Wandering Again

Failed Priest
Living in: Santa Cruz, United States
  • Day9

    PeaceTrees Vietnam

    October 2 in Vietnam ⋅ ⛅ 91 °F

    After a hearty breakfast of very fresh eggs and rolls (and chocolate pancakes for Don), we left Phong Nha early, at 7, for our day visiting with PeaceTrees, the organization Hans and Augie visited last year and one that we support as a family. It was an incredible day. The PeaceTrees slogan is "Healing the land. Building community. Planting futures." The organization, a US non-profit, based in Seattle, was started by Jerilyn Cheney and her husband Danaan Perry. Jerilyn's brother, Daniel, was killed in Vietnam and Jerilyn vowed that when the time was right, she would figure out a way forward. Her way became PeaceTrees, now a thriving organization that does land mine removal and land mine education for children as well as provide support for families with someone who has been injured by a UED. The organization works in several provinces bordering the former DMZ. These provinces were heavily bombed during the war and much of the land is still unusable due to unexploded ordinance. Consequently, they are the poorest provinces in the country. PeaceTrees also partners with communities to build kindergartens, support families with healthy food and clean water, and build community centers.

    We met the In-Country Director, Ha Phan, at a small coffee shop near Dong Ha. Our first stop was a kindergarten in a small village in the mountains near Laos. On the drive to the village, Ha told us that the money for the school was donated by a Vietnam vet in memory of his best friend, killed in the war. She also told us how she came to PeaceTrees. She started as an intern after university, and was tasked with interviewing survivors of land mine explosions. The first day on the job she spoke to an 18 year old young man, just married, who lost both hands due to an explosion. That interview transformed her and she had been with the organization for 18 years now.

    The school was a bright open one room building, with colorful decorations in the walls. The children were eating lunch when we arrived. The focus of the school is teaching children Vietnamese, as the Viet language is used in school, business, industry, etc. A community has to ask for a school. This is not an organization that swoops in and takes over. If the community asks, PeaceTrees works with the community to design and develop the school, which is built by locals. 

    As a birthday present this year, Don had given Hans a portable mini-printer, which Hans brought along. We were all taking tons of photos, and Hans took photos of groups of kids. The children were amazed, watching this 5x7 inch device spit out an image. He'd hand them the photo and they'd smile and laugh. Don and Mary handed out stickers. The kids sang for us and we sang for them: the first verse, and the first verse only, of Mary Had A Little Lamb. After distributing gifts provided by Peace Trees, we said our goodbyes and headed to lunch and coffee. Here is a link to some of the singing: https://photos.app.goo.gl/RtYkDkWMPmcGEiDQ9

    The next stop in our day was the unexploded ordinance clearance site, where we met the team of 10 folks doing on the ground de-mining. Brave people. (PeaceTrees has 10 teams is the field.) They receive extensive training, but still, it is risky work with potentially fatal consequences. Wow. This work is funded by The Office of Weapons Abatement and Removal, a US Department of State office. Our tax dollars paid to drop them in the first place and are now paying to remove them. The team showed us a map of all the bombs dropped across the province, a map of dense red dots covering pretty much the entire province. The data was provided by the US Air Force. The area the team was working in was a rubber tree plantation. They started in February, and to date, had removed 92 unexploded ordance (UDX) so far, and expected to finish up at the end of the month. The area was the size of a football field. They walk every inch, using sensitive metal detectors, to ferrett out what lies below the surface. Not every find is a UDX, but it has to be treated as such.

    The team had saved a cluster bomb for us to detonate. We could see it lying in the sandbagged hole they'd carefully excavated around it. It was a small black ball, the size of a tennis ball. You could see why it would be so appealing to a kid. A single bomb held hundreds of these small balls. When they exploded, they sent out small bullet - like projectiles that reached a radius of 300 feet. Anything in the area didn't have a chance. Mary and I were given the task of blowing it up, but before we did, we had to sign a waiver and provide our blood type. Just in case…. The team made sure the site was secure, then ran a wire from the bomb to the detonation site, 300 feet away. We practiced, Mary armed the device with one button and I hit the Fire button. After the technician, a young woman, wired it up, and the team leader counted down in Vietnamese, we pressed our buttons. It was deafening and terrifying. I could imagine the impact. Here is a link to the video: https://photos.app.goo.gl/ZehWCvYUS41Si17X6

    Our day ended with a visit to the PeaceTrees office, on a former Marine base. We saw the tree Hans and Augie planted last year. It was an amazing day, and I urge you to check out the PeaceTrees website to learn more about what they do. There's a short video there about a day in the life of a young woman working on a de-mining team.
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  • Day8

    Phong Nha

    October 1 in Vietnam ⋅ ⛅ 91 °F

    We spent most of a day driving from Ninh Binh to Phong Nha. The trip took a little extra because ws asked the driver to cross a stream bed to bypass a 'road closed to cars' sign. We also asked him to add a half hour or so to steer away from the busy truck traffic on the A1. This allowed us to head up into the mountains and witness some stunning landscapes. The mountain road is now designated the Ho Chi Minh route. At one point the road suddenly get very flat and straight for about a mile. The road here is a remnant of the clandestine airstrip built by the north Vietnamese to land and refuel Russian MIG fighters flown by Vietnamese pilots. The US forces in Danang were completely unprepared as they assumed that they were beyond the range of those planes. The attack shook US confidence.

    Phong Nha is a town bordering Ke Bang National Park. It's sort of a case study in tourist planning and zoning gone wrong, but it does have its positives. The government built a streetscape heading out of the town to the south that is now completely crumbling and overgrown. The actual investor related development snakes up the riverside for several kilometers. Lots of homestays Nd bars right on the river.

    Ke Bang National Park is home to several of the largest caves in the world. One of which is the largest. Period. That one costs 3k to enter and takes days to explore. We chose the cheaper and more visited Paradise Cave. It is vast and filled with interesting formations. See the first few photos below.

    In the late afternoon we visited Phong Nha Cave. It is a few miles upriver from the town and requires a boat to visit. See the subsequent photos.

    Evening we headed out to Momma D's. A new open air bar/restaurant atop one of the tallest buildings in the area. Momma D, from Edmonton, Alberta is a great host. See photo from the rooftop.
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  • Day6

    Tam Coc Ninh Binh

    September 29 in Vietnam ⋅ ☀️ 90 °F

    We have left Hanoi and begun our trek south. We are traveling in a Ford Transit passenger van driven by Phuc, a native Hanoian who speaks only Vietnamese. We use a combination of Google Translate and texting our tour operator Manh to communicate directions and plans.

    First stop is Tam Coc Ninh Binh. Tam Coc is an area of limestone karsts similar to Ha Long bay. These formations are surrounded by rice fields rather than ocean. We stay at Sunshine Homestay with Phan and her family. Augie and I so enjoyed this place last year that we extended our stay for several days. The family is pleasant, the area is fascinating, and Phan's cooking is really wonderful.

    We spent our first evening hiking up the karst at Mua Cave for a view from above. The next morning we woke early and drove to nearby Trang An where we followed a waterway through nine caves and three temples. Unfortunately someone let a small Smokey like creature into one of the temple areas. Still, it is a pretty cool place. Our last stop for the day was the ancient citadel of the northern kingdom. Mary took a photogenic ride on a traditionally attired water buffalo.
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  • Day4

    Hanoian Evening

    September 27 in Vietnam ⋅ 🌙 79 °F

    We spent the afternoon and evening exploring Hanoi and its Old Town. Actually, I spent the afternoon catching Grab taxis on failed errands for moto gear and phone sims all over the city. Nancy, Don, and Mary spent the afternoon getting lost on the way to and the way back from a water puppet show where Nancy was able to extend her 'blur' photography portfolio. We met for our first banh mi sandwich before continuing our walk into the evening.

    After watching Don and Mary finish their gelatos we headed to the famous Hanoi Beer Corner. Beer corner was just getting started, but we did get to witness a beer cheerleading squad.
    Beer Corner video:

    Don and Mary retired for the night and Nancy and I continued our walk to Hoàn Kiếm lake. The lake is at the center of north Vietnamese culture as it is the place where the metal to forge a famous sword was given to the king to defend the homeland. The turtle god then asked for the sword back when the king was finished with it. Hoàn Kiếm is also a center for Hanoian nightlife. People stroll its shores much like an evening promenade around the zocalo in Mexico. It seemed that every few steps we ran into people practicing dance steps, jumping rope, playing jenga, or singing pop-up karaoke.

    Here are a couple of video links from our stroll.
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  • Day4

    Ha Long Long Ha Bays

    September 27 in Vietnam ⋅ ⛅ 84 °F

    Ha Long Bay. I first read about this area a limestone karsts almost thirty years ago. Sea Kayak magazine ran a trip repo on the place. It was relatively empty then, it's pretty much packed now. Manh from Vietnam Real Tours booked us a trip to the lesser traveled Long Ha bay.

    This was the first cruise that Nancy and I had ever been on and I have to admit it was pretty plush. We participated in most of the activities. Kayaking, bicycling, swimming, and a cooking class. We skipped sunrise yoga in favor of staying in bed.

    We cycled to a small village on Cat Ba island for a wine tasting. Cat Ba translates to 'Women's Island' and is about 100x larger than nearby 'Man's Island'. The rice wine tasting was special in that it took several forms based on whatever was being pickled in the wine. Most of the concoctions were brewed with plants and herbs to be beneficial to women's health. Vitality, cancer prevention, smooth skin, youthful appearance. The men's concoctions were brewed with scorpion and snake and dedicated to stamina and fertility.

    Don and I took part in a cooking class/competition. Things were fine until he brought in a ringer from the audience to coach him on the finer points. Despite the shenanigans it all turned out to be delicious.
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  • Day3


    September 26 in Vietnam ⋅ ⛅ 86 °F

    SFO to Hanoi

    A short report here.

    Our friends from Amsterdam will be staying in our house while we are away. We spent three pleasant days together before Augie dropped us at the airport. They made us some delicious beet burgers for us on our last evening together. We need to ask for the recipe.

    We met our friends Don and Mary at the International Terminal and immediately headed to the KLM lounge for a bit of food and relaxation. The flight was long, but uneventful. Before we knew it we'd all slept well and arrived in Hanoi. The line to finalize the visa was tedious, but soon we were sitting in our hotel lobby having a tete a tete with the tour operator who helped us arrange our route and driver. Manh ta Tien was very enthusiastic and supportive as we laid out our route from north to south.

    Long Ha bay
    Ninh Binh
    Phong Nha
    Hoi An
    Ho Chi Minh Saigon
    and the Mekong

    In Hanoi we had our first meal at Bun Cha Huong Lein. The restaurant made famous when Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain shared a meal there. They have since enclosed the table and place settings in plexiglass. The food was delicious. Note that Nancy and I didn't even take time to look up at the camera.

    Next. Long Ha bay cruise...
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  • Day1

    Vie. Viet. Vietna. Vietnam!

    September 24 in Vietnam ⋅ ☀️ 86 °F

    Jeez. Tickets for March 9th. Trip postponed. Tickets for September 9th. Trip postponed. Tickets for September 15th. Trip postponed. Tickets for September 23rd. Finally!

    After awhile I wasn't sure that I'd ever make it back to Vietnam. This despite already planning my next visit before Augie and I left Hanoi last year. That trip with Augie was so epic that I had to get back as soon as I could.

    Worth the wait! This time I flew with Nancy and our good friends Don and Mary. We've been planning this month - long trip since March. We have enlisted a tour agency to provide us with a driver who will take us to some great places as we move from north to south of this beautiful country. Two weeks in tour, three days in Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, followed by two more weeks riding motorbikes in the northern mountains near the Chinese border.

    I've included some photos from last year to get us in the mood!
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  • Jun12

    Adina's Pupuseria

    June 12 in the United States ⋅ 🌫 70 °F

    So. It's been awhile. Lots of pleasant memories being made, but today was special. Our friend Adina Quintanilla from La Libertad, Salvador came by to teach us how to properly make pupusas.

    It was a blast!

    Here's the recipe:
    Maseca Flour
    1/2 Bag Maseca
    Pour into wet bowl and manipulate while adding water to consistency of thick peanut butter.

    Tomato Salsa 2QT
    6 Large Tomatoes
    1 Onion
    1 Garlic
    2 Tbs Apple Cider Vinegar
    Boil Tomatoes and 1/2 Onion in half gallon of water for 5 minutes. Puree in blender with Garlic, and salt to taste. Add Vinegar.

    1 head regular Cabbage
    1 Onion
    1 Tbs Oregano
    1 Carrot
    Apple Cider Vinegar
    Shred Cabbage. Carrots, and Onion very thin. Add them to large bowl with Oregano and Salt to taste. Add saved hot water and steep for 5 minutes or so. Add Cider Vinegar to taste.

    Pork Filling
    1 lb chili ground Pork
    Tomato Sauce (Above)
    Cook until lightly browned and stir in Tomato Sauce until it holds together a bit.

    Veggie Cheese Filling
    1 Bunch Spinach
    2 larger Zucchini
    2 lb Shredded Monterey Jack
    Shred spinach and grate Zucchini.
    Add a handful of water to cheese to make it glommy.

    Use water on hands to pat a squash ball sized bit of Masa into flat disc a little smaller than a yogurt container lid.
    Add filling of choice.
    Pinch edges of masa up, around, and over filling until closed.
    Flatten into disc about the size of a yogurt container lid.
    Fry each side on griddle at medium high until lightly browned

    Top with Tomato Sauce and Rebollo. Scream, Avocado, Tapatillo and a light Lager optional.

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  • Day17

    On Wisconsin

    April 27 in the United States ⋅ ❄️ 34 °F

    Well. We made it. We're now back in Wisconsin. Twelve days and 2500 miles round trip with an almost 90 and almost 60 year old. Almost all of the driving was on small backroads. Our dashboard totem served us well as we passed through state after state in Trump's heartland (seems like a bit of an oxymoron using 'Trump' and 'heart' in the same sentence).

    Our first stop on entering Wisconsin was St Glarus. A small town settled by Swiss farmers which still holds some of the remnants of its founders. Life sized models of cows adorn the place, cheese shops abound, and restaurants serve fondue, raclette, and rosti.

    I fly out in a couple of days, but tonight we're expecting a late April blizzard (is that actually a thing?) bringing between 7 and 10 inches of wet snow. But it all fits with the Wisconsin state motto:

    'Should have been here last week, it was a sunny 70 degrees and nothing was biting!'
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  • Day15

    Kent Redux and More Gravestones

    April 25 in the United States ⋅ ☁️ 50 °F

    This morning we begin our trek back to LaCrosse. We spent the past few days visiting friends and relatives. We were able to spend an afternoon with Ray and Doris Aeschliman. It seems wherever we go we run into people who know Grace or who remember my dad. Just wandering around downtown we'll be stopped to chat by old friends. What a life they'd built here together.

    We were also able to explore Kent a bit more. Lots if changes there. The town/gown connection is stronger in both spirit and physical planning. A new campus/ city gateway is inviting from all sides. We particularly enjoyed the Wick Poetry Center and garden connected to Kent State University. At the center of the garden us a large bronze sculpture and small amphitheater for doing readings. The sculpture is connected to a watering system and in the summer there are 9 plants hosting a garden in its crooks and crannies. The newly built KSU Center for Architecture and Environmental Design building is quite an impressive structure too.

    On our return drive from Pittsburgh to Kent we stopped by another cemetery in Alliance, Ohio. The Brinker memorials are arranged in a semicircle around a central monument. My great great grandfather August Brinker is interred there. He died at the age of 54 during the great influenza outbreak of 1919. The Brinkers were reportedly seed merchants who shared the business with another family, the VanWarmers. The families also intermarried and shared the central stone, VanWarmer on one side and Brinker on the other. Nit sure about the child sized stone for William Brinker who was born and died in February 1900. He may have been an older brother to my grandfather William G Brinker, or perhaps a cousin.

    Last evening we dined with friends and family at a Lebanese restaurant in Hudson Ohio. Uncle Al and his partner Ginger, Cousin Dave and his wife Jill, and friends Dick Leppo and Kay Hensel. Lots of laughs and good company.

    And now we move west...
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