Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Our life in pictures - Week 3 in Vietnam

Markos, dunes and the wind.
Dragon Fruit - the center just pops out as you peel back the outer layer.
Nước mía and Sarsi pop, our daily afternoon cool down.
Fantastic views earned by innumerable coastal climbs.
Markos and Sampson hit the surf in yet another sea - the South China.
Assembling spring rolls using our "India" sitting-on-the-floor skills in our hotel room.
Coastal calm and clouds.
Com dia, broth soup with greens.  Our most common lunch on the road.  88cents.
Fish at the open-air market.
Saturday night at the town square, the McFerrins catch a ride.
What one thing would you bring on this trip - no limit.
Markos: Vera, our cat
Sampson: a friend
Tarn: a satchel of books

What day have you been in the most pain on this trip?
Rick: The last day I rode in Finland before I took two weeks off the bike - my foot looked like Froder's.
Markos: In Sweden when it rained all day and it was freezing cold - I couldn't feel my hands or feet.
Sampson: When I burnt my lips in India.

Questions of the day help us check-in in the morning and set us up for a day of success.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Vietnam - It's easy to be here.

Loc Ninh, our first town in Vietnam.  Orderly and patriotic.  We found a clean guest house, awesome street food and a local open air market easily.  It set us up for a super outlook on this new-to-us country. 
Lush foliage and mountains!  A complete change from Cambodia.  We continue to seek out the smaller roads to avoid traffic and we consistently find quiet paved roads.  Our path has taken us through winding river valleys and varied terrain.  Though we are covering less ground because climbing slows our pace considerably, we are loving the countryside.
Tasty changes to the rice/rice noodle diet.  We frequently get served hard boiled eggs (this one is a tiny quail egg) and lots of lettuce and other leafy greens.  Additionally, our solid morning snack now is a Vietnamese sub, "Ban Mi".  We find the small sandwich carts along the road in the morning and buy 8, two for each boy and one for mom and one for dad.  At 10,000 dong apiece (US 44cents) they are a great way to take the hunger off a growing boy for our first hour's bike snack of the day.
Strange, vacant, monumental christian churches are a common sight.  The plazas large, concrete, and appearing unused.  We are trying to piece together the various changes we observe traveling now, in our first communist country.  Camping our style, where we ask to camp at a school, church or health care centre, has been unsuccessful.  Fortunately guest houses are economic, we just have to search out the ones suited for a family, not the ever-present rent-by-the-hour variety.

Markos and Sampson model their cycle tans.  This silly local's beach had several old-style painted car bodies lined along the beach.  Vietnamese girls were taking posed pictures by them.

Completeness, order.  A country that seems to have it together.

Formal, rectangular cement "shoe box" homes.   Simple, Art Deco-type geometric designs on the front facades. The short end facing the street is lined with tall folding or multiple doors across the entire front.  The roof line starts high in the front and descends towards the back of the home.
Mountains, gently winding roads following rivers, climbing and descending, visual interest at every turn.  Towering sand dunes, gigantic boulder-covered hillsides, crashing surf, fine sand beaches.

Pavement – smooth wide shoulders with high speed traffic, quiet routes are paved too, though occasionally bumpy, worn or broken for half our day's ride.

Lush green forests; towering, mature, rubber tree plantations; lime green rice paddies; cashew tree orchards with piles of discarded fruit rotting in piles beneath the huge trees; and now at the coast, fields of odd Christmas cactus-type dragon fruit plants, light bulbs strung low along the rows (why?)

Long beaches, littered with Styrofoam and plastic waste.  Garbage churning in the first 25 metres of the waves and foam.  Circular blue plastic “bathtub” fishing boats cover the beaches like a boat parking lot.  Further north, clean, private "tourist" beaches.

New, easy to access, tasty discoveries.  Street food everywhere, rice/noodles, greens galore.  Spicy sauces and sweet crunchiness of lettuces and cucumbers.  "Tra da" iced tea, with one cup on top of the insulated cooler jug.  I guess sharing germs isn't a concern?  If we are served tra da at the table (small, plastic with smaller plastic stools around it) we get one cup and a jug of tra da.  We've learned how to share too.  So far, so good....

"Pajama Day" seniors.  Older men, walking along the road or biking along the highway, wearing pajamas.  Any time of the day, any day of the week.  

A culture of hanging out and relaxation.  Cold drink stands lined with shaded hammocks around small tables.  Vietnamese people sleeping, talking, doing business while lying in a hammock.  And if not in a hammock, playing loud games of cards or tile games.  Money changing hands, hollering and laughter.

Morning roadside tables loaded with butchered meat, the tail of a dog descending from one, the head of a goat accompanying another – indicating the original source of the wares.

Electronic recordings tweeting from large cement "swallow buildings" - a nest made of swallow saliva sells for US $250.00  It seems that every one and their brother is in on this enterprise.
Still so much to discover….

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Cambodia Carries On

Daily shopping - Tarn is on cook/clean duty today.  The weather is hot and food is perishable.  We buy vegetables daily as well as eggs and nuts.  If you saw the un-refridgerated meat vendors sell you likely would adopt a mostly vegetable diet as we have too!

Tarn's smile is worth a thousand words.  This ferry across the Mekong River popped up out of the blue.  After several hours bumping along a rugged dirt road, the chances of reaching his dream destination, a "guest house" town, were not looking likely.  The ferry offered us a serious short-cut and we made it to Kampong Cham with ease.
Make Way For Ducklings!  How the fellow with the long stick and two dogs herded this group of over a thousand ducks across the road is beyond me.  Especially when a large number of them got distracted in the pond on the wrong side of the road.  This kind of traffic is fun, the result of our choice to ride the less traveled routes of Cambodia.

This landing spot gave us unique insight into a functioning community centre.  The locals of the village utilize this raised and covered wooden structure within the Buddhist temple complex as their down-time space.  We arrived and set up at noon.  Senior hour was in session.  Older men who might meet at a coffee shop met up in discussion in front of the TV in the corner. They took turns cooling off with a dump bath in the back right corner where the open water tanks also served as a dish and clothes washing centre.  Kids congregated in front of the TV after school and were replaced by teenagers as the evening hours came on.  In the early hours of the morning community cooking (a large pot of rice on a cement bucket fire) took place here too.  Buddhist temple complexes, Wats, have lent consistent stability to our travel in Cambodia.  Every time we have asked to camp at a Wat for the night, we have been welcomed without question.  Their gardens in various stages of upkeep and interesting and fantastical sculptures make a peaceful and restive break from the dust/chaos of the road. We have become familiar and comfortable with the routine of the monks.  Mornings they walk the roads with their bowls, offering prayers to the people and receiving gifts of food.  Noontime heat brings quiet rest at the Wat and the onset of dusk is a time of  tidying-up and sweeping of the leaves on parts of the temple complex grounds.  Chanting  accompanies the darkness of the evening.  Wats provide schooling and housing for numerous orphans in Cambodia.  The discipline and smiles of the youth prove it is a good home for them too. 

A photo art project? No, just a close look at what humidity, heat and dusty roads do to create a distinctive sock line.
We couldn't pass by this cool and clean stream.  Next to the locals splashing in the water and women and pairs of kids arriving to scrub their family laundry in the shade of the bridge, we passed the midday heat of the day in happiness.  60 km of dirt done, 25 more to go, plus 8 final km on rough, hilly, high traffic pavement to reach Tarn's goal of a guest house town.  The cool down allowed us to be successful, yet we won't repeat this long-distance on dirt in the heat again.  Our bodies were worn!

Travel in Cambodia is thought provoking.  So many kids.  So many small businesses.  Everyone with a stilt-raised house along the road has a mini-business in front sporting a red plastic cooler and numerous links of packaged, cheaply priced items for sale.  The ice man comes by in the morning, sawing off a chunk of ice for these coolers which by mid-afternoon hold  questionably cool plastic beverage bottles.  Plastic debris fills the ditches in front of most of the homes while a few show another option - beautiful lotus ponds or carefully tended gardens.  Most of the traffic on the road is motor bikes, moving strategic loads of large plastic gas tanks, stacked huge bags of coal, or even piles of mattresses balanced on a wide board tied across the back of the motor bike.  Otherwise, the motorbikes are another mini-business with their woven reed oval baskets holding individually plastic packaged slices of toast, soup, pastries, you name it. When bikes have these baskets strapped to the back they are often hauling greens from the field.  Always the women are wearing pajama style cotton leisure suits, flip flops and a styling hat.  I appreciate being able to move peacefully through this country and have my children digest so much food for thought. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Changes in Cambodia

After returning from the 25 month world bike trip with Rick in 2000, Cambodia stood out to me as one of my favourite countries.  As we approached the border of Cambodia from Thailand on this trip with the family now in 2018, I wondered, “Will Cambodia still hold its charm for me?” I had heard from other travelers a not-so-rosy description of modern Cambodia.  I’m happy to say that the genuine goodness of people in Cambodia remains the same. 
In 1999, Siem Reap (the town closest to the temple complexes of Angkor) was a busy little town with mud streets, we felt lucky to find a single guest house.  The national highway from the Thailand border was solid dirt and mud, and had continuous giant round holes filled with water - results of  war that was now in the past.  We visited Angkor Wat, the World Heritage site completely on our own.  We didn’t see another soul there.

Now…2018…Siem Reap is the Las Vegas/Disneyland of Southeast Asia.  Everywhere you look are high rise, high end hotels, eateries, shopping and tourist prices across the board. The national highway is now paved and smooth, though the chaos echoes the roads of India. The Angkor Temples are crawling with tourists –every one of them.  I would say a million tourists are on the vast complex at any one time.

The good…we got off the main road and took the slow rugged one, staying at a tiny village school and buddist temple.  We took a river boat for a day to complete the journey to Siem Reap. The Cambodians we interact with are genuine, kind and seem to value us as people.  The food is still a gamble, there are amazing French baguettes filled with pickled and fresh vegies and what we call “pig face”, it looks like chopped up pig rind…and that’s the best of the choices of the available “meat”.  Don’t think we will be trying the grilled rats that have replaced the grilled chicken we were able to find roadside in Thailand.  And now, the big silver soup pots lined up at the lunch table aren’t even an option in my mind (we’d struggle through the unknown contents in 1999, but now that I know they likely contain rat…hmmmm).  Pineapples are ever so sweet.  Sweet sticky rice riddled with black beans and stuffed into thick bamboo cylinders is a special treat.  We can still find the Asian noodle soup that is a solid (can’t avoid the intestine/tube chunks and chopped organ meat sometimes though.)  It’s a different world here, and the McFerrin boys want to utilize the 30 possible days allotted by our visas. – I guess that’s the magic of Cambodia.

Attire:  awesome, styling hats on Cambodian men and women alike.  Many are made in a thick yarn crochet style with some kind of brim.  Women wear matching floral pajama-style leisure suits for all activities and women in towns usually have on lipstick.

Lots of kids.  Lots of kids riding bikes to school.  Waiting tables.  Helping prepare your dinner. Helping their parents at work.  Kids are always present.

Weather is still hot and sticky but we’ve had a bit more cloud cover and wind.  Nights cool down to the twenties.  Next stop (more than a week away) is Phnom Penh, where we get to visit our friend Maria who works at a school there.
Rick taking a selfie with kids at the school on the temple grounds.  We camped here the night before.

A delicious nutritious (?) sweet sticky rice treat.  Nice to see natural packaging that still exists.

Early morning on the roads of Cambodia. No one is going anywhere fast!

So many kids.  They clearly know how to entertain themselves. These ones spent the day on the school grounds while their older siblings were in class.  We camped here this night and they all slowly returned to their homes as the evening wore on.

Angkor Wat -  carvings on the walls behind the columns surround the inner towers,  an incredible pictorial history of Angkor culture.

An entrance to the Bayan Temple complex.  After a full day of "temple-ing",  including fantastic jungle single track, we arrived at a great time for taking pictures in late afternoon sunshine.