….. as in crossing that is. Our guide was very specific about instructions for negotiating the streets of Hanoi. “Always cross at the zebra crossing. Once you start crossing the street keep going but slowly. Do not run. Walk slowly so motorbikes will have a good chance to avoid hitting you.”
And they're off!
Now that’s pretty good advice if you ask me. Forget about traffic lights. They work for the most part but don’t be surprised to find scooters, motor bikes or even cars driving around you, in front of you and behind you while crossing at a pedestrian crossing. Oh and don’t get too relaxed walking down the sidewalk. Many bikers use this as a handy way to avoid the traffic. Go figure.
I use the term “bikers” loosely. For us in North America it conjures up Hell’s Angels or mid-life crisis executives clad in black leather from head to foot sitting confidently astride beautiful Harleys or BMW’s. In Hanoi a biker could be literally anyone wanting to get from point A to point B. Lots of girls. Pretty office workers in stockings, suits and heels. Moms and Dads with one or even two babies wedged between them. It’s amazing what these bikes can do and how the riders can balance huge bags of rice, baskets piled sky-high and very long unwieldy aluminium ladders with no sight of that familiar red cloth tied to the end. It’s pedestrian beware and the sight is enough to make any North American traffic cop want to hang up his radar.
I was astonished to see a group of tourists on a bicycle tour through the city. Truly they deserve a medal – maybe this is going to become an Olympic sport one day. It would certainly call on athletes with nerves of steel and great balance – qualities unfortunately that I do not possess. So you won’t be seeing me on the bike in Vietnam – at least not in Hanoi that is.
We all moan about airport security, body scans, little baggies for our “fluids” and how much time this adds onto the whole commute but really – that is not the worst thing about flying. There is something about getting on an aircraft that brings out those “Naked Ape” (1) instincts. First of all there is the gate. You get there extra early so you can be first in line when the gatekeeper comes on duty. While waiting for said gatekeeper you eye up any competition for the front of line and by subtle body movements make it clear that you were there first and will kill anyone who steps in front of you. After all the only thing you want to is get out of that dreaded middle seat. An upgrade wouldn’t be bad either if you can smile ingratiatingly to the girl or guy on the desk. Don’t bother however. Those days are long gone. You will likely only ever get an upgrade when you are about to be bumped, unless you happen to be a Premium 5 Diamond Gold Covered Elite super hero.
Then they do the pre-boarding. George Carlin summed it up well –
What does it mean to pre-board? Do you get on before you get on?
– George Carlin
Some airlines will board by row number from the back of the plane but that usually deteriorates into a scrum as everyone wants to get onto the plane first to grab that overhead bin. And how many times have you stood in the aisle while someone takes their coat off, folds it up, puts it in the bin, arranges their overnight bag in the bin, almost sits down and then remembers that they need their newspaper. Come on people – get organised.
Then we have to do the whole procedure in reverse. Despite the flight attendants requesting everyone to keep seat belts fastened while we taxi to the gate there is always some bright spark who chooses to ignore that. And holy cow when the announcement is made that you can use a cell phone you would think the whole plane was full of Very Important People as phones are whipped out of pockets, purses and briefcases.
Just got to text my driver
And the Blackberries are in the lead followed closely by the iPhone. But wait, as they come round the corner a lone Android is closing the gap. Oh wait – a disaster – the Blackberries are down and the iPhones romp home.
By now everyone is standing up even though we are not even connected to the gate. I know, I know, I do it too. No point in denying it. It’s just that competitive instinct. I know I am in row 23 but damn I am going to get off this plane first if it kills me.
No wonder high speed trains are so popular in Europe.
(1) The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris – also a good read The Human Zoo by the same author.
2.14 am …….I can’t believe I am camping out in a small two man tent in the middle of the African bush and there isn’t even a fence between us and them … the predators. How did I talk myself into this? Even more curious… how did I talk my sister into this. She hates spiders and creepy crawlies so much that she sprayed our tent with DDT and now we can hardly breathe.
This wasn't what I had in mind
2.35 am ….. Holy cow! What is that noise? Sounds like hyenas. Oh… there goes the garbage can. They must have found the leftovers from the barbecue. Ugh, I hate hyenas – I know that sounds irrational but they look so primitive and evil.
3.05 am….. Hell’s teeth. What’s that shouting. It sounds like Peter. He’s in the other tent with the kids. What should I do? He’s banging on the side of the tent and shouting “Voetsak” (get away in Afrikaans). Is someone trying to break in. How do you break into a tent anyway? Shouldn’t I rush over there and save my babies….. mmmmmm …. where’s that Tiger Mom in me? Oh yeah – we’re in Africa, not India. So where is the Lion Mom in me? Hang on a minute. It’s gone quiet again. He must have scared them away. I’ll be brave and stick my head out of the tent and shout over to him. zzzzzzzip zzzzzip – “Are you ok Pete?” “Yes, go back to sleep”. Sleep? Who is he kidding?
3.15 am ….. so what happened to the Ranger. He said he was going to take the rifle with him and if we needed anything in the night just shout. He must be as deaf as a post. Shame such a young man too! Just hope we don’t get a herd of marauding elephant through here.
3.45 am …… I wonder how Trish manages to sleep with her hat on. She’s had it on all night. Says it keeps the spiders from falling on her head. Yawn….
4.15 am….. Oh how lovely – an owl in the tree over us hooting away. At least it will keep us company.
4.50 am ….. Wish I had the rifle. I would shoot that bloody owl.
5.10 am….. Hang on.. I think dawn is coming. I can see a pinky light through the mosquito netting of the tent. Maybe we can get up now. zzzzzzip zzzzzip – Oh wow look it IS daytime. And here comes our trusty ranger with his rifle. “Hi! What a night hey?”…. He looks puzzled “Really? I dunno. I had my wisdom teeth out yesterday so I took two percocet and slept all night. What’s wrong? Why are you looking at me like that?”
I’m homesick. That’s weird … because I am home. Canada is my home now. So why am I homesick and for where? I was born in England ……. nah…… not homesick for England.
I grew up in South Africa – and that’s the problem. I have this sudden longing for the bush. They say you can take the girl out of the bush but you can’t take the bush out of the girl.
There’s something healing about being out in the African bush – and yet it can be a harsh place. Nature rules and there are the hunters and the hunted, the victors and the victims. To see a lioness stalking her prey is thrilling and yet some part of you always wants the poor antelope or zebra to get away. Run! Run! You feel like shouting as the poor buck zig zags across the veldt in panic. The lioness is clever, fast and strong and the antelope seldom wins.
On my last trip to the bush in Sabi Sands Game Reserve we came across a huge pride of lion after the kill. The huge black-maned male could barely move he was so full. He lay with his belly distended, his paws flopping in the air, right in the middle of the track, dozing in the midday sun.
Oh I ate too much
His pride lay around him licking and cleaning and grooming and you could still see the traces of blood on their whiskers and chins. It was a hot day and our ranger knew that they would not move for hours but they would be thirsty later on. We would return after sunset.
Sure enough once the sun had gone down and that strangely fast coldness had descended on the bush we found the pride again – this time stirring from their slumber. As if in answer to an unspoken signal they slowly made their way to their feet and one by one ambled off down the track. Our ranger told us there was a water hole some way in the distance and we followed in the landrover with the large floodlight on the front. The light did not seem to bother them. From time to time one of them would stop and turn back, gazing at us, eyes lighting up in the headlamps of the vehicle. More curious than threatening.
Finally they reached the water-hole. All the females lined up – like a Radio City chorus line – along the edge of the waterhole. With beautiful symmetry they hunched down on their powerful forequarters and daintily lapped up gallons and gallons of water.
We sat in the landrover – speaking in whispers – thrilled and awed by Nature’s beauty.
Heads down ladies
Oh yes – I AM homesick for the bush.
Now back off Mr Donkey
Now I feel sorry for the donkeys, don’t get me wrong. But I know where the mule part comes from and when you are negotiating a steep rocky path from the top of Santorini down to the ferry station everyone is fighting for territory. Maybe we should have taken the gondola – we did have the tickets after all – but the line-up was horrendous so we thought we would be clever and walk down. What we didn’t realise before we started was that the rocks on the path were polished smooth by the thousands of people (and donkeys) who have gone up and down this path. In addition to this they were well oiled by liberal doses of donkey poo. I was halfway down the path ahead of my sister when I realised that she was in a confrontation with a donkey. Unable to move and squashed up against the side of the wall by the donkey she burst into tears so her husband had no option but to punch the donkey in the neck.
Now before you go all PETA on me it hurt him a lot more than it hurt the donkey. Trust me – his hand was red for days.
Any idea when these cruise ships go away?
The problem was of course that there were no less than 7 cruise ships in the harbour. Imagine pouring out all those passengers into the tiny streets of Santorini. The people pressure was unbelievable and I was told that 11 ships were expected the next day. What a shame. It is indeed a beautiful island with stunning little hotels literally hanging onto the side of the cliffs. My best bet – if you really want to see Santorini go in October, sleep late, eat lunch at the pool of your hotel and then by 4 pm you should be safe to venture out and enjoy the island as it was meant to be enjoyed.
She's shopping - he's sleeping
After seeing Monemvasia I am sure there are many such undiscovered and beautiful places to visit in Greece and I plan to find them. Stay tuned! Preferably somewhere without a donkey ride involved!