For some reason I’m still excited every time I’m inside an airport and waiting for boarding, even though I’m fully aware that I’ll be spending the next 22 hours circumnavigating half the globe in a flying steel coffin. The prospect of staying up all night and watching at least half a dozen movies while being served with the occasional beverage by that hopefully cute flight attendant (this part doesn’t always work out unfortunately) and stuffing down fast food during layovers usually makes up for the inconvenience of being trapped next to that smelly person that always happens to sit in the next seat or the judgemental staring woman across the aisle.
The last few weeks passed by in a heartbeat. My entry into vietnamese territory wasn’t without a hassle as passports had to be stamped, luggage thoroughly examined, the rude bus driver silenced with a deadly glance and elbows were put to good use while a few thousand Vietnamese dong switched hands in the process of crossing the border. The rain, mist and freezing cold at 6am when all of this took place didn’t lighten the already grim mood either. The 30+ hour trip ended abruptly for me, as I was hushed out by the impatient gob spitting bus driver in what seemed like the middle of Highway 1, the country’s main (only?) north – south transport axis, where a lonely mototaxi was waiting who clearly expected me to jump on, slightly underestimating the combined size and weight of me and my considerable backpack. After we got back to our feet and all limbs and luggage were delicately arranged we drove off into one of the saddest cities I’ve ever seen -Vinh- where I was dropped off at the local train station after the guy tried to rip me off by asking 5 times the regular price. Visually taken aback by my apparent knowledge of the normal fare and verbal firmness to share this information with him we parted ways, both slightly moody but, in my case, also satisfied. During the next few days I visited Dong Hoi and the Phong Nha Ke Bang national park, home of the biggest cave in the world. I swam in an underground river surrounded by pitch black darkness and floated in the mud of the park’s Dark Cave, an incredible experience that involved crawling through claustrophobic tunnels where you easily sank waist deep in the plastic substance and where you could actually hover in lotus position like that Indian guru levitation illusion you’d always dreamt of pulling off in front of your friends.
After this a few quiet days were well spent on the beaches of Cat Ba island in the beautiful Ha Long Bay where I went kayaking with my dorm mate, an ex US soldier who retired after getting shot in Irak. The two of us at one point quite literally blew the competition out of the water as we overtook multiple motorized tourist boats in our two-person sea kayak.
After several nights of watching the sunset from our bay front balcony while drinking Saigon and Tiger beer and exchanging life stories I said goodbye to my partner-in-crime and covered the last stretch of my adventure to Hanoi where Christmas presents were collected and I met an actual Indian meditation guru at my hostel’s breakfast table, who promptly read in the palm of my hand that I will have a long, happy and prosperous life, with three relationships worth mentioning, one of which I should be in right now. He assured me I would have no problems finding a job once I start looking for one (something that comes really close now!) and he explained to me the easiest way to find God within my own heart (in essence: be true to yourself and you will automatically be true to others). It was just the previous day that I had finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat. Pray. Love.