Augie and his Papa head to Vietnam.
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  • Day30

    Well. What a month that was!

    November 8, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 63 °F

    Our last day riding was a microcosm of all the day's rides from the previous month; a little highway, a little dirt, a country lane, villages, small cities, beautiful landscapes, and one huge city. The day was also the most sketchy of our ride. Two trucks approaching fast, passing side by side and forcing us off of the pavement. Twenty minutes of rush hour on a single lane road with cars, scooters, and bicycles approaching and again leaving us little room for error. Becoming separated in Hanoi traffic (the first and only such moment of the whole trip) and making it to the rental offices on our own. Ending our day sitting in little plastic chairs by the roadside and toasting to the conclusion of a great adventure.

    I am so glad that our son invited me on this trip. One of the very best months of my long/short life.

    For a link to an epic riding video that Augie put together click here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1XWjSiI8HIQ91ut3lXn7N3kxIZj-jT233/view?usp=drivesdk

    For a link to all the photos and videos from the trip click here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/8FYSak6LfHJyEmvd7

    Augie has moved on to Chang Mai Thailand and will be utilizing a live/workspace as he finishes up his applications for work and grad school. I'm now back in Santa Cruz. Yesterday Nancy met me at the airport with a kiss, flowers, and snacks. She fed me a delicious dinner, helped me unpack, and generally treated me like a king. This afternoon I meet with Don for lunch. This weekend we enjoy an outing in Elkhorn Slough with friends. Saturday we visit Alma to plan for Thanksgiving. Sunday it's back to QM. The nice routine.

    And next? A whole, new adventure begins just one month from today when Sophie, Augie, Nancy, and I meet in the Delhi Airport.
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  • Day26

    More Tam Coc and Ninh Binh

    November 4, 2018 in Vietnam ⋅ ☀️ 82 °F

    Spent the last couple of days just relaxing. Tam Coc Sunshine Homestay is the name of this place and the family that run it are some of the most thoughtful, nicest people ever. Augie's been working on his grad school applications and I've been kicking around. I was able to get a soak and massage at a recommended place called Huong Sen in the nearby city of Ninh Binh. Person was all of 4'6" and inordinately strong. Still feel rather relaxed as I write. Last couple of dinners have been special. Bun Cha here at the hotel, and wood fired pizza at a place called Chookies Beer Garden.

    Here are some videos from our recent rides in the country:
    https://photos.app.goo.gl/bSXBNVBxSWGtiiZa9
    https://photos.app.goo.gl/nKWwML26MRKy8LiW6
    https://photos.app.goo.gl/yvDdcnsUcnhd2VZ46

    This morning we woke and rode over to a place called Hang Mua. It is a 500 foot climb up to a statue of the Buddha. Sun baked. Both of us were winded and a little light-headed after the climb. Augie reminded me that riding motorbikes is tiring and takes some endurance, but it is not cardio!

    Can't believe we only have a couple of nights left here in Vietnam. Last night we had a beer and the host took our photo toasting to a wonderful trip and beautiful sunset on the veranda.
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  • Day24

    Trang An Caves near Ninh Binh

    November 2, 2018 in Vietnam ⋅ ☀️ 81 °F

    Augie and I got up early yesterday to ride to the nearby Trang An caves. We needed to get there before 10am when the tourist busses come in from Hanoi. As it was, we saw very few other boats during the tour. It's pretty cool in these tour sites. There are perhaps a thousand boats, each belonging to an individual. It's much like in Phong Nha where each family in the area seems to have a boat and is able to share in the money coming in. We're told that here they filmed parts of the recent movies 'Indochine' and 'King Kong'. I don't think that we saw either film, but I'm sure the cinematographer had an easy time picking beautiful shots.

    We shared a boat with a couple from Prague who recommended Moravia and the villages along the Elbe as a destination for a cycling holiday down the road. Better start planning, only three days left in Vietnam...
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  • Day23

    Tam Coc

    November 1, 2018 in Vietnam ⋅ 🌙 68 °F

    Today we woke up in Tam Coc near Ninh Binh. We are spending a few days here just touring around. It's quite nice to stay put for awhile. We're staying at a homestay run by a very pleasant family. The room is $20 with a breakfast on the terrace included. Tam Coc is a World Heritage site based on its unique landscape and cultural history. It is described as 'an inland Ha Long Bay without the hordes'.

    We spent the day visiting the Bai Ding temple and pagoda. It is the largest Buddhist complex in Vietnam. We mainly hiked around the grounds and reflected on our experiences here. At one point we discussed my observation, gleaned over the past few years of near continuous travel, that tourists the world over seem to not be a happy lot. No one smiles. Very few people will initiate conversation to 'break the ice'. It's not at all what I recall from my pre old fogy days. It's especially evident in countries like Vietnam where the people do smile, are curious, and generally pleased to meet you. To have tourists generally walking around in perpetual scowls is quite the contrast. Augie thinks it's a matter of timing and context, citing the youth being more friendly in the hostels he's visited. He did note that they all seem to 'put on a serious game face' when out in the street. More to keep the people at bay, he says. We both agreed that it could be social media. People research an experience and expect it to be as it has been portrayed by countless others. Genuine contact and interaction with people may be anathema to the experience. Anyway, Bai Ding was quite nice.

    In the evening we watched the egrets return to their roosting sites as the sun set over the nearby mountains. Dinner was at a place called Chookies. Good wood-fired pizza and beer. Ahhh.
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  • Day22

    Slog North to Ninh Binh

    October 31, 2018 in Vietnam ⋅ ☀️ 79 °F

    We leave Phong Nha and the first 100k are much like the last. Beautiful.
    Masterpiece of a road here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/NMdg9YJBqLHkPAfe8

    We continue north toward Hanoi. The landscape changes. Small towns breaking up the long rural stretches give way to long inhabited strips that seem to go on forever. The main road is in pretty good shape and we're able to log some miles. The side roads that we take for color are heavily populated, dusty, and broken. The riding is hard. My kidneys ache from the harsh, bumpy, pitted ride. Our eyes feel gritty from the dust and exhaust fumes. We stay in two hotels that are 'the best in the area' according to Booking.com, but they're really both just surreal. One is in the center of an off season amusement park, the other at a busy crossroad town on the road out of Laos. There are no other guests in these places as far as we can tell. The restaurants for dinner are bad enough that we opt for Cup o Noodles in the room. We can't read the noodle cup so we end up using the translator and pick out one that says 'ham'. Turns out it comes with an unrefrigerated tube of liverwurst...

    Things are looking and feeling somewhat bleak. Then we ride down a side street off of a detour and pass a sign saying 'Bun Cha!'. The place is packed with a lunchtime crowd; mainly groups of middle aged women. This has to be good. As Augie and I take off our helmets they all burst into laughter at our expense. The proprietor prepares our rice noodles, shredded pork, fresh greens, slices of mild ginger. All is wrapped in a rice paper and dipped in a fish sauce.
    Assembly video here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/RUp8FfZHSbpjtKqj8
    It is delicious. She even comes over and slices up our rice noodles into smaller clumps when she sees us struggling with the chop sticks. Given the general merriment in the room I'm guessing this is what they do for little kids. Things are looking up.

    The last little side road we take as we approach Ninh Binh is one of the best yet. It is one lane of concrete smoothness threading along at the base of some beautiful forested mountains.

    Yes, things are looking up as we pull into our last stop before Hanoi.
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  • Day19

    Khe Sanh to Phong Nha

    October 28, 2018 in Vietnam ⋅ ⛅ 81 °F

    Khe Sanh to Phong Nha. Phong Nha is right in the center of some of the best riding on the Ho Chi Minh road. This section is very remote and mountainous. It is so remote that our small tanks were barely enough to make it between petrol stations so we had to carry coke bottles full of gasoline to bridge the gaps. Look for the bottles bungeed to the backs of our racks in the photos. The road is mainly one lane concrete and skirts the Lao border most of the way. People see very few foreigners here and most of the kids waved excitedly as we passed by. The way is absolutely gorgeous as rises and falls through mountain passes and unbelievably verdant valleys. Seemed like every turn brought another breathtaking view.

    Here are a some links to short videos of the day's ride:
    https://photos.app.goo.gl/dGR7RzobCPcHAy337
    https://photos.app.goo.gl/ZBSM25FrhEmWfAoGA
    https://photos.app.goo.gl/B7WBgUxnQniYH5Ne8

    Along the way we saw pigs, ducks, chickens, water buffalo, cows, cats, and dogs in the road. In these indigenous mountain villages no protein source is left off the table. I'm afraid Augie and I have eaten some suspect banh mi in the last couple of days.
    Also, as in most places in Vietnam, the seating is child sized. (see last photo)

    The route was so beautiful I've also included a link to the day's photos here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/5AbXqZS4N5N2jFvZA
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  • Day16

    Peace Trees Khe Sanh and Dong Ha

    October 25, 2018 in Vietnam ⋅ ⛅ 73 °F

    This morning we woke early for a busy day with staff from Peace Trees Vietnam. Van Ahn Vu picked us up at our guesthouse in Dong Ha and drove us to their main in-country office just outside of town. Their US office is in Seattle. Along the way she explained that the organization has five main components.

    1. Clearing the land of unexploded ordinance
    2. Building and staffing preschool kindergartens and training school kids to be safe in the countryside
    3. Providing scholarships to kids or adults in families where the main breadwinner has been injured by unexploded ordinance
    4. Encouraging rural families to plant small vegetable gardens on their land
    5. Agricultural consultation with area farmers

    Their main headquarters doubles as an office and training center for area kids. She explained that the organization busses children from the provinces most affected by the presence of unexploded bombs, grenades, and mortar shells. These areas are concentrated in the two provinces closest to the Lao border and along route 9, the east/west highway most heavily defended by the US during the war. Van Ahn also asked us to plant two trees in the forest around the headquarters. It seems when they began, with the normalization of relations back in 1995 they asked all visitors to plant trees on the then barren land. Now it's a forest and we planted the two latest saplings. Now the kids who come to the training center also camp out in the forest. Pretty cool!

    After our intro we got back in the car and headed up to Khe Sanh where a demining team was busy clearing several hectares of land. The work area was adjacent to three previous US bases. The team used a sophisticated grid pattern and series of markers to slowly run metal detectors over the land. It seemed it would take them about one and a half days to clear about two acres of land. With the teams thay have operating at present Van Ahn noted that it would take about 300 years to clear the whole areas most effected. Seven years to plant the seeds of destruction and 350 to clean up the mess. I wonder how long it will take in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan. This doesn't even take into account the armies that we profit from selling weapons to. During our visit they found two unexploded bombs from a cluster bomb that had failed to detonate. Augie took a video of the detonation here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/G3aTnXtR4SEFGvAm8

    Fortunately our day wasn't over yet. Next we drove out into a village adjacent to Khe Sanh to visit a kindergarten. The money for the building came from a church on Bainbridge Island in Washington. Hence the name, Grace Church Kindergarten. Each kindergarten that they building has a main schoolroom, kitchen, bathroom, playground, and library. The kids attending are between three and five years old. Each kid gets a meal during the school day. Most of the kids are from local indigenous families and are not able to speak Vietnamese when the arrive. They are staffed by teachers paid by the government. So far the organization has built 10 kindergartens. If one is interested in funding a school, the cost is around 30k. A video taken during the visit is here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/44YG1mKP9vXrPtVv7

    All in all a pretty good day. Augie and I both think we've found a really solid place to send some funds down the road.
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  • Day14

    Hue

    October 23, 2018 in Vietnam ⋅ 🌙 82 °F

    We stopped overnight in the ancient city of Hue. In the early evening we visited the Citadel and the old, walled Imperial City. The light was nice and the square kilometer place was nearly empty. We took some nice shots.

    Tomorrow we're off to Dong Ha and Quang Tri to meet with an NGO called Peacetrees Vietnam. This province, just below the 17th parallel and the DMZ was heavily bombarded during the war. Peacetrees does unexploded ordinance removal, trains elementary school kids how to stay safe, builds schools, and assists farmers with agricultural models to help them keep up with the changing global market. http://www.peacetreesvietnam.org/Read more

  • Day14

    Oh My God! What a Ride!

    October 23, 2018 in Vietnam ⋅ ☀️ 81 °F

    Yesterday we rode from Hoi An, through Da Nang, over the Hai Van Pass, through the City of Tombs, and into Hue, the Imperial City. What a ride.

    Da Nang is a hugh city with a beautiful beachfront. Third largest city in Vietnam after Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. Getting through it was a chore. Once through it the main road A1 splits. One section enters a long tunnel through the mountain. Most of the trucks and cars take that route. The other, older route climbs up and over the mountain in a series of breathtaking switchbacks. The Hai Van Pass. Here's a link to a short video of our experience: https://photos.app.goo.gl/47nufLKydgxqqyM16

    The shot with Augie in his buff is taken where the guys in Top Gear stopped to take in the magnificence. Top Gear was a car show hosted by three British guys. In one episode they were sent to Vietnam to buy vehicles to travel the country. https://youtu.be/tMnPtQc2pok. The joke was that were only given enough Vietnamese dong (7,000,000) to buy used motorbikes. The main hack, Jeremy Clarkson, hated motorcycles. The Hai Van Pass is where he learned to love them. Enough said.

    After the Pass we split off the main road and headed up a sand spit running some 50 miles. The whole area is completely covered in tombs. Everyone in Vietnam seems to aspire to being interred in this place. Mile after mile. It is a bit creepy. The route is also a favorite of some of the bicycle tours that run in the area. We must have passed 100 cyclists in one 10 mile stretch. Good thing it wasn't too busy. One group of young travelers decided it would be a good idea to take some photos in the middle of a bridge.

    In the afternoon we arrived in Hue. Augie worked on his grad school applications and I took a nap. Not bad...
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