Tuesday 23 October 2012


It was another long day in the van today, which was all about rocks and children. We drove further north, into the World Heritage area of the Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark, which is a wordy title for somewhere that's quite honestly OTT spectacular. We went up to 1000m, but the peaks were still high above us, green and black and pointy like a dragon's back, and yet still astonishingly cultivated, with terraces and zigzag roads and tracks carved into their sides. It's phenomenal what can be achieved by simple tools, a bit of know-how and a whole lot of hard work.

Duke shared some history with us today, and it's clear that this country is all about blood, sweat and tears: 1000 years of warfare, and such things as the road we were on today, built by the Vietnamese under French domination, with great loss of life. And today, though the blood and tears are hopefully things of the past, the sweat continues, with the people scratching a hard living by incredible hard work. The loads we saw being carried today, by young and old! Huge loads of firewood and bamboo, big wicker baskets full of turnips - they were bent double, as they climbed up steep rough tracks. We saw groups of women threshing rice by hand, men breaking rocks... And also young people in modern gear checking cellphones, whisking past on shiny motorscooters; and satellite dishes on adobe houses.

We also saw lots of children as we bumped and bounced along the narrow road: they weren't sure of us, suspicious but hopeful that something nice might come of our all pointing our cameras at them. And fortunately two of us had had the forethought to buy lollies and stickers to give them, to their shy delight. They looked very poor - but the ones in the little school we visited were clean and earnest and studious, 6 year-olds already doing algebra, working out the sums written neatly on the blackboard. That was good to see; though the odds are that they'll end up out in the fields, continuing the same backbreaking toil that's been going on here for centuries. With, I have to say, quite remarkable good cheer, to judge by the laughter that floated up to us from the terraces below.

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