I never thought I’d be posting a Bobby Cliff song while writing about how I ended up spending Australia day, but then there is a lot of firsts for me on my travels.
Easy Tiger had advertised that they would be having a cricket match and some other games to celebrate Australia day. In my ignorance I will admit that until I visited Vietnam a couple of years ago I hadn’t heard of Australia day and so this would be the first time I’d been involved in any celebrations of it. A few days before the event the weather had been particularly rainy and so it was touch and go whether it would be held on a muddy field or somewhere more hardy.
It wasn’t my intention to actually play but when the numbers seemed low at first I decided to have a go. I’ve never been a sporty person, I wasn’t really dressed for it and I still can’t catch a ball very well – I was destined to be a loser at cricket before I’d started.
Beer crates for wickets
Captain Caveman is a good bowler
Pete checks the hot dogs
My first injury came when I tried to catch a ball that Captain Caveman had hit towards the outside seating area. The tyre seats had been moved but the concrete had some standing water and was slippy so my sandals weren’t able to stop me slide into the round tables where I landed with one boob on the table but my bum and legs on the floor – it hurt but I got up and carried on for a bit.
More people came to join and so I had a bit of a break and a few beers to numb the pain, but then it was my turn to bowl.
My second injury came when I bowled my first ball and it was batted expertly back at me hitting me in the face and knocking my glasses to the floor. The Aussie batsman was shocked himself as he was sure I would catch him out but I’d not kept my eye on the ball that came so fast at my face and was a bit stunned. Luckily my glasses were in one piece and we were only playing with a tennis ball.
After that I sat down and watched the match while eating the delicious hot dogs and drinking beer to numb more pain. The sun stayed out and the Easy Tiger car park was later turned from cricket pitch to a thong (flip-flops to you and me) throwing court. It’s more difficult than it looks to throw footwear on to a tyre.
When I woke up the next day I could hardly move and had a massively bruised chest, luckily my face was fine and no black eyes, I think cricket is not my game.
Today’s post has a funky feel for a Monday Morning – and this is the first time I’ve seen the video to the song that I loved as a kid.
Before the end of the Lunar year in Vietnam it is customary to clean things in readiness for the new year, especially prior to the celebrations starting. On the day before TET eve (similar to 30th December in the UK) Captain Caveman and I decided we would cycle in to town for breakfast and on the way there he would get his bicycle washed. We pulled up at the ‘car wash’ where there was a significant amount of motorbikes already in line for a wash and their owners were sat waiting.
We took a seat next to some other customers who happened to be some of Captain Caveman’s colleagues. They passed us a beer and even though it was before 10am and we’d had no breakfast, we accepted and started drinking with them.
While both our bikes got a thorough washing we did ‘cheers’ and smiled a lot with the group of men and drank beer, we laughed as one of the men pointed out to Captain Caveman two girls and said ‘dep’. We all laughed when I replied ‘yes, pretty’ because he was embarrassed I understood. Captain Caveman called him a dirty old man and some of the others laughed at him, while he blushed.
After about half an hour our bicycles were washed and looked as good as new so we got up and tried to pay for beer and the wash – the beer was free and only 20,000 dong for 2 bike washes. Not a bad morning – 70 pence (less than a dollar) for 2 beers and 2 bike washes.
On the last morning of the trip we woke early in the beautiful Hang En for an early breakfast. The Oxalis staff had discussed that they thought it would be quite a hot walk back and as a group we were all keen to set off before it became too hot to tackle the steep hill at the end. As we retraced our steps of the first day I noticed that there seemed to be fewer river crossings than I remember and the walk felt a little quicker. I had not taken any photos of the way there and for most of my trip had not actually taken any pictures until we were at a rest stop. I had used a GoPro for the first time and was wondering how that might work out, especially as most of my footage had been in darkness so may not have come out. Captain Caveman was at the front of the group so was able to take some photos as we headed back across the river and towards the bottom of the hill.
The hill back up to the road was the hardest part of the trip for me. Even though I had come down the hill once already on day one it was easy to forget the steepness of it. Despite having been down and back up it once before when I did a Hang En trip, I had certainly forgotten what it felt like to walk up it. I was lucky that Captain Caveman had already gone on ahead – he was on a back to back tour so was keen to get to the starting point to meet his next guests. I was in very capable hands with our other cave expert who was encouraging as I found myself at the back of all the others by a good ten minutes. By the time we reached the top I was so hot that I had had to take off my top and just walk with my sports bra on. We weren’t far off the top when Captain Caveman came back down with his new group and a can of orange drink for me – it tasted amazing and spurred me on for the final hurdle. One of my fellow trekkers gave me ice from the box of drinks that awaited us at the end and our guide told me to put my top back on so we could have some group photos before the porters left us to get in our bus back to Oxalis.
When we got back I was dropped off at home and I had the quickest but most desperately needed shower ever – even in cold water it felt good to wash my hair. I then cycled to Oxalis to meet the others for a lunch of beer and noodle soup, both of which went down so well. I achingly cycled back with mine and Captain Caveman’s wet, dirty clothes (with the help of my friend and neighbor, Chrissy). There was more than one bike basket full of smelly, muddy garments so I was keen to get it in the washing machine. In the evening we were all invited to the Saigon Phong Nha hotel for a celebratory dinner and presentation which was hosted by our guide. The food was not as good at the hotel as we had eaten in the cave and so we moved on in to town for drinks.
At Easy Tiger the beers were flowing and I got up and sang with the band while the group clapped and danced along with others. I cycled back from town late and drunk, glad that I had already packed my bag – my visa expired the next day so I had a 7am taxi pick up to take me to the airport. I was off to Bangkok for a few days, via Saigon.
I should’ve been fitter and I wasn’t prepared mentally to take on some of my fears but the place is magical and feels like it is not of this world, mystical even. I was, and still am, in awe of all the people that work on the tour to make the trip so good. From the porters carrying all of our stuff while wearing plastic sandals, to the amazing chef and the team who fed us amazing meals, I couldn’t believe how much hard work went on. The guides and assistant guides who showed skill and patience, in equal measures with each guest, were a massive part of the trip for me. I was overwhelmed to have had the chance to go to work with my partner, Captain Caveman, seeing how fantastic he is at his job and how much passion and respect he has for the job that he does in the place he calls his ‘office’. Despite all of my shortcomings it was one of the most remarkable journeys I have ever been on.
My song choice for today’s ‘throw back Thursday’ and for the penultimate day of my trip is more for the words than because I’m a fan.
On the way back from the lovely Camp 2 back to Camp 1 we navigated the same terrain of steep drops, rocks, ropes, safety lines and water with a slightly alternative route and less photo stops. Although my legs were weaker, I was in better shape than I had expected physically. My upper body ached the most and I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to pull myself up the 80m entrance to Son Doong.
I decided to go last on the way out, that way I could picture the rest of the team tucking into a feast and drinking champagne in an attempt to give me the mental power to get myself out quicker.
The fellow trekker behind me decided to be a gentleman and let me go before him so I was second to last and everyone, as far as I know got out without incident.
Our assistant guides were at the bottom and I didn’t check my harness was tight enough in my eagerness to get into the light again. I almost managed the first sections without slipping but ended up with one of the assistant guides having to put his foot under mine. The next section I found akin to trying to climb a big glacier mint with roller skates on and I lost it, swinging about in my harness and squealing. I grazed my elbow again and had to be manhandled with a shove on the bum with the assistant guide shouting ‘stand up’ at me.
The last bit of it I made a meal of as my arms were so weak and it was at this point I realised I wouldn’t last long if I had to hang from a window ledge of a burning building.
When I eventually got to the top my harness straps were round the back of my knees and I could hardly walk out of the entrance. There were high fives all round that we were out; I was particularly amazed I’d managed it with only having broken a finger nail, not bones.
On the way back down to Hang En Captain Caveman lead me and one of the porters a slightly different route (the porter’s one) as the others were quite a bit ahead of us – it was slippery, muddy and had leaches but wasn’t too taxing except for the quick pace.
Whenever I said I couldn’t keep up Captain Caveman promised me a beer but I didn’t believe him even when he said it to try and get me to beat the others back.
When we arrived at Hang En I was surprised to find we were the first back and so I stripped off to my pants and sports bra ready to take a dip and have a wash. We had a few leaches on us but one had latched on to my neck and was feeding so Captain Caveman had to get it off. There was blood and the mark only disappeared a week later.
The best things that day were washing each other’s backs in Hang En and having a beer at dinner (he wasn’t kidding). My last night was spent eating like a pig on the wonderful food before sleeping pretty well in the tent nearest the water.