Tag Archives: adventure travel

Don’t F*$! With Mother India

I was 22 years old and on my way to sit in the Vipassana meditation course in Jaipur, India. It was spring of 1997. I had been traveling in India mostly alone for a few months by this time.

I was feeling resistance to the impending 10 day meditation, and I had an hour before I needed to be in the main meditation hall for the commencement of the course. I decided to distract my nerves by walking through the forest to the chai hut about 20 minutes away.

When I got to the grubby little roadside hub where the nearest rural village gathered to drink chai and wash clothes in the river, there were several young men sitting on the bridge, eyeing me as I walked past.

It was the same ignorant stare of base male desire that I experienced every day in India…on the bus, in the street. I had learned to ignore it.

But this time, something in my intuition perked up. These boys were latching on to my energy. I felt nervous about walking back to the meditation retreat alone, which entailed a 15 minute stretch through rural forest.

I bucked up my courage and went for it. As soon as I walked back across the bridge, I had a flash of knowing. These motherfucking dumb peasant punks were going to follow me.

Sure enough, I could sense that after I had passed, all three nonchalantly got up and started walking after me…keeping about 30 paces behind. I walked with quick determination, my fury and concern growing.

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As I could hear their approach, I started to fill with rage….and a strange involuntary reflex started to occur inside me.

Time slowed down. With every step I took, I could feel power coming up through my feet out of the Earth…coiling inside me with powerful wrath. It was as though the power of the goddess Kali was sucking up from the hot lava center of the Earth through my feet…steaming into a pressure of rage and power.

I felt them getting closer, and I KNEW that they were going to grab me and drag me into the bushes.

I walked faster, the contained fury filling me up with every step. As I sensed one of the men coming right up behind me, suddenly a flood of pure primal anger spewed forth like lava from the depths of the Earth and raged up through my body like a Volcano.

I felt a hand grab my shoulder…I spun around and – TIME STOPPED. One of the two men was grabbing me. His two friends were right behind, laughing and heading toward the bushes. Their intention was crystal clear. The ignorance of their gesture filled me with primal rage.

With one deep inhalation, my spirit suddenly inflated like a cobra, and with an exhaled PRIMAL ROAAARRRRRRR, for an INSTANT, I manifested as GREAT GODDESS KALI in her MOST WRATHFUL FORM.

The man’s first impulse was to raise his arm to hit me, but in a split second, his face changed. A look of sheer horror shot across his face.

His eyes became wide and his face became white with fear.

Kali was a language that his peanut-sized brain understood. In that moment, he SAW the GODDESS.

He turned on his heel and sprinted away for his life. His friend’s hadn’t seen my shape-shifting transformation, so they had one-second of confusion…looking at me, then looking at him running away. As he was the alpha of the group, they quickly decided to follow in his footsteps, and they all packed off with their tails between their legs, running as fast as they could go.

gang-rape-in-india-1997

I turned on my heel and walked on toward the Meditation Center, shaken by the experience, and sat in complete silence for 10 days through the incredibly healing experience of the Vipassana meditation.

May God bless S.N. Goenka for his commitment to teaching the medicine of meditation.

May all ignorant beings awaken to the intelligence of the Universe.

May all mothers teach their sons to respect Goddesses in all forms.

May all women be protected from abuse and violence, and have access to the innate strength that dwells within.

May all beings be free of suffering and fear.

India is a powerful entity. Traveling there as a woman is very risky. One must have a strong psychology and sense of street smarts. If you don’t have it when you go, you will definitely have it when you leave.

Don’t take Mother India lightly. She is Life, and She is also Death. Most of all, She is MAGIC.

Don’t Fuck with the MOTHER.

Elsa Bella

 

Elsa Bella is a world traveler who currently runs The Jaguar Project, a conservation project that protects the habitats of jaguars throughout Central America. You can join in saving the jaguars by clicking here

 

Superman Sprains His Wrist

A few weeks ago, after a particularly interesting night in Pai Thailand, I received the following email.

Dear Michael,

This is ____ the girl you helped a lot last night in Pai. my friend ____ now is transferring to Chiangmai lam hospital to have an operation. he got two parts of bone break of his left leg. i haven’t deal with the motorcycle problem yet by now. how is your wrist now ? i’m really sorry that you got hurt your wrist. sorry…

You appeared like a super man to me last night! you followed my friend to the hospital after the accident, you found me, you helped me to push my motorcycle for 3 km, you took me to the hospital and also took me back to the hotel.you did so much! like i said you are the best american i ever known. you are so helpful and nice! thanks for everything you did for me.

thank you Michael !

_____ from China

Now, I don’t think I’m a hero for the events described above. I mean, I’m far from being Martin Luther King Jr. (or even, say, Kirk Cameron).

All I am is a guy who was riding his scooter in the rain, after midnight, on a dark stretch of road leading out of a small town in northern Thailand, against all common sense and to the horror of my mother is she ever found out (which she now will, I suppose).

I saw an opportunity to help an injured stranger, which then turned into an opportunity to help a different stranger in need, and I took it. I don’t believe in karma, I was not looking for a reward.

So why then, you might ask, did I spend four hours after the stroke of the witching hour helping people I didn’t know? I’d like to think of it as common decency; just showing concern for my fellow man.

And frankly, it was exciting.

The setting? Pai, Thailand: a small town north of Chiang Mai filled with friendly locals, laid back expats , and tourists; a town embraced by natural beauty in every direction.

With its rice fields, rolling green hills, tranquil muddy rivers, and big open sky sporting puffy white clouds, Pai is a little bit like what Eden might have been, had it existed.

The people are generally very friendly, quick to smile, quick to help. In fact, by the time I came across the injured stranger (let’s call him German Bob for funsies), he was already being carried into the back of a white pick up truck owned by two Thai men and a local woman who had pulled over to help him.

I gave his crashed motorbike a cursory once over, asked the German if he wanted me to go to the hospital with him (silly question apparently), and followed the truck there on my scooter.

At the hospital, once it became obvious that German Bob was in no great mortal danger, we got to talking a little bit (him through gritted teeth, rolling eyeballs, and in between moans, that is).

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Turns out the crashed bike was not his – he’d borrowed it from a girl he met and was speeding into town to buy a lighter, hoping to return to her hotel as quickly as possible.

He crashed his motorbike on the way to buy a fucking lighter! Smoking really IS bad for your health, ya’ll.

The girls’ hotel was located some ways out of town, and Bob didn’t recall its name. It had two lemons on its sign, however, that much he knew for certain. Bob produced a key to room 202 and told me that the girl was eagerly awaiting his return.

A bit of detective work at 1am sounded like fun, so I grabbed the key and promised I’d find the mystery girl and bring her to German Bob’s bedside.

I drove back to the scene of the accident to make sure Bob’s crunched motorbike was still there.

Crunched motorbike, check.

I then proceeded further down the road into the mysterious night, the single beam of my scooter’s headlamp keeping the darkness at bay as I searched in for two lemons in vain.

Bob’s memory was relatively sound, however, and I eventually came across a fruit-filled hotel sign some 5 clicks out of town. They weren’t lemons at all (passion fruit actually), but we’ll give poor Bob the benefit of the doubt.

Pulling into the parking lot on my hardy little scooter, I mentally prepared myself to knock on a stranger’s door to deliver some bad news.

I took a few deeps breaths outside of room 202, my heart beating a little too quickly, and knocked on the door.

A few moments later it flew open and a  short Asian girl (let’s call her Sue) stood before me in an equally short night gown.

I was obviously not who Sue was expecting as evidenced by the look on her face, which transitioned from puzzlement to alarm and back again within three heartbeats. We stood there looking at one another for a few seconds before I remembered I had to speak.

“I’m sorry to alarm you but your friend was in an accident. He is in the hospital now. Your bike is on the side of the road a few kilometers from here “, I blurted, all while trying to make what I hoped to be cross-cultural calming motions with my hands.

It took her some time to accept the news, but I guess my stammering sincerity made the harsh truth easier to stomach.  We stopped by the hotel owner’s bungalow so she could (much to her confusion) take my photograph (y’know, just in case German Bob didn’t exist and I was actually a deranged lunatic who’d come to kidnap Sue and drag her back to my den of unspeakable horrors).

Photos snapped, our next task was to check up on German Bob’s – er, Sue’s – crashed motorbike.

The bike appeared to be in better shape than Bob was, just some minor scratches on the body. But the keys were missing from the ignition, and there was a shirtless (and mostly toothless) old Thai man standing nearby in the dark, looking at the bike (and us) with some obvious consternation.

We decided that leaving Sue’s bike there was probably not a great idea, so I pushed the fucking thing three kilometers back to her hotel.

pai-thailand-just-a-pack

That sweaty task completed, we set off on my scooter to the hospital. German Bob was medicated and sleeping when we got there, but woke up long enough to chat Sue up through his drugged-out haze.

They’d placed Bob in a room with 5 elderly female patients who were not super happy about our late night visit, so we kept it short. Sue told Bob she’d visit him in the morning, asked him if he had the key to the scooter (he did not), and off we went.

While dropping Sue off at her hotel at 3:30 in the morning, I nearly caused the second motorbike accident of the evening when I dropped the damned scooter and wrenched my wrist trying to keep it from falling. Apparently scooters do no like standing sideways on steep hills, kick stand or no kickstand.

Sue offered to nurse my new injury but I begged off, not wanting my travel partner to freak out due to my long, unexplained absence in the middle of the night.

Saying goodbye to ol’ Sue,  I braced myself against fresh rain as I drove back to my hotel. Stumbling into my room half a hour later I fell into bed, exhausted but content.

I never saw or heard from German Bob again after that night. Sue, on the other hand, sent me about 18 emails in gratitude, bought my travel partner and I dinner and drinks one night, and was pretty much consumed with expressing her thanks for a few days. We still keep in touch, and she still calls me “her superman” in her emails.

I never told Sue, but I think Superman is a dick. I much prefer Batman, but if she keeps it up I just might start wearing really tight spandex pants as my ego swells to unchecked heights.

Michael-Miszczk-pai-thailand

Michael Miszczak is a nomadic Brooklynite and the co-creator of www.justapack.com. He started backpacking five years ago and has thought of doing little else since. He’s spent months in Asia, Europe, and Latin America. One day he hopes to explore Saturn…but only if he can bring his backpack.

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Nepal’s Holi Festival of Colors

As my face is gently smeared with color for the fourth time I suddenly think “Oh! So that’s how it’s done.”

While foreigners viciously throw the powdered color used to celebrate Holi Festival, the Nepalis smear it on your face. gently, with reverence. And I’m trusting them to know how it’s supposed to be done – it’s their holiday after all.

As I parade down the street with my group of friends, we are continually smeared with paint and shot with water guns. This mix of water and color creates a sloppy yet beautiful mess all over our faces and clothes. And little do we know, this is just the start to the crazy festival of colors known as Holi Festival. 

The screaming and singing confirms that we are close before I can see the thousands of colorful Nepalis dancing in the square.

We have followed the crowd, which has led us into the heart of the city to the scene of a bustling party of extreme proportions, and of course, color.

As we try and make our way through we are “attacked” from every side. Being a Westerner, every Nepali wants to smear their own handful of power on your cheeks no matter how covered you may already be.

It’s hard to make any progress when all you see are green, red, and yellow hands in front of your face, but I don’t mind. Today is all about the experience.

Holi-festival-2

A group of young Nepalis pull us into a dancing circle, and we suddenly find ourselves learning to dance as they do, the music pounding in our ears.

It’s fun, but as I prefer to watch, I quietly sneak out to the sidelines to observe.

Around me there are thousands of young Nepalis laughing and celebrating, and I realize that a city has rarely looked as alive as it does today.

Though smearing color may be the purpose of this gathering, it also looks like a perfectly good excuse for a day off to party, get together with friends, and celebrate life. It’s the buzzing atmosphere that makes this day feel so special.

We sit down to eat at a small outdoor restaurant and watch as children run up and down the street chasing each other with water and color, mercilessly pouring both down on their friend’s heads. What a festival indeed.

I have always seen documentaries of Holi Festival depicting this infamous color-throwing Hindu holiday, but I never thought I would get to experience it for real.

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Though I knew the holiday took place in India, it didn’t occur to me until I saw it with my own eyes that it would also be celebrated in Nepal. 

Being smeared with the powder myself fulfilled my lifelong dream of partaking in the chaotic festival of colors. Creating and receiving a mess has never been so much fun.

Have you experienced Holi Festival? Where? Would you do it again?

by Shirine Taylor a 20-year old solo female traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Holi Festival takes place in Nepal as well as India, Bangladesh, South Africa, and many other countries around the world

2. One part of the Holi festival involves getting smeared head to toe with brightly colored paints, throwing paint at friends and strangers, and using water and water guns to liquefy paint powders

3. You probably don't want to bring your camera or smartphone to Holi Festival!!

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

The (Very) Long Road to Chitwan – Part 1

The ride is cold and wet, then cold and damp, then cold and dusty.

No amount of stopping for tea and momo can fortify my body against the onslaught of a Nepalese highway – two maniacal, unpaved lanes choked with motorbikes and trucks and baby goats and bushel-burdened women climbing through the misty morning.

The road curves along the Seti River, which grows in size and power as we descend from the high mountains.

Rolling hills give way to rolling fields and valleys, and as a few warm rays of sunshine bring relief, I feel like Apollo descending Mt Olympus in his chariot.

We stop at Deepak‘s sister’s home, a small convenience store where they sell oranges and cigarettes.

5 men sit perched on tiny, hand-woven stools, Nepal’s answer to the infamous plastic chairs of Hanoi, or the bean bag chairs of late 90’s North America.

They can’t help but stare as we dismount with some difficulty, my legs not wanting to work after so many hours in the saddle.

The river hugs the road leading to Chitwan

The river hugs the road leading to Chitwan

And although he probably hasn’t seen her in a year, and most likely didn’t tell her he was coming, let alone coming with this white woman in tow, there is this wonderful easiness in the way we are received – it’s this very Nepalese way of welcoming guests that says “Of course you’re here, of course you’re welcome, let’s not make a big thing of it.”

Because to make a big thing of it would be to point out how long it’s been since you’ve been gone, and that could get awkward. The Nepalese don’t like awkward.

I nod and smile as best I can, and Deepak offers a few words of greeting in that same casual, nonchalant, “of course I’m here” tone.

chitwan

“We take lunch?” he asks, smiling at me warmly.

Suddenly he stops and looks at me closely, a bit alarmed.

“You wash the face.”

“What?” I think maybe he’s using the wrong word for something.

“We wash the hands and face” he repeats, and I think maybe I’m learning about some new ritual that must be followed before each meal.

“I’d really rather not wash my face, Deepak, I have makeup on.”

One of the loveliest benefits of being around people who don’t understand English is that you get to say somewhat intimate, embarrassing things to your partner without anyone else realizing you’re doing it.

I’ve often wondered if people around me speaking Vietnamese or Lao or Khmer are actually saying things like “I think I have a hemorrhoid, will you take a look?”, or “Just wait til I get you home tonight, you sexy thang.”

chitwan

Deepak looks confused, grabs a bottle of water, and begins pouring it onto the grass. He holds one hand underneath the stream until I offer to hold the bottle for him. He rubs his hands together as I pour, my sense of alarm growing by the minute.

My fears are confirmed when he withdraws his hands from the stream, shakes them off, and says “Your turn!”

My mind is racing as I rinse my hands underneath the water, trying to keep a polite smile on my face for everyone’s benefit.

Is this supposed to count as washing our hands?!

Where is the sink? Where is the soap? Is this how Deepak always washes his hands?

In Pokhara there was always soap in the bathrooms. And toilet paper. And Western-style toilets.

It had never occurred to me that things would be any different outside of the city.

Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe that was just a rinse.

“Now your face?” asks Deepak, as he pours bottled water on his own.

How is water alone going to wash my face?

“Very dirty” says Deepak.

“I am? Very dirty?” I ask, alarmed.

I scramble for a mirror and can’t believe my eyes – no wonder the sister and her husband and his posse had stared at me like that!

It had nothing to do with my white face, which was invisible beneath a thick mask of black, caked soot. I looked like Zorro, if Zorro had decided to go all out.

No wonder everyone in Nepal wears masks! I thought it was merely the pollution in Kathmandu that required protection. The air Pokhara is clear, but the air on the roads is not.

There doesn’t seem to be any kind of emissions regulations for vehicles here, and I counted at least 5 times when I had to hold my breath as we plummeted through a cloud of thick, black smoke expunged from a careless, farting truck.

Embarrassed, I ask for the bathroom. Deepak may be fine half-assing his hygiene, but I am washing these chemicals off of my face with soap, dammit.

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The bathroom is back there if you can find it.

I’m lead into the back room of the house via a tour that last about 10 seconds. I realize with some alarm that both husband and wife must sleep in the same room where they sell the coke and the cigarettes and the SIM cards.

I lock myself into the darkened bathroom and take a deep breath – an exercise I immediately regret as I choke on the dank smell or mold and urine.

There is no light, and by the light of my phone’s flashlight I see with much dismay that not only is there no soap – there is no sink.

It’s an indoor outhouse, and I’m on my own. the only water in sight is in a bucket meant to be used for “flushing” the toilet. After you’ve done your business, you must pour water down the chute to send your waste god-knows-where (quite likely directly into the water supply).

It takes an entire package of tissue and half a bottle of hand sanitizer before I begin to feel like it might be safe to eat with my hands.

Unable to remove the mask of Zorro completely, I now look like a preteen who doesn’t realized she’s chosen a shade of makeup 3 shades too dark.

I’m terribly uncomfortable and do my best to hide this fact from Deepak, who apparently sees nothing out of the ordinary with his sister’s set up. He waits for me patiently, sipping tea and chatting with the men.

“We eat?” he asks when I emerge from the soapless dungeon.

“Great!” I say, trying hard to appear cheerful and grateful and non-judgmental.

His sister has prepared dahlbat for us, or more likely for herself and her husband, but is now giving it to us since we’re here.

Found it!

We sit on tiny painted stools facing the interior of the shop, and use a glass case containing coke and cigarette reserves as our table.

It is from this position that I notice the flies for the first time. They are the happiest, fattest, most exuberant band of brothers I’ve ever observed, buzzing joyfully between piles of rice and pots of vegetables and everything in between.

“No big deal” I think.

We dig in to the dahl, and Deepak watches me like a delighted father, correcting my hand position as I form my fingers into a scoop and shovel the rice into my mouth.

I’m amazed at how easy this is for him to do, and watch as he effortlessly mixes the ingredients together with his fingers, spoons them into his mouth, and somehow manages to finish with perfectly clean hands.

I’m able to get most of the rice into my mouth, but the odd grain or 7 still manages to slip through cracks, falling to their deaths on the plate below.

It’s within the first few bites that I feel it.

Something deep within the innermost cavern of my belly saying “Wait, what?!” and then “Excuse me! What the hell are you giving me, here?”

I know it, I feel, and I keep eating anyway.

When Deepak is long finished and it becomes apparent that I won’t be able to, I apologize profusely saying “I am so full” and “I think I ate too much at breakfast.”

chitwan

The only thing worse than being served food by someone who barely has enough food for themselves and then not finishing it, is the way that food is making me feel right now.

I do not want to go back into that bathroom. I do not…..

Crap. Literally. Well, at least it’s coming out that end. Perhaps it was a one-time expulsion and we can continue on our merry way and –

Crap. My stomach is churning and gurgling, and I begin to worry about how I’m going to time all of this. And Deepak is waiting for me….and they all know I’m in the bathroom for the second time in 15 minutes!

It’s official. I rinse the regurgitated dahlbat down the hole, wiping my face with a t-shirt since there is no toilet paper and I’ve used all of my tissue on the first movement in this symphony.

My kingdom for a toothbrush, a shower, a bar of soap.

But back on the bike I go, thanking the sister for her hospitality and whispering to Deepak that I feel “a little bit sick.”

“It’s the weather” says Deepak, a mantra that seems to be repeated throughout all of Asia to explain everything from the migration of birds to sexually transmitted diseases.

He takes the burden of the backpack off my shoulders, and I wrap my arms around my own pack as we bump our way back to the main road. The long road to Chitwan just got a helluva lot longer.

This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Don't eat food if you see flies, even if it'd be really rude not to.

2. When you eat the food with flies because you didn't want to be rude, don't get on a motorbike afterwards.

3. When you get on a motorbike afterwards because there's no other form of transportation, be sure your backpack is well-stocked with tissue, toilet paper, towels, soap, and hand sanitizer.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Life in the Mud Huts: Far Western Nepal Part 3

“Nostalgia in reverse: the longing for yet another strange land.”

I have had people stare, even gawk open-mouthed when they see me, but I have never had people run away in fright like they are right now.

After a treacherous, three-hour bumpy bus ride on the precarious rocky path that winds up and over the Himalayan foothills, I have arrived in a small village in Far Western Nepal.

The village is comprised of a handful of mud houses scattered along the hillside, and not much else. I sit down, making myself less threatening, and see a few more heads peek out cautiously behind the trees below.

I see a child stirring an enormous steaming pot of liquid with a stick, while another half dozen children look on. I am curious and want to see what they are making, but the children and even teenagers are obviously still wary of me.

far-western-nepal

A women appears behind me, laughing a deep heartfelt laugh. She signals that I should continue down the path, and with her blessing, I approach the group around the large steaming cauldron.

“Basnu,” (sit down) she says, as I am handed a leaf wrapped around a warm, malleable hunk of brown sugar. It is delicious, sweet yet flavorful, and I realize that they are making this tasty brown sugar out of the boiling sugarcane syrup to my right.

Most of the children have scattered into the surrounding fields and sit perched atop enormous piles of discarded sugarcane branches. From these lookout points, they can alternate between practicing flips and watching me.

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After a while a man appears and calls the children down so they can enjoy their own leaf-full of this sugarcane delicacy. Though they continue to watch me suspiciously, the temptation of sugar is enough to draw them near, and a few of the giggling girls even come to sit next to me. I knew it was only a matter of time before I won them over.

Once they’ve finished eating, they quickly set up a game, sort of like dodge ball, whcih draws an increasing number of children from the surrounding hills. They laugh and run like children everywhere, using a makeshift ball they constructed out of an old shirt.

far-western-nepal

After the game, as the children begin to peel away and return to their own houses, I am invited by the couple back to theirs, and readily agree to join them and their two children for the night.

Their house is small, a one room mud house with nothing but a few blankets on the ground and a pile of wood in the corner which serves as their stove.

There is corn hanging from every inch of the ceiling, drying before being made into the flour we will use to make dinner. The house is filled with dense smoke, there is no ventilation for the fire they are cooking over, but the smoke seems to swirl around the hut unnoticed.

far-western-nepal

Though there is no electricity, light shines in through the wooden door creating a comfortable, homey feel.

We all squat around the fire as the mother and father work together to make dinner, a simple meal of roti that we dip in a bit of spices. They have no money and no processions except their cows and chickens, but they seem content to be living freely off of their land.

The forested hillside is scattered with mudhuts, none of which have electricity, and the darkness signals that it is time to sleep. Once night falls it is completely dark all around.

I crawl under the blanket with the two children who have warmed to me, already calling me “didi” (sister), and fall into a peaceful sleep surrounded by nature and good-hearted people.

This post is part of a 4-part series on Far Western Nepal.

For Part 1, click here

For Part 2, click here

Shirine Taylor is a 20-year old solo female traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

 

A Morning at Marble Mountain – Part 1

The second I hear Dan’s voice I know I know him.

“California!” I shout, pointing at him in the middle of a hotel lobby in Da Nang, Vietnam.

“Wrong” he says. “Weak guess,” he says, and I instantly like him.

How ironic that I guessed he’s from my home-away-from-home, when it turns out he’s from my home-home, the great state of Wisconsin.

After having a very typical “Oh-my-God-you’re-from-Wisconsin-too?!” discussion, which inevitably includes phrases like “Miller Park!” and “Don’t you miss cheese?” and “Isn’t it funny how PBR is now a hipster thing?,” I learn that Dan is in Asia to teach English.

On a break between teaching gigs in South Korea and China, he has exactly 2 weeks to see Vietnam. And in true Sconie style, Dan is determined to use those 2 weeks to see all of Vietnam.

The next day I find myself renting a motorbike for the first time in my life and hoping to God Dan knows what he’s talking about when he says it’s “really easy” to ride.

7:23am China Beach, Da Nang

Swimming "spectacle" at China Beach

Swimming “spectacle” at China Beach

We start at China Beach in Da Nang because our hotel owner says that each day just after sunrise, hundreds of Vietnamese take to the sea for their morning swim. “A spectacle!” he says.

Our reward for waking up at this ungodly hour is half a dozen swimmers and a couple of dudes kicking around a soccer ball on the beach.

So there weren't hundreds of swimmers, but we DID see a few guys playing soccer!

So there weren’t hundreds of swimmers, but we DID see a few guys playing soccer!

“Fail” says Dan. “I’m in charge now.”

It’s all I can do to keep up with his speeding motorbike as it soars down the highway that hugs the coastline between Da Nang and Hoi An.

8:40am Marble Museum and outdoor showroom 

marble-mountain

Before we arrive at Marble Mountain, the next stop on our list, we’re distracted by an outdoor museum filled with enormous marble statues of all shapes and sizes.

There are many such places lining the road to Hoi An, which boasts 5-star resorts on the ocean-side of the road, and marble shop after marble shop on the mountain-side of the road.

It’s free to walk around and check out the statues, and we get the idea that purchasing one would easily cost billions of dong.

Before leaving we see a group of women polishing the marble, and one who even seems to be making adjustments to the size and shape of one of the statues with a power tool of some sort.

marble-mountain

I fancy her an exquisite artiste, though from looking at how the women are dressed and seeing their lack of a proper workspace, I assume the brilliant artistes are getting paid less than artiste wages.

9:01am On to Marble Mountain!

marble-mountain-rebs-on-bike

Not to be confused with Monkey Mountain, home to the biggest Buddha statue in all of Vietnam, Marble Mountain is south of Da Nang and is exactly what it sounds like – a giant mountain made of marble.

The hill juts out of the earth suddenly, as if someone had been slowly carving away at her foothills for centuries (and people have – where do you think all the marble statues come from?)

Dan’s stuff is back at the hotel in Da Nang, but I’m staying in Hoi An this week and have all of my worldly possessions balanced precariously on the motorbike.

We park and find that there are no lockers, so I stash my backpack with the parking attendant and opt to carry my laptop case – filled with computer, chargers, my DSLR camera, and anything else remotely valuable – up the mountain with me.

marble-mountain

Marble Mountain is filled with labyrinths and caves and temples built into the slippery rock. You can see and feel the marble beneath your feet, and have to be careful so as not to slip and slide all the way down to the ground!

Dan leads me into a cave and through a narrow opening in the rock that may or may not be an official climbing area.

This guy is from Wisconsin, which means I’ll never hear the end of it if I punk out, so I squeeze through the narrow rock tunnel, shoving my giant bag in front of me and pushing it upwards with my hands.

It's Dan!

It’s Dan!

Next thing I know, we’re climbing upwards at an incredibly steep incline, and the entirety of Central Vietnam  suddenly sparkles into view. A large, flat rock juts out above all the others, and Dan is quick to leap upon it.

“Get up here!” he says, do-see-do-ing with me since the rock is only large enough for one person.

Alright, it’s no Nepal, but I do sort of feel on top of the world.

Until I have to get back down.

Climbing up was easy, but in order to get back down I must leap from one rock to another. The problem? Said rocks are a good 5 feet apart, the space between revealing a 500-meter drop to a cartoonish-looking receptacle of sharp marble spikes below.

I picture myself splayed across those spikes, each one stabbed through various major arteries. I imagine Dan attending my funeral in Wisconsin and trying to explain to my mother how I perished on top of Marble Mountain.

“No big deal” says Dan.

“C’mon, we’re wasting time!” says Dan.

I dance back and forth, about to make the leap, then thinking better of it, then working up my courage again.

It takes a good five minutes, but I finally get a running start and shoot my legs in front of me, landing hard on the rock face and scraping my legs up in the process.

“Was that so hard?” says Dan, shaking his head.

Yes. Yes it was.

I’m antsy to get back on the road, knowing we have a lot left to see.

“Five more minutes” says Dan, turning the corner to enter yet another cave. He disappears briefly then reappears, waving for me to follow him.

And I’m so glad I did.

Check out the guard in the lower left corner of the photo to get a sense of the scale

Check out the guard in the lower left corner of the photo to get a sense of the scale

Huyen Khong Cave is easily the largest cave I’ve ever been in, and the most beautiful. It is positively massive, with an enormous Buddha statue carved into the rock face, floating high upon the cave wall above our heads.

Candles illuminate the din, the face of the Buddha in shadow except for a few rays of sunlight that stream in from cracks in the cave ceiling.

We are afforded a solid two minutes of solitude here before a mass of tourists break the silence, but in those two minutes neither of us speaks. The energy is palpable – a sacred place.

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For some reason, Chinese characters have been carved into the rock face just to the right of the Buddha.

Dan is studying Chinese for his upcoming work assignment, and is eager to look up the meaning.

We throw out guesses, expecting no less than the profound, wise words of the Buddha or some poetry from Lao Tzu.

"Big dark cave."

“Big dark cave.”

“I found the translation” says Dan.

“What does it mean?” I ask.

“It means, ‘big, dark cave’” says Dan.

God, I love Vietnam.

Check back for part 2 of this series where Dan and I head to Hoi An and My Son on our 1-day lightning fast tour of Central Vietnam.

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Marble Mountain is definitely worth seeing - it's about halfway between Hoi An and Da Nang and is filled with beautiful temples, statues, and incredible caves.

2. Make SURE you wear slip-resistant shoes - the marble is incredibly slippery!

3. If you park "for free" at one of the many marble shops, you will be pressured heavily to buy something. If you don't, you'll probably be charged for parking. (luckily the parking and entrance fees are only a few dollars.)

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!