coffee

Train Rides - a poem

So this is what happens when I drink too much coffee and stay up past my bedtime.

It feels Kerouac-y and I like it. 

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Life IS living on a sleeper train and jumping from bus to bus scraping just enough together to get to the next destination. There is a certain romance about eating at gas stations, peeing in the woods and not knowing where your next bed is. My heart beats a little louder for people living out of their van, making breakfast out of their trunk in the morning dew in the soft light of a sunrise. Life isn't planning. Life is living for exactly what you want. Not saving up for someday. Someday is a disease that will take your dreams to their graves, graffiti told us on the cement walls of one of our Vietnamese hostels. Bright shades of wisdom from aerosol cans.

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In a dirty hostel somewhere in Vinh, we ran into Mike Wadleigh, the creator of the Woodstock documentary. He's gathering data on climate change, he told John. He seemed impressed with our story and told us to expose the lie by living the example. 'You don't need all that money,' he told us before putting on his oversized white helmet and riding off on a motorcycle (only after chatting with us about how the lead guitarist from queen is an astrophysicist and Iggy Pop is one of the smartest men he knows and lectures about life.) I thanked him for the documentary and told him how my generation of people were able to experience Woodstock because of his work. Music is not what it used to be, and a lot of people know that. Mike Wadleigh is 74 and looks not a day over 60 and is a self professed hippie and I love him. There is a serenity in his eyes and a tone in his voice I've never seen or heard before. Expose the lie. We will Mike, I hope we meet again.

 

'This is the lifeblood, the essence that runs through my veins' I think, as I type this swaying back and forth in my top bunk in a sleeper train headed to north Vietnam in hopes of better weather. We've been rained out of central Vietnam with only 8 more days left on our visas. I'm high on life and way to much coffee this evening. The lurching of the train shakes my already rattled bones.

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I go for a late night cigarette in the bathroom but there's someone in there. The train swishes and sways back and forth and I'm nearly thrown into the doors, or out the doors, rather. I look out the windows on both sides and the world whizzes by as I just try to keep my balance. Ahhh such is life.

Finally I find a different bathroom but the door won't shut  I try and I try but the deadbolt just won't lock until I look down and realize I haven't even closed the door all the way. There's something cool about smoking a cigarette in a bathroom on a moving train somewhere in Vietnam, there's something about looking at the lights passing by in the darkness that's extremely calming amidst the chaos.

 

Purity is not for me, I think taking a drag off my cigarette, I still consider myself spiritual. I fell down that rabbit hole once and came out the same old Alice.

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I told Sammie once when we were high sitting in the floor of my first apartment: we have a life we live, and then we have another life, our real life, dragging us by the hair, shouting and screaming our passions in our face saying 'follow me!!!! I know the antidote for the poison in your soul! That 9-5 job you call safety is actually a noose!'

 

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The kids here love us, that being said some of the really young ones are terrified of us. Ironically for the same reasons: John is tall and I am tattooed. We're a walking American zoo. You can look but don't touch the animals, they're wild & they may bite.

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I haven't taken too many selfies on this trip. Sometimes I think it's a good thing to not know what you look like. Acne eats away at your soul just like it does your skin. I wonder sometimes what's left. But then I took a picture of myself on purpose trying to show my scars instead of hide them. So I could stare into what I perceive as negative and love it anyways. So I could work deeper into loving my light and darkness both internal and external. John says I can't take the bad with the good. He's right. 

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The most moving thing I've seen on my trip was a young violinist at the train station in Bangkok. He played beautifully and had a speaker behind him playing piano to go with his violin. John and I stopped to watch for a very long time and after a while a shoeless blind man walked all the way up god knows where finding his way by holding onto the railing and stepping one foot in front of the other and he found this boy and reached for his violin and asked him something in Thai. I have no idea what. But the vibration of the music and the frequency of emotion filled the air and I was moved. The simple things we can miss if we're in a hurry in our day to day vs the things we witness when we have no plans at all.

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A tumbleweeds the life for me. 

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I'm a good writer when I'm properly caffeinated. The Vietnamese do coffee well.

Southern Vietnam

Hey hey! It's been a little while since I've written because our adventures are so wonder-FULL it's really hard to find time to sit down and flush out my thoughts on paper. Luckily, it's pouring rain outside in Hoi An so I get to settle inside for once and write. 

I suppose I'll write about Cambodia later because there's a lot to say and a lot of things that happened at Angkor Wat and writing about that now would be ineffective and inefficient. So I'll start our venture with the border crossing from Cambodia through Snoul into Vietnam. 

We were told that our bus from Cambodia would take us to the border at Snoul and a motorbike would take us over the border into Vietnam where a bus that went from Ho Chi Minh was waiting for travelers every 15 minutes.  This turned out not to be true. We crossed the border with another backpacker that we had met that morning named Mac. Mac was a great guy and told us all about traveling through southeast Asia as he's from Singapore and gets to visit these countries quite often. We walked over the border into Vietnam with Mac and saw that the streets were quite deserted and there were absolutely no buses and hardly any other signs of life at all. Luckily after walking a little ways in the blistering sun, there up ahead was a tiny restaurant that we all sat down and chatted over some pho and much needed aloe juice. As we were sitting, swapping adventure stories and waiting patiently, (but also not so patiently because we didn't know how the fuck we were going to figure out how to get to the bus station or anything and kinda having mini heart attacks) John suddenly saw a giant tour bus that had just crossed the border from Cambodia into Vietnam; he ran at it full speed and they stopped to listen to what this crazy American had to say. As it turned out they were a Chinese bus tour and their sleeper bus wasnt full so they were able to take us with them AND they just so happened to be heading to Ho Chi Minh.

We gratefully accepted a ride and jumped on the bus, found our respective seats and looked at each other, laughing at our luck; the universe proving again it's magic and Synchronous nature. After a long bus ride staring out the window seeing the subtle and also obvious differences between Vietnam to Cambodia, the bus dropped us off in the middle of Ho Chi Minh and me, Mac and John hopped off and went into the mall to eat some knock off KFC chicken - which was delicious. 

We were about 5 km away from our hostel but we decided to walk as we wanted to see the secret alleys and the innards of Ho Chi Minh in all of its sneaky glory. We were using Ho Chi Minh as a transitional city and weren't staying too long, so exploration was absolutely necessary. As we zipped down alleyways nearly escaping being hit by motorbikes, motorcycles, bicyclists and other fast walkers like ourselves we stumbled upon a giant pagoda that had shrines to Buddha, Kuan Yin and also Vishnu and Shiva. We payed our respects to the beautiful statues and continued our wandering. 

Christmas decorations in every alley  

Christmas decorations in every alley  

Walking a little bit further we accidentally stumbled upon Christmas in Ho Chi Minh (as it was Christmas Eve) and all the streets had strewn lights all across the alleyways, little girls were dressed up an angel costumes, Santa was riding a motorbike, and there was even a fog machine turned snow machine that lightly fluttered down and decorated the alley with little snow bubbles. We stumbled upon a beautiful Catholic Church that was decorated and lit up in many colors complete with the baby Jesus, the star of Bethlehem, and various Christmas trees strewn about with beautiful ornaments and shiny ribbons. Everyone there was dressed to a T and ready for midnight mass. Christmas songs rang out in English as well as Vietnamese; we were in such a pure awestruck state as we had no idea this was what was waiting for us in the alleyways a Vietnam. 

Tiny snow angels  

Tiny snow angels  

We walked further making way for our hostel, it must have been at least 100° with 100% humidity as we were absolutely covered in sweat. The juxtaposition of it all, beautifully dressed Vietnamese people to disgustingly sweaty foreigners was all very funny. We ended up parting ways with Mac and decided to get an Uber the rest of the way.

Ourr Uber took us to the address that our hostel claimed it was at (54/6 - whatever that meant) and we wandered around the building square for about 30 minutes until this very charming Vietnamese lady looked at us, sweaty, exhausted and carrying huge backpacks, and using her hands as a map she showed us we needed to be on the other side of the building. Once on the other side of the building we realized that there was a very tiny inlet that looked like a garage but once you walked in it opened to a whole city square and our Harry Potter-Esque address meant 54 was the square we were in and 6 was the actual building number.

As exhausted as we were we decided to shower and head out on Christmas Eve and see what what there was to do. We stumbled upon a night market, but as it turns out the night markets in Cambodia, the night markets in Thailand, and the night markets in Vietnam are all pretty similar; they're all tourist traps with expensive drinks and loud foreigners.

We stayed at Saigon Central hostel that was very centrally located and had a super helpful staff. There, we learned about the 'hop on hop off' bus that cost $59 to go from Ho Chi Minh all the way to North Vietnam (Hanoi), stopping in whatever major city you want, adventuring around for however long you want and then contacting them to hop back on the bus when you're ready to head to a new city. 

The next day we woke up and tried to enjoy our last day in Ho Chi Minh - by looking for a phone store for a SIM card. We found a great donut shop and I found a tattoo shop (!) and chatted with an artist for a little while about getting a tattoo; unfortunately we were only going to be there for a day and that was not enough time to sit down sketch out approve and also get tattooed (I haven't been tattooed here yet in southeast Asia and that is wearing on my mind. And body. As I love being tattooed especially when it's for such a beautiful reason as to symbolize an epic place I've been So lucky to experience. And it's driving me mildly crazy!) 

Nothing says Christmas like a batman donut  

Nothing says Christmas like a batman donut  

Side note about Ho Chi Minh: it's not a good place to rent or drive a motorized vehicle. Traffic is beyond insane and they drive anywhere they can: the road, the sidewalk, the canal, wherever. 

Exhausted (hating) the city we hopped on a bus to Da Lat, excited to leave the madness of the city for the beauty and stillness of the countryside. Our bus ride was absolutely amazing taking up up the beautiful green mountains higher and higher and higher into the mountains into the city of Da Lat nestled between mountains in this beautiful Green and foggy valley. Da Lat is easily one of my favorite places I've been so far. It was colonized by the French and so it has some seriously eclectic flares between Vietnamese culture, French architecture and almost a Dutch and Swiss tinge. 

Our Backpackers Paradise Crew 💕  Lenore, Lynn, Nessa, Mary, Jack, Tess, Mar, me & John

Our Backpackers Paradise Crew 💕  Lenore, Lynn, Nessa, Mary, Jack, Tess, Mar, me & John

We stayed in Backpackers Paradise hostel which was probably one of our favorite hostels. They are cheap and in a great location and had free breakfast AND dinner (which free dinner is uncommon). We became super close knit to all of our hostel mates, and one fateful night we all ventured out and went to the highly unique highly raved about 100 Roofs café which is an absolute MUST if you go to Da Lat!!!!!! I won't spoil too much of it for you (as I love surprises) but basically you walk into the bar, you decide if you want to go up or down, and the rest is a maze lit up dimly with multicolored lights and the walls are all decorated in different images, sculptures, animals, people etc, complete with little cubbyholes, random staircases and secret rooms. That being said, is a very poor description of the bar and you need to see it for yourself. It was the best bar I've ever been to.  

A sneaky area of 100 Roofs Cafe

A sneaky area of 100 Roofs Cafe

Adventuring through Da Lat on a motorbike was the most freeing feeling, riding through rice pattys (paddies?) and different coffee orchards, only to find beautiful pristine waterfalls about three tiers high. Our favorite waterfall was Pongour Waterfall which was a bit of a drive out of Da Lat. It was absolutely ginormous and if you didn't get in trouble you were able to climb to the top! Due to our ultra sneaky nature we made it to the top but got in trouble on the way down 😂😂 Elephant Waterfall was also amazing (Sammie duhhhh) but it was about half the size of Pongour and there were way too many tourists. Tiger waterfall pictured below was challenging to get to because the road was on a 45 degree incline and the whole road WAS a giant pothole. It was very beautiful and had a legend that we tried to make out - Basically tigers used to live there in the caves before man took over and started hunting them. (Stupid man.)

Tiger waterfall in Da Lat

Tiger waterfall in Da Lat

In between waterfalls, coffee was necessary to life and as it happens Da Lat, Vietnam is one of the places that you can get weasel coffee(!) which is the coffee that comes from weasels eating coffee beans, something magical that happens with their stomach acid making the coffee incredibly good and pooping the beans out and humans consuming them! (The pooped out coffee beans that is - not the weasel) It is said to be the most expensive (and delicious) coffee in the world. Not pictured are the adorable weasels because they were in cages and John and I had a bad feeling about them on a coffee-bean-only diet.

Weasel (poop) coffee 😂 

Weasel (poop) coffee 😂 

Lucky, the wolf husky, reunited with his papa & going on a celebratory drive  

Lucky, the wolf husky, reunited with his papa & going on a celebratory drive  

Back at the home front - Backpackers Paradise we were able to witness Lucky, the beautiful husky dog, be reunited with his family after being DOGNAPPED for a week! It was so heartwarming to see such a huge fluffy dog so ecstatic to be home and his dad immediately put him on a motorbike (with a pink helmet of course) and took him for a celebratory drive! (Only in Vietnam!)

Crazy House in Da Lat

Crazy House in Da Lat

We adventured to Crazy House in Da Lat which was apparently built by an autistic daughter of a general who was sent away to live in the mountains; we were told this by a Dutch restaurant owner named Thomas (who is located right across from the Crazy House.) We did our own research but sometimes google doesn't translate things as well as it thinks it does because we also heard the same person who built 100 Roofs Cafe did Crazy House as well, so there was some conflicting information. 

New Years Giant Jengaaaaaa!  

New Years Giant Jengaaaaaa!  

We were sad to leave Da Lat, it's definitely my favorite city in Vietnam so far, but we had to continue our journey North and headed to Nha Trang as yet another transitional (coastal) city on our way to Hoi An, where we wanted to celebrate New Year's. Some of our hostel mates from backpackers paradise in Da Lat met up with us and we celebrated New Year's in Hoi An at a reggae bar called One Love, where I bought a bucket of booze and me and John played jumbo Jenga! 

The top of Marble Mountain  

The top of Marble Mountain  

We bought a motorbike in Hoi An and drove to Marble Mountain, climbed the mountain (with a bunch of tourists as it was the only sunny day we've had in awhile), went through some caves and witnessed a giant Buddha in a beautiful old cave with Chinese characters scratched into the walls of the cave.

Big cave! Big Buddha! Little Jess!  

Big cave! Big Buddha! Little Jess!  

The beautiful coast of Da Nang, Vietnam  

The beautiful coast of Da Nang, Vietnam  

We drove out to the mountains (Monkey Mountain) where there is a giant Kuan Yin statue you can see all the way from the city of Da Nang, there we drove along the coast - that looks very much like Highway 1 in California!

The plan today is to do the Hai Van Pass made famous by the show Top Gear!!  woooo! The saga continues!!