Sunday, March 22, 2009

Final Thoughts

It's all over, and I am home; safely. And what a journey it has been! The ride was far more dangerous and more difficult than I ever imagined, and riding along the Esplanade in Melbourne was not the greatest of preparation. There were some very fit and fast riders in our group, with whom I never had a chance to keep up with, but that was OK; I knew my limitations. Had I just decided to take up bike riding, and join a group of riders in Vietnam, I would not have been up to standard. But this was a ride for Parkinson's so I make no apology for my lack of speed. My fitness certainly improved before and during the ride. This was a personal Challenge for everyone, and though I may not have rode all day, every day, I feel that I exceeded my expectations in riding. I rode every twice a day. Some times I rode up hills for over 30 km at a time.
I was not embarrassed to use the bus if I was tired or my toes curled. I am proud of my achievement, and I know that some on the ride were proud of me too. I think we all did very well. From the 3 of us with Parkinson's to those who were always in front, to those not to be in front, but to help others, (thanks, Leanne), to those who were 'middle' riders.
I met some fabulous new people and saw some wonderful places.
The accommodation and food were adequate to good, I certainly didn't starve, and bottled water was readily available.Our 2 guides were excellent.
But above all, I rode on this Challenge for Parkinson's. I raised in excess of $8,000, and raised awareness of Parkinson's throughout my friends and community. apparently as a group, we raised over $100,000, making it the most successful fundraiser ever.
Once`again I thank everybody for your help. From the donors, to the ticket sellers, to the people who supported me in my movie nights, to the people who helped with my garage sale, to those who hosted functions and gave the proceeds to me for my challenge, to those who kept me company and rode with me. You all know who you are. I am blessed with such fabulous friends.
Now that it's over, I may fall flat on my face. For the past 10 months I have been totally preoccupied with fundraising and getting fit. I hope that Ingrid, Claire and others will continue to take me riding; as I no longer can walk Molly as i once did, I need this form of exercise.
I suppose I will need another project to keep me busy, and I plan to revamp and improve
Whatever I do, I know that my family and friends will support me 100%. Everyone has their own problems and illnesses, or knows of others with them, so I doubly appreciate your generosity.
And my final word is to my wonderful husband, Yon (John);
Yon, you are the best husband a woman could have; kind, loving, generous. You have supported me 100% through this and all my missions since being diagnosed 6 years ago. I know that we both worry about the future, but I have taught you to live for today, and grab any opportunity that comes our way. I missed you very much this trip, and I mean it when I say that my days of travelling overseas alone are over. From now on we travel together. You are my best friend and the most compatible to travel with. We understand, trust, respect and love each other.

I'm all blogged out...



Catherine Watson

Catherine is a social worker at Parkinson's Victoria. I was worried about Catherine in November when she told me she did not have a bike, but after seeing her ride the 55 km at The Sub ride in December, I knew that youth and fitness were on her side. At 26 years old, she was the youngest member of The Challenge, but her leadership qualities were evident throughout the trip. Catherine, while having fun and taking advantage of every opportunity to see as much of Vietnam as possible, often took on the role of leader, making excellent decisions and suggestions to the group. She was fun to be with, and is a real asset to Parkinson's Victoria!

Fred and Chris Van Ross

I have mentioned Fred and Chris before. They are the ones who inspired me to do this Challenge, and helped me prepare for the ride, get this blog going, and provided support during the ride. The 3 of us often found ourselves down the back together, and urged each other on. We encouraged each other, kept each other company on the bus, and were proud of each other's achievements. Thanks for coming; it would have been lonely at the end of the line without you!

Siem Reap

That night the 4 of us went to a traditional Cambodian show. Beautiful women in traditional dress used their hands and feet to tell stories, whilst the men, often depicted as villains or farm boys, used broader steps, We were astounded to see that when the cast took it's final bow, people from the audience came on stage to stand among them to have their photos taken! Look carefully between the performers on the right.

One other thing that I must mention, is our trip to "Dr Fish". We found a modern tiled huge round bath, with lots of little fish swimming around. The sign to attract us was hilarious; promising us all sorts of funny things. Max and I decided to try it out, and for $3, we had the privilege of having lots of fish come up to our toes and nibble off the dead skin! We started off by laughing and giggling, but eventually we got used to the tickling sensation. We were assured the fish were not piranhas, and were glad to see, when we got out, that our feet were in tact; cleaner, and exfoliated!

Claire Eizenberg

Claire decided to come along on The Challenge, simply because riding around Vietnam on a bicycle was something she always wanted to do. I went to school with her husband, Peter, and one day when I was telling him of my plans, he remarked, "That sounds just like what Claire wants to do!" It was great for me to have someone so close going; The Eizenberg's live only a couple of streets away, and are both keen riders, so I enjoyed many rides with them leading up to the ride. Peter would have loved to come, but family matters kept him home.
Claire's vocation as a doctor was appreciated throughout the trip, as people sought all sort of medical advice. She received the award on the last day as the most organized person. Her suitcase was crammed with food and medicines 'just in case', as well as a variety of handy gadgets. When we rode into Quang Ngi, it was Claire's flashing helmet that saved the day, or should I say, night! Claire's knowledge of Parkinson's was expanded on the trip by talking and observing the 3 people with it, and reading the GP handbook that Catherine had brought along from Parkinson's Victoria.
I am very glad that Claire came on this trip. I didn't know her very well before, but after living together and sharing a room with her, we have learnt a lot about each other, and look forward to riding in the future.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Floating Village

On our last day, were all "templed out", so we took a completely different tour; a boat to ride through the world's largest floating village. On the way, we saw a stationary village on stilts, where the houses are lifted and raised during the rainy season, by adding one more layer of scaffolding.
During the Monsoon months the Tonle Sap ( or Great Lake) is the largest lake in Southeast Asia. There are approximately 3,000 people that actually live on this lake. It is completely self sufficient, with schools, gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, even a church, all floating amongst the homes in the lake. People live on their boats all year, and when the monsoons come, they all move to another spot; the entire community disappears and relocate.
These people, I gather from what our guide told us, are similar to the 'boat people' here... they are mainly Vietnamese who escaped from Vietnam from about 1978, across the border. These people are now misplaced, with no identity. Their children are not recognised as Cambodian, and have little prospect of ever getting off the water. However, what we saw were happy people, waving, welcoming us, always smiling.
We meandered around the boats in a speed boat, and saw gardens floating with herbs, pigs in a floating pen, and waved to children in their floating school.
We boarded a 'shop' (right), where we were treated to a preview of monsoonal rains; it pelted down for the first time in the trip; which we found most welcome after the humidity. There were no walls on this shop; plastic covers protected clothing for sale, otherwise everything got wet. One elderly lady there, looked so happy to see us; she showed us her chipped nail polish on her toes and fingers, and hugged us. (left).

Janice Mulchinock

Janice was originally the 'wild card' of our group; she raised her money for The White Lions, who help disadvantaged youth. When her trip fell through, we were asked if she could come with us. Janice fit in like a glove, and is now VERY more aware of Parkinson's!
Her continuous laughter kept spirits up, her fitness is legendary, and her good sense of humour was to be admired. Above is Janice with a snake around her neck in Cambodia.
Janice, we are all glad you joined us, you enriched our group, and lifted many spirits.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Finally we came to Angkor Wat, the main reason for my coming to Cambodia. We were now down to just four people; Max, Claire, Janice and me. Catherine and Nic were going on their own. Many on our biking tour had never heard of it, but having taught in a Springvale Primary School. (hi, all my readers at Heatherhill PS!), I had heard quite a bit about it.

We were met by our new guide, Him (pronounced "Herm"), who spoke excellent english and was full of knowledge.

Angkor was built in the 12th century as Cambodia's ancient capital, one of the man-made wonders of the world. The sheer size of the place is astounding, with it's two structures separated by a long path. The walls loom up 669ft to amazing roofing structures and towers, and tell stories of battles and love and deception. Researchers believe it represents Mt. Meru, home of the Hindu gods, but now it is used for Buddhist worship. The bas relief walls are intricately carved out of sandstone, and easy to follow the story. Much of it is in it's original glory, but a lot of restoration is being done. There are moats, pools, steps, even a library, and I kept asking the guide, "are you sure no one lived here?" I was assured that this was simply a temple, a place of worship, not a palace.
We spent two hours exploring Angkor Wat, hearing the history, and marvelling at the architecture, but the heat was getting to us, so we finally went back to our hotel.

Sue Dutton and Kim Harris

Our girls from Leongatha have been a breath of fresh air, signing up early for The Challenge. Both girls work in the allied health industry; Kim is a social worker, and Sue is a nurse. So both have had lots to do with Parkinson's patients. They were good friends already, and enjoyed biking together. Kim is affiliated with The Gippsland Support Group, who supported her for the Challenge, and wanted someone to go.
Both girls are grateful to the South Gippsland, Moe and Warragul Support Groups.
They were a load of fun, great riders, and the 2nd half of the "HA HA" girls.

Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon

It was dark when we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City; not surprising, considering it was 5.30 am!
I will refer to this city as Saigon. We discovered that most living in the city referred to it as Saigon, whilst those in the rest of Vietnam called it "Ho Chi Minh", after their great and revered leader. It was officially renamed in 1975, after Saigon fell to the North, and Vietnam became unified.
Anyway, the humidity of the city was almost unbearable. Fortunately we had a lovely air conditioned room at a hotel just 50 meters from the market.
After breakfast, the group went on a City Highlights Tour, seeing such buildings as The Opera House and Town Hall.
This Tour ended at The War Museum, which chronicled the Vietnam War. Graphic photographs and documents told us, room by room, of the horrors of The Vietnam War, and America's part in it. It was graphic and confronting; similar to The Holocaust Museums; an experience one has to have, so that history may not repeat itself.
The rest of the day was free, so after a rest, Claire and I set out to do some shopping. Ronnie wanted some DVDs, so we asked where to get some at reception. We were, of course, back in a busy city; Vietnam's biggest, so back to traffic even worse than Hanoi. Our quest involved crossing many roads, but by now we were seasoned tourists; we just sucked in our breath, and walked straight ahead. (no pausing!) As usual, the cars, bikes and motor bikes merged around us. We have concluded that crazy as the traffic seems, the Vietnamese are good drivers. And we never witnessed any road rage.
Finally we found our shop, which ended up being comparable to a large Dick Smith store. It was two floors of the latest electrical equipment, and was packed with Vietnamese perusing cameras, DVD player, telephones, etc. We wondered whatever happened to Capitalism, the official ruling party. Here, like everywhere in The World, people vie to own the latest in technology.
We stopped at a REAL coffee place, and had a pastry. Did you ever wonder why there are so many Vietnamese bakeries here? It's because The French occupied Vietnam between 1885 and 1946. Their presence is still evident by some architecture and bakeries!
The DVDs were found at the market, only 50 meters from our hotel, but we had to rest in our cool room and then go out again... the heat was oppressive.
Time was running out; we had to be dressed and be ready for our 'Farewell Dinner'; yes, this was to be our last night together.
We were taken to a lovely restaurant, where we had a private room, and the best meal of the trip. It was beautifully presented, tasty, and our vegetarian menu reflected the other meals, without seafood or meat; most other restaurants had just given us plates of veggies.
Catherine and Hilly surprised us by giving out awards.
Max and I shared a 'silver medal' for our persistence.
Whilst most of the group had the next day to rest and shop in Saigon, 5 of us were leaving in the morning for Cambodia, so my mind was racing. (as usual). So I planned the following morning as follows;
6.00 am rise and shine, shower and pack.
7.00 am breakfast at hotel restaurant.
7.45 am hit the market, shop for 45 minutes
8.30 am back to hotel, take bags downstairs
8.45 am say goodbye to everyone, and board the bus for the airport.

All went to plan, with a quick dash around the market to buy t-shirts, tablecloths and a few souvenirs.
I have bought very little here, and not used my credit card once.

So it was "bye" to the group; hopefully we will have a reunion soon, and off we went for more adventures; in neighboring Cambodia....

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Jenny Young and Helen Bignell

These bright, energetic, fun, fit girls added sparkle and competition to The Challenge. Both were later entrants into The Challenge. Jenny came in late 2007, but Helen joined us with only weeks to go. The girls are keen riders, often rising at 5.30 am and setting off for long and grueling kms. They are certainly fit! Strangely enough, it was Helen's brother, Ted, who was meant to go with us. Ted is undergoing DBS very soon, so he and his mate David dropped out.
These are the two original "HA HA" girls. They know how to pose for a perfect shot by saying "HA HA"! They were very entertaining on both train trips, where they teamed up with the Leongatha girls. They can drink lots, and STILL ride for km the next day!

Nha Trang

Ahhhhh! A free day at last. We bussed into the beach resort Nha Trang in the dark, noting the buzz of construction taking place by many big hotel chains on prime real estate beach property. Whilst the others had another set dinner, this time at a BBQ restaurant, I opted for a night on my own.
A word on the food here; Claire and I, who both decided to eat vegetarian, (More for religious reasons than health reasons...), thought we might starve, so I brought a few snacks, and Claire brought a suitcase of tuna, nuts, muesli bars and corn. However, we had no trouble finding vegetarian food here. Hilly made sure we always had enough to eat when there was a set menu, and we ate VERY well. Anyway, by now I was a little tired of veggies and rice, and my tummy was a bit queasy from the bus ride, and the thought of cooking some strange fish on a bbq with the meat, along with the sight of the squid etc, made me nauseous, but I managed to find a pizza! Just a vegetarian pizza, but gee, it tasted good. Chocoholics found Tim Tams and M & Ms, so all were happy.
The day was well anticipated by all. Daryl, (my son), had visited Nha Trang last year whilst cruising The World as a fitness instructor, and he recommended a resort called "The Louisiane Brewhouse." so Claire, Leanne, Nahid Jenny and Helen and I braved crossing the road and found it..perfect for what we wanted. We had a fabulous 1 and 1/2 hr massage for $18, had drinks by the pool, and for $2.50 could stay and use all pool facilities. others went Island hopping, or to mud baths.

At 6.15 pm, we were at Nha Trang Station, ready to catch our second overnight train; this time to Saigon. You may remember the train from Hanoi was not too pleasant, so we were wary, but this train was much cleaner and better. There was even a decent toilet! The HA HA girls shared their drinks with whoever was still up, taking photos and telling stories, and so the night passed, and we arrived in Saigon at 5.30 am.

Nic Taylor

Nic Taylor is a cool, young man, whom Hilly refers to as "Mr Nic". He has accomplished a lot in his professional life, and chose to take on The Challenge for a variety of reasons.
Nic's father, Roy, passed away with Parkinson's in 2007. He had it for 14 years, so for the latter half of his life, Nic only knew his Dad with Parkinson's. Roy's condition was an acute form, called Lewy Body Dementia. For the 14 years that he had Parkinson's, Roy was supported by Parkinson's NSW, so Nic wanted to raise money for research, and as he now lives in Victoria, and is a keen rider, (he doesn't drive), all came together for this ride.
We all enjoyed Nic's company, his witty comments, and the way he never raised a sweat on the bike.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Final, Stunning Ride

The time had come for our final ride.
Hilly extended the challenge to everyone to race uphill about 6km, before we all joined in for the ride down. About 7 of the strongest riders took up his challenge, and so the rest of us cheered them from the bus as we watched them pedal up the steep pass.
At the top of Pheonix Pass, we prepared ourselves for the deep decent.
Like the first downhill decent we did 3 days earlier, this downhill ride was many kilometers of twists and turns. We were not simply riding down a hill, but 12 km down a mountain, which meant down...turns, down, round, all the! Beaks on most of the time, very little control if you don't. But unlike that ride 3 days days ago, we had more traffic to contend with.
The trucks moved very slowly, whilst we careered down, and overtaking was a necessity; if we could see if anything was coming from the other direction...
Look, it was 3 days ago now, I'm behind in this blog, the moment has passed. All I can say is; we all survived, we made it down safely. No-one fell, everyone had a fabulous experience.
We rode on for another 9 km, stopping to look (from the outside) at a local family's house. Let's just say that about 8 of them were sitting in the doorway because there were no windows...
The very last part of the ride was special for me, because I managed to keep up with the pack; following Jenny for about 5 km. Claire and I were behind Hilly; a rarity for me to be in the front, when we finally stopped and called it a day. We celebrated by taking lots of photos and lying in hammocks, before catching the bus to Nha Trang.

Leanne Barnes

Leanne lives in Portarlington, in regional Geelong, but I got to know her pretty well before The Challenge, as she almost always turned up to any ride we organized in Melbourne.
Leanne has always been a keen rider, so when her good friend Kate Brown, a board member, suggested the ride, she thought it a great idea. Her grandfather had Parkinson's, she knows Kate's mate Sandra, who has Parkinson's, and her sailing mentor had it, so riding, seeing Vietnam and raising money and awareness for Parkinson's all seemed to come together for this dynamo.

A special thanks to Leanne for staying behind with me throughout some rides when she could easily have been at the front, and for talking me down that first steep incline, when I was scared out of my wits!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Buon Me Thuot to Nha Trang

Today was the last riding day! A sense of anticipation spread around the group as we once again left the Hotel at 7.30 am. We started off a coffee plantation, where Hilly told us about "Weasel Coffee" His description was so weird, I had to check it out on Wikipedia. Sure enough, it matches up with Hilly's story about the weasels climbing the coffee vines, and sniffing out the best coffee beans. They then eat them, but the beans inside pass through their system undigested. The farmers then collect the poo from the ground, wash it, and collect these choice beans. Vietnam is apparently famous for this coffee... but as I don't drink coffee, I won't be trying it!
I rode this morning, went on the bus, off the bus, finally deciding to ride just before lunch.
A word on the people in the highlands; they are different to the coastal and city people. Hilly told us not to talk to them, as they are suspicious of Westerners. we felt a little unsafer here. As before, the children yelled, "Hello! Hello!" to us, and something we could not quite catch. We were later told they were calling us "White Devils." Also, everywhere we went, people openly laughed at us. Even though most of the population has owned a pushbike at some time, they certainly do not don bike gear, and we looked a sight in our shorts and bright tops.
Hilly cooked us another sumptuous lunch.
I will write about the final ride later....

Brendan Lourie and Max Bradfield.

I have known Brendan (left) for a few years now, as he is a member of my YAP-Young@Park group. I met Max at a few rides that some of us had around Melbourne in the past 8 months. The two 'boys' have been best friends for many years.
Max had contemplated doing a similar ride with Oxfam a few years ago, but Brendan was not ready. Max's grandfather also had Parkinson's, so he knows all about it, and is always there for his buddy. Both Max and Brendan have been riding for a while now, so everything seemed to fall into place when The Challenge was presented.
Max said, "When you have good friend with Parkinson's, it's hard to know how to help,,,, and this was a great opportunity.
Both guys have been terrific company for all us girls, and great riders!
Whilst Brendan is already a Parkinson's Ambassador, Max hopes to be one too. Lovely to see such devotion and loyalty between two men.

Kon Tum to Buon Me

We all decided that after 2 rides in the dark, we should start earlier, so we were all packed, dressed, fed and on the bus by 7.30 am. We drove a short distance to ****, where everyone got saddled up for our morning ride. However, after yesterday's ride, I had lost my confidence, and elected to sit on the bus as the rest of the group rode through crazy traffic. A word on the traffic; Hanoi was busy, and I expect Ho Chi Minh to be busy too, but the country areas are just as dangerous.. There may not be as many cars and bikes, but the roads are usually wide enough for only 2 cars. So when one overtakes the other, they are occupying the 2 lanes.... squashing us over to the right. EVERY truck, car and bike honks at us, as they do to anything they pass.
I think I have finally figured out that the Vietnamese are actually good and courteous drivers. There is no road rage here. and though they never stop when at an intersection, they 'merge'. We must always go around the back of them. I look a bit like a battered wife after my big fall, and that information could have saved me from my bruising.
Anyway, after the group's first stop, I decided that I had better get back on the bike or else I never would, so I saddled up and off we went. We started the ride off the road on a red rocky stretch that accompanied the road; it was real mountain bike riding. Fred, Chris and I have now accepted that we are the slowest of the group, but we don't care. Fred and Chris are in their 6os, and Fred and I have Parkinson's. and it is NOT a race!
I must mention here that the 3 of us with Parkinson's are very proud of each other, and we encourage and look out for each other whenever we can. Brendan is doing fantastically by keeping up with the pack, and riding the whole time. Fred's determination is only marred by his
Parkinson's, and he usually attempts all rides until he can't go on any more.
We rode into ************ where there was a market on... a real country market, where food, clothes and household items were being sold
We were treated to many interesting sights.... ducks who looked drugged, sitting quietly waiting their fate (sorry, kids, not as pets), piles of interesting looking eggs, of varying sizes and hues; many spotted, buckets of fish such as catfish.... I couldn't even look at the meat on the tables, flies all over it. And one can only imagine the smells...
After lunch, we set off for the afternoon ride. By now I had regained my confidence, and made a new "best" friend." My new friend is Ngoc, who is the Vietnamese rider designated to stay at the back with the last riders. Chris, Fred and I now wait for Ngoc, as we are`almost always at the rear.
The afternoon ride was an uneventful one, the highlight being a few of us girls bonding in the 'Happy bush" at a coffee plantation...
I managed to do all the ride this afternoon, but it started to get dark again, so I got on the bus, only to find that Hilly had collected the rest of the riders early so that no one had to ride in the dark. we drove into Buon Me Thuot, but I can't tell you anything about it, as it was dark when we arrived and we ate at the hotel.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Nahid Jones

In the next week, I will profile some of the people who have taken up the "Parkinson's Vietnam Challenge."

Nahid Jones is a wife and carer to her husband Norman. Norman has had Parkinson's for 25 years. It was not easy for Nahid to take up cycling, but she was determined to do it, and has been keeping up with the front pack. She would find time in the early morning when Norm ws asleep, to take up her training. Some of Nahid's training was done in the Gym, and she has found it 'interesting' to transfer her skills to the ones demanded here with the different traffic and terrain.
Nahid took up the Challenge to raise money for research in Parkinson's. She says that she is suffering as well as her husband. They have 2 teenage boys.
This is Nahid's first holiday alone, and a well deserved break for a special person.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Quang Ngair to Kontum

Today we left for the Highlands, and believe me, there's a reason why they are called that!
We have traveled uphill, and the scenery has certainly changed. This is farming area, and the scenery is beautiful. Everything is so green! Besides the usual paddies, we have seen the following; rubber tree, pepper and coffee plantations, banana plants, pepper drying, cassava and bitter gourd. We have seen buffalo, cows, goats, dogs, pigs, chickens and ducks crossing the roads, and sometimes had to negotiate around them.
We started our day with a warm up. Our early morning ride was on rough and uncertain roads, and I felt a little "off'" (a Parkinson term; we have 'on' and ''off' periods), so after about 8 km of riding, I left the others to ride on over the potholes and dodge the cars and motor bikes, while I sat in the bus and admired the scenery.
Lunch at Bato, was a pleasant surprise. Our guide, 'Hilly', showed us yet another of his great talents, by cooking us a sumptuous lunch.
After lunch, we were bussed up to the Vihoduk Pass, where we had a HUGE descent into our next stop for the night; Kon Tum, but not after giving each other a 'group massage'.
This involved riding about 16 km uphill, and 50 km downhill. And was it steep???!!! With my mentor of the day, Leanne behind me yelling out instructions, I began the most exhilarating and nerve wracking part of the trip yet. We careered down the steep road, turning corners, breaks on and off, whilst those bikes and cars still fought the road with us. Somehow I managed to stay in control, and actually enjoy the ride, but then a huge obstacle came in the way... darkness.
We had started the ride too late in the afternoon, after a misunderstanding with the back up truck, who were waiting half way down the pass with our bikes, and had to drive back. Suddenly it was getting dark; again... But this was far scarier (if possible) than yesterday.... we were not travelling as a group, we were careering wildy down a strange country road, through villages, with motor bikes and cars honking...all in the dusk. Some bikes had no headlights, whilst the lights of others dazzled and blinded us.
I was alone with Leanne, when I said that we must stop and wait for the bus. I was very scared, and could just see Yon's horror at what I was doing. The bus came 5 minutes later, with Fred and Chris in it, and we picked up Catherine another 5 minutes down the hill.
We were very relieved to see Hilly and the group had stopped further on, and everyone piled onto the bus for the remaining 25 km. Hilly apologised and explained why we started so late, and we all forgave him. He had acted responsibly. He was so happy that he revealed yet ANOTHER talent; he sang "Sealed with a kiss" to us over the bus microphone!
We arrived in Kon Tum hungry and tired. Kon Tum is a pretty town that one feels will take off in the next few years. It is built on a big river. We had our first bad meal there... our vegetarian food was inedible. So after dinner, a group of us went for a walk in search of gelati ha, ha, but had to settle with trying out sugar cane juice from a vendor. Sounds nice, but no-one liked it.

Friday, March 13, 2009

From Hoi An to Quang Ngai

Today we rode about 70 km, and I am proud to say that I did almost all of it.
We drove out of Hoi An for about 2 hours, and set about getting our bikes in order.
I must explain that besides our air conditioned bus, we have another truck with us, which has our bikes in it. it is driven by a bike mechanic. So any time we feel like stopping, we just hail the bus, which is following the last person. (often me).
We all thought that we were seeing double when Hilly's identical twin brother and son joined us on his motor bike (above), and kept Hilly company until lunch.
The morning's ride as not very scenic; we mainly went along the highway, but there was little traffic.
After a picnic lunch, (we had a bread roll, not rice!), we continued on, now weaving through villages, where children continued to come out and shout 'hello!" to us. Catherine gave some children little koalas, but they were very shy, and didn't want to take them, say, 'koala", or even pose for the photo, which they eventually did.
Then we rode to My Lai.
My Lai is a peaceful little village, where the worst war crime of The Vietnam war was committed.
On March 16th, 1968, 504 innocent civilians were dragged out and shot by American GIs, and killed.
We visited the site, and saw the lovely setting where it happened, and toured the museum.
Here is a photo of the My Lai Massacre Memorial Monument. The other photo is at the site of a house where 12 members of one family were murdered. Lieutenant William Calley, who organized the massacre, was convicted of murder, but was released a few years later by President Nixon.
We cycled out of My Lai as the sun set, heading f
or our hotel. Yon and Peter, do not read on. It was 10 km to our hotel, and soon got dark. One of my pet hates at home is cyclists in the dark with no lights, and as we headed back onto the highway to Quang Ngai, the traffic became heavier. We pedaled on in the darkness, led by our bus with flashing lights, and Claire's flashing helmet. Trucks and bikes beeped, and we were all exhausted, but finally made it back to our hotel. I expect to get more than my usual 5 hrs sleep tonight!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The road From Hue to Hoi An

Today we started our 1st day of SERIOUS riding; yesterday was just a practice! We filed out of the hotel and headed out of Hue, into the country.
At last we were in the beautiful picture perfect country-side that we had seen photos of. Lush green rice paddies lined the road, roosters, ducks, dogs, buffalo and herons were sighted. Along the river, women did their washing by the banks whilst ancient boats with fisherman holding long poles drifted past.

Everywhere we went, little children called out, “Hellooooo!”, smiling broadly, and asking for Hi 5s. (I leave that to the others… I don’t want to lose my balance…) The people of Vietnam are very friendly. The group photo we see here is taken in front of an ancient wooden Chinese bridge, beautifully decorated. Were very happy to leave the city with it’s heavy traffic and constant honking. The condition of the road was not too bad; certainly pot holes, but overall pretty good.
It was Max's turn to fall off his bike today. I heard a crash as his head hit the concrete road, but luckily his helmet saved him from serious injury. His breaks had jammed.
We rode the bus some of the way, stopping off at a marble sculpture shop; There were some lovelythings too heavy to bring home! We had hit the coast.
We stopped off for lunch, and rode some more, but I was getting tired, so I went on the 'Sag Wagon", which is the bus that follows the last person. I wanted to have a rest so that I could enjoy Hoi An when we got there. Fred made the whole ride, which was great!
Now for those of you who want to know what Hoi An is famous for, it's the shopping! Emma Boyar was recently there, and showed me the silk dresses and suits that she had made for her within 12 hours, as well as the custom made shoes and silver jewelry.
But alas, our time in Hoi An was too short. We went to the famous Yaly, where any style of clothing can be made out of beautiful silk within 12 hours. After a lesson on how silk is made, (reminded me of 'the Very Hungry caterpillar), we explored the shop. Claire bought some shawls and ties, whilst Janice and Leanne bought off the rack silk jackets for around $45. Janice's needed alterating, and it was ready within 15 minutes. However, we had no time to order anyrthing, so I actually came out of Hoi an with nothing!
After dinner, we walked along the river, where there was a display of Chinese lanterns.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Our first ride Hue

We finally arrived in Hue at 8 am, and were whisked off to the magnificent Camellia Hotel, where we rushed down a fabulous breakfast, had a much needed shower, (& in my case, a very much needed toilet stop), and were ready to be fitted for our bikes by 9.45 am.
The bikes are mountain bikes, (mine at home is a hybrid), but all is OK. Gears are similar, but back to front. Mine has no bell, but who would hear it over the horns? Mine also has very squeaky brakes, so EVERYONE knows when I am around.
Now, I must explain that Hue is not a big city like Hanoi. However, there still are millions of bikes, mostly the motor kind. The terrain is mainly flat, and today our mission was to ease into things by exploring it's sights by bike.
I did not have a good start PD wise, (curled up toes), but I've often said, "I ride better than I walk", so on I pressed. Our first stop was at The Citadel, an ancient temple with Chinese architecture. Hilly, our guide, provided us with the history as we explored the expansive grounds. It was only a short ride from our hotel, but we were thrown straight into the traffic.
It's bad enough that we Aussie's are used to driving on the left, but riding on the right was not the problem. In Melbourne, I avoid roads altogether; I prefer bike tracks, and fortunately, Melbourne has many great ones I can use. The other thing I avoid, if on the road, is Right Hand Turns; I get off and cross. So imagine our horror as the inevitable loomed; Hilly made the Vietnamese equivalent; a left hand turn into the traffic. Yon and Peter, plesae do not read on. We "merged" left, with motor cycles, cars, and bikes all around, with another set of the same heading straight for us. Remember, no one stops here. We were told that when we cross the road (as predestrians), we must just go, never hesitate. The same applies ON the road. Everyone just veers around you. Somehow it works.
After lunch, we visited a little village where we saw incence being hand made, and a traditional hat being woven, then off to our 3rd temple in 2 days, (actuallly a tomb) where 2 of our members, Sue and Max, dressed up as traditional costume, and we learnt of some poor King who had about 202 wives and over 1000 concubines, but NO children!
Exhausted, we decided to head back to the Hotel. By now it was peak hour, and traffic was building at the town's centre roundabout. Following 'Hilly', we had to approach the roundabout from the right, cutting across traffic going both our way, and against us. That's when I did the wrong thing; I braked suddenly. (Remember the rule is never to hesitate). SORRY! I don't like going head on into cars and bikes, even if they most likely will accomodate me... As a result I the middle of the traffic! No time to think, just get up and keep going...
Yes, I am OK; just my leg and chest and pride bruised. Yon's comment when I told him later on Skype? "I really don't want you riding on the roads there..." Sorry, Yon, when I find the push bike only bike paths, I'll let you know!