Phong Nha – 3rd September

Phong Nha – 3rd September

We were awake early on Friday 3rd September which happened to be day 9 of the #STFAH Directive 16 lockdown. Before we could have any breakfast, Captain Caveman got a call saying we had to go ‘now’ to the Khuong Ha community clinic for a PCR test. We asked where it was but the caller didn’t know so we asked a friend, Lam, who was working as a volunteer at the school down the road which had been turned in to an isolation centre for Corona cases. We tried to find Duyet to let him know we were leaving the premises (and why) but couldn’t, so we let Cuong know – he just looked confused but didn’t stop us. By 10am we were on our bicycles, masked up and armed with hand sanitizer, to go the 3 minute cycle to the Volley ball courts, with attached clinics. There was probably about 100 people there, all in nicely spaced out rows, there were police, doctors and lots of health staff or volunteers. It was outside and as we took our place at the back of the queue we were picked out and asked to come to the front. We gave my name and phone number to a health worker, who gave his details back and then I went first on the chair. I faced the audience of the queuing people and the next victim was a cute little girl who could not have been older than 10, so I tried to be brave. It was quick and very strange, I really had no idea you could get something so far up my nose. It was over in a minute and then Captain Caveman was next – he was less pained from it but he has always been quite a snotty sort, whereas I felt mine for a while after, because of always having a dry nose. On the way back home we cycled past the school which was rumoured to be full of cases, it looked empty, and Lam shouted “Hello Adam and Jo!” as we passed him on the gate. All in all not too unpleasant an experience and now the idea was that the sample would be sent to Dong Hoi CDC to be tested and I was told I could then get the required certificate to enable me to go to Hanoi and then Turkey! Captain Caveman was pleased that it all seemed very straight forward and organised and that it was all going to work out, I (the sceptic in this duo) had serious doubts that what they had promised and what they could deliver might not be the same thing. In my head I was already worried that they didn’t really get what I needed and that it was bound to go pear-shaped!

We had just walked back through the door at home, took our masks off, washed our hands, and Captain Caveman was updating his colleague that we had been tested, when Bich called. She had been called for her to organise for us to go for the PCR test, but we had already gone. She was a bit confused as she knew nothing about it but I explained that neither did we until 30 minutes ago and we just did what we were told. Captain Caveman hadn’t actually needed to get his done but he had decided it was wise to do so in case he ended up having to drive me anywhere to get me out. After speaking to his contact at work, again, Captain Caveman reassured me that they said all could be arranged and we were able to go ahead and book my flights. I was so relieved and, because we’d not eaten yet, we decided to have lunch first. I’m not saying Captain Caveman was happy that I was finally getting out of here, but he decided we would open his very last bottle of emergency wine, which was a very nice one, bought for him by one of his customers, Thien. I thought we should wait until it was all actually done before we started celebrating but he insisted, and I wasn’t going to turn down wine. He made a chicken and mushroom (using the ones we had grown) spaghetti which we had to make do without a sauce as we hadn’t been able to get any and we didn’t have many tomatoes left. It was very hot out so I had to keep getting in the pool to try to cool off and we had a lovely lockdown lunch, with great wine, on the balcony. We did a cheers to getting out of the house for 30 minutes during a #STFAH stint and we also spoke to a friend in Saigon to check how she was getting on. Things were pretty bad there but she was doing ok and was able to get food and wine pretty well. We called my parents and were full of excitement about our day and the plans all coming together to get me a step nearer to getting to Turkey – it could finally be happening!

After speaking to my parents while I sat next to the pool and Captain Caveman was in it, I had been getting quite hot. We put the phone down saying we would call again next week, once I was about to leave, and I desperately needed to get back in the water, which I did. Things were looking up and although I wouldn’t have had a 2nd vaccine, as hoped, I would at least be able to get one in Turkey and start again from scratch with a different brand, probably Pfizer this time. Captain Caveman made a nice dinner of chicken, onions, peppers, green beans and potatoes with BBQ sauce. I was so glad now that I had got the BBQ sauce as we were starting to run out of any moist ingredients.
After dinner Captain Caveman took the plunge and booked my flights all the way from Hanoi, Vietnam, to Dalaman, Turkey. I confirmed with Danny, the driver, and I booked my pick up from Dalaman airport with Sonuç at King Emlak in Dalyan. We arranged for the apartment at Fire Opal to get a clean before I arrived, and care package of food for when I got there after a very long journey. We started to plan for my 2 long stays in Hanoi and Singapore airports by sending a shopping request to Bich to order fruit, snacks, crisps for me plus beer, eggs and potatoes for Captain Caveman. Bich was being really good at being able to get us food and said she would arrange to send it tomorrow, although she was concerned I wouldn’t be able to leave next week because of lockdown. Captain Caveman contacted Stu to ask if he could get more pulled pork from him and he agreed to drop some at the Phong Nha Farmstay for Bich to put with our delivery. There was a slight problem we had to worry about now, we had hardly any cash and the ATM is in Phong Nha town, where we are not allowed to go to, during lockdown. Our day 9 of the #STFAH had been a good one and we went to bed feeling like something had been accomplished today – tomorrow I would repack my suitcases again!

Phong Nha – 2nd September

Phong Nha – 2nd September

Instead of us waking up on Thursday 2nd September to news that we could go out again, I woke up to messages from my Hanoi driver, Danny suggesting we set off earlier and I check in to a hotel in Hanoi for the night. Because I am coming from an area in Directive 16 lockdown, it is not permitted for me to stay in Hanoi without doing quarantine when I arrive there, so this was not an option. He also wanted me to get my PCR test earlier so we could leave earlier which would also mean that when I land in Istanbul, it wouldn’t still be valid, because of the 72 hour rule. Eventually we got it all sorted out but it took a while, even though he has good English, so I only had time for bread and butter for breakfast. I watered the mushrooms and they had a new sprouting of what look like oyster mushrooms.
Captain Caveman had been told by his boss, that he could request help from one of his team, so Captain Caveman took him up on this kind offer and sent a message to explain my situation and to see if they could help me leave Vietnam, especially as now I knew I wouldn’t be getting my 2nd vaccine and my visa expires very soon.
Captain Caveman was outside and in the pool while I was on messenger being  reminded I needed to be gone in 7 days, because immigration were not able to extend my visa again, I explained I needed a PCR test doing for Monday and that I could not book a flight without one, but it got complicated and without an actual appointment I wasn’t prepared to just turn up. We had a late lunch of chicken, red cabbage (we had eaten all the white), white carrot and BBQ sauce on a (still fresh) baguette, followed by some delicious passion fruit. Surprisingly the housekeeping staff came in, masked up, and we sat outside on the balcony until they had finished cleaning our room – I was glad but didn’t expect them to still be working through the lockdown. We managed a swim in the pool and a cold beer but later it started to rain and a storm was brewing. We had grand plans for dinner but because of my excessive bread ordering we needed to eat it up. We decided to properly carb it up and I was going to do us some garlic bread, using the grill function of the microwave for the first time, Captain Caveman was going to make a pasta dish. I overcooked the first lot but it tasted pretty good, the second attempt was too soggy but tasted better and the third go was pretty spot on – 2 pieces of baguette with chopped garlic and cheap Vietnamese butter spread on, before grilling in the microwave for 3 minutes. By the time we had eaten all that we had no room for pasta and, obviously, I had a belly ache! I was shocked that all the gluten I was having wasn’t having a worse reaction to be honest, as I really was abusing the bread and beer far more than ever. We watched another episode of Somebody Feed Phil, this one was in Ireland, then went to bed, having survived the day 8 of the #STFAH Directive 16 restrictions. Tomorrow I knew I’d not be having pizza night but at this point I could actually picture myself being in Turkey, this time next week, then I could be eating a Turkish pide instead.

25 Things I Googled in August

25 Things I Googled in August

My Google searches in August had more Turkey, vaccine and travel related searches in, given that I was planning to go back to Turkey soon. Here’s the list in alphabetical order:
1. Astra Zeneca vaccine efficacy 1 dose
2. Airport Assistance
3. Canitravel
4. CDC Dong Hoi
5. Dong Hoi to Hanoi in Km
6. Entry to Turkey
7. Ethylene Oxide
8. French beans
9. Government in Turkish
10. Horseradish
11. İş Bankası
12. Ivermectin
13. joloyolo playlist YouTube
14. King Emlak
15. Mebendazole
16. Moderna vaccine
17. Only 1 vaccine at 12 weeks
18. Pfizer vaccine
19. Qatar Airways PCR test requirements
20. Radish recipes
21. Singapore Airlines PCR test requirements
22. Sinopharm vaccine
23. UK Red list
24. worldlifeexpectancycoronavirus
25. Yoga retreat Dalyan

https://canitravel.net/

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/red-amber-and-green-list-rules-for-entering-england

Phong Nha – 1st September

Phong Nha – 1st September

Today, Wednesday 1st September, was the last scheduled day for the lockdown in our area and we hoped that tomorrow at 6am the restrictions would be lifted. Captain Caveman was optimistic it could happen, I didn’t think it would. Momma D got in touch to say she had heard that Phong Nha market was open so she had decided to try to get some food, she was desperate for onions, but when she got as far as the barrier at the main road, she was told to go home. Her neighbours had given her half a cabbage and a potato and she said she had enough stuff in to make do for now. I decided to ask a Vietnamese friend if she could help me get a PCR test appointment for my forthcoming departure but she said they were too busy at the CDC in Dong Hoi, because of the recent outbreak, and that I couldn’t book one right now – I had to have one (and the negative test result) to be able to leave Phong Nha and fly. Captain Caveman said he would speak to Oxalis tomorrow and ask if they could help get me out of here. It was a busy morning and so I just had bread and butter for breakfast, seeing as we had so much bread because of my over-ordering. We spent most of the day in the pool or sat out on the balcony, we were lucky that the weather was so nice. Captain Caveman had been keeping another birthday bottle of wine for emergency use so when we got word that the Directive 16 Lockdown was to be extended for another 7 days from tomorrow we decided to commiserate and open the wine with lunch!!  We had a generous portion of baguette filled with chicken, white cabbage, white carrot and BBQ sauce which was really good, one of my new lockdown favourites. My mushroom farming was starting to reap rewards, a tiny sprouting on one of the embryos had appeared and I hoped to get a few crops out of the 2 embryos.
Our #STFAH time was quite pleasant today, day 7, aside from the lockdown restrictions which may hinder my leaving plan somewhat, and we finished off the evening by watching Somebody Feed Phil on Netflix while eating another baguette for dinner – we had the same as for lunch but this time we had red cabbage, instead of white!

Phong Nha – 31st August

Phong Nha – 31st August

I was awake early with a cough, a sore throat and still feeling tired on Tuesday 31st August but it went after some water and a lemon salt sweet. When I went downstairs there was a bag of our returned washing, which hadn’t been folded because Duyet had done them while the girls were staying at home. If one of the worst things to happen was for us to have our laundry without fabric softener and unfolded for once then we could handle it – it was day 6 of the #STFAH lockdown afterall. Captain Caveman made himself an amazing looking omelette while I used the left over rice to make a tasty chicken and sweetcorn egg fried rice for my breakfast. I checked the news as usual and saw they had officially communicated that there would be no domestic flights in Vietnam for the foreseeable future:
https://e.vnexpress.net/news/news/vietnam-stops-selling-domestic-flight-tickets-4348980.html
I also read some interesting stories from westerners who were stuck in Saigon during the lockdown conditions and it made me think it could happen here in the not too distant future. 
I recieved messages regarding our shopping order with Bich, from the kind shopper, her English is very good and her shopping skills that day in Dong Hoi were amazing. Of course, it was to be expected that there were lots of things she couldn’t get so she was sending me photos of alternative produce and asking lots of useful questions. At this point I was still unsure how we would get the delivery from Dong Hoi, given that I couldn’t get there to get a PCR test without form completions and permissions from the head man, so this would be a good test. I was told that the shopping was complete, took our helper’s bank details and said it would be arriving this afternoon – we chanced our luck and asked for some paracetamol, imodium and Diclofenac too. The total spend was way over our budget but we might not get another ‘big shop’ for a while so Captain Caveman transferred the 1,230,000vnd (£39.36), happy we were getting most of the things we requested. Knowing I’d ordered more bread we finished off what we had left for lunch with homemade Baba Ganoush and peanut butter and wished we could get to Funny Monkeys to buy more peanut butter, which is so delicious. We were in the pool when we got a message to say she couldn’t get the Diclofenac and to check how many of the others to get, our shopper was so efficient and said the package would arrive in 30 minutes! When the delivery arrived Duyet unloaded it in the kitchen, downstairs, while I waited upstairs (following the social distancing rules) and he shouted up to say he had finished unpacking. It was amazing to see so much nice fresh food, even though I had over ordered on bread. Because we had been getting the little banh my baguettes at the market, I had asked for 6 – we got 6 long french stick baguettes from VinMart which are our favourites. It looked like the Gluten test was really going to be put through its paces over the next week as I’d also ordered 2 sandwich/toastie loaves which went in the freezer. Captain Caveman came down to help put stuff away and he was in charge of portion control on the chicken of which we had 8 chicken breasts, of a sizeable ration too. We couldn’t believe how quick and organised it had all been and we were so happy to have all this nice food. We drank beers and watched Somebody Feed Phil, the Venice episode, and it was a good day 6 of lockdown, which looked to be going from a 7 day stint to 14 days and would more than likely be announced tomorrow.
Captain Caveman had an online conversation with his boss via messenger where it was explained that I would not be getting my 2nd vaccination any time soon, due to the shortage of vaccines and that the priority people were no longer tourism. He was sorry he couldn’t do anything about it and offered help for both of us from one of his staff, for any assistance we might need during lockdown – this was very kind and we welcomed the offer of help!
For dinner we had chicken, white carrot and white cabbage in fresh baguette (we had loads of it) with a beer as we discussed how we would ask for help to get me out of Vietnam, hopefully I would be able to get a vaccine relatively quickly in Turkey!

August was definitely a bit more of a difficult month, starting with the visa/passport/leaving issues and the hope of getting my 2nd vaccine all the way throughout the month. Having no access to any money, bank cards expired and our income versus expenditure being terribly tight was definitely a worry and it meant having to make the tough decisions on how to spend what little money we had, sensibly. Meals and nights out were becoming less, due to low funds and, without any cave tours, Captain Caveman was constantly on his phone, sometimes getting involved with random posters on Facebook who needed advice or correct information – he spoke (wrote) more to them than anyone else! I planned a few times to leave but kept putting it off because of the hope of a 2nd vaccine, which Captain Caveman was extremely lucky to get. We finally ended up in a lockdown situation that we had no idea was coming and this blog was doing well, despite me not having that much to write about that might interest readers, these days. 
One of my plans to leave Vietnam to go to Turkey and then the UK had failed, as all the things I needed to be in place (and out of my control) didn’t happen. By the end of August I knew there would be no 2nd vaccine for me, that I would not get another visa extension and that travel directly from Turkey to England would not be possible without paid quarantine facilities. However, I knew that once I could fly to Turkey, I could reapply for my residency and then request a 2nd (and probably) 3rd vaccine and I could access some money before working out how to get to the UK to see my family and friends. As the last day of August ended I still didn’t actually know what would happen, or where I would be for definite, in September and that was a very strange feeling.

Phong Nha – 30th August

Phong Nha – 30th August

It was a pretty stressful day on Monday 30th August, day 5 of lockdown. Captain Caveman had forgotten to put his phone on silent the night before so it was pinging even before the loudspeaker man had got to work and I was a little crotchety at the phone going off between 5 and 5.30am. I went back to sleep and woke up when my phone went off at 7.45am, my alarm to check if I’d got to go for my 2nd vaccine today – still nothing! Captain Caveman went downstairs and came back to tell me that a bag of grapes and 2 mangos had been left on the table downstairs but he wasn’t sure where they came from. Veronika told Captain Caveman she already had mango and that we could have them so he put them in our fridge, Veronika put the grapes in her fridge, after Captain Caveman had snaffled a couple of them. I had a banana and a third of a mango for breakfast, our fruit supply was getting low so we had to be conservative with what we did have. I read in the news about a city in the south of Vietnam where, as markets were closed, they had come up with a good alternative, see below:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210830/vietnam-s-nha-trang-brings-coronavirussafe-grocery-stalls-to-roadside/62842.html
Today was 1 week until I would need to be having my PCR test so I contacted Bich to see if she could help me book an appointment for 6th September in the afternoon, in Dong Hoi. When she called me back she said that the CDC (who do the testing and provide the official stamped certificate to fly) were too busy out in the field, testing potential cases and they couldn’t do it. Bich also was going to organise us a food delivery from Dong Hoi so she needed a list sending as soon as we could and asked us to get Veronika to do one too. We did a list, just the basics plus a box of beers and I asked for the maximum number of each item so that she could just get whatever was available, it was Bich who sent us the grapes and mangos. As a precaution I decided to ask what the situation would be regarding my visa, which will expire on the 9th, if I can’t leave because of the PCR test or lockdown, I needed to be prepared. I got a very helpful response (but they were shocked that I still hadn’t booked a flight, yet) and I was informed I could get permission to go to Dong Hoi for the PCR test using a form, which I would need to complete and go to the People’s Committee with to give me permission to go to Dong Hoi. Helpful, but not much use if I can’t get an appointment for a PCR test in the first place! I was told they would investigate further and let me know and asked why I hadn’t booked the flight yet – I pointed out that it was a good job I hadn’t booked the one for this week as I was still not able to get the test and if I cancelled I would lose a lot of money, which I didn’t have.
We had more tortilla and salad for lunch and information came from various sources, including Bich and an Oxalis manager, that the lockdown would probably be extended. 
When a beer delivery arrived in the afternoon we were so glad and popped a few in the freezer to chill them quicker, Veronika said that, having spoken to Bich, they were trying to arrange her permission to move to the phong Nha Farmstay, to be with her family so she had decided to start packing up her stuff. I offered our help, since she was meant to be moving out on the 6th anyway, but she said she was only taking the essentials for now and that she wasn’t sure how long it would take to get the permission from the head guy. Captain Caveman and I were in the pool with our beers while Veronika frantically emptied her cupboards and fridge in the kitchen, she came upstairs with a glass and a bottle of water to sit on the balcony but she got a call from Bich straight away; permission was granted, Duyet was packing all her stuff in to the jeep and Bich and Ben were already at the blockade waiting for Veronika! She legged it off with a quick ‘see you, later’ and was off to drive her motorbike to the Farmstay – she had finally got her escape she wanted! We, on the other hand, stayed in the pool until dark occasionally getting another beer. That night I made a chicken, green bean and yellow pepper egg fried rice which tasted great – Captain Caveman said it was one of my best yet! We got a message later from Veronika to say that her exit had been quite an ordeal; all her stuff had to be carried across no man’s land with the guys on the blockade yelling and waving their arms in a very excited manner. Ben and Bich had to carry it in several trips and they told Veronka to disappear as her presence seemed to be upsetting the blockade guards.
So, day 5 of #STFAH turned out to be a bit of a bad day and we definitely weren’t prepared for Veronika’s removal of her oven  at short notice – roast potatoes for tomorrow had gone out of the window!

Phong Nha – 29th August

Phong Nha – 29th August

I woke up on Sunday 29th August at 7am but stayed in bed, it was day 4 of our 7 day lockdown, more than half way already. I went to tend to my mushrooms and was getting a bit impatient as they were showing no signs of life, it was 3 weeks since we accidentally bought the embryos and 2 weeks since we had hung them up so at least another week of waiting was afoot. While we still had fresh bread left we had that for breakfast with Baba Ganoush on one half and peanut butter on the other then we had a piece of tortilla, some dragon fruit and a bit of mango, Captain Caveman with coffee and me with jasmine tea.
I caught up on the Corona news, which wasn’t going particularly well in Vietnam and I read this interesting article on the use of drones in Danang to check people are staying at home:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210829/da-nang-district-begins-trial-use-of-drones-to-monitor-residents-during-covid19-pandemic/62838.html
I had a message from Hien, the owner of Elements Collection, saying she wouldn’t be able to see me before I go because of being in lockdown and she hoped to see me again soon. She did mention that she thought I wouldn’t be able to leave at this time and I would have to wait until after the lockdown ends, but what if it didn’t? Saigon had been locked down for months and people were able to leave there without too much fuss. Captain Caveman still had some wine that he was saving and we had thought about drinking it on the balcony one afternoon so that we could take a photo and send it to the person who gave it to him as a gift. Unfortunately it looked like rain so we sat in doors for lunch of tortilla and salsa style salad. I was now having to eat things I didn’t particularly like usually (egg, tomato, cucumber and mustard in the dressing) but it went down well and I wouldn’t go hungry. We had more of the brownie for dessert – it would turn out to be the longest lasting pudding dish I had ever made!
That evening we sat watching the rain, Captain Caveman wishing he had not taken a lovely bottle of whisky over to the Glass House with the intention of sharing it with Watto. We now had a 12 or 15 year old Laphroaig that we couldn’t get to, just stuck there, unopened! For dinner we made a nice steamed chicken and rice dish (in the reliable rice cooker) with aubergine, onion, peppers, tomato and garlic (one of my favourites) and then hoped for a good day tomorrow.
As we saw things right now this lockdown/no work/limited food situation, that we are on day 4 of 7 now, will have 3 outcomes:
1. They will end it and we can continue to go back to life/work/shopping and me leaving without any hassle.
2. They will extend it for at least another week, may be longer, with the rules as they are now.
3. They will extend it but possibly put in even more strict measures like delivering food by authorities and no leaving the house for even going to a pharmacy.
No matter which option happened I was still intending to leave.

Phong Nha – 28th August

Phong Nha – 28th August

Of course the loudspeaker woke us up at 5.30am again on Saturday 28th August but I pulled the sheet over my ear and went back to sleep until 7am. We were on day 3 of lockdown and everyone should be doing the #STFAH thing so why wake everyone up so early? – let people sleep in! I was apprehensive as to how Duyet might have got on at the market and we didn’t receive a message like usual, to say he’d left it on the kitchen table, so I wasn’t optimistic. When I finally went downstairs at 8.30am it was genuinely like the feeling of Christmas day as a kid! There were baguettes, eggs, red cabbage, peppers, green beans, tomatoes, celery and white carrots! I was so grateful to see a fair amount of veg and bread that I hurried upstairs to tell Captain Caveman and I was in such a great mood! We were going to eat like royalty today and we gave our celery to Veronika as I know she uses it in her soups. While Captain Caveman rustled up some more of Stu’s pulled pork for a breakfast baguette with white cabbage I was outside, playing with Carrot, the pup, and watering my mushrooms – he always comes for a little tummy rub and tickles when I’m spraying the water. We hadn’t seen Eric the bee for a while but a nice green beetle came to stay for a sunbathe on our living room door, not as friendly as Eric.
We ate a little too well and by lunch I was having a peanut butter lettuce and cucumber sandwich (not my favourite but we are in desperate times here), then we had the brownie disaster for dessert, which had started to grow on us. At the realisation that we can’t actually do anything for now about me leaving we resigned ourselves to just waiting a few more days to see how things turned out. A beer in the pool was had, Veronika sat on her balcony and said she had requested some food from the Farmstay, Bich had found out about her trying to cross the blockade and wasn’t pleased. As I was swimming I noticed Duyet with a cooler bag (celery poking out of the top) and what looked like a takeaway; Bich had sent a curry for Veronika’s dinner plus more vegetables because she had run out.  This was a good thing as it meant she had paved the way for the future, maybe we could order some alcohol or food when we run out. Captain Caveman and I had the most amazing lockdown meal yet; hotdogs in soft, fresh, baguette, topped with fried onions, the rest of Stu’s pulled pork and smothered in BBQ sauce! Captain Caveman laughed at me when I’d made mine and then uttered the word ‘filthy’ at this gorgeous creation, until he topped his with chopped tomatoes too and then tasted it! Sod the diet, this was the perfect end to our 3rd day of lockdown.

Phong Nha – 27th August

Phong Nha – 27th August

On Friday 27th August, at 5.30am the loudspeaker was really going for it this morning with a man speaking for an hour first and then a woman for over half an hour, we hadn’t got a clue what they were saying and it was still darkish outside. We’d been promised a week’s worth of storms and cooler weather for our 7 days of lockdown and #STFAH, typical when we have a pool to be in and some shadebathing to do. I didn’t go back to sleep as we were both checking our phones for updates on the Corona crisis and whether any cases were actually near to us – there were certainly plenty of rumours that there was, but no evidence to support it. The housekeeping staff were here by 8am and we all congregated in the kitchen where I found Duyet’s delivery. Thankfully, he was able to get us bananas, dragon fruit, bread and 2kg of rice, but there were no vegetables being brought to sell at the market because of the lockdown. He’d done well and I was still pleased he had managed to get us what he had, we were very lucky, I was glad that I had doubled my bread amount at the last minute to 4 baguettes instead of 2. Veronika was surprised as she didn’t think the market would be open at all and she said she may have to ask him to get her some things, as she was running low on food, she was also making a pot of soup! We had bacon sandwiches and used Stu’s bacon sparingly now that we were only in day 2 of lockdown but had bread. 

Even though we were in lockdown and my leaving Vietnam plans were being a bit scuppered we continued trying to sort stuff out. Captain Caveman communicated with Vinh, his colleague who got the other 4 cavers to Hanoi airport only 9 days ago, I communicated with Bich and Danny, the driver. We spent most of the day ‘on it’ only to end up with the following outcomes:
The driver couldn’t go any earlier than 6th September, Bich said it was a no go to be able to get my PCR test as all the people doing them were busy and Vinh also said we must wait until the end of lockdown. Saigon had been in lockdown for almost 3 months so we didn’t accept those answers and pushed on to try alternative ways!! Independence Day was coming up so it also meant that some people wouldn’t be working from 2nd to 5th September so I was conscious that any paperwork we needed should be sought before then.
For lunch we had hot dog sausages with ketchup but we didn’t use the baguettes because we needed to be careful with the bread we had – make it last. We had bananas for a snack and I had 2 frivolous beers in the pool while Veronika pulled up a chair on her balcony and told us how she had tried to escape, again! She had taken her motorbike 1km towards the Farmstay, where the blockade is and was told “No!” (again) and then had to come back.
We broke off the planning my escape for one of the best dinners ever; Stu’s pulled pork with white cabbage in our remaining baguettes – pure bliss!!!
All in all, a tiring and unproductive day but if I couldn’t leave any earlier I now had a provisional booking with Danny the driver from Hanoi, who would pick me up on 7th September, I’d spend the night in Hanoi airport, get the lunchtime flight the next day, do 8 hours in Singapore transit, fly to Istanbul and arrive in Dalyan on the 9th! The day my visa expires and my 2nd vaccine should have been due by.
Before bed I saw a friend on Facebook had posted that the Phong Nha market would be closed tomorrow but that our market, in Khuong Ha, was open. Duyet confirmed he would be able to try his luck at getting the vegetables he couldn’t get today so I resent him a list with more ‘essentials’ added, I even tried my luck for green beans and more bread and Captain Caveman popped over with the money for him – we would see tomorrow when we woke up what the situation was.

Phong Nha – 26th August

Phong Nha – 26th August

Thursday 26th August was a shocker of a day, one I won’t forget in a hurry. We woke up at 6.15am to find out that we had gone in to lockdown at 6am this morning. All of the city of Dong Hoi and the district of Bo Trach (where we are) had been placed under Directive 16, for 7 days, which was the strictest we have had since the pandemic began. When people had found out it had gone nuts in Dong Hoi with everyone panic buying and crowding at the market. Veronika had been told to stay home but Captain Caveman, who had been advised of no training the night before, set off to Phong Nha – he had stuff in the wash that needed sorting at the Glass House and we didn’t have much in the way of provisions. He only stopped at the shop to get some veg and eggs where the seller tried to persuade him to buy more eggs but he had no idea what was about to unfold. Veronika, despite being told to stay home, decided to try to take her motorbike to the Phong Nha Farmstay but got turned back at a blockade on the country road between our village in Khuong Ha and their village in Cu Nam – she said the guards were shouting “No!” at her. So, in short, Day 1 of zero notice lockdown wasn’t boding well for my fellow housemates’ ability to #STFAH so far – of course, had I lived alone, I’d probably not have even noticed there was a blockade. I didn’t check any other news and we forgot to have breakfast in all the excitement but Captain Caveman rustled up a lunch of bacon (from Stu), cabbage and potatoes and it tasted remarkable. Day 1 of this 7 day lockdown meant that any arrangements we had, in pen or pencil, were being moved out of this week’s diary again. I was looking forward to my last pizza night tomorrow so that was postponed to the week after, not knowing if it would happen or if I’d have left already. But the biggest pain in the bum was sorting the flights out, which luckily we hadn’t booked yet; Danny, my driver to Hanoi, called me as soon as he realised we were in Directive 16 to say that he could still take me and not to worry, he would just have to meet me at a border on the Highway. We had a beer and some popcorn in the afternoon and were looking forward to left over beef stew for dinner which we had simmering in the rice cooker. One thing was for certain, Veronika certainly had enough soup to last her the week so she needn’t worry about going hungry. Captain Caveman and I were a bit worried that we might not have enough food to last us the 7 days so we prepared a list for Duyet to buy at the local market; fruit, veg, eggs, bread and rice. He wasn’t sure if the market was open but he would check in the morning to see if he could get us any provisions.

Phong Nha – 25th August

Phong Nha – 25th August

There was no mention of the usual weekly shopping trip on Wednesday 25th August and I was no longer expecting one, I would ask Duyet if we needed more fruit and vegetables. Captain Caveman was on his last day of his 3 day trip to Hang Ba and I’d slept better last night. I still woke up very early with the loudspeaker but then fell back to sleep until an amazing 10.30am – the latest I’d been in bed until for ages! I had pomelo for breakfast and read up on the news where I saw an interesting article which would certainly never be written about the western world that I’m used to. I’d not choose a place like this for a camping trip, let alone as an ideal place to quarantine, especially as there was a risk of storms or even landslides. Here’s the article:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210824/in-vietnam-authorities-build-mountainside-bamboo-lodges-for-covid19-quarantine/62745.html
Unfortunately there were 3 more Corona cases in our province of Quang Binh; apparently 2 in Cuba hospital (Dong Hoi) and 1 in a district I wasn’t aware of. News on Facebook came that there were lockdowns of streets and certain areas of Dong Hoi, including near the Sun Spa hotel.
I took a previously made masaman curry out of the freezer for dinner with Captain Caveman as he was due back home tonight. Around lunch time it rained heavily for 30 minutes and I had another make-do healthy lunch of steamed aubergine, cabbage and rice – it tasted better than I imagined.
When Captain Caveman got home he was the most tired I’ve seen him after a caving trip and he could hardly speak or function. He was also pretty hungry and ate all of his extra large portion of chicken masaman with steamed rice, finished off mine, then laid down to rest. We heard a rumour that there was a positive Corona case in Cu Nam, the next village to us but the source could not confirm or get any more details. Although Captain Caveman and I had decided that tonight we would book my flight, he was just far too knackered so we agreed that tomorrow we would book the flight which left Hanoi on Tuesday 31st August. We went to sleep happy to have finally made a decision and ready to go ahead with the escape plan, nothing was going to stop us now – or was it!?

Phong Nha – 24th August

Phong Nha – 24th August

I don’t always sleep well when Captain Caveman is away and on Tuesday 24th August I woke up at 4.30am, I’m not really sure why but I couldn’t get back to sleep so I did some Turkish lessons. By 5am I was checking the Corona situation in Turkey and noticed that where friends were staying, in Kaş, there was a virus hotspot while Dalyan, near our apartment had a couple more cases – this was slightly concerning. By 8am, just as I fancied going back to sleep, the housekeeping staff were here to clean our room so I went downstairs for breakfast. I was going to have my leftover curry but I decided to save it for lunch and just have dragon fruit. Veronika had gone up to the Farmstay to teach Howie and so I had an aubergine roasting mission, so that we could have Baba Ganoush later in the week. I spent a long time doing this sweaty task because I had to use the frying pan as a tray as we were out of tinfoil almost. I’d been checking my phone all the time in case I got a message or a call to go for the vaccine but there was still nothing, I was really hoping that Ben was wrong and that they still had some vaccines left, or a new delivery had arrived.
For lunch I popped on a new batch of rice and had it with last night’s curry and reheated nan bread – even better the second day! I snacked on pomelo by the pool and had an early dinner of leftover chicken and veg spaghetti which didn’t look too appetising when I opened it but actually tasted great. I decided that I would finally try a bit of the disastrous deconstructed gluten and dairy free brownie as a dessert. It was certainly not something I would choose in a restaurant but it would do! It made me think that my Dad would probably love it as he is a fan of all the ingredients, especially the condensed milk! As I slept in the big comfy bed Captain Caveman was under a tarp, in a hammock, sheltering from the rain in Hang Ba.

Phong Nha – 23rd August

Phong Nha – 23rd August

Captain Caveman was back off into the wilderness for 3 days on Monday 23rd August. He was excited to be going to one of the new Oxalis cave tours, Hang Ba, and was glad to be doing something work and cave related. I did a few of my usual daily chores and had fruit for breakfast, including some of the pomelo from Funny Monkeys and a bit of dragon fruit. I also wrestled to get out the brownie concoction, that we had now got frozen to the frying pan, so I could put it in a tuppaware box – it still fell apart so it was now a deconstructed brownie.
In the news in Vietnam it was mainly about the even stricter lockdown in Ho Chi Minh City, from today the military were in Saigon to enforce the ‘everyone stay where they are’ lockdown, here’s the info:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210823/military-troops-deployed-to-assist-in-ho-chi-minh-citys-fight-against-covid19/62724.html
There were some reassuring reports of China having no new cases for the first time in a while, if this lasts it would be a promising sign, more here:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/international/20210823/china-reports-no-new-local-covid19-cases-for-first-time-since-july/62725.html
In Turkey there would be new rules coming in for use of transport across the country (http://sabahdai.ly/_w57) which I thought was a good thing but might also affect me if it takes me much longer to get a 2nd jab, either here or in Turkey.
For lunch I had leftovers from Saturday night – chicken, rice and vegetables and as we were on such a tight budget we were wasting nothing, I’d even got last night’s unfinished dinner in the fridge for another meal. Veronika all rested and had enjoyed staying at The Villas for the weekend, she was going back there tonight though for curry night and I decided I would go to curry night too, it could be my last one, and I let Ben know I needed a pick up. I messaged Colin to ask him a couple of details about his journey from Vietnam to the UK and he called me for a chat. His main piece of advice was that we are more likely to catch Corona in the UK than Vietnam, I was shocked when he told me that no airport staff at Manchester airport were wearing masks, nor did they check any paperwork except for his passport, and everything seemed completely as normal – he was a bit cheesed off that his taxi driver was an anti-vaxer who thought the pandemic was just a conspiracy! Colin said the transit area at Singapore airport was boring and not really much available unless you had a bank card to order food or drink, so to take stuff with me, they did have comfy seats, though.  He tried to tell me not to listen to anyone who said that our Vietnamese vaccine certificate would be accepted in the UK and that they didn’t need to isolate at home, because that wasn’t true. He had booked his tests and the other 3 hadn’t but then Singapore Airlines were trying to refuse check-in to everyone but Colin – he was forgetting that I wasn’t going back to the UK first, so this didn’t apply to me.
There were a few reasons I wouldn’t be going back to England from Vietnam and those were:
1. I have no English bank card or money, having not been there for 3 years.
2. I no longer have a home in the UK to self isolate at.
3. Some people have asked why I can’t isolate at a family or friend’s house, but I am likely to be not fully vaccinated and although I would be with people who are, they can still catch the virus from me, or give it to me. I didn’t want to put my parents at risk.
4. The cost – it’s cheaper to go to Turkey first.
5. Everything I own that isn’t in Vietnam with me, is in Turkey.

Duyet drove Veronika and I to The Villas for curry night on Monday 23rd August. Ben and his kids were already there, with the family who were still staying at the Farmstay, and were on the river. Ben was driving a speedboat up and down while towing a surf board which the kids were taking it in turns to have a go on – they were loving it! I went inside and asked for some water for my stomach medicine, I didn’t want to ruin my night with stomach issues so I had decided to take Gastropulgite before my meal. I also ordered a beer and while I was drinking it I thought I’d have a look at the drinks menu, even though I know it well. I’m glad that I did because all the prices had gone up!! A can of Huda beer was now 40,000vnd (£1.28), so that was probably my last beer at The Villas and I even had ice in it to make it go further.  Veronika and I both ordered the curry and I made myself save half of my nan bread and half of the curry for tomorrow, even though I could easily have polished it off. That way paying 225,000vnd (£7.20) for my night out and an extra meal was justified from the rather tight budget. Ben had a good idea to have his bowl of curry covered with the nan bread and baked in the oven (what he called a Guiness pie) and it looked great. Veronika and I sat chatting and we were talking about how practical Captain Caveman can be, her example made us both laugh; when she had told Captain Caveman she was moving out of Elements next month, he had asked her if she would be taking her hot plate with her! This piece of kitchen apparatus had been so useful during the flood season but the microwave did have all the functions so he would get by, maybe I would leave him the BBQ hotplate destined for Turkey. 
On the drive home with Ben, he mentioned that Quang Binh had run short of vaccines and so it was unlikely I would be able to get my 2nd dose, either before I leave or before my 12 week anniversary of the 1st one was up. If this was true I was very disappointed, but not at all surprised.

Phong Nha – 22nd August

Phong Nha – 22nd August

I read the news while eating dragon fruit and a small slice of peanut butter on toast for breakfast on Sunday 22nd August.
A Vietnamese woman had been caught selling vaccination appointments to people in Saigon, people are desperate so were paying to get them when they will be given them for free, more info here:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210822/woman-nabbed-for-selling-covid19-vaccination-slots-in-ho-chi-minh-city/62713.html
My finger, the one I burnt on the oven door a couple of days ago, was now sporting a blister, my phone wouldn’t recognise the fingerprint unlock function and it was really quite sore. I’d tried putting a plaster on but we only had the really basic ones which as soon as they got wet, were useless. I ended up having to cover it in Sudocrem and put a bandage on it.
Captain Caveman had arranged for us to go over to Stu’s house, The Belafonte, to have lunch with him and the boys. We packed our swimmers and Captain Caveman bought some beers to take round to drink. We left the Elements Collection at around 11.15am on Trigger, the motorbike, which I was so grateful of due to it being so hot and we were in for a pleasant afternoon. Stu had prepared some chicken and salad which we had with fresh baguettes – it was delicious and I managed 2, Captain Caveman had 3 when Stu insisted he had another sandwich and politeness didn’t stop him. We only had a couple of beers as it can effect my tummy and Captain Caveman was driving so we spent quite a bit of time in the swimming pool. It was my first time in the big pool which is quite deep and has no steps to get out so I was concerned I might be in there a while. I think we were in the pool almost 2 hours just chatting shit and enjoying swimming in a bigger, deeper pool. When it came to get out I managed it with just a bit of help from Captain Caveman and was absolutely fine. Unfortunately my stomach was still a bit temperamental and so we said our farewells and headed back home for a siesta. Later that day we decided to seriously look at my leaving plans, after all I legally only had 18 days left in Vietnam. We came up with this itinerary, initially for in a week’s time:

Monday 8am PCR test, pick up results at 2pm. Leave at 7pm and drive to Hanoi,
Tuesday arrive at Hanoi airport at 5am,
Check-in 9.30am,
Fly at 12.30pm via Singapore with 8.5 hrs in transit at the airport,
then fly on to Istanbul,
then fly to Dalaman,
Car pick up to Dalyan.

It would be possible to do it earlier than I needed to leave but we both agreed sooner would be better now that we had decided. The good thing about booking this flight was if it cancelled there was another one at 18.50 the same day or 12.30 the next day so less room for problems (hopefully). Captain Caveman said he would book it when he got back from his 3 day work trip on Wednesday, as by then we were both expecting I would have had my 2nd vaccine.
I was feeling fine again by dinner time so Captain Caveman made us a spaghetti dish to finish off a lovely weekend.

Phong Nha – 21st August

Phong Nha – 21st August

For me there is not much differentiation between a Saturday and a weekday, here in Phong Nha, so Saturday 21st August was an easy going day. Having started the day not waking up until 8.30am and then sharing left over pizza with Captain Caveman I had a dodgy stomach! I read the news and looked at friends’ Facebook reactions to the city lockdowns. People we knew in Saigon posted of the army being deployed for military assistance with the ‘no one moves’ lockdown. Food will be brought to people, from Monday, and there will be no going out at all. However, not all areas in Vietnam are locked down, read more here:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210821/vietnams-nha-trang-lifts-ban-on-outdoor-exercise-for-residents-in-virusfree-areas/62685.html
I did some more learning languages on Duolingo and was trying to learn more Turkish ready for being there soon. I also tried to improve the brownie by adding some heated condensed milk with vanilla in, then we put it in the freezer to set.
While Captain Caveman had a nice salad for lunch, with all the stuff I couldn’t eat, I stuck to a very simple plate of lettuce, onion, red peppers, olives and some vinaigrette dressing, boring but it didn’t make me ill. We had time in the pool and I had dragon fruit as a snack but was envious of Captain Caveman’s peanut butter on toast, that he wasn’t allowed to eat in the pool!
We got invited out for lunch tomorrow so I needed to make sure my stomach was back to being able to function so for dinner we had one of my favourite meals I’ve had in a while; steamed chicken, rice, sweetcorn, red peppers, aubergines and onions. I felt much better and even had gin and pink grapefruit by the pool in the moonlight.