hanoi street life and the trauma of a bus full of goats
Due to Phong’s desire to spend a little more time with his family and a little less time with what he termed “an itinerant beer monster” it was decided to endure the torment of public transport for the final two hundred and fifty kilometres back to Hanoi for what Phong assured me would be ‘not too long’.
I have mentioned before in these pages how I find public transport an irksome experience, and this bus did little to elevate my phobia. We dismantled our bicycle and crammed them in amongst bags of rice and bunches of bananas and old folk and children, into a luggage compartment that seemed to extend some way into the passenger compartment. We then boarded and I comment to Phong how the bus seemed to be full and that we could be on our way. “Oh, not full yet” said Phong with a grin. This concerned me. Slowly but surely more and more people were shoehorned aboard. Small plastic stools were put in the aisle, an area that in Thailand is generally reserved for boarding and alighting the bus and making one’s way to and from the onboard loo. I noticed plastic bags being distributed amongst the passengers by the bus-boy, this disturbed me some more. “Vietnamese people vomit a lot on busses” Phong explained. By way of a helpful demonstration a pretty young lass who had ben levered into the space directly in front of me flopped forward and began liberating her breakfast. She was pretty so I felt sorry for her, had she been an overweight middle aged man I suspect that I would have felt rather different, odd that, isn’t it?
With a crunching of gears, a lot of lurching and jolting and blaring of horn the bus groaned out of the dust bowl that serves as a bus station and we were away – at a crawl. We were being overtaken by asthmatic snails, I gave Phong a questioning look “they are going slowly looking for more passengers” he explained. I scanned the bus for space to accommodate an anorexic tapeworm but could see none, this, quite frankly, disturbed me tremendously.
It struck me as odd as I wriggled and squirmed on my seat that I can sit on a small bicycle saddle and pedal uphill all day long and feel absolutely nothing more than a desire for beer, and yet sitting on a broad soft seat resting my legs made my backside feel as though it had been battered with a plank of kryptonite and left my legs, especially my left knee and interesting my right shin, aching to a degree that took three days to recover from. After what seemed to all areas bellow my navel as though several life times had passed we eventually arrived – a mass of crunching gears blaring horn and vomiting village folk, curb crawling in the optimistic hope of persuading another poor soul to join our tormented group for the final agonising minutes – in Hanoi. The bicycles were separated from the heard of goats gaggle of geese and several small families who had by now takes up residence within their frame space and, after a little time to convince my left knee that it was indeed still articulated, we were on our way amidst the chaos of cars and motorbikes and bicycle and pedestrians to the Old Quarter and much needed refreshments.
the beginning of another twenty kilometre climb. this one led to Heaven Gate, a fitting moniker
The cafés serving the finest beer and offering the most entertaining vistas in Vietnam’s capital are simple pavement affairs. Some offer seating on the pavement, other less salubrious establishments have their seating arrangement on the road next to the pavement adding an element of excitement to your beer drinking as you become an obstacle to be avoided by the millions of passing motor-scooters. I am lucky in so much as I was born with an unusual, some unkind people have even been know to say freaky, degree of flexibility. I also have a keen interest in yoga and have over the years spend much time in ashrams and meditation centres practising the art of twisting my person into ungodly shapes. This comes in very handy when lovering ones self onto the shin high plastic stools of a bia hoi café. Bia hoi is the local light beer, low on gas high on taste served freshly brewed slopping unceremoniously onto the table next to you. The tables are designed to match the chairs and as a result no one beyond the age of embryo can possibly get their knees beneath them so one sits along side the table watching Hanovians (possibly a made-up word but you know who I mean) pass by whilst replacing lost minerals with this wonderful four pints per dollar brew. And what a sight Hanoi passing by is.
Why ever anyone sits at home watching TV here is beyond me (as incidentally are most things). The traffic is an unsupervised disorganised teaming mayhem. Bicycles seem to be ridden in the main part by the young, by flower delivery people and fruit sellers, by ladies of a certain age who’s dotage proved to be rather less bountiful than their pension plan had promised, and by dust covered men who peddle something so heavy that the rack system would survive a direct hit from an H bomb and so rare that it is permanently empty. It has crossed my mind to follow these fellows to see where they are going, only fear and the advice of my doctor to take good care of my fluid intake when in the tropics prevents me. There are of course cars here and at first glance they may seem prevalent until the observer considers the narrow nature of the labyrinthine streets and the fact that the car can pull over pretty much as it, or its driver, whichever has the most will power at the time, sees fit; and they do often seem to be at odds in their opinion as to what move to make next. But it is the humble C90, or Wave or Dream or whatever guise this stalwart of the mighty Honda Corporation happens to be under at present that rules the streets of Hanoi, these and pedestrians. The spectacle of day to day life being lived out on the streets, of pedestrians ambling amidst swarms of Honda scooters jockeying for position in an endless swirling mass is as fine a form of entertainment as a chap could wish for over a beer.
a 500 vertical meter decent lead to this rather rickety bridge and a remote Hmong village
ladies sell road side feasts all over Vietnam. here we had sweet corn…
and water mellon
then back to climbing on dusty roads
and crossing the Rocky Plateau