Monday, July 31, 2017

July 29 – Mui Ne

Today, after we had arrived in Mui Ne and booked a day trip and onward bus ticket at one of the many small travel shops lined up along the main highway, Ana said “It’s never dopey hour in Southeast Asia.” Within five minutes of walking up to the shop, the smiling young man had explained the options available, booked us tickets, provided change from the large bill we gave him, and we left knowing with confidence that all was properly booked, everything would run on time, and we weren’t getting ripped off. This has been our experience throughout the trip (except for the first taxi ride you take in a new place, that is). Most of the people we have met here are very competent at what they do and the surprises you do receive are nearly always of the positive variety. It makes travel so incredibly easy, especially when compared to other parts of the world we have visited. For example, getting the basic things done (finding bus schedules, boking tickets, booking hotels, getting directions) in Central or South America is twice as hard and half as reliable. The same goes for the Caribbean. For a first time traveler I just don’t think there are any countries in the world that offers such a great balance of cost versus ease of travel.

This extends to Canada too. People in the service industry can be so damn miserable. Imagine yourself as a non-English speaker, walking up to a Greyhound bus ticket counter and trying to get information using the best English you can muster. You will get a cranky old man or lady, looking down their glasses at you, shaking their head as they slide over the incomprehensible brochure of schedules and prices. They will sit, silently watching you struggle, waiting for you to tell them what ticket you want. If you take too long they will wave you away. If you leave the counter, flustered, they will probably not come over to help you. I think that as a country, we can be pretty bad hosts at times. Yes, it is true that sometimes we can be very good hosts, and I think that Canadians are generally known for being pretty kind people, but sometimes we fall down. Throughout this trip, I have learned once again that a smile will take you a long way in any situation, and it is the best way to begin any communication.

Our day began with a morning taxi ride to a nearby bus station to catch a bus to the coastal town of Mui Ne. We arrived early and they immediately shuffled us onto the earlier bus, which was running late. The bus was a sleeper variety, but much different than the last one we took. This one had three separate rows of fully reclined chairs, with an upper and lower level. It was such a cool, but strange design, and I had to wonder if this sort of thing could work in Canada. Our seats were right at the back so we wiggled our way through the skinny aisle and then had to boost ourselves up into the rear upper level, which Ana managed to do wearing a skirt, without flashing our fellow passengers, but I may have sneaked a quick peek of a cheek. I settled in, stretched out, and was just getting comfortable when the bus made a sharp turn, and half a litre of what I assume was air conditioner condensate, spilled through the overhead speaker and AC vent right onto my crotch. Yikes! Cleanup on aisle five! I mopped it up with the bus curtain, and then Ana and I rigged up a solution using the duct tape she had picked up in the market the previous day for random bus system failings like this one. We took a bunch of tissue and wet wipes, packed them into the vent and around the speaker and then duct taped the whole mess onto the ceiling. It worked perfectly. Hopefully the long trip would give my shorts time to dry so I wouldn’t look like Mister Pissy Pants when we arrived in Mui Ne.

My plan for the five hour trip was to finish reading Moby Dick. I bought a copy of this classic, monstrous novel about ten years ago and have been reading it ever since. I would read a chapter here and a chapter there, and then put it down for months, and then pick it up again, but couldn’t remember where I left off so would end up re-reading chapters until they seem vaguely familiar. The book is incredibly dense, with complicated sentence structures, vague historical references, impenetrable vocabulary, odd punctuation, shifting points of view, and 19th century language that just makes no sense in parts. So it is far from an easy read, but it is one of those books that just must be read – especially for people like me who love to sail and slaughter whales. It has been a fixture on my bedside table the entire time we’ve lived in Paris, always on the bottom of the pile. But I brought it along for the trip, determined to finally get through it. Well, I finished it. I took a picture of the book and would end up leaving it at the book exchange of the hotel, making room in my backpack for at least two new beer t-shirts.

The trip was uneventful (besides the surprise showers – each time the bus would lurch, turn, or brake, somebody else on the bus would get a load of water dumped on them) and we were dropped off on the main Mui Ne highway a few hundred meters past our hotel, the Xin Chao, so we strapped on our packs and walked back. The place looked great, with a groovy bar and restaurant out front, large lobby with comfy chairs, a pool table, and a book exchange. It was on the non-ocean-facing side of the road, which explained the great rates, but they didn’t have any family rooms, so we booked a separate room for the kids, and they were overjoyed. They were even happier when they discovered that their room was larger and nicer than ours. But we too were satisfied with the temporary bifurcation of Team Olson, and the potential for alone time.

We went for a walk down the main (and only) street to find a good place for lunch. The road was busy and congested with huge tourist busses, many of which pulled into the fancy resorts in Mui Ne, and dumped off huge loads of people. We checked out a few menus, all of which loooked decent, and finally decided on a ocean-side resort restaurant called Sailing Club. Well, the food was terrible. It was actually the first bad meal we have eaten on the trip. So we made it quick, paid the bill, and walked back to the hotel for a leisurely swim.

Ana and I went out to the lobby bar at 5 pm for happy hour and ordered up two for one Singapore Slings, followed up with two for one Saigon Green 441 ml bottles of beer, to bring the fancy level down a notch or two. I grabbed one of the cigars Tony had left for me and had a wonderful puff while Ana and I enjoyed our drinks, talked, made plans, and enjoyed our time just like a newlywed couple. I felt like we could have been the subject of a Jack Johnson song at that particular moment.

We decided on a backpacker dinner so we all went down to the mini-mart and picked out our favourite soup bowls, along with some day old baguettes and a package of Smiling Cow creamy white cheese. The backpacker dinners are always a nice break from the restaurant routine so we enjoy them immensely. After eating, we were all feeling rather tired so we retired to our respective rooms and agreed to reconvene in the AM.

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