining good-naturedly for
a few minutes then straight away picking the least feminine colour.
At $23 for a 120 litre North Face backpack with attached day pack and
fanny bag, it still would have been a bargain if it had of fallen to
pieces the next day. Unfortunately it spelt the end of a friendship
that had spanned the last 11 years. Trevor was my first backpack
whose age had gotten the better of all his seams. Trevor's once
-attached day pack would hopefully be completely decomposed by now
having come unstitched like it had cost $23 instead of the $200 I had
paid for it in Melbourne.
the weather changing more frequently than someone's favourite colour,
there wasn't much to do other than shop and eat. Luckily enough
Lindsay, henceforth asking to be known as Uma to avoid incrimination,
is far more interesting as a travel partner than I could have thought
possible. Great company and a well seasoned traveller, it's her
willingness to test her luck that is providing me with endless
entertainment and disbelief.
developing a hatred for eggs born from being fed little else as a
vegetarian in central America, she inexplicably woke with the desire
to have some boiled eggs one morning. Unfortunately, ordering food in
Vietnam is tantamount to lucky dip prizes at a community fair. You'll
always get something back, but you have to be happy if it even
vaguely resembles what you were hoping for.
enough, I got scrambled eggs instead of an omelette and Uma got fried
eggs. Challenging even me with her ignorance of past lessons, she
boldly took a bite of a dish that had lead to violent regurgitation
on previous attempts. Sadly, this attempt proved to be no different.
All eyes in the restaurant turned to me in surprise when Uma loudly
sent the offending mouthful down the toilet with her fondest wishes
that all eggs go straight to hell. Somewhat concerned myself, I
sheepishly shrugged my shoulders and muttered something about food
intolerance. Hopeful the cooking wasn't to blame, the waitress came
over and asked if my 'wife' simply had morning sickness. I came
perilously close to answering with a round of projectile
Uma had heaved so hard, she burst a blood vessel in her eye. Pale,
sweating and looking half stoned, she offered me her remaining hash
browns. I graciously took up her offer, completely unconcerned that
hash browns were simply french fries in Vietnam. Recovery was swift
as it was probably a similar effect to what I would have were I to
eat a mouthful of cucumber.
last of Uma's eye-drops had expired though, so it was off to the
pharmacy to get some eye-ball bleach. The friendly assistant made up
for a complete absence of English by offering about 10 different eye
solutions. They all had slightly different uses no doubt, but Uma's
ability to read Dutch, English, Spanish, and German was laudable, but
useless when confronted with entirely Vietnamese labels. Purchasing a
bottle that looked more like perfume than eye-drops, she put some in
with hardly a second thought. Smelling like mint and feeling like
tabasco was an insightful observation made too late to stop her from
dancing round in circles yelling “It burns, it burns!” Closer
inspection of the box revealed one word in English being
'congestion'. It succeeded in clearing that, as one eye-ball teared
up in response to being doused in Listerine. The redness cleared up
soon after as well, but I've never smelt such freshness from an
only a month at our disposal, that evening we started with a mini bus
along the dizzyingly circuitous route back down to sea level. The
twilight view of rice fields, village night life and every shade of
vibrant green would have made for an amazing ride had the driver not
been using the brakes like a tone- deaf epileptic on a kick drum.
Prone to motion sickness watching car racing on television, Uma was
pilled up and passed out anyway, but every other passenger felt like
a pair of socks in a tumble dryer.
night, it was back onto a sleeper train bound for Hanoi. Our carriage
must have had some serious wheel alignment issues because every 5
minutes gave rise to visions of Freddy Kreuger and a chalkboard.
Fears were openly discussed about the carriage going the same way of
my camera and simply flying off the rails. Fortunately, that didn't
happen and a sneaky valium helped me sleep through the moan and
squeal of a train carriage going sideways down the tracks.
at Hanoi around 430am, no one was in a fit state to do much. Walking
was quite an achievement, choosing the right direction was something
extra special but staying vertical was beyond Uma at the time. What
actually happened I didn't see, but I think she was so happy to exit
the carriage from Elm Street that she took a flying leap onto solid
ground. Burdened with a heavy backpack didn't help her balance and
quick visit to a hospital that couldn't treat westerners garnered
some taxi driver less than what he would have got had he taken us to
the right hospital. An x-ray at a French hospital revealed sprained
ligaments and not a break or fracture thankfully. Confirming the old
maxim of 'all things happen in 3's', Uma spent the day resting in the
hotel knowing that her 24 hours of bad luck was now behind her.
used the time to shop like Richard Pryor in 'Brewster's millions'. I
got a new camera cheap enough not to care if I feel like heaving it
recklessly at passing pedestrians. I finally found myself a pith
helmet and for highly inflated price of $3, I feel I got ripped off.
So much so, I just kept spending until I thought my holiday was well
and truly shortened. Thanks to the Vietnamese economy it wasn't, and
it all paled into comparison with the luxury cruise we were about to
take around Halong Bay for 3 days.