Monday, January 10, 2011

My Journey - Summer 2009

Collecting some texts/stories here that I've written mostly during the process working on
Roots of Coincidence - Vietnam & Beyond, and which were revised by Teresa. However, later we decided to leave them out from the book (not to make the book feel too much like a blog), so that only Teresa's poems would accompany my photos.

Northern Vietnam

The first few days, I spent in the bustling city of Hanoi. Then, I took a one-day trip to serene and captivating Halong Bay. On my way there, I decided that I would look for a bicycle after this trip. I traveled by bus from Halong Bay to Hai Phong where I then stayed for two days. In Hai Phong, I got tremendous support from a friend who helped me to find a hotel, showed me around town, helped me to organize my journey on the bike, and helped me find necessities for my travel that would have taken me days to find since there were no shopping malls around, as most of us know them. When I finally got on my bicycle and started to ride on Vietnam's roads, I felt a sense of freedom. It was just me and an entire country waiting to be discovered by me.

In the late afternoon, short before it would turn dark, I arrived in Ninh Binh. Later, when I found a lovely hotel room and wanted to go for a little walk, there was a blackout in the city. For about fifteen minutes, I was surrounded by a stunning evening scene.

The next day was hot and sunny. I continued on my journey and I was just feeling great. Occasionally, I would take necessary breaks during which I met many kind and helpful people. I had my dinner at a small, but lovely restaurant in the middle of the countryside along the Hanoi-Saigon Road.

Meanwhile, a mechanic was struggling to fix the spokes of the bike. As I was eating, the owners and guests in the restaurant communicated to me with smiles. Then, two guys began to speak to me in English and others tried to speak to me in Vietnamese. In the end, I didn't have to pay for my food though I attempted to. I still wanted to pay for my broken rice-bowl which I felt sorry about, but they refused with a smile. When I returned to my bike and tested it, the mechanic’s little son cheered. I was happy that the elderly mechanic had finally completed his job. I payed him for his work, exchanged heart-felt goodbyes with them and continued on my journey. The hot sun was shining brightly. However, I noticed dark clouds approaching from behind as I rode into a small city. As I was riding in the same direction as the wind, I felt that I was "flying" through the city, outrunning the dark clouds. Soon, I was riding in a slightly different direction, the clouds to the left of me.

While at the borders of the city, I felt raindrops trickling on my skin and seeked shelter at the side of the road in a "tuck-shop" that looked like some kind of garage. Heavy rain pounded down on the tin roofs.

An hour later, the rain stopped and there was a sudden sense of calmness. I could continue my journey along very bumpy and then dusty roads. I worried a bit about the bike, because of the bumpiness of the road. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the ride along the exquisite landscape. Again, due to problems with my bicycle's broken spokes, I had to find help and came upon a Café on a woody hill where the afternoon sunlight shined through radiantly. The owner of the Café came along with two grippers and together we improved the situation. He also gave me tea to fill up my bottle for free. One of the nice things that happened that day was that I wasn't asked to give money for things.

I left the Café and a wonderful ride downhill followed with the sunset right beside me and its reflections on the water of the fields. I was filled with delight and expressed my joy with a shout of "Woooooo!" as the moment continued its escalation of beauty before my eyes. Along the road, I saw some kind of building that looked like a hotel and wondered whether I could stay there for the night, since I wanted more time to take in this lovely sight and knowing it would turn dark soon. However, I zoomed by too quickly, missed it and figured that I would find another lodging along the road.

I stopped for a moment to shoot the sunset and fields. As I was just about to continue my ride, a Van suddenly stopped next to me. Inside were three young guys who asked me if I wanted to get in. At first I hesitated, since I was in a cheerful mood and had energy to bike more kilometres, but then I decided to ride in the Van. It had turned completely dark when, about 30-45 minutes later, we arrived in Thanh Hóa where I was dropped off next to a hotel.

On the second day, I rode my bicycle most of the way, then, for about 15-20 km, traveled by car to arrive at my destination in the town of Thanh Hoa known for its seaside resorts. My journey had taken me through broken bicycle spokes, heavy rains, a spectacular sunset and meetings with strangers. The entire day was filled with generosity from the people around me. At the end of the day, I was pleasantly surprised by such an accumulation of unexpected gestures.


I met these children on the street of a smaller city, some tens of kilometers down south of Hoi An. I was smiling with the kids and took a couple of pictures. Soon, a dozen older women came out of a temple on the other side of the street. Then, an old man came across the street towards me. He seemed to smile, so I smiled back at him. Later, when I looked at the photos I had taken of him, I felt different about his "smile", it looked more like an agonized expression then. He had revealed to me an empty eye-socket behind his eye-patch, of which he wanted me to take pictures.
When I took the pictures, I didn't notice the eye-socket; it was rather dark and raining. I wanted to be there for only a few moments to get some bread and to come in from the rain and to leave again on my bicycle.

Unfortunately, I deleted the photos of the man later, because they frightened me for some reason. I speculated that, perhaps, he wanted to show me his war injury, since I'm caucasian and might, in theory, be a descendant of those who came and bombed his nation's land and left 3 to 4 million Vietnamese dead.

Not so far away from this city, something abhorrent took place on March 16, 1968, which later became known as the My Lai Massacre: a mass murder conducted by a unit of the U.S. Army, in which about 500 unarmed citizens, all of whom were civilians and a majority of whom were women, children, babies, and elderly people were killed.

The next day, I saw the heaviest downpour and just felt very uncomfortable all day. I needed a lot of motivation to bike from Nui Thanh to Quang Ngai in order to catch a train out of this predicament. When I was in Quang Ngai in the afternoon, I ended up on a street where my feet were ankle-deep in water while I was still on the bike and the rest of the city was also drenched.

Next day, all I could think of was leaving. The young lady at the hotel greeted me with an enthusiastic, "Hello, Good morning, Sir!" Her friendliness encouraged me to ask her where to find the train. Unfortunately, that seemed all she could say in English. So, I drew lines that depicted rails and added the typical crossbeams. She indicated that she got what I meant and wrote down the address for me and directions on how to get there. I payed and left for the other side of town. As it turned out, I arrived at the bus station. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that I could put the bicycle on the bus, so I continued my quest to find the train station. At an internet café, I succeeded by using the online translator for Vietnamese which I showed the owner. I traveled back from where I came from, passed my hotel and about 300 meters later, on the same street as the hotel I was in - there it was, the train station! I went there and found out that the only train for that day had just left... so I had to wait until the next day in this hot, rainy, damp city. So, it turned out that the train station I was looking for was just a few meters away from the hotel where I started from. So, I had to stay one more day in this rainy and damp city.

South Vietnam

The train, which provided me shelter from the rain as well as time off from biking, took me to Nha Trang. I spent my day in the sun, until dark clouds came. This time I didn't get all wet from a heavy downpour, instead I enjoyed a short swim in the ocean. Only in the evening some rain came.

I have beautiful memories from my ride to the coastal site, Ca Na. The same counts for the morning after. It was sunny and there were fewer people all morning than I met at the hotel at night. Soon after I was back on the bike I felt exhausted though, which I noticed soon through the heavy headwind from the sea, which expected me after Ca Na. I decided to take another break for a day in Phan Thiet, which I reached by the end of the day. I met many friendly people there and enjoyed my stay. From Phan Thiet it took me two days more with about 100 kilometers per day, until I reached Vietnam's old capital Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City, as it is officially called today.

During my last two days on the bicycle, I thought of selling it in Saigon, as I was feeling more and more exhausted. When I got there I realized how helpful it still can be, without having to take taxis and each time bargain for the price. So I kept it and used it to follow friends, when they showed me around town, mainly to different restaurants..

When I left Saigon, after a few days there, I took the bicycle with me on the bus to Da Lat. The mountains, woods and fresh air inspired me to decide biking again all the way to Nha Trang. However I didn't make it to Nha Trang on the bike, as it broke along the way - in the mountains, in the woods, in the rain, and in the dark - at the end of a rather mixed, but then enjoyable day. By the time the bicycle gave up I felt in peace, so that what eventually had happened to the bike didn't shock me much. Not too long after the incident a Van stopped for me and took me to a place next to Nha Trang. There I found a small but suffocating room for the night. Suffocating on one hand because the temperatures in Da Lat were comparatively much cooler than in the lowlands, on the other hand because there was no air-conditioner, instead only a tiny window next to the street, which ultimately provided the room with hot, thin air. It was a hot and sunny day when I got to Nha Trang in the morning - on a motorbike, the bicycle pushing next to me. I didn't have the time to think about enjoying the beach again and just took the next train to Hanoi.

Back in the North - Núi
(this part wasn't thoroughly thought-out anymore, because at that time we decided to leave out the text...)

Back in Hanoi I missed my plane the following day, due to lack of preparation, but also due to lack of an organized public transportation system. I wanted to go back home by train. Arrived in Sapa/North Vietnam I had to realize that it might be easier and not necessarily more expensive to take a plane, because visa for China & Russia are not cheap and take days to get them, plus one has to get them in the capital of the country you're at (which for me would have meant back to Hanoi). After a couple of days in beautiful Sapa, I went on a two days bus ride through bumpy roads of the mountains of North Vietnam. to end up in East Laos. After a boat trip and another two bus rides to the capital of Laos, I decided to go to Bangkok, from where I wanted to find a plane back home. I changed my mind and took a plane to Singapore. After a couple of days there I went to Kuala Lumpur by bus and after a three-day stay got on my plane and left for Germany.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A little adventure - Da Lat and the "Jungle"

Da Lat/Vietnam - 19.09.2009

moving forward

I felt to finally share my - to me kind of exciting - experiences from my last hours on my last day on the bicycle in Vietnam (btw, if you don't want to read it all but still are interested, feel free to scroll down a bit, for the 2nd half/the adventure part..).

The day was mixed. It still was raining season. It started as a sunny and warm day up in Da Lat. Actually beautiful, but I already had put myself under stress, because I still had some things to do before leaving. I had to get me another vaccination from the dog bite back in Saigon. There was a hospital close to my hotel, but it turned out they didn't have the vaccination. So it was not the first time that I had to head for the other side of town in Vietnam for a certain reason, in this case successfully though. And Da Lat is luckily not so big either.

On my way back to the hotel I found a mechanician who fixed up my bike a bit. Something I could have done in Saigon already, as I had time there. But firstly it was hard to find a bike shop there (didn't see even one) and secondly I wasn't sure if I actually would jump on the bike again at all. Since I was so relieved to have made it to Saigon alive and told myself still back on the bike I wouldn't do so anymore. In Da Lat I decided that I would take the bike to Nha Trang and from there take the train to Hanoi. So already the day after my arrival in Da Lat I would be leaving again.

The repairman exchanged the five gear-wheels - which another repairman put on the bike, one day before arriving in Saigon (the old one didn't spin anymore) - with the fitting seven gear-wheels. The other guy didn't have the ones with seven, so he gave me this one with just five. But none of them, not unlike any other mechanician I've met on my journey, could help me with another problem I've had all the way through Vietnam. Which was that I couldn't use the smallest gears of the front gear-wheels. Which are a big advantage at hills. I FINALLY would figure that out by myself the same last day! Maybe something about this lead to the collaps of the gear shift though. But to that later.

I had my breakfast while the mechanician did his job and when I returned it was done. I went to the hotel, packed my stuff, payed and left. Hm, at first the wrong path though. The receptionist from the hotel gave me a copy from the city-map, but I thought I take a small short cut and end up on that route. Unfortunately that was not the case. I think I was also on the road to Nha Trang then, but it wasn't 'that one'. I heard that one of the two roads were completely new and I thought I better try to get to the one the kind lady at the hotel suggested (hopinng that's the new one). So a bit back into the city, some fixing of my baggage and when I left the city it was already noon. Short before the road to Nha Trang, on the borders of the city, I felt I had to stop for some food and quickly have lunch. But the place I found only had drinks, so I just had me another one of the amazing Vietnamese coffee.

So then, there it was, the road to Nha Trang. I wondered "Am I really right here?!". I only saw a small road in the midst of some trees, it seemed not much bigger than the eye of a needle, so I felt a little uncomfortable. But asking people seemed to confirm I was on the right track. On the other hand, I came to Da Lat to see the woods and nature and here I seemed to get that. The other road seemed to offer mainly just lowlands, with many fields, but very few trees. Here I would get my adventure, I thought. After a few kilometres gradually the road got a little bigger. Then I saw some workers on the road and finally I was on an entirely new road! And that in the midst of this mountainous and woody area. The funny thing though was that it seemed I had it all for myself. Most of the time there were very few vehicles around (at least that day).

up in the mountains

In the afternoon, probably around 4 p.m. I had my last break, with a tea, a banana and some sweet stuff. That's where this girl suddenly stared at me... at first kind of reserved, but then she smiled a lot. So cute! I was back on the road with a huge smile on my face.

But finally to what mainly comes to my mind when I think of this day and which makes it special to me: the "adventure".

I continued my journey up and down the hills of this beautiful region. I felt a bit uncomfortable again about the fact that I could not use the smallest gears here and figured I could give it a try losen and tighten this certain screw a bit there. I actually thought it has to be possible somehow to improve this thing. At a small village (one of the very few around) I asked people if they have tools for this. There were kids/juvenils standing around and one of the grown ups brought along something and after a few minutes I HAD IT! I could use the entirety of the 21 gears. I felt a bit silly though and blamed myself for not having tried just this much earlier. Since I had some other hills to climb as well much earlier in Vietnam, as evident in this video:

(this was between Hué - Ca Na - Da Nang - until after Hoi An)

{v. V} The Roots of Coincidence from Yves Schiepek on Vimeo.

So, back on the road, doing some more hills and soon the next rain came. Actually for the third time that day! As I said earlier, it was a very mixed day. And since after noonday there were mostly dark clouds on the sky. It was short before six, and during my time in Vietnam I had to realize that somebody switches off the light at 6 p.m. sharp! So hmm, there I was... still riding the bike, it's raining on me, dark suddenly... but I was smiling (just as right now writing and remembering this). Actually I was smiling even more when it was dark then. Everything got so quiet. And I found my rhythm on the bike. There was only me, my breathe, the nature and sounds coming from nature, such as from the rain and what I saw from..... what felt to me as "Jungle". I was in the midst of the woods, surrounded by trees, riding beside a river. Really beautiful. I regreted that I couldn't see this during daytime. (Later I was told that particularly this area is amazingly beautiful in the early hours of the day.)

Oh, and besides my bicycle didn't have any lights, so when I wanted to see something more clearly, I had to use my tiny neon torch light. This was the case when suddenly my bike was in an open loop. Something was wrong. At first I thought maybe I just have to put the bicycle chain back on the gear-wheels. But my torch light showed the unavoidable... an essential part of the gear shift was broken. Impossible to continue... and I thought it would be hard to find a mechanician not only in Nha Trang, but in Vietnam who could fix that (so I didn't even lose a thought on this endevour). Since most mechanicians specialize on fixing motorbikes (for good reasons), or at least don't put silly gear-shifts on bicycles.

(I took this picture in Tanh, 10 km before Nha Trang,
short before I found my stay for the night..

didn't dare to take out my cam in the rain when it actually happened)

So now here's the funny part left to tell. And I don't know if anybody's gonna believe it. It was dark, still raining, but most of all, I didn't remember having seen (m)any cars at all in a while. And yet I was only smiling about my situation. Pushing my bike and thinking... well, not thinking much... just watching and listening... I was in peace. Also it was still only after 6 p.m., maybe short before 7. Even tough it felt like deep night the evening was still young, so I had no worries yet. And even though I soon afterwards had to realize that the next village was about 20 km away. I was still pushing the bike up the hill when suddenly a bus came along. An overland bus. Actually even from the same travel agency I came to Da Lat with. They stopped for me and I asked if they can take me. They said yes and told me what it would cost me. It was twice the price I payed for my journey from Saigon to Da Lat, with a distance of more than 300 km and here there were only 40-50 km left to Nha Trang. I tried to beat down the price for a moment. But they just saw me in my situation and probably thought that I would HAVE TO accept. Well... they were wrong! :D They were two guys, and what would I give to see their expressions again now! Or know their thoughts when I took my bike to walk my way in the rainy night... in the middle of nowhere.

Hm, ok... everything came to a sudden end when only 10-20 metres farther or so a Van came and they took me (I was relieved though). For half the price. The guys with the overland bus were still standing there.

In the Van I had to realize that it was only maybe about 300 metres more up the hill and then the next huge distance was downhill nearly exclusively. That was about 30 kilometres........ And after the mountains there was mostly only lowlands. So if the bike would have made it these few metres more uphill, maybe I would have made it to Nha Trang the same night on the bike. But yeah, besides, most of the time I wondered where I would end up that day... how far I would make it. Actually earlier I figured Nha Trang wouldn't be possible to reach anymore.

To summarize:
- I rode with a fixed/working gear shift of the bicycle for maybe about ten kilometres (out of nearly a thousand)
- it totally breakes at the hill, short before it goes downhill entirely

Fun times! ;-)

The guys with the Van didn't go directly to Nha Trang, so it was 10 km before Nha Trang in a small city called Tanh where I found my stay for the night, in... (apologies for saying that...) a rat hole. It felt like 40°C at night, maybe it was 30°C. There was only an electric fan and a small window, or rather a whole in the wall, that seemed not to let air in, but just gases and noise from the street. Well, actually such places are only for Vietnamese, the government wouldn't allow tourists to see them, but I asked people on the street and they showed me this. I think there wasn't even a proper hotel around.

(from Da Lat to Nha Trang - plus Sapa)

{v. VIII} Easy Rider 0.5 from Yves Schiepek on Vimeo.

Next morning (20.09.2009) I tried to find a vehicle to take me to Nha Trang. Unfortunately the urban bus wouldn't take me, so I decided to stand at the street and hope for a car to stop. It was an amazingly hot day, not quite enjoyable in the blazing sun. There were very few cars, just lots of motorbikes. I didn't imagine how it would work with the bike on a motorbike. I started walking, it was just 10 kms to Nha Trang afterall. But then this guy stopped and offered to take me there. He didn't want money, he wasn't one of those who make a living by riding tourists around on their bikes and try to rip them off then. Although I started to doubt about his intend when he didn't ask me where I wanted to jump off in the city of Nha Trang. But then he stopped somewhere and I offered him some money, which he refused with a smile. He actually showed me in the direction where I could find a mechanician (although I didn't ask for that), but didn't find anything there. I asked another guy, but he showed me in another direction. So some doubts remained.

My walk to the train station and the time afterwards is an unpleasant memory. It was hot, I barely could sleep the night before, I didn't get me a proper breakfast, the cash machine didn't work to get money for my train ride; asking at the train station I was told about this cash machine, they wouldn't believe that it doesn't work.. I gave up on this and realized I should have lunch. There I met a student, the son of the restaurant owner, who I asked about a bank. It was quite a bit away from there, so he brought me there on his motorbike. He also was one of those nice guys you can find sometime in Vietnam, that exclusively want to help and are happy about the company and speaking english with somebody, so he refused to take money too. Which I offered him when we arrived at the train station. On the train everyone seemed to just smile at me there. Happy people, I was happy again too.

after I took some pics of her, she started to do the catwalk.. =)

Rain, rain, rain...

In Nui Thanh, I was in the midst of the worst rain I had seen in Vietnam. Two days before that I was riding the bike happily through the rain for about two hours (which was at the end of a rather sunny day) and felt great, but the next day all I saw was heaviest rain and I just felt very uncomfortable all day. I needed lots of motivation to actually make it to Nui Thanh, in order to catch a train from there (out of this mess).

Arriving in the city I ended up on a street where my feet were ankle-deep under water for a moment (while still being on the bike of course) and the rest of the city didn't look much better.

Next day all I could think of was leaving...... the young lady in the hotel greeting me with an excellent "Hello, Good morning Sir!" (or sth. like that), left me thinking I can ask her where I can find the train station. Unfortunately that seemed all she can say in english. So I ended up drawing lines that should depict railes and added the typical crossbeams. She gave me to understand that she got what I meant and wrote down the adress for me and how I get there. I payed for my room and left for the other side of town, as it turned out: the bus station. Well, I didn't have the idea back then that one could put the bicycle on the bus... so I tried to find out where the train station is. At an internet café I succeeded (using the online translater for vietnamese and showed the owner). So back from where I came from.. passing my hotel and about 300 metres later - in the same street as the hotel I was in - there it was, the train station. Went there and had to find out that the only train for that day just had left... so I had to wait till next day. In this hot, rainy, damp city.

When I got back at the same hotel I blamed the lady to have pointed me not to the train station, but the bus station, which I didn't ask for and asked her to give me the room for a better price - saying I got stuck there for one more day only because of her (maybe I shouldn't have blamed her though..). So I payed slightly less of the actual price. Next day when I finally wanted to leave she wanted to make me understand as though I still had to pay for two nights! They brought a guy along who speaks english and should clarify that it was just about this. I told them that I payed already - and I think nobody of them did doubt that - and left.

Lots of the footage from my video here was taken in, before and after this day. Also from the train after leaving the city.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Halong Bay

~ ~ ~ sail on ~ ~ ~

I found out about Halong Bay just two days before I left Germany and thought I had found something rare and special. Well, that was the case. Back then didn't imagine though that there would be this much tourism going on...

The same morning - during the first (boring) minutes on a too small bus - I had decided to try to find me a bicycle after this short trip. Being on one of these tourist-boats, with happy, enthusiastic or nagging westerners (knowing I was one of them), only could confirm me in my decison.

(the day I posted this on flickr, I realized that I have a photo from the same spot as on the linked page above!:p)

day at halong bay

Cat Ba - the great rip-off

If you intend to ever go to Halong Bay, or especially Cat Ba, always know how much money you hand out. Some vendors tend not to give any change..... NO matter how much you gave them! It's almost hilarious.. I heard some stories like this and I made one experience myself.

Gladly I wasn't on the island for long.. only for a minute, to get me a bottled water. I gave the young lady my money, but her, being polite at first (saying thanks) & smiley, wanted to insist that the money I gave her was the adequate price (was about two Euros difference though).

~ ~ quiet waters ~ ~

girl with the wonderful smile

girl with the wonderful smile

Taken somewhere on a street in Hanoi... I saw her walking with her brother and an umbrella in her hand (to protect from the sun). Asked them for a picture, they both gave me the biggest smiles, and I walked my way. Turning around again and waving goodbye to both. Maybe two of the loveliest kids I've met on my journey, as I feel now... even if it was only such a short moment, but they just "aired" so much happiness and lovelieness...... which too made me happy even more that lovely noonday.

Unfortunately her brother was standing in the blazing sun, so I had to crop the photo this way..

A friends comment recently pointed me that she looks more like Chinese. I then concluded that maybe they were visiting relatives, so that their holidays explained their happiness...