The cars swirl the streets of Hanoi without breaking. The motorcycle women have long white gloves and masks. The autos and bikes are oblivious to pedestrians.
“Neal how am I going to cross?”
“Just look like you know where you are going. They’ll get out of the way.”
I barely close my eyes and slowly march into the speeding avenue. I pretend I am blind as I feel my way. I dart in a panic.
“Go Gordon. Move. Just walk walk!!” he hollers at me.
My heart wants to explode. My frightened feet tell me “Forget it. You are going to be run over.” I try to gobble my nerves and become possessed by the lyrics of Climb Every Mountain from Sound of Music “Ford every stream.” This is much worse. Horns start blasting at me. Oh God that car is swerving towards me. I jump.
I see Neal waving at me. Yes, yes, I am almost there. I fall into his body.
“This is so third world. Why did I ever agree to coming here?”
“It’s an adventure honey.”
As we stroll the streets, we hear a microphone sound emanating from a small mini-van. It’s strident Vietnamese.
“I think it’s a form of government announcement. Old fashioned propaganda.” Neal says.
“It’s funny it’s the first time we are even aware of this being a communist country.” I muse.
We started out vacation in Ho Chi Ming city and have worked our way north to Hanoi. This evening we are taking an overnight train to Sapa. It’s the most northern edge of Vietnam bordering on China.
We find our tiny cramped cabin. This is not like Murder on the Orient Express. We squeeze into our sleeper bunks. Oh no. I forgot we are sharing with another couple. There is no room to move. The only bathroom is down the hall.
“Neal you take the top bunk. I don’t want to be climbing down if I have pee in the middle of the night.”
It’s only nine o’clock. We aren’t tired. Sleep is out of the question at this early hour. There isn’t even a light to read. Kindle’s hadn’t become part of my life in 2007.
There is a large boned man and woman already in their beds.
They introduced themselves “Hi. I’m Harry. This is my wife Jill. We’ve had an exhausting day in Hanoi. I’m a doctor. One of the tourists was bit by a dog and I needed to take care of her. Still waiting to see if the dog had rabies.” There is a slight accent. Sounds like characters from the film Fargo.
“Oh, I worry about those scrawny looking dogs wondering around without a leash. Oh God rabies? Do they still need to give you shots in the belly button” I respond.
“Where are you guys from?” Neal butts in.
“Nova Scotia. We’re retired. Rabies are still dangerous, but the treatment is slightly less painful. Going to get to sleep now. Goodnight” They look like hardy farmers from the past who wouldn’t know anything about pain. The lights go out.
Eight hours later we arrive in Sapa. When we leave the train my first image is that of a large boar trampling down the street. I love pigs and am startled to see such a large animal.
The chilly air mixed with a stupendous mountain view fill up my corneas and nostrils. It’s almost worth the torturous caboose trip.
After we settle in at our hotel we venture out for a hike. We are accosted by the smiling impoverished Vietnamese that we’ve encountered thorough out our tour. Despite their poverty, there is an optimism and gentle aura unlike the distressed we’ve experienced in other countries. The Sapa hills fill us with spiritual confidence as we let their splendor eat into our memories.
The dream state awakens with me saying, “Neal, there is a dog coming towards me.”
“Just remain calm.”
I hold my breath and walk carefully walk away.
Our hike trek continues through tiered rice paddies. The hill-tribe villages hit our eyes as we thrill to the sweeping mountain valleys.
That evening we crash and sleep nine hours to make up for the train sleep. The following day we explore Sapa’s markets before we repeat the train excursion back to Hanoi. We luck out and have a room for ourselves. No Canadian roommates.
We arrive in Hanoi at five in the morning. We look for an authentic pho breakfast. Rice noodles with chicken, ginger, cinnamon, onion, and star anise. We sit with a crowd inhaling the steeping hot brilliant broth. We feel like authentic Vietnamese. Outside the restaurant we see a large group of people standing by the Hanoi Lake.
When we finish our Vietnamese Pho soup, we get a closer look. The sun hasn’t risen so we can only see by moonlight. Ah they are all doing Tai Chi. The symphony players move to the rhythmic exercise. The momentum lulls us.
Hanoi meditates us away. The beauty awakens as we depart. Our tenth anniversary is months away. Vietnam will become our honeymoon.