Thursday, 31 July 2008

Hot, hot Hanoi

Our most recent trip out of Hanoi was a 2 day trip on Monday/Tuesday to Tam Dao, a National Park in mountains 80km north, with a town of the same name. We rode there on our motor bikes through the river flats that extend for many kilometres in all directions, until we reached the mountains, with a 1,000m climb in the last 11km of the ride. The national park covers the entire mountain area and, apart from the area of the town, comprises luxuriant rain forest. With the mountains rising straight from the flood plains, you can imagine how much rain they receive. We trekked through the rain forest, on Tuesday morning, climbing a substantial way up the highest mountain before running out of time.

Carolyne is thriving. Before leaving Oz her health was problematic and she'd put on weight over the past couple of years. The food here suits her very well, and she's been doing lots of walking. The result is that she's lost weight and has gained a lot of fitness. She looks well and is experiencing few down days.

In addition to the fabulous food, hot weather and wonderful countryside that we're experiencing, three anecdotes from the past 2 days will help explain why we like the people so much. During our trekking in Tam Dao Carolyne cut her left leg. It kept bleeding, despite our best efforts. While motoring back to Hanoi we stopped for a coffee at a roadside café in a small village. A young man came in for a beer and noticed Carolyne's bleeding leg, expressing concern. He went off into the rain forest and we saw him return chewing some tree leaves. He came over to us, called the woman who was serving us to help clean Carolyne's leg and to bring a long piece of cloth as a bandage. He put the chewed leaves over the wound and wound the cloth around it to hold it in place, before returning to his beer. It was all without fanfare and solely for Carolyne's benefit. Needless to say, the wound stopped bleeding and is healing nicely!

Today we headed to a local 'hole-in-the-wall' (literally!) street eatery, with 2 small tables, for lunch comprising a bowl of fish noodle soup. A local Vietnamese man was enjoying his lunch and a couple of beers with his mate. Delighted to see us, and without more than one word of English, he engaged me in a spirited and friendly conversation, excitedly announcing 'Kangaroo!' when discovering we were Australian. With much insistence, he fetched me a glass full of ice and proceeded to pour me a beer and Carolyne a soft drink. He kept refilling my glass to overflowing throughout the lunch and his fraternal discourse, eventually insisting that he pay for our meals as well.

The third incident occurred this afternoon while I was enjoying a couple of beers at our local bia hoi (draft beer at a simple outdoor venue). An old fellow rode up on his motor-bike, with a pile of tennis rackets on the front. He ordered one beer which he downed while still sitting on the bike at the edge of the road. I spoke briefly to him indicating his fitness and strength, and he spoke to us in French. He had just finished playing tennis with friends and was having a beer on his way home. He was a professor of medicine at the Hanoi University and was 84 years old! He wanted to know where we were from and whether we played tennis – he wasn't impressed by my running and cycling!