When you're sliding into first ...
Trip Start Apr 16, 2005
17Trip End Jul 28, 2005
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Despite all that nastiness, we have had an amazing time during the past week. Dalat is a really beautiful city in the Vietnamese Highlands. The temperature was soooo nice, warranting warm showers and no need for a fan or ac. The town is set up for (cheesy) romance, with flowers in full bloom, picturesque lakes with swan shaped paddle boats,
bicycles built for two everywhere, and beautiful french villas in great shape. There we met some Easy Rider motorcycle drivers (Rene - my driver, Tom - Kyle's driver) and they convinced us to take a 5 day trip with them from Dalat to Hoi An, through the Highlands. We were pretty thrilled with the thought of getting off the tourist bus and seeing some of the country so we agreed to pay the premium ($250 each) to go with them.
Before our tour started we spent a day in Dalat doing a bit of sightseeing - waterfalls, King's old summer palace, train station, local market (where we saw cages stuffed with chicken and ducks with a pack of rats living below), and so on. We really wished we could have spent more time in this beautiful town.
The first day of our motorcycle tour started out early. Rene and Tom tied our packs onto the back of their bikes and we squeezed between the pack and the driver. It was so comfortable and I was delighted to feel the fresh air and the freedom of getting off highway number 1. So comfortable, that I actually fell asleep at one point (how embarrassing for me). For the first hour I couldn't wipe the silly grin off my face.
It was so cool. And the sights we were seeing were absolutely breathtaking. It definitely ranks up there as one of those unbelievable days that we'll never forget. The trees in the jungle were packed in so tight and were such a dark shade of green that they looked like a field of broccoli from our vantage point. Along the way our drivers kept pulling up to people's homes to let us have a look at their little cottage industries. None of it was planned - they would just see something that looked interesting and ask a family if we could take a peek. It was so much fun. We learned how silk is made (including rubbing silk worms on our faces - they're so soft), mushrooms, tofu, coffee, tea, rice wine, chopsticks, peanut oil, rubber, homes, rice, pepper, bricks, rice noodles, and on and on. All along we must have seemed like totally ignorant city people - like when I said "Rene, those are really strange looking cows" and he replied "That's because those are water buffalos" (apparently Kyle's been eating a lot of that without knowing).
The first night we stayed with a local ethnic minority family (literally slept in their long house with them). As the sun set on this little village, no word of a lie, elephants ridden by little kids walked past, their day's labour finished. It was incredible. That night we ate dinner (a Mr Noodles type affair), and watched kids chase around giant crickets to be later used as sauce for peanuts (a tasty desert apparently). Then, disaster struck. Terrible stomach pains like none I have ever before experienced in life.
The rest of the trip was a mixture of mind blowing beauty ... and the reverse, as my stomach twisted and turned whenever food went in. I started out like Goldilock's, refusing to use a toilet unless it was up to par (one they tried to get me to use was just a concrete room with a hose) and ended up with me running into a coffee plantation to take care of business. It was so embarrassing.
And then the nausea set in. I remember on the second day, after an extremely long ride where I spent a good amount of time obsessing about 7up, we pulled into a local market and Rene wanted to take us for a tour. It started out with "Hey Joanne, look at the size of this liver" and "Did you see that pig blood? It's good for health" and ended with
watching a woman skin a trout. It was vile. Aisles on aisles of various animal parts baking in the sun with flies swarming around. I didn't want to offend anyone, but I had to cover my mouth because I was feeling so wretched.
By day 3 my condition was known to all and I was having mental breakdowns because of it, and we had to ride about 300 kms that day, so people were trying to heal me before we started. In the morning I was quizzed by all the armchair physicians about the frequency, colour, consistency and everything else. My therapy started with medicated patches applied to my temples and stomach. I finally agreed to let Rene climb a guava tree to pluck 9 bitter leaves for me to eat. Then another driver pulled up and gave me some "Dragon Elixar" to injest. Apparently that replaces the need for guava leaves. As we rode on I pulled out the instructions for use ... they had given me the medicine for cholera. So, I pulled out my handy pocket diseases reference book to find out what that's all about. And I quote "Cholera is transmitted through food or water contaminated with dog, cat or human feces". Gross! I had a good 10 hours to reflect on that bit of knowledge and work out who's pooh I had inadvertently eaten. The cure never really worked, so I was also given some oils to rub here and there. I'm feeling better today.
We arrived in Hoi An yesterday and spent the day doing some much needed relaxing. Even though I was seriously ill, we had an amazing time driving 1000 kms through the Highlands, and I wouldn't have done it differently. We were able to meet so many friendly people, see some of the most amazing scenery, and learn a bit of war history from our drivers who were involved in the war. For one day of our journey we travelled along the newly paved Ho Chi Minh trail - an amazing bit of road that snakes around and through the mountains
looking like a ribbon. Every day was unforgettable. On our last pit stop there was a plate of random meat beside the drinks, baking in the sun. I was examining the cuts, trying to work out what part of the animal they were from, but couldn't figure out what one piece was ... it was a skinned pig's head. Lovely. Never seen that before.
So we are out of the mountains now, and back into the scorching heat. It is dreadful, and we're having to acclimatize again. But this town is really neat - clothes shopper's dream come true. There are literally hundreds of tailors here - you just go into any store, tell them what you want or show them from a magazine, they measure you up, and $4 later a pair of perfectly fitted pants. Kyle has ordered two suits already (one for $40, one "high quality" one for $60). My only regret is not having enough money to fit myself with a new wardrobe entirely.
In a few days we're checking out and heading to Hue for some boating fun (maybe stopping at China Beach on the way). Sorry for the excessive information vis-a-vis my bowels. I am traumatized and feel the story needed to be told. I'm still not sure if
I have cholera or not, but am thinking that maybe I don't, because as my guide advises me "Cholera is a disease characterized by severe diarrhea leading to rapid dehydration, which if untreated, may lead to death in 24 hours".