Sunday 21 October 2012

On the road

Today it’s felt as though we’re properly living up to the name of the travel company hosting this trip: World Expeditions. We left the city bustle of Hanoi this morning and drove all day north-west through fascinating countryside to finish up in a small village of 500 where we’re staying in a traditional thatched stilt house, all in together on mattresses on the floor like at a marae.

Such a long drive could have been a penance, but there was so much to look at that there was no danger of nodding off (perhaps also thanks due there to Flyhidrate?) For a start, being part of the traffic was highly entertaining, especially as our driver had the universal Vietnamese disregard of the white line – there clearly only as a suggestion – and was as often on the wrong side as on the right. There were endlessly diverting episodes of near-collisions when overtaking on blind bends, or meeting vehicles doing the same thing – trucks and cars, this is, the ubiquitous motorbikes always there on the fringe of things. Only the modest speeds saved us from extinction – the one road rule to be rigidly enforced. None of this was unusual, you understand: it's just how things work here; and it does seem to work, oddly enough. We saw lots of dinged vehicles, but no actual prangs.

The motorbikes – universally referred to as Hondas, whatever the make - were actually most entertaining of all, as we met more and more unlikely loads being carried: two glass doors, a more-than 44 gallon drum, a pile of mattresses, two-metre high bonsai trees, and three pigs, full-size, trussed up in baskets and slung on the back of the bike, almost as astonishing a sight as the wrestling session that must have preceded it.

The towns were full of activity, and so was the countryside, most of the latter seemingly to do with making neat bundles of various bits of it. In fact, there was so much work going on and so much physical energy being expended that I felt quite exhausted just observing it: sweeping, scraping, building, chopping, digging, bending, straightening… What with all that, and the neat tea plantations and jungly peaks and rice paddies and duck-herding and water buffaloes and sweetcorn plantations, it was especially bizarre that our cheerful local guide Duke, announcing that he would play some “nice Vietnamese music” then had us listening to ‘It had to be you’ and ‘Those were the days’ as though we were standing in some Westfield mall elevator.

And now we’re full of rice wine and yummy spring rolls and noodle soup and chicken and pork and vegetables and fruit, and looking forward to doing battle with mosquito nets and shutters and mattresses on the floor tonight. It’ll be fun!

No comments:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...