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Luck so bad it requires a name change.

VIETNAM | Thursday, 21 October 2010 | Views [2860] | Comments [2]

Lindsay, er Uma makes friends with the local horde of entrepeneurs

Lindsay, er Uma makes friends with the local horde of entrepeneurs

Sapa 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.

Every 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.

I 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.

With 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.

After 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.

Sure 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 regurgitation myself.

Poor 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.

The 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 eyeball.

With 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.

That 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.

Arriving 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 splat!

A 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.

I 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.

Tags: hospitals, misadventures, shopping



Harry! Such an entertaining read :) take care, Jem

  Jem Oct 21, 2010 11:27 PM


Another classic. Enjoy Vietnam!

  stowaway Oct 25, 2010 2:56 PM

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