We were up and about at 5.30am on Saturday 18th September, I’ve never felt so excited to be having a needle! Captain Caveman dropped me off at the end of the road where it meets the highway and he waited with me. We had to wait a while, as is the norm, and eventually the big bus arrived. The bus was quite full and when we arrived at a school in Dong Hoi, being used for mass vaccination purposes, we were not allowed in the gate and were told to stand outside and space out, by the guard on duty. Once inside the gate there was about an hour of form filling and general waiting about, An (from Mountain Bar/House) became my translator and it was good to see a friendly face who could help make the waiting go more quickly. I caught up on the Corona data and the news while we waited to go inside; the Quang Binh cases were quite high at 49, 4 in Dong Hoi and 19 in Bo Trach, none near us but it did make me wonder if Bo Trạch may stay in lockdown for longer because of this. I was sad to read that dragon fruit imports were stopped due to the virus too, more here: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/business/20210917/china-suspends-dragon-fruit-imports-through-vietnams-northern-border-gate-after-discovering-coronavirus-on-shipment/63147.html By 8.40am I had received my 2nd vaccine of Astra Zeneca, 13 weeks and 2 days after my 1st vaccine and I was so grateful to Oxalis for being able to do this for me. I also felt a bit bad that so many people in Vietnam had still not had their 1st one and were so desperately wanting to be able to get it. There was no longer a 30 minute waiting period to check if anyone had adverse reactions and by 8.45am I had my paper certificate in my hand and was on my way to the bus, feeling the most relieved I can remember feeling. I could now really plan my escape to Turkey and would hopefully be there before October! On the bus back a porter was feeling a little queasy so I gave him my last 2 salted lemon sweets and he had a lay down.
By 9.30am I had been dropped back off and was enjoying a sunny walk back home as the blockade man and some locals asked if I had been for another test and was I negative. They cheered when I said I had been for vaccine number 2 and I thought it wouldn’t hurt to let them know so they may be more on my side when I try to leave town. When I got home Captain Caveman had already started brunch, knowing I’d be hungry, and we sat in the garden to eat bacon, potatoes, cabbage and mushrooms. We decided to break our promise not to eat all the crisps and shared a bag while outside by the pool. A no-masker workman came to fix the water compressor which meant I’d be able to give my hair a good wash at last. My passport had finally been picked up by Bich so I arranged to send Captain Caveman to collect it when he was running his errands later. That afternoon I felt a bit tired so I had a lay down while Captain Caveman went up to the Lake House to collect bread and a couple of cheeky bottles of wine. He was gone for ages but back at home, Captain Caveman knocked up some pulled pork buns with the fresh bread collected from the Lake House and we opened a bottle of The Accomplice wine. Tomorrow, Operation ‘Get me out of here’ would recommence – only Captain Caveman and I would be involved in the details until we knew it was going to work!
On Friday 17th September, day 23 of my #STFAH but day 2 of Directive 15 we had fruit for breakfast, there was more mushroom growth, Carrot cuddles and the sun was shining. There were 29 more cases in Quang Binh and there were only 1 in Dong Hoi and 1 in Bo Trach, things were improving. Because we now had more peanut butter we had some on toast for lunch and I had a cider. The pool was nice and I was in there until 4pm when it looked like another storm was heading our way. By 4.20pm it was raining hard, at 5.30pm I still hadn’t had my passport back so I sent a message to check progress. There is always a drama where my passport is concerned and today didn’t let us down because it had been forgotten to organise the picking up of it. By 7.30pm we had devoured our delicious carbonara dinner, made with Stu’s bacon and duck eggs from the market. It was a fairly ordinary day until a message from Oxalis came via Captain Caveman; I would be on the 6.30am bus to Dong Hoi tomorrow for my 2nd vaccine, a day earlier than already informed. This was great news because if things did work out it meant I could perhaps be in Turkey next week!
On Thursday 16th September, while the rest of our buddies were allowed to swan about in their Directive 19, we were on day 1 of #STFAH (unless it’s essential or to go to work) Directive 15. Of course I had no excuses to go anywhere so it was my day 22 of not going out unless it was to a hospital or clinic. I didn’t bother with the news as it was bad enough seeing that we didn’t have any recent cases in our village but we were still lumped in with the wider area for the new rules, which were to last ‘until further notice’. Captain Caveman decided to interpret the directive that he could go to work and go to do essential chores; go to the ATM, pick up his whisky from an empty house, pick up tablets from the pharmacy and buy some coffee and peanut butter, because we had ran out. I didn’t think he should really be doing any of this but it was within the rules. First I made us some bacon sandwiches, Captain Caveman made himself an egg to go on his too, for breakfast. When I watered the mushrooms there were quite a few new shoots on them so they were having a second wind. Captain Caveman did his errands but couldn’t buy any vegetables as they had run short in Phong Nha, and while he was picking up the ‘essentials’ he had lunch at Funny Monkeys and a coffee, while waiting for ground coffee, at Tree House. It was hotdogs for my lunch as a bit of a make do meal because, surprisingly, we had no more leftovers in the fridge. I had an update to say I was able to get my passport back tomorrow afternoon, my visa had been extended until 9th October and it was being sent with a driver to Duyet to pass it me tomorrow – all seemed straight forward there, then! I was tending to my mushrooms again with Carrot, he’s started bopping me on the back of the legs with his nose to try to get attention, or a nibble of a mushroom. Captain Caveman arrived back in a chirpy mood, despite not having bought any fruit or veg but I think he was just glad to have been out cycling, he reported that the blockades and checkpoints had been removed. He’d also brought me back my decent red shoes, that I’d forgotten about, a notebook and my TEFL workbooks. Captain Caveman had spoken to Oxalis and he had confirmed my 2nd vaccine would be on the morning of the 19th September. If this came off it meant I could potentially get a PCR test on the 20th and fly on the 21st, I sent my idea of the schedule to Danny, the driver, to see if he could be on standby and he could. Ben messaged me to ask if we fancied a pizza delivering because the Phong Nha Farmstay kitchen was open again and it made my night, it wasn’t even a Friday! Captain Caveman took this as a reason for another ‘essential’ journey and went to pay our 9 day overdue Elements bill, while collecting the pizza. While I was waiting for the pizza and Captain Caveman to return I had a good video chat with my parents and it was looking likely that I would get to see them this year and that made me very happy! The Netflix film that night was State of Play which wasn’t bad and had some famous people in it who can act. The pizza was good, we even had wine with it, after not having any for almost 2 weeks, I wore a dress so I could pretend I was going out, and as lockdown days go, it was a pretty good one.
We had a load of fruit for breakfast on Wednesday 15th September, the last day of week 3 of the Directive 16 lockdown, which was due to end at 7pm tonight. There were 26 cases in our province, none in Dong Hoi, 8 in Bo Trach but none near us so it was looking hopeful that we would be approaching some freedom perhaps. Captain Caveman, as usual, was more optimistic than I about this and he felt pretty sure that at least the part of our commune of Hung Trach, where we live, would be given a reprieve. Finally Vietnam daily Corona cases had started to decrease and in our local area there was some outside activity. Khuong Ha had been allowed to harvest the (half ruined by rain) rice and were given help to do so, there were lots of flowers blooming and the Elements staff were power washing the vans. Captain Caveman did us both peanut butter on toasted baguette and we ate it on the balcony, with a passion fruit treat for afters. We spent the afternoon in the pool and I had 2 ciders while Captain Caveman had beers. Finally we got the confirmation of the Directives for our area; all of Phong Nha and Cu Nam would move from Directive 16 to Directive 19 which meant people there could go out and about again. Unfortunately, because our village of Khuong Ha is in Hung Trạch (not Phong Nha) we would move from Directive 16 to Directive 15, which meant we could only leave the house for essential reasons, like going to work, to get food, etc. This was definitely bad news for us and Captain Caveman didn’t take it well, I had a feeling this would happen and just needed to know if the restrictions for leaving to go for a PCR test would be any easier. I let Danny, the driver, know the news that it may still be difficult for me to attempt an escape any time soon and he responded with news that Hanoi would be lifting their lockdown from the 21st September, which meant if I could get there I could get a PCR test to fly with, in Hanoi. We mulled over lots of different options and thought there could be a chance that I might be able to leave but it was also risky as it could still all go wrong and waste more money. We decided I would call Singapore Airlines tomorrow and move my flight to the end of September and hope our village was out of lockdown by then. At 6pm Captain Caveman got a message from his colleague at Oxalis to say that I would be getting my 2nd Astra Zeneca vaccination on Sunday and we were so happy! It actually made a pretty shit day so much better! We had one of our favourites for dinner; pulled pork with cabbage and pickled cucumber on baguettes and watched another film, All the Money in the World. It is definitely worth watching as I didn’t know the story about J P Getty, and it’s a pretty terrible one. That night, as we went to bed, there was one of the worst storms I’ve ever tried to sleep through and I was actually scared the roof might come in, although Captain Caveman had explained that it was structurally unlikely. We realised too late that we had also left the pool towels out but I didn’t want to risk going out to get them. The thunder and lightening were right above us and, of course, the power went out again. I lay awake for ages wondering if Duyet and Carrot would be ok and if we were getting the floods they had predicted.
Tuesday 14th September was a good day, I’d accepted I wasn’t going anywhere (for now), the drama had subsided and we were carrying on with getting to the end of our 3rd week of the #STFAH restrictions. There were 34 new cases in Quang Binh, 8 in our commune but not near to us. The daily case numbers in Saigon were finally starting to show a flattening off on the graph. I had buttered toast for breakfast and read a rather interesting article about foreigners living in Vietnam during the strict lockdowns, it gives you a bit of an insight in to what it’s like living in Vietnam during the strict pandemic restrictions, check it out: https://vietnamnews.vn/society/1030764/expats-face-tough-time-amid-the-covid-19-outbreak-in-viet-nam.html I was trying to think more calmly and rationally about my trying to leave escapade because you know you’re not thinking sensibly when you start to understand this kind of thing: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210914/15-people-flouting-covid19-restrictions-found-in-refrigerated-truck-in-southern-vietnam/63092.html We spent most of the morning in, or next to, the pool, my eczema on my face was bad again (from all the food I shouldn’t eat, beer and stress lately). I needed to relax more so we watched a comedy film while eating fried rice for lunch, The Internship with Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in – not a bad film and I think I’d seen it before. Duyet had got Captain Caveman some eggs from the market, he was still unable to get some fruit, but 3 dragon fruits appeared in the kitchen and when I checked the price they were a bargain 30,000vnd – less than £1 for 3! Bich had kindly arranged to send us some more provisions, mostly from her own kitchen at the Phong Nha Farmstay and it was like Christmas again when Captain Caveman returned with the bag from the blockade. We had cider, wine, HP sauce, baked beans, avocados, passion fruit and mustard – it was amazing!!!! The heavy rains came early evening, luckily I had managed more afternoon swimming already, so we closed the doors, lit the mosquito coil, and Captain Caveman treated me to what you could probably call a date night. He made one of the most exciting meals in a while; pulled pork Spaghetti Bolognese with home made tomato sauce and it tasted so good. I drank a Magner’s cider which Bich had given me and it was so enjoyable compared to the beers that don’t really agree with me. Captain Caveman also picked the Netflix film, Crazy Rich Asians, which was an odd choice but certainly not the worst film I’ve seen, in fact it was quite amusing. Tomorrow we would find out for certain how our lockdown would proceed, would they lift the restrictions, extend them as they are or extend them but with changes? – anything could happen!
Monday 13th September, due to me not sleeping because of the storm I was very tired but I did some writing between 6.30 & 8.30am then went back to sleep for a couple of hours. When I surfaced Captain Caveman was already outside and had eaten his breakfast. I had buttered toast and read about another Corona outbreak in China, here is the article: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/international/20210913/chinese-city-imposes-travel-curbs-closes-public-venues-in-new-covid19-outbreak/63081.html By lunchtime it was raining heavily again so we stayed indoors and I started to toy with the idea of forming another escape plan. A friend messaged to say he had been for his scheduled PCR testing in Cu Lac only to find it was like a bun fight organised by chimpanzees and referred to it as a super-spreading event. I realised it was 1 month since I had last seen Bich and it was also already 2 weeks since Veronika had left Elements Collection, to go to the Phong Nha Farmstay, time was passing quickly. We ate egg fried leftover rice with peppers and sweetcorn for lunch while watching the rest of the film we started last night, Devil’s Advocate – it’s probably one of the weirdest films I’ve seen! While we ate chicken, potatoes and green vegetables for dinner we decided to watch another film. Yesterday, which is a really good Danny Boyle film, made me laugh and I really enjoyed singing along – definitely worth a watch if you like The Beatles. Before bed Tatas sent me a message to say that there was a proposal to move from Directive 16 to Directive 15 but our commune of Hung Trạch would stay in Directive 16. This meant that people in Phong Nha and the Farmstay would be in a less strict lockdown to us – so not fair! She sent a document with it on but couldn’t say where it was from or give me the first few pages. It also said that Hoan Lao and Dong Hoi would all remain in Directive 16 too – this could be a problem for me going to get the PCR test I needed to leave with and didn’t make for a very reassuring day 19 of #STFAH.
The housekeeping staff were looking lively on the morning of Sunday 12th September so we went in to the garden for our breakfast, it was day 18 of our #STFAH Directive 16 lockdown. Carrot was there and was really cute but a bit snoozy, he lay under the table as we ate our breakfast. I had a couple of bananas and peanut butter on toast while Captain Caveman did himself a menemen. The weather was hot again and we had not experienced any flooding as predicted yet, it was only 33°C with a ‘feels like 38°C’ but it was very humid. Here in Phong Nha we were lucky but in Danang, Hoi An and Tam Ky they weren’t so lucky, check this out: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210912/storm-conson-unleashes-torrential-rains-triggers-flooding-in-central-vietnam/63060.html Our favourite place for a holiday, Le Domaine de Tam Hai, near Tam Ky had significant damage which looked pretty expensive. In more Vietnam news the Saigon lockdown, which was meant to end on 15th September after months, will be extended until 30th September, more here: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210912/ho-chi-minh-city-needs-more-time-to-control-covid19-party-chief/63064.html For lunch we had the last of the tortilla with raw veg and pickled red cabbage, we both said we felt like we were eating rabbit food but we had the last of the brownie for pud. Captain Caveman had a few beers, I just had a half of one. In the afternoon we were lucky enough to have some pool time and then I fell asleep on the sunlounger. That evening, while I had a shower, Captain Caveman watched the Bangkok episode of Somebody Feed Phil (which I’d already seen). Then, while he prepared dinner, I watched the Copenhagen episode which he had already seen – Copenhagen is now on my list of places to go. We ate steamed chicken, rice, peppers, aubergine and cabbage and decided to watch a random film. We started watching Devil’s Advocate but before we got too far in to it there was a storm and a power cut so we went to bed. Captain Caveman was fast asleep through the thunder and lightening but I didn’t sleep, without a fan it was just too hot and sticky and I was still awake when the power came back on around 4am.
We ate very well on Saturday 11th September, day 17 of our #STFAH Lockdown. I didn’t wake up until 8.30am which was nice and I made more pickled red cabbage for later on. We still had some baguette left which we had put in the fridge so we warmed it in the microwave and shared the piece with butter on, then had a banana and a tangerine each. In the news there was talk of plans for Saigon to be fully open before Tet holiday next year, read about it here: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210911/ho-chi-minh-city-plans-to-pilot-vaccine-travel-passes-in-three-stages-of-economic-reopening/63049.html For lunch things were getting a bit samey and my stomach really didn’t like the egg but I continued to eat tortilla, egg fried rice, asparagus, cabbage and carrots. We had 2 apples, donated by Bich, so we went mad and had 1 each – it was the best tasting apple I’ve had in a long time! In the afternoon there were more warnings of the typhoon coming and Duyet was outside with Cuong preparing the trees for a storm. There was a post shared on Facebook saying that there would be compulsory PCR tests done in Son Trạch, the commune where Phong Nha is; it started this afternoon and would finish on the 14th September, testing 1 person per household. I hoped plenty of people would be ready for it, thinking that the more people that were tested negative the better chance of us coming out of a lockdown. Captain Caveman cooked chicken, potatoes and cabbage for dinner and I had half a beer. The rain came and then there was a power cut so we went to bed very early. I’m so grateful for the emergency light a friend brought us from Germany as my phone wasn’t charged.
I’d still not unpacked my suitcase, on the off chance that I got the sudden permission to leave any time soon. It was day 16 of #STFAH on Friday 10th September and I was sad that another pizza-less Friday had come around. I ate buttered toast as I caught up on the Corona numbers, the news from the past 2 days and it was interesting to read that the WHO were trying to help poorer countries, like Vietnam, get everyone the 1st jab before boosters in richer countries, more here: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/international/20210909/who-urges-covid19-vaccine-booster-moratorium-until-2022/63013.html Quang Binh was told to prepare for storms and flooding because of a typhoon heading towards us, see below: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210909/vietnam-mobilizes-500000-military-officers-to-prepare-for-storm-conson/63020.html And a story of escaped positive cases on the loose down south, caught my eye: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210910/coronavirus-patients-captured-after-fleeing-quarantine-center-in-southern-vietnam/63043.html The most worrying thing I read today was that a woman who worked at Cuba hospital, Dong Hoi, and is connected to PCR tests in some way, had tested positive for Corona yesterday – not very reassuring! Our shopping order to Bich had been sent to our friend in Dong Hoi who was going to get it sent to us later today, which was fantastic. For lunch we had egg fried rice with mushrooms (made from the leftover risotto from last night), tortilla and asparagus, washed down with a lunch time beer. We managed to have a swim before more heavy rains came in the afternoon with the typhoon due to hit on the 12th September. We decided to watch more Somebody Feed Phil, which is a really good show on Netflix, we watched episodes about Marrakech, Chicago, Seoul and Hawaii. It made me realise that I’d like to visit Seoul sometime but Hawaii was no longer near the top of my list. I found we had a lot of ants in the kitchen of late and some were on the salt, but Captain Caveman wasn’t amused and had a bit of a to do because I’d mentioned ants!! I was annoyed because, in my view, it shouldn’t be too much to ask to not have to share our condiments with ants – I don’t want them in our food! It had been 3 weeks since we had last eaten pizza and I was definitely missing it. For dinner tonight we had steamed chicken, rice, aubergines, green beans, tomato, peppers, garlic, peanuts and pickled red cabbage – lovely, healthy, but not pizza! At 7pm a car pulled up with our shopping, the delivery was a wonderful collection of; 2kg chicken breasts 1 huge white cabbage 1 bottle of mayonnaise 1 bottle of ketchup 1 tube of wasabi paste 1 bottle of olive oil 1 bunch of bananas 1 pack of cucumbers 1 bag of onions 2 packets of contraceptive pills Overall, day 16 of #STFAH wasn’t too bad but I wasn’t eating cake at an afternoon tea event, which I’d been invited to, by the river in Dalyan!
Instead of it being the last day of #STFAH on Thursday 9th September there was (at least) another week of Directive 16 Lockdown to come. To cheer ourselves up we had more of the pulled pork baguettes that we had yesterday, but for breakfast, followed by passion fruit. I would have been landing in Istanbul at 11.45am (Vietnamese time) and I was a bit sad that it hadn’t happened, especially as today was the 12 week anniversary of my 1st vaccine. It rained all day, at times heavily, flood and storm warnings were issued in our area, ironically we had no water again and the guys had to pump it from the other building, which looked like hard work in the rain. I made a kind of leftover vegetable medley (aubergine, peppers, tomatoes and garlic) to have with a slice of tortilla and my home made pickled red cabbage for lunch. It was now day 15 of our lockdown, gone were the days when we could frivolously eat 2 slices of tortilla at lunch, we had to make things last. I had a beer but I didn’t really enjoy it as I know it makes my eczema worse. We treated ourselves to some of the brownie disaster I made weeks ago, back when we had the luxury of an oven, even that tasted like a real treat! I’m not much of a chocolate eater but I’d started to long for a bit of decent chocolate or even a proper brownie. Today was also the day my visa expired and now immigration had my passport to extend it once again. That night, we had more of Stu’s amazing pulled pork with potatoes, asparagus and pickled cabbage and we were so grateful for a nice place to be living in and the food we had managed to get. Some friends had started to struggle to get the foods they needed or wanted, so we were in a much more fortunate position than most and it was good to remind myself that, especially when I thought of me being at our other home in Dalyan, had things worked out. As Captain Caveman and I had been eating the same for lunches and dinners he had been losing quite a bit of weight and I think he missed being able to ride his bike, but we were doing well compared to most. The bad weather was set to continue and although I was still fine with the temperature, grateful even, Captain Caveman had to put a hoody on!
On Wednesday 8th September we woke to the news of how many new cases were reported in Quang Binh yesterday; 53 but none of them were in our area. Also in the Vietnamese news there was an article about the 2nd vaccine dose being Pfizer after a Moderna shortage, more here: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210908/ho-chi-minh-city-mixes-pfizerbiontech-moderna-covid19-vaccines-as-supplies-run-low/63002.html By 8am the housekeeping staff were here to give the room a good clean so we sat downstairs for breakfast. Captain Caveman was making himself some egg containing monstrosity while I had decided to have peanut butter on a baguette. The lockdown food supply was getting us through but I have to admit, anything really nice was like our crack-cocaine equivalent or something, eyeing each other to make sure that no one took too much of an ingredient. Captain Caveman had let it go that I’d had the last of the jam but neither of us wanted to run out of Ly Ly’s peanut butter, hence why he shared his potatoes with me, so I wouldn’t be tempted to have more. I checked on my mushrooms but there were no further crops and when we went back up to the room all the water had run out. Once again Duyet and Cuong had to pump water in to the tank in the roof while I drank my earl grey tea, which we’d had for over a year. We had an amazing lunch of pulled pork (from Stu) with onions, garlic, BBQ sauce, white cabbage and both colours of carrot, on a baguette with a can of Huda beer. For afters we had mango, grapes and dragon fruit and I still thought myself lucky despite the fact that I should have been on the flight to Singapore round about now. We’d hoped we might hear something about the lockdown being lifted or extended before tomorrow’s deadline but we didn’t hear from anyone all afternoon. This made us unnecessarily optimistic so that when we did get the update we were very disappointed. Our entire district of Bo Trach and all of Dong Hoi were being kept in Lockdown under Directive 16 for another week, until Wednesday 15th September at 7pm – I wasn’t leaving next week, then! Before dinner we had a video call with my parents, I was a bit apprehensive at first because I thought I’d get upset after the recent trauma of not being able to leave here, but we had a good laugh and they really cheered me up. I even got a tour of their home to see all the DIY and building projects they had been up to during the pandemic. It looked fantastic and I hoped I’d still get to see it sometime soon. Captain Caveman made us a risotto for tea, which was nice but without wine or cheese in it, it’s not as good. Overall, day 14 of the #STFAH restrictions had been ok, with the highlight of the day being able to moan on to my parents and them reassure me that I’d be ok and to trust my instincts next time.
After yesterday’s fiasco I was exhausted and still pretty cheesed off with the whole debacle when I woke up on Tuesday 7th September. I should have been leaving here today to go to Hanoi airport for my flight to Singapore tomorrow. It was raining still and continued to do so most of the day, Captain Caveman was more mad today than he had shown yesterday but there was nothing either of us could do about the entire situation. Before I had even got out of bed I was looking at ways to try to recoup some money as we had spent so much on something that didn’t go to plan and were already pretty skint to start with. I looked in to any possibility of getting money transferred from Turkey via email or letter and, having let our Turkish agent (and friend) know I wouldn’t be arriving on Thursday, as hoped, I was given some help to try to get the money transferred. Still from my bed, I was on the phone to Singapore Airlines customer services to sort out my flight, we knew we couldn’t get a refund but they were able to move the flights to another date, fortunately without having to pay any more. Singapore Airlines had made my day, they were so good and easy to deal with, very thorough and efficient and said I could move my flight to later in September, or even in to October. I didn’t unpack as we thought there may be a chance that, if lockdown is lifted in the next couple of days, I might make it out earlier. We had leftover dinner made in to chicken and pepper egg fried rice for a late breakfast, which was delicious. I got a message confirming the safe delivery of my passport to immigration, which we had to pay 500,000vnd (£16) for and I managed to get the visa extension price for the same price as previously. I found the green beetle had fallen in to our pool and was struggling to get out because of the rain so I rescued him with the arm of my sunglasses and he looked as tired and fed up as me. I was late checking the news today as Captain Caveman and I were looking into the number of reported cases in Quang Binh, strangely they reported 91 cases for the 2nd day running which seemed a bit of a coincidence. Also in the Vietnamese news a man was given 5 years in jail for spreading Corona virus to 8 people, 1 died. You can read about it here: https://bbc.in/3n94uGX I messaged the Elements owner to let her know I hadn’t left and that I planned to stay a little longer, luckily she was happy with that. She even arranged to send us some treats in the form of baguettes, tangerines and potatoes which got to us, from Dong Hoi, in hardly any time at all – it was so kind of her! We had chicken and napa cabbage baguettes for lunch and then the water went off. In the scheme of things having no water was a minor inconvenience so we weren’t too bothered as Duyet and Cuong had to drag a hose across the pool and into the tank in the roof from the property opposite, using a ladder that didn’t look too robust. We shared passion fruit as a snack, had a beer and it was strangely not a stressful day at all. For dinner we had chicken, peppers, napa cabbage and BBQ sauce in fresh baguettes and went to bed early. Unfortunately, my leaving situation had come to a dead end and we had to accept that I definitely would not be able to leave during a lockdown and I’d have to just wait until restrictions were lifted. The next announcement was due on the 9th September but we hoped that tomorrow we would find out that lockdown would end on Thursday, then I could leave without any drama!
I set my alarm for 6am on Monday 6th September as I was getting picked up by the Oxalis vehicle at 7am at the junction of the small road to our place and the highway. It was day 12 of the #STFAH Directive 16 Lockdown but I was off to Hoan Lao hospital, which is about 30 minutes away and still in the same district of Bo Trach. I had my permission slip, my passport and my vaccine stamp in a waterproof bag, I was wearing Captain Caveman’s waterproof jacket and I took one of the Elements Collection umbrellas for the 10 minute walk to the roadblock and main road, in heavy rain. As I approached the house on the left before the barrier, a man shouted in Vietnamese to ask where I was going. I replied Hoan Lao and tried to show him my permission slip but he wasn’t letting me near him and just waved me away. My trainers were squelching and my feet were cold but I made it to the pick up point for 7am, everywhere was closed and there was nowhere dry to sit or stand so I just waited at the side of the empty main road. I checked with Captain Caveman a couple of times over the next half an hour if he had heard if they had set off as no vehicles had passed me at all, I didn’t want to be forgotten. Captain Caveman had heard nothing but eventually at 7.30am I heard two mini buses driving towards me, I assumed they would be the Oxalis ones and stood in the middle of the first lane of the highway to wave them down. The 1st bus told me to get on the 2nd one, so I did and there was already 6 people on, none of whom I recognised and all seated, nicely spaced out and wearing masks, some of them were double masked! When we got to Hoan Lao hospital it had almost stopped raining and we had to queue up with social distancing measures that were actually strictly enforced. We had to sanitize our hands and then stamp ourselves with the stamp on the table. I watched and copied everyone else as there didn’t seem to be anyone who spoke much English and then we all went to a designated outdoor area with a roof over and lots of plastic chairs, I was still confused as to why I needed a quick test to go to pick up my negative PCR results but if this is what it took to get out of here, then so be it. There was a small queue where we sat on red plastic chairs 2 metres apart until we got to the first desk which had 4 attached pens and lots of copies of forms to complete. I asked a girl from our bus if this was a form for the quick test, using Google translate, she said yes. I started to fill one of the forms in, having sent a copy to Captain Caveman to help me translate both of the pages, at the next desk were 6 fully covered, masked and shielded nurses so I asked them if I had the correct form and they said yes. It was at that point that I realised I was not in the queue for a quick test, this was the queue for vaccinations!
I had been waiting to get my 2nd vaccine, which would be 12 weeks since the 1st one in 2 days time and that had been one of the reasons I still hadn’t left Vietnam yet, hoping to be fully vaccinated before taking a flight or travelling through any major cities. I was so excited to find out that I was in the ‘wrong’ queue at Hoan Lao hospital and I hoped that there was perhaps some confusion over me being told that I needed a quick test and me getting a 2nd vaccine. I continued with the form and handed it to the nurse at desk 2, desk 3 was in clear sight and that consisted of doctors taking blood pressure and completing some details on a form, up the steps from there were 2 tables but I could only just see one and it had health workers waiting to jab people – they didn’t even have anyone waiting so I was even more giddy. At that point Captain Caveman had managed to get in touch with his colleague who had located the Marketing guy from Oxalis, Trung, to come and help translate for me. This was fortuitous as the nurse was asking me questions, which of course I didn’t understand, and he’d just had his 2nd vaccine. It was at this point that I wish I’d acted differently but I didn’t realise what was happening; Trung asked if I had already had my 1st vaccine and so I said yes and got out my receipt paper from that jab. I was next in line to get the jab, I’d even taken my coat off. That’s when the first bit of bad news came; they could not give me the vaccine because they were injecting Moderna today and my first vaccine was Astra Zeneca, which is not considered compatible in some countries, including Vietnam. No!!!! Captain Caveman then let me know I was in the wrong queue and I should be getting a quick test so off we went to another part of the hospital. It took 45 minutes from getting there, paying the 238,000vnd (£7.62), having the more brutal test than last time and then waiting for the result (so not that quick really). While waiting for the results we walked to the pharmacy to buy Captain Caveman some Diclofenac pills because he had a bad foot, I had to walk through a massive puddle in the rain and they were really cheap so I bought 4 strips at 6,000vnd a strip (£0.19) and then we went back to wait for my results. We walked past the bus and apologised for the wait and then got chatting; Trung lives in Dong Hoi but had come by motorbike today, he had had to have a quick test this morning to come to Hoan Lao, which he had at the CDC and took less than 5 minutes – that was useful to know. Eventually I got my negative quick test result, stamped on the back of my payment receipt, and headed back to the bus where everyone was waiting, there was one more passenger to come and that had been the guy I sat next to on the way there – he got the vaccine and the quick test and was really excited about it! The drive back was quicker as the checkpoints didn’t seem to be as lengthy on the return, a couple of them just waved us through. When I got off the bus on the highway, just past the Lake House, the weather was sunny and very humid, as I approached the checkpoint to our road home there was a few people about and shouting. The guy I saw this morning was there and stood up to ask how I was, I shouted over in Vietnamese ‘I’m negative’ and they all got really excited and let me through. On the way some builders (who weren’t wearing masks and shouldn’t be building) told me to go back and asked where I was going, I told them home and that I was negative and all was good. I was very hot, thirsty, sweaty and hungry when I got in the house! It had been a busy 3 hours out of the house, not observing the #STFAH rules and now all we needed to do was to ask Oxalis to book us the car to get my negative PCR test results (for flying) in Dong Hoi after 2pm this afternoon.
Captain Caveman offered to make me some mushrooms on toast when I got back home after my exciting outing to Hoan Lao hospital but I just had some buttered toast and water, while he got ready for an online meeting with 2 of the managers at work. I had a shower and tried to relax but my nose was hurting after this sample, the nurse was brutal and my nose felt very sore – how the delivery drivers and health staff were coping having it done every few days, I didn’t know. Captain Caveman’s meeting finished and we decided to have a swim in the pool because we were still waiting until after 2pm to be told we could go to get my ‘proper’ PCR test results. I also had a friend waiting on standby to do me a massive favour, Oxalis had told us that my certificate would be organised for pick up at the CDC in Dong Hoi after 2pm and that all the required details for Singapore Airlines, we had listed to them, would be on the paper. I had also organised for my friend to pick up my certificate, send me a photo of it and get any details that were wrong changed. There was no point me trying to get to Dong Hoi, in a lockdown, if the certificate wasn’t acceptable for my flight and my friend has a shipping company so was confident she could send me the paperwork, even if we had to send it in a food delivery. At this point we were one step ahead but I was still nervous as I had a feeling it was going to go wrong, despite everyone trying to do their best to help me. The first thing to go wrong was that we didn’t receive communication to let us know the document was ready, it was my friend who found this out for me as she was already on standby and at the CDC. She had got there earlier than expected, got a hold of both mine and Captain Caveman’s negative certificates and sent photos to me. They were wrong, so I sent the correct info to her and Captain Caveman called Oxalis to let them know. The 3rd thing to go wrong was a biggy and it turned out that nobody could rectify the situation. My document was incorrectly dated therefore they needed me to go there immediately to get another PCR test this afternoon and I would get the results tomorrow. I was almost in tears and we asked Oxalis to sort me out transport to go immediately – after all, I had my negative quick test from this morning. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be arranged for me to do this as there were no cars available and I was told I could drive myself (I don’t have a motorbike, or a licence, I have a bad leg and probably wouldn’t make it as a passenger either)! Once again we asked Bich if she could help and if she could find any way to get me to Dong Hoi, it felt like complete pandemonium over the next hour or so as I went in to a bit of a melt down and Captain Caveman calmly took charge of the situation. I decided to warm up some beef stew from last night as it was 4pm and I was so hungry and upset that things were going wrong. We tried every avenue we could think of for a driver and car, Captain Caveman still had a negative PCR result and could drive me, in a car. Bich submitted another permission request to the People’s Committee for Captain Caveman to drive me in Tham & Tony’s car (from the Lake House) to the CDC in Dong Hoi first thing tomorrow morning, as it was too late tonight, to have another PCR test, then come back here and then tomorrow afternoon get the results and correct paperwork needed to fly, shipped to me by my friend in Dong Hoi. This would just be in time (hopefully) for me to get my car to Hanoi, as long as everything went according to this new plan – I started eating my beef stew and we waited for agreement from the People’s Committee. Day 12 of the #STFAH lockdown was certainly becoming the most stressful day I’ve had here!
I had hardly touched my beef stew when Bich called with more bad news, permission for us to leave the district had been denied. We needed to leave Bo Trach to enter Dong Hoi, get the test and then reenter Bo Trach, none of these stages were acceptable to the People’s Committee and we were refused. Bich had an alternative suggestion but she needed to look into it and it would have to be tomorrow, just me and I probably wouldn’t be able to come back from Dong Hoi either. Once in Dong Hoi I could get the test and then just sit and wait all day for the results, when I had them I would have to get me and my luggage to the border to meet Danny, the driver, and then I’d be on my way to Hanoi airport, 500km away. Danny, the driver, was already on his way to pick me up tomorrow but because he had to drive 10 hours here then 10 hours back, was planning to sleep for 8 hours between journeys. Unfortunately this last resort didn’t work out and so there was no other options – I couldn’t leave! Bich had already called immigration, who’s solution was to extend my visa for 1 more month in the hope that lockdown would be lifted within that time and I would be allowed to leave the district. By this point I was in tears and couldn’t speak to Bich, even though she was doing everything she could to help me, so Captain Caveman had to take over the phonecalls. I ate my beef stew with tears rolling down my cheeks, utterly pissed off with the whole situation. It was arranged for my passport to get sent tomorrow morning and I would stay here a bit longer, until I was allowed to leave. I messaged Danny, the driver, who couldn’t believe the mess of the situation, he only had permission for me and him to go directly to the airport and I had to have the PCR test to get in the car with him. So now we had to pay him the full amount for a journey I wasn’t taking. Day 12 of the #STFAH had certainly been one I wouldn’t forget easily, both Captain Caveman and I were not happy about the whole situation. Captain Caveman made dinner of chicken, peppers and rice which he ate most of as he was very hungry, I had lost my appetite. Today had been expensive beyond belief and the biggest waste of a day.
We were woken up early by the loudspeaker announcements at 5.30am on Sunday 5th September, reminding us (as if we could have forgot) that we were to #STFAH. It was day 11 of the lockdown and we were doing quite well, all things considered, maybe it was the excitement of me leaving next week that kept us going. More mushrooms had grown overnight and Captain Caveman made us mushrooms on toast, a new first for me. Duyet had managed to get us some potatoes and tomatoes from the local market, which was good. I also got to play with Carrot, the pup, who was getting bigger now, but wasn’t good at posing for selfies. The rest of the day was spent trying to sort out my actual leaving and putting my escape plan in to place. Captain Caveman got a phonecall to say that, in order for me to pick up my negative PCR certificate tomorrow, (which must be done in person) I needed to have a negative quick test to go to Dong Hoi. Even though this seemed rather odd to me, Captain Caveman could see the Vietnamese logic and agreed that I would go tomorrow with some other people, to get one done. Unfortunately Oxalis couldn’t get permission for me to leave our village to go to the hospital in Hoan Lao to get the quick test so he asked us if we could ask Bich to help us get that. We asked and gave my passport to Duyet who then had to go to the People’s Committee to get the completed permission form, which we had to give the full name of the Oxalis driver and licence plate of the vehicle that I would be going there and back on. We didn’t have much time to make lunch in between all the phonecalls and faffing about so we had hot dogs and onions on sliced bread which I didn’t realise we had almost no tomato ketchup or mustard left so they were a bit rubbish – we ate them though! We hoped that all was still on track for me to get my paperwork tomorrow, then leave for Hanoi on Tuesday so I packed my suitcases, including my hand luggage as tomorrow would be a very busy day. I was a bit peeved that with all the toing and froing today we hadn’t even had chance to go in the pool and as everything seemed to have come to a point where we couldn’t do any more but wait, the rains came! We drank beers and watched the storm and had a marvellous dinner of beef stew with potatoes, using the 3 carrots which Bich had given us from her fridge – the dish would have gone nicely with a red wine. Oh well, this time next week I’d probably be drinking a whole bottle of Tılsım (Turkish wine) to myself!
Everything was calm as I ate my buttered toast for breakfast on Saturday 4th September. It was day 10 of the lockdown and everyone around us were still adhering to the #STFAH rules. I went to check on my mushrooms and there was a small crop which were ready for harvesting so I managed to half fill a pocket – not quite enough for a soup but we would have them for dinner tonight. Duyet had surprised us by being able to get us 10 eggs and 2 (orange) carrots from the market, which was great news. I was going to save one of the carrots to be able to take some carrot sticks with me to Hanoi next week. As we didn’t have any cash, Bich was going to give us 2 million vnd (£64) and send it with Ben on the food delivery at the blockade, we would then transfer her the shopping amount plus the 2m. Ben set off with the goods, Captain Caveman left by motorbike from here and then the exchange took place in the no man’s land. Ben captured the pitiful process on video, when Captain Caveman got back he realised there was no money in the bag and when I asked Bich she said Ben had got nervous at the barrier and forgot to put it in the bag. Bich would arrange to send it later on via Duyet which Captain Caveman was glad about as he was low on beers (already). We were once again lucky enough to have got some great essentials, some of which Bich had given us for free from her own kitchen, which was so lovely of her. I was just glad that they still had the big bags of crisps in stock at the Phong Nha Farmstay so that we could stock up on snacks for my forthcoming journey, she gave us loads of fruit and veg too as well as some peanuts so I knew I’d not starve on my trip.
By lunchtime we figured we must both be negative for the Corona virus as we hadn’t been carted off to a quarantine facility yet so that was good news. We had lunch of Baba Ganoush on toast, followed by jam on toast and then a few of the grapes which Bich had sent! The day kept getting better; I got a message from Danny, the driver, to say he can set off a bit later, drive through the night, so that I don’t have to spend a night in the empty airport by myself. I was very pleased and we confirmed he would pick me up on a road just outside of our district at 9pm on Tuesday 7th September, we’d arrive at Hanoi airport at 7am the next day, 3 hours before my check-in – very helpful! I still hadn’t started packing my suitcases, despite Captain Caveman having brought them down from the upstairs mezzanine immediately after booking the flight! He said I should get on with it so that everything was ready to leave, I was putting it off for some reason. I saw photos of Captain Caveman’s colleagues on Facebook as they did their volunteering at the roadblocks and check points in the fight against the pandemic – I felt sorry for them as rain was forecast and they were sleeping in Oxalis tents on the side of the road! For dinner we had steamed chicken and rice with green beans, mushrooms, peppers, red cabbage, white carrots and the last of the peanut salt.