Motorcycling through the Central Highlands
06.04.2007 - 08.04.2007 37 °C
April 6th,7th and 8th
Mum- we are all back safe and sound. You can sit back and read this without worrying that I have scraped your grandchildren across the Vietnamese tarmac.
Our 3 motorcyles with drivers collected us. Tam, the guide who speaks English and Billy Brown and Billy Blue- nick names provided by the girls for their drivers.
Within 10 minutes, whilst we were still amongst the busy city traffic, Billy Brown who was carrying the girls had a puncture and we were separated. My worst nightmare had come true. I was never going to see Emma and Olivia again as they had been sold as beautiful english girls to the Vietnamese Underworld! Not so...... Billy Brown quickly ushered them off the road and up into the shade, calling Billy Blue on his mobile who whizzed back to collect them.
We waited near a coffee warehouse- here are Olivia and Matt (in crash helmets - well if you can call Olivia's plastic 'Bob the Builder' hat a helmet?) - with a mound of coffee beans.
We watched the passing traffic but what amused us most were the electricity meter readers. They arrived on their moped with a large bamboo cane to which was tied a magnifying glass!!
Puncture repaired we set off again, stopping at a roadside cafe for a real Vietnamese coffee. It is served in small glasses into which has been poured 1 cm of condensed milk. The little aluminium can on top of the glass contains strong ground coffee which drips slowly into the glass. The glass is kept warm by keeping it in a bowl of hot water. It is always served with a pot of weak green tea. It might sound disgusting but it is truly delicious. It is warm and sweet and velvety and almost like 'Green and Blacks Cocoa'
Tam introduced us to another local speciality- sugar cane drink. This lady is crushing sticks of sugar cane through a mangle. She then mangles a sort of cross between an orange and a lime and collects the juice and serves it with ice. Its a bit tricky as we are trying not to drink the ice but you can't drink this warm so we throw caution to the wind and drink it down. Its delicious and so far no-one has been ill.
The road was dusty and we were getting dirtier and dirtier but all along the road were groups of children waving to us and shouting out "hello!". Emma can reduce a group of teenage boys to a giggling gibbering mass simply by raising her hand and smiling at them. There are very few westerners here and no other families. In the last 4 days we have seen fewer than 10 other 'foreigners' as we are called. So it is not surprising we stand out like sore thumbs.
We stopped to watch some H'Mong people picking the harvested rice off the fields into large flat baskets which they then sort of shake to sieve out the rice. Back breaking work but they looked so calm and serene and gentle. Emma commented to me how together the family looked, all squatting together, quietly and slowly working together, with smiles on their faces. Its not right to romanticise their poverty but it has certainly made us all think about what we have at home and what in fact we really need and don't need.
Onwards to the Jun Village. This is a village of H'Mong people still living a traditional lifestyle. They live in longhouses which are woven houses on stilts. The doors and windows slide- there are no hinges. The woven walls and stilts enable air to circulate freely. The animals wander freely around and live under the houses. There were Vietnamese pot belly pigs everywhere.
We slept overnight in the tourist longhouse. Very simply 8 mattresses on the floor - 5 for us and 3 for the drivers. The local villagers seem to carry on their lives more or less oblivious to us and we hoped that somehow this 'ecotourism' we had signed up to helps preserve their lifestyle.
It was a noisy night with the pigs, dogs, buffalo and chickens all roaming around and the villagers rising at dawn to start work. We travelled by beautiful dug out canoe across the lake the next morning before we headed north to Yok Don National Park to find some elephants.
Everywhere we go in Vietnam we are met with kindness and people sharing things with us. I was waiting for David opposite a motorcyle repair shop and the chap came across the road to offer us a durian. I think we know this as ugly fruit. I knew this was a strange fruit as the guide book says it stinks like a cross between pigs dung, turpentine and smelly socks. It looks a bit odd inside as well. The children are great now at this sort of thing and they manage not to turn up their nose and retreat behind us. So squatting on the floor with a group of Vietnamese men (we can all squat with consummate ease now apart from David who falls over backwards) we eat this rather strange thing.
The countryside round here is not as lush and green as up in the north. We are at the end of the dry season. There are two seasons here in the south. Either hot and dry or hot and wet. Most of the fruit around here seems to ripen at the end of the wet season around November/December time. Also, the land has suffered terrible deforestation as a result of the napalm used by the Americans in the war.
At Yok Don we meet our two female elephants and clamber on.
We set off on these beautiful gentle creatures across the Serepok River into the forest. It was very hot and incredibly uncomfortable. However it was not the tourist trap I thought it might have been. We plodded through the forest, not using any tracks.
Matt's elephant driver having to use a machete to cut the overhanging branches out of our way. We saw no other people. Unfortunately we saw no other animals either. Wild elephants and monkeys live in the forest but they move further into the forest during the dry season. The highlight of the afternoon however, was being on the elephant as the river got so deep, it was actually swimming. Our feet were virtually dipping in the river as these massive animals were swimming!
We were all quite tired by now. It's much more tiring sitting on the back of a motorbike but its a fantastic way of traveling. We had to be careful of the other traffic on the road with us!!!!
But- fresh fried bananas (one of the most unusual Birthday teas ever for David) kept us going back to BMT!
Tomorrow we head down to Ho Chi Minh City. I am not sure we are really looking forward to returning to a more cosmopolitan environment.