Thursday, May 24, 2012

God, has it really been that long since I last posted on this blog? I must be getting lazy. It's not because I have been doing nothing, because I've actually been doing a lot since then. Just lazy to write, I guess. Anyway, so much has happened that I don't really know where to start.

Lately, I've been busy with tours or friends, or both. I finished up with a tour for four vets I know and one of their sons. We took a couple of war vintage Jeeps up the Ho Chi Minh Trail to the DMZ.It's interesting to see the reactions of men who have not lived a day in the past forty years without having visions of Vietnam come see it again. Most are shocked by how much has changed over the years. Not much remains of the war days. Old battle sites have now become luxury resorts, or industrial parks, or have been consumed by the jungles.  Occasionally you run into a pair of  dog tags or a pair of eyes that remind you of the past. The only thing left to see are the cemeteries and monuments. But still, it does something to your soul to look out over land that you have known so intimately. It still affects me and I've been doing it a long time.

Ken, Roger, Don, and Bill at Con Thien
Just before these Marines arrived, I met Anh in Hanoi with plans to fly to Dien Binh Phu for a couple of nights. It was the anniversary for the battle of Dien Binh Phu and a couple of old NVA vets were flying there for a reunion. They asked if we would like to join them. Wow! What an opportunity! But as luck would have it, the flight was cancelled and we didn't have time to wait for the next flight the following day so we opted to go on an adventure.

Anh had heard stories about the very northern part of Vietnam around the town of Dong Van. She had heard that the area was beautiful and nearly unspoiled by tourism. She was right! Problem is, there is only one way to get there; The Bus From Hell. We had a taxi drop us off outside of the airport and waited for the next bus heading in our direction. Eventually, a mini-bus with room for twenty people stopped. There were more than thirty people on board. With hundred pound bags of rice staked in the aisle and boxes of who knows what stacked to the ceilings, we headed off into the unknown. It was now nearly ten o'clock and we had eight ours of driving before our first stop at Tuyen Quang. This driver wasn't so bad except for the time he steered with his elbows while talking on two cellphones at the same time. This is true!

At five in the morning, we went to the bus station and waited. The first to come along was so crowed that peoples faces were pressed against the windows. Boxes of fruit and vegitables were staked so high on the roof that the center of gravity was about ten feet above the driver. No way was I getting on that bus. The next bus was only half full and just had some plumbing pipe and a couple of motorbikes strapped to the top. The driver didn't seem to mind the fluids running from under the bus. Much better. The  Beatle's song The Long and Winding Road kept running through my mind for the next thirteen hours. Finally, we reached Ha Giang and could have a cold beer while we waited for the bus to take us the last sixty-five kilometers to Dong Van.

Pulling out of town, the bus had to make a stop to pick up some coffins. The fact that they weren't yet assembled gave me little comfort. The assistant driver slapped me on the knee so that I would move it, enabling him to recline his seat into my lap. We wound our way up a beautifully terraced mountainside for about an hour and a half. The assistant driver turned and said it would cost us 200,000 dong ($10.00) each for the ride. We knew it was supposed to be only 100,000 dong so we argued. He told us to pay or get off the bus. We got off the bus. A young man we met at the bus station noticed what was happening and got off with us. The young man caught a ride on a passing motorbike and went off to fetch us a taxi. We were alone in the middle of nowhere. I could see the road vanish into the Karst topography as it wound its way over the distant mountains. The only consolation was that it was magnificent out there. The jagged landscape stretched around us as far as the eye could see in all directions and the sun was beginning to set. The lighting was spectacular. There was a young woman cutting grass to weave into a mat plus several other ladies carrying bundles of grass, there were some children playing, and people working in the fields far below us. Two hours passed, then two and a half. Finally, our ride came and we continued to our destination. We arrived well after nine pm. The taxi cost 700,000 dong ($40.00).

For more photos on this adventure vist my Facebook page