We reached the end of the land, the bottom of the final portion of final push up to the cross - Cruz de los Mares - and sat down for lunch. It was almost 4:00 in the afternoon, we had been walking since 7:30 that morning, and had already crossed two rivers.
Posts tagged ‘beach’
I have been back in the states for a little over a month now. In some ways, my life has slowed down a lot. I go to the same place for work every day, I see my old friends. I just got my car back. I do 'normal' life things -- like get my car inspected. But at the same time, I am still in flux. Still very much in transition - sleeping on an air mattress with my sleeping bag as a blanket. Still unsure of where I will go beyond July 27th. Still unsure of what I want.
Two weeks is officially NOT enough time to see much of Vietnam! Even with the change in my plans, I feel like I barely know Vietnam. I got so use to really knowing a place (and it is questionable if I even did get to know much about Nepal and India) from being there a longer time, so this two week blitz was definitely different. It felt a little bit more like checking off various tourist sites than really getting to know Vietnam. I have so many questions….
After I left Chloe in Nha Trang, I headed 5 hours up the coast to Quy Nhon, a quiet little city with a beautiful coast. I hung out there for a day — walking through the city, along the beach and to a beautiful little pagoda where I spoke to a monk for awhile. The city is pretty empty of tourists, or at least compared to Nha Trang! I also found a little hotel that for 10$ a night I was on the top floor with a balcony that overlooked the ocean. And the two mornings I was there, it was clear out!
From Quy Nhon I took a 9 hour bus ride to Dalat, which is up in the mountains. It was a beautiful ride up there, past rice fields and lush mountains shrouded in clouds. The actual town is nothing all that spectacular, but made for a nice relaxing day here — lots of cafes overlooking the lake in the center of town and a fun market to walk around. This area is much cooler than anywhere else in southern Vietnam, the temperature difference was a definite welcome! That also means that lots of fruits and vegetables grow here — all the markets had strawberries for sale and there were lots of dried berries for sale too. Here, like everywhere else I have been in Veitnam, the main streets are converted in street restaurants and markets selling just about anything at night. It is amazing to see all the chairs and tables laid out and the stalls appearing out of nowhere. The street food is pretty good (and cheap) – and the pho (soup) was a nice treat on a cool evening. Though, I have tried some things that I am not totally thrilled with — for instance, last night I had a soya bean drink that was warm and sweet – kind of a shake. Not sure what I thought of that. Then today, I had something that looked like a quesadilla, but definitely was NOT one. It had a mild fish taste and was crispy… and i really can’t tell you much more than that. maybe there was some egg in it? it wasn’t all that interesting. There are still a lot of foods that i would like to try – my last day may be a feeding frenzy!
I like Vietnam, though I feel that I need to spend quite a bit more time in Southeast Asia to feel like I get it. It is pretty different here from India and Nepal (obviously) – and so I just don’t think I get it all. I kind of keep expecting people to act like they do in India and Nepal — which of course doesn’t happen. But, people are very friendly here, and I love seeing people smile at me even with their face masks on (they are real into those face masks — makes me wonder what I am breathing in!).
It is interesting being in a communist (er, rather, socialist) country — though there are not too many obvious signs of it other than flags and facebook being banned (you can get it some places, but most wifi signals do not allow you to get on). I was in one town where all the sidewalks had little communist insignias all along the sides (little stars and hammers and sickles and some other little symbols). But, there are flags everywhere! People seem very proud.
All through my journey, when I say I am American (which people almost never guess — I hear Italy, Spain and Israel mostly but rarely American), people all over respond with “obama!” which is a fun response. He is a big time celebrity in India and Nepal, at least. But here, I wondered what it would be like. I felt shy saying I was American – after all, some of the hillsides are still denuded from Agent Orange, and people are still having birth defects and health problems from it. But, it does not seem to be a problem here — people are quick to smile and are kind and helpful. Just like all the other places I have been.
(No pictures at this time…. the connection is not good — but i promise to post some good ones!)
I knew I had a short time in Vietnam, so I asked around — where should I go, what should I do? Following a lot of questions and a lot of research, I had a general plan of 2 days in the Mekong Delta, 2 days in Dalat, a few days on the beach and then Hoi An. Everyone recommended Hoi An. Great — sign me up! It seemed that it was do-able, though I would have to be careful about getting back to HCMC for my flight — but no worries.
Then, a few months later, I got great news that my friend Chloe was also going to join me in Vietnam – so I shared with her my plans. It turned out that we would overlap by a week – so emails went back and forth, trying to make plans and confirm itineraries. Which… turns out, is not so easy.
Long story short, we spent a lot of time together trying to figure out how to make our plans work for each of our schedules, needs, budgets, wants, etc. It turns out that they could not mesh. So — I am not going to Hoi An. Instead, I have come to Quy Nhon, another beach town, though less touristy. And then I will go to Dalat and then head back to HCMC for my 28 hour flight. And Chloe? She has headed north – she is going to Hoi An.
It was tough and frustrating trying to figure it all out. I’ll be honest, I have gotten use to planning on my own. And I also am use to the ease of getting around – India made it all so easy – why is the rest of the world not like that? I was bummed we had to split ways, as I was glad to have a travel companion. But, at the same time, I am continuously given the lesson that I need to be flexible with my plans. That I need to be patient and flexible, creative and willing to see the good in no matter what happens. I guess until I have that lesson figured out – I will keep getting ample opportunities to learn it.
So, here is to unexpected adventures, trying to keep an open mind,and (re)learning to be patient and flexible.
Varkala…. kind of like hotel california — you can check out any time you want, but you can never leave…. here i am – headed out of town finally — several days after I planned on! Somehow, 3 days turned into 5 or 6…. seems that is how Varkala rolls. For one thing, it is actually hard to get out of here — not a ton of buses and trains leave from this area – you have to go to a bigger city to get connections and the tourist area is located on the coast – whereas the real town is further away and most tourists have no reason to go down there.
Finally, the other day, I realized I needed to take some action or I would be stuck here for awhile – so I visited one of the many travel agents in town. What I thought would be a simple plan turned into several hours of frustrating news. Basically, all trains are booked. Turns out December is a tough time to get a train around here (I just happen to be on the pathway of most-visited-Indian spots in the winter — Kerala, Karnataka, Goa) — even with the tourist quota, there are not a lot of spots available. And then, after that whole planning time with the travel agent, I left with nothing becuase I need to go down to the station to try to get tourist quota tickets.
So, train station lady and I spent a while talking and I walked away with a whole slew of tickets — Varkala to Bengalore, Bengalore to Hampi, Hampi to Mumbai, Mumbai to Ajmer. I am set for the next few weeks (though I still need to get one more ticket to Delhi!) – though, I have to say, none of these trips are super convenient. For one thing, I am in sleeper class for all of them (remember that dirty, dusty, crowded train ride I took a while back? Remember when I said I would only take 3AC or 2AC after that first experience? Yeah — now I am signed up for a whole bunch of those) and for another thing — I have long waits in between. For instance — tomorrow, I leave for bengalore at 1:30 in the afternoon — i arrive at 7 in the morning (desperate for a shower) and then take a train that evening at 8 that gets in at 7:45 (really really desperate for a shower). Yes, that is two days after I leave here…. In mumbai, I have a similar situation (though, lucky for me, even a few hours longer of a wait between two trains!)
Not sure how I will manage that time — find a place to stow my luggage? Get a rickshaw for the day? A hotel room? hang out in the train station and stare at people? Not sure — I guess it is all part of building the epic…. or something.
But — big picture — I have 17 more days in country — I will visit Hampi, which everyone raves about, for a few days and then head up to Rajasthan for a few days (not sure where I will visit — but definitely Pushkar and Jaipur). It is going to be quick and lots of transportation time — but hopefully worth it.
But — back to Varkala….
As I have said, it is a strip of souvenir stores, restaurants, and travel agents — all up on a cliff side. I have walked the strip more times than I would like to think (mostly because it is the only place to walk — especially when it gets dark). Once you get past the strip — there is great beach to the north. I spent some good time over there watching the most amazing sunset — probably one of my top 5 ever (see pictures below).
This is the first place I have really met a bunch of tourists — though two stand out: Rob and Norman. Rob and I met because we were both walking the strip back and forth one night and laughed about it – and from there decided to pick a spot and drink a beer, which turned into a few and then dinner. Rob is probably in his late 50s/mid-60s and from Australia. He is retired and spends most of his time driving his camper van up and down the Australian coast, camping and surfing. (Oh, that sounds terrible). We had a great time talking about life and travel and love and making lists and spirituality. We both are traveling alone (he is here for just 5 weeks this time, but once he was here in India traveling for 16 months!) – so we had fun talking about that as well. It was a great evening and he totally inspired me to add ‘buy van and pimp it out to live out of’ to my life list.
And then there is Norman. He and I met when we both were stopped to admire a sunset. I am not sure how old Norman is — but his oldest son is 40 – and he seems like he could be in his 70s. But — i am not good at guessing ages! Norman is also traveling alone and has been coming to India for about 13 years. He always comes to the south and spends a month or so here. He invited me along for a day on the backwaters (which, Lonely Planet says that floating in a houseboat on the Keralan backwaters is one of the iconic life list things to do). He told me to think about it and told me where his hotel was if I wanted to go – to just leave a message for him there. I thought about it and realized that, even though, I did want to leave Varkala — this was too good an opportunity to pass up (he offered to treat me for the day – but not in a sketchy way – instead he said — ‘i am already paying for all of this, why not have someone come along with me’). So – Norman and I went to the backwaters.
Long story short, our day was a bit messed up – though it all worked out. We went to a very beautiful beach in the morning and then floated in a canoe some of the backwaters in the afternoon. And, true to the hype, it is pretty spectacular. Our guide was a 23 year old who definitely had a schtick – but was knowledgable, friendly and fun. We saw a few birds, a water snake, floated past villages, learned about how they make coconut oil and coconut rope (which I have a sample that we made to bring home). Without seeing a larger map to understand how it all lays out, i have a hard time picturing where we were — but these villages seem to do their travel and life using these small canals. And, I even got a chance to pole our canoe along. And norman and I had fun talking about life and his family and travel in India (and elsewhere as he does one or two trips a year and seems to have been all over the place!)
All in all, it was a good adventure in Varkala. I definitely would not recommend it to someone looking for a quiet, off the beaten track kind of place. One night, a restaurant down the way, partied late into the night, keeping me up (which, bad on me, I should have moved guest houses — but repacking and moving my backpack is SO unappearling). Also – the men seem to be over the top forward and aggressive here. I have walked out of my room to be confronted with staring men who check me out head to toe. And you cannot walk the strip or near the beach late at night without some new male friends (who do not make me feel very friendly) who do not get the hint that i am not going to go off with them. But – that is counter-balanced with meeting fun travelers, pick up soccer games at 7 in the morning on the beach with the locals, running on the beach with the locals in the early morning (and even though that is all men too — their staring just seems a lot less aggressive!) and amazing sunsets.
Upon arriving, I got assaulted with requests to stay in various hotels and so it was pretty easy to find a place to stay. I could have probably even gotten a better deal, but the room is nice enough. And then I went to walk the strip — basically a long path of restaurants all with their fish out on display. basically — you can pick out what you want cooked. There were the usual assortment of crabs, prawns, fish of varying sizes. One place had a butter fish that was probably 3 feet long and huge!
I tried to find some southern indian food (as I figure I don’t need to have pizza here, since the pizza I can get at home is really good and I can’t get southern indian food at home!) — but I could not find a place that had any. All of the places have very touristy menus — food from home (Russian, Swedish, Continental, etc.) — which was kind of a bummer for me. I am going to have to go search out a place — though town (the real town, not the tourist central) is a few km away.
this morning, i got up early and went down to the beach for a run. There were a few other men running, some swimming and bathing and then some folks playing soccer. I did my workout (sprints on the beach, barefoot — pretty awesome!) and got schooled by an old guy out there running — he was running back and forth on the short section of beach — and wanted me to join him — i tried to tell him I was doing sprints and then when i sprinted by him, he started to sprint too — and totally kicked my ass. But, he invited me to come running with him tomorrow morning. Then I got invited to join in on a pick-up game of soccer — a little 3 on 3. It was super fun though I actually have no idea how to play soccer… and i have no aim. But, I decided that if I can start each day with 45-60 minutes of exercise and playing (preferably on the beach) every day followed by coffee overlooking the ocean…. that would work for me.
Funny enough — when I went for breakfast — the couple next to me asked if I had been trekking up in the everest base camp area. Turns out Katherine and I spoke to them up there (though, honestly, i have no memory of meeting them!) — but it was fun to talk about our adventures since then.
I went for a walk , got yelled at for taking a picture in a temple (there were no signs and the last temple I was at, I could take pictures! eek!), and then walked back on the beach — all the euros are wearing super tight and SMALL bathing suits… including the two girls jogging on the beach in their bikinis…. i guess the whole advice thing to be culturally appropriate in dress doesn’t apply to the euros in their bathing wear…. (though…. i sort of wish it did with some of them! 🙂
My good friend was here for two months and I can see how people would get ‘stuck’ here — the living is easy… I am sitting at a juice bar, there is good coffee, i had fresh fruit salad, there is wifi. All I could think this morning was…. it is a monday morning (sorry to all of you teacher friends — i am not trying to rub it in!)
Ok — i am off — maybe to eat some more, maybe to read, we shall see.
here are a few pictures from kochi (the weather hasn’t been good for photos — lots of rain the past few days!)