Big Question Marks

Friday, February 27, 2009

Boats With Eyes

After spending the last few days in the Mekong Delta, snacking on coconut candy and rice pancakes, cruising through floating markets (where people buy and sell between boats), and absorbing the slow vibe and incredibly humid climate, we've become big fans of boats with eyes!

Local legend has it that back when the Mekong River was still full of giant crocodiles (no one could really tell us why the river isn't full of crocs anymore!), people would paint eyes on the bow of their boat to scare away the crocs-- ie. boat of people does not equal dinner!

Many boats today still have eyes in front, making some look kind of snively and some just plain goofy, kind of like the seashells with googly eyes glued on them in the Spongebob Squarepants movie...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Tunnel Rats

Well, we've truly entered the "tourist" realm--yesterday we booked a tour. We would've been more adventurous to rent a moto-scooter and just make our own way around. Yeah, we wimped out a bit, but once you see the massive flood of scooters zipping every which way you'd understand! At any given time in HCMC there are about 4 million scooters flying through the streets, this makes crossing the streets a little nerve wracking. The key, we're told is to wait for a lull in the traffic of scooters, start walking - slowly. Cars don't stop, buses don't stop, trucks don't stop, but at least the scooters can manoeuver around you easily.
Anyways, back to the tour! Our destination: the Cu Chi tunnels. Yes, the infamous tunnel network that spanned hundreds of connected tunnels and even onto a US firebase. Using these the Viet Cong could launch raids against the Americans and easily disappear.
Dug from the earth itself with no supports of any kind, the Viet Cong made everything from living quarters, kitchens, and hospitals underground, some as deep as 10 metres. It's tight, hot, and stuffy when you make your way through them. We'd recommend practicing your 'duck walk': Adrian had cramping in this legs for the rest of the day. (Dayle was just fine, thanks to wussing out at the tiny tunnel entrance and opting to stay above ground!)

But cramping and claustrophobia couldn't totally stop us from experiencing the war first-hand. Conveniently located on the tunnels grounds is a shooting range where you can fire a multitude of weapons used in the 'American War' (as the Vietnamese call it). M16, AK47, M60, M1's, its all there. Naturally we went with the AK47, and 10 bullets - total cost about $20 AUD ($12 USD), for everything else there's Mastercard.
Loud doesn't even begin to describe the sound, but the massive ringing in your ears that follows does go away in a few hours.
We got some great video, that we'll post soon. And yes, even Dayle squeezed off a few rounds for the 'revolution'.

All in all, it was a great side trip. We sort of feel like cop-outs (hopefully we'll go back to "adventure travel" soon, ie. travelling with the locals and learning via doing things the harder way), but there was a lot of back story that our guide helped to clarify about the war and it's a definite must for fellow travelers!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Spending Like Millionaires.... of Dong

We've just woken up to our second morning in Vietnam a little fuzzy-- maybe from the 4 hour time difference from Melbourne, maybe from the million or so dong we spent on a big day of eating and drinking. EEK! OK, so a million dong (that's the Vietnamese currency) works out to be about $90AUD, and less than that in Canadian, but we've now learned it's still definitely possible to spend lots of money, even in a place with prices as cheap as Vietnam. So today we'll live frugally! Except for our "extravagant" hotel room, that is-- with TV, free internet, A/c, balcony, ornate sculptured ceilings, private bathroom, fridge, and enough room to fit two dressers and a desk-- for $15 USD. Sweet!

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City at about 8pm on Feb 20, and were immediately awestruck by all of the people and the lights-- the neon light signs were visible even from the plane! After spending so much time in the vast empty parts of Oz, riding streets alongside hundreds of buzzing motorbikes was a trip! We checked into out guesthouse and hit the town with our friend Warren, who is teaching English here (Adrian used to work with him at ANZ bank). Good times on the tourist strip-- eating great noodles from a street vendor on child-size tables and plastic stools!-- for less than a $1 USD pp., drinking Tiger beers for next to nothing too, and people-watching... welcome to Asia! Warren's been enjoying the HCMC life for about 8 months now, and isn't at all ready to say goodbye to the city-- something we're starting to understand as we get into its energy, which is sort of laid-back but a little nuts at the same time. Got scared half to death by a giant rat scurrying through our laneway on the way back to our hotel (seriously bigger than the stray kittens hanging out on the street) and we were thankful to be staying on the 4th storey of our building.

Yesterday we woke up with that "Oh my god, where are we?" feeling that happens on the first morning of any trip and ventured out in the humid sunshine (29 degrees). I grabbed a Western breakfast and Adrian went straight for the pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) and we took a walking tour of part of the city, marvelling at the scenery and practicing our street-crossings. First lesson: There are crosswalks painted on the roads, but it doesn't seem to make much of a difference where you cross. Lesson 2: Find a tiny gap in the constant barrage of cars, buses, and motorbikes, and start walking across very slowly... something that goes against all instinct when a speeding bike's coming at you, but if they'll steer around you with ease if they can tell where you're heading and how fast. Cars are another story-- GET OUT OF THE WAY! is about the best advice to follow.

We wandered through some street markets (vendors very grabby in parts) and managed to find the necessities-- a SIM card for our phone ($6 AUD!), a plug converter, and a bath pouffe-- which all took a bit of Charades and Pictionary, as we're finding Vietnamese is a very hard language to pick up quickly! But we've learned a few basics already and we're working on mastering the conversion math [11,000 Vietnamese dong equals $1 Aussie dollar; $1 USD equals 16,000 dong. We'd like to eliminate one currency, but our savings are in AUD and some of the prices here are in USD and some in VND.... and then there's all the bloody zeroes to deal with..... yarrrrrrrr!].

We met up with Warren in the late afternoon at Fanny, a great ice cream shop with delicious flavours and very artistic sundaes (I had a Canard, ice cream in a duck-shaped basket with wafer wings!) and the evening went on from there-- to gorgeously decorated, swanky coffee shops, a Pho restaurant, and a bar or two. But most memorable of the night was when I got entirely lost in the city on the back of a motorbike taxi-- it's scary enough being right in the thick of the traffic, but then my motorbike taxi driver lost Warren and Adrian, who were on Warren's bike and said "Follow us!" and zoomed off to disappear into the crowd. Everything looks mildly familiar in HCMC, but the street names are long and difficult to remember, and I have a terrible sense of direction without a map or the sun to guide me. So I spent about 45 minutes on the back of this old man's (who didn't speak a word of English) motorbike, reading street names aloud and hopelessly trying to communicate with him. Of course, Adrian had our phone, the hotel key, the backpack.... I was lucky we split up our money in the morning and had 500,000 dong in my pocket, as I'd left my wallet in the backpack on Adrian's back too! I also had our new phone number in my pocket but didn't know how to use a payphone, let alone speak the word "telephone" to the driver. Eventually he pulled over and had me speak with some other motorbike drivers, and I managed to write down our hotel's address, as I guess I'm hopeless at pronouncing it properly.... and then my driver couldn't find the street.... it went on and on.... finally in some miracle we came across it, and I had to run around trying to change this big VND bill to pay my 50,000 ($5) fare. Somehow Warren had a feeling to check our hotel, and I was just about to call the guys when he appeared on his bike to save me! We zoomed back to where he left Adrian, and who was Adrian hanging out with but the old motorbike taxi driver who didn't know his way around town! We decided to go to a bar close by, this time split up the mobile phones, and when Warren and I got to the bar, this time it was Adrian who had disappeared.... well, I guess we shouldn't have used that driver's services again, cuz he dropped Adrian right off at our hotel, despite the driver and Warren's agreements to meet on a certain street. At least Adrian's ride was a bit cheaper than mine.... needless to say a lot of beer was necessary after that.... and that's about all I can say about our second day in Vietnam!

PS. If you can figure out how to call/text Vietnam, we'll be reachable for the next month or two at +84 (that's the country code) 1265772662. Good luck & miss you all! xoxoxo Dayle & Adrian

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Un Poule Sans Head

Like the title implies; we're both running around like chickens with our heads cut off.
Currently we're in the throes of figuring out how/when to transfer money and the shutting down of accounts, fighting last-minute government bureaucracy struggles, shipping everything we own over the Pacific, and attempting to meet with everyone we've known in Melbourne. It's been just a little chaotic!

Later today (1:30pm) we'll take off from Oz for the last time and will land in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. It's so exciting, as we booked the flights way back in July-- it felt like an eternity away at that point! And we still haven't had time to read much about the place, heh heh. We'll spend a month (maybe more?) in 'Nam, and maybe try to get English-teaching work. Later on, the plan is to travel through Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia... with the possibility of visiting India and maybe even some friends in Europe before heading back to Canada in early September. We'll see how it goes-- there is only so much one can plan with this sort of trip!

We'll do our best to keep you all updated-- hopefully with the help of Dayle's new "baby laptop", a blue Acer Aspire One (only 895 g in weight!!) we'll be online more than we have been lately. Asia's probably got much better internet options than Western Australia, we imagine. The last few weeks have been pretty insane-- first selling Daisy about 2 weeks ago (boo hoo!); then continuing south of Perth in a teeny rental car and camping in a tent -- we remember what roughing it was like!--for some wine, cheese, chocolate, and beach; we flew back to Melbourne on February 11 & have been staying with our lovely friends the Geeveses since then. It's hard to believe our two years are almost finito... but we hope we'll be back in Oz sooner rather than later! xoxoxox A&D

PS. We have finally updated our photos from our entire West Coast road trip online on Flickr so have a look and enjoy! We heart your comments too :)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Saying goodbye to Daisy :(

Hello! Long time no update, we know... it turns out Western Australia really IS quite remote (as in, good luck finding internet, at least after 5pm!). We're now in Fremantle, a seaside suburb of Perth/really cool historic port town, where we've been hanging out the last couple of days, preparing for the most heartbreaking moment of our trip...saying goodbye to Daisy.

OK, I'm getting weepy just writing this (possibly I'm a little sleep-deprived from our first night in a very small tent!) but we knew it had to happen sometime. We just didn't expect it to happen so fast! After our big driving adventure down the coast from Broome since we last wrote (details to come-- hiking Karijini National Park, camping at a cattle station, snorkelling with reef sharks on the Ningaloo Reef, evicting a mouse from our van, and many more stories... ) we arrived in Perth on Australia Day-- Jan 26-- and caught some fantastic fireworks over the pretty Swan River, which cuts through the downtown. The next day (Tuesday) was business time and we started posting flyers in hostels/internet cafes/online advertising our very awesome van. We had two dates to meet potential buyers on Wednesday morning before the day was even done-- not bad. [We weren't sure how the car market would be here, as we've been reading news articles on how backpackers aren't finding work in Perth right now, with a late fruit season and the economic crap affecting city jobs. But since it would have been another 4000 or so really long and desolate-- not to mention rushed-- kilometres back to Melbourne, we thought we'd give selling a go in Perth....]

Wednesday morning we gave Daisy the first car wash she'd had in more than a year (unless you count the one in Broome which barely took the first layer of splattered bugs off!) and she was shiny and beautiful. We wondered why we hadn't done it sooner, but with dusty unsealed roads around every corner it seemed a bit futile! We met a few nice people-- an Austrian couple, a group of two French and a Belgian, and later an Aussie guy. It felt really weird to be showing her off like that-- she's not just our vehicle, but our home and kind of a family member too! It was very important to us not only to sell her (and for a good price, as she's a great car and plus we've really fixed her up over the past year and a half), but also to sell her to nice people who would take her to some great spots around the country-- and not just to the idiot non-stop-party-backpacker types that we encounter quite often along the way. After posting a bunch more posters, we decided to take a few hours off and explore Fremantle, which we've heard much about (it's very hippie and relaxed) and its Cappuccino Strip-- street of cafes with great patios-- where we could sip coffee and people-watch. And then we got another two calls from people who wanted to meet Daisy...

We made plans to meet one of the new callers, Thomas, a German, after we finished in Fremantle (or Freo). We ended up pulling up to his hostel a bit later than planned, and were parking to give him a ring when we noticed a few people waving to us from outside the hostel... then some excited yells, "It's Daisy!!"... then a few girls and a guy running towards our van, kind of like a Beatlemania scene or something. Very weird.

It turns out they must have liked our posters-- Daisy seemed to be a bit of a celebrity at the hostel. Thomas and the three German girls (Julia, Katarina and Mai) he was travelling with were all very excited to meet her. We gave them the tour, Adrian took them for a bit of a cruise (he was nervous and almost started driving on the righthand side of the road!) and then Thomas said, "I'll buy Daisy!" and shook our hands and that was it. (Oh, and the girls were screaming with joy) We were happy, sad, and a bit panicked because it really meant the end of the big trip. Luckily, the Germans had just paid for a week at the hostel so we had til Tuesday to get ourselves organized and say our goodbyes...
Yesterday was the big day-- after days of packing, cleaning, and shipping things overseas, it was time (two hours late, after we needed some quick thinking after learning our first overseas box was too big to send at 24kg, and Adrian's didgeridoo box was too long to send at more than 1.05m long!)-- we pulled Daisy up in front of the hostel and met the happy new owners of our van. We unloaded the last of our gear sadly and traded keys for a giant wad of cash... and called a taxi to take our still-massive pile of stuff to the rental car agency in the CBD. It was pretty weird watching other people jump in and out of Daisy, mill about her, push buttons and open cupboards. There was even this stupid guy from the hostel who kept whacking his empty water bottle on Daisy... Adrian and I were cringing! But the Germans are very much in love with Daisy (even with the Hello Kitty toaster, which is exactly what we wanted!) and we're pretty sure they'll take good care or her. Fingers crossed!

So now we've decided to take a mini road-trip to the southwest corner of the state, to what we've heard is a beautiful area with tall, ancient forests, gorgeous beaches, and hippie wine towns for the next week, and we're adjusting to a very different camping lifestyle-- tent and teeny car! On the bright side, the Corolla hatchback is quite roomy and air conditioned, and automatic! Adrian keeps reaching for the gearshifter and the clutch and I keep giggling at him. We have a working radio, but actually radio kind of sucks in Perth, so we've have to burn some CDs to listen to (we gave away the cord to plug in the iPod). We had to buy a few supplies that we couldn't "borrow" from Daisy (ie. we had an extra tent!) but we're realizing how truly nice and comfortable our van was-- luxurious even-- having a huge comfy bed/full kitchen/changeroom/lounge and everything we needed in one compact van! There are definite plans in the works already to create a Daisy II someday when we're back in Canada...

So, crazily enough, our two years in Oz are almost finished-- we fly out to Vietnam on February 19, which we're pretty excited about! After our week hooning it up "down south", we'll fly back to Melbourne on Feb. 10 for one last week in the great city we left only two months ago. Hopefully we'll get a few more surfs in, and have a just few more Little Creatures beers (some really fantastic beer brewed right here in Freo, but not yet shipped overseas unfortunately)...