Well here we are finally in the mountains with clean air except the mountains are invisible and there is a thick cold fog everywhere. So much for the joys of vacations. This has been a real roller coaster of a trip. We left Hanoi last night on an overnight train which was not too bad once I figured out that my ear plugs cut down on the noise of the train trundling up the track. We arrived at 6.30 am (can you believe as I type this I can see my breath almost fog up the computer.) I am far too soft to be live in Vietnam without my home comforts. These people are amazing.
After hanging around while the others assembled their bikes I was trying not to think about the bikes which we rented here and how heavy they were in comparison to the high quality bikes emerging from various bike boxes. We are the only ones on the tour who have not brought our own bikes. My apprehensions soon played out as I worked extra hard to climb up here many thousands of feet in 40 km. I was last up here but who cares. Just towards the end a fine vietnamese couple stoped on their motor bike and very politely asked if they could be off assistance - meaning I could hold her hand and they would pull me along. Well, I was tempted but equally politely declined the offer.
The steady climb through bamboo forests and terraced rice fields was interupted by the great glee of childen laughing and running along side us. Then the closer to Sapa many of the people are dressed in the attractive costumes of their hill tribe. There is a vibrant street vendor culture. These are manly women and sell everything from traditional handicrafts, postcards, hats, mandarins, candy. We tourists are the targeted the minute we leave our hotel.
I spent my days in Hanoi visiting various museums. The most horrific was the Hoa Loa prison where John McCain was held, the americans called it the Hanoi Hilton. Build by the French at the end of the last century, it was graphic complete with a guillotine and other instruments of torture. It would be nice to think that we humans have had enough of torturing one another in such inhumane ways. And to think that we have been told down through the ages that hell is when we die!
The history museum was well laid out and gave an orderly account of Vietnams history. Housed in a beautiful French building that incorportated some eastern ideas.
I visited some old Pagoda's and was most struck by the one on a little island on the lake Ho Hoan Kiem. In the mid fifteenth century heaven gave Emperor Ly Thai a magical sword that he used to drive the Chinese out of vietnam, One day after the war while out boating he came across a giant tortoise swimming on the surface of the water. The creature grabbed the sword and dissappeared into the depth - the tortoise returned the sword to its divine owners. I wondered how this powerful story has helped these peaceful people move on from the wars of the 20th century. This pagoda felt like an oasis of calm in the turmoil of the streets of Hanoi.
The last morning in Hanoi we spent attending a cooking class. This entailed a trip around the market to buy the ingredients, much chopping, rolling, and deep frying. But just you all wait until we come home and make tasty titbits to tiggle your taste buds. I find it interesting that most shops and resturants in Hanoi and a sizable shrine to their ancestors and the bhudda, they offer up fruit and flowers every morning as the pray for the success of their various endeavours. I noticed too how nice it is as a women to walk around in this country. Interesting how bhuddhism has survived so strongly in this communist place.
Well before my fingers fall off I will take my sniffles and sneezes back to our unheated hotel and think of you all with your furnaces, wood stoves and cheery central heating. It is not all doom and gloom I just had my bicycle legs pummeled and feet massaged for $10 US althought is wasn't exactly the fanciest of spas my legs feel much better after slogging up that hill.
We stay here to morrow and then over the pass and it is supposed to get warmer - from the coldest place in Vietnam to the warmest.
The other day I spent ages trying to upload some photos only to find at the last minute they were all jumbled. I also found it hard to access my blog on some computers. Plus for some reason it is hard to edit.