Cave Goat, BBQ Frog, Ear Bug & No Monkey
Another tour today... have to cram it all in, right? It's like my social outlet... my traveling bar... the way to meet people from day to day and not become reclusive and antisocial.
I booked this tour through my homestay. There were two that I was interested in. Both very similar. The second one seemed like a significant amount more driving.. and that didn't look or sound (or potentially feel) so appealing, so I opted for the first one. The homestay lady looked very disappointed in my choice and kept pointing at the second one saying "Very beautiful." Was the first one ugly?
Let me say when you suffer from sciatica and restless leg syndrome, the tour that gets you home at 4pm as opposed to 8pm will always prevail.
Tour #1 it shall be!
Yet... she still wasn't entirely convinced and finally I just threw my arms in the air and said, "Book whatever... I'll be here waiting at 8am."
Turns out... she booked tour #1... It's a difficult thing having to be ready for a tour at 8am. I have to first, wake up... then once I finally open my eyes, I have to lie their in a comatose state for a while, staring at the ceiling and contemplating life...
check my phone for any messages that might have come in through the night
answer those messages
get myself out of bed
have a shower
primp, prime, prepare and pack
Life is tough... 8am comes quickly... I almost always set my alarm but I don't really need to. Normally I'm up by about 5/6am... regardless of country, time zone or responsibilities of the day. Today's tour: Allow me to present Marble Mountain AND Monkey Mountain!
**If there are no marbles or monkeys, I'm gonna be real mad.
They also added another 'cave name' in to the title of the tour on the brochure, but it was a very silly thing to do considering it was just another part of Marble Mountain. And the even sillier part about it was that we left Marble Mountain, drove around for a bit and then came back. I thought I was losing it... I kept remarking, "This is exactly like Marble Mountain!" Well... turns out...
What can I say about Marble Mountain? What I would like to do is include a bunch of insightful information, learned from our over-enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide, but as I might have mentioned before... the English becomes more of a challenge than I'm willing to tackle and I end up zoning out before the stories conclude.
Marble Mountain is a cluster of limestone and marble mountains near DaNang. They are named after metal, water, wood, fire and earth.... I find it funny that they aren't named after limestone... marble... We climbed up a LOT of stairs to get to the top. There was an elevator (tourist destination at its extreme) but it wasn't presented to us as an option and the stairs were much more primitive and traditional. A lot of beauty encountered near the top of the mountain... spectacular views, strenuous climbs up old stone steps, colourful and immaculately kept temples, towers, grotto's, tombs, pergolas, bridges... perfectly manicured gardens, carvings, marble Buddha statues... busloads of tourists everywhere, guides yelling, girls in heals, vendors selling things like magnets, beer and bracelets... the usual...
You know how people go on and on about bad hair days? Well... I don't normally care much about how my hair looks. It's my face. I want to officially proclaim today "Bad Selfie Day." Didn't much matter how many photos I took, at what angle or what expression... I was Miss Fat Bloated Red Face all day. No exceptions. I felt like I was on set of the Indiana Jones chronicles, Game of Thrones and Journey to the End of the Earth... all at once! Next... on to Son Tea (aka Monkey Mountain) and I'm sad to report that there wasn't a monkey in sight. A lot of stray dogs... Dog Mountain... but no monkeys. All these reviews of monkeys stealing food... nothing. Actually not quite 'nothing' so to speak... some others on our tour ended up finding monkeys and returned to the van with these terrific and long winded stories of feeding them... blah blah blah... We decided to ignore their tales and just lead with "there were no monkeys."
Metaphorical Monkey Mountain. Anyways... I guess that American troops gave it this name due to the amount of monkey activity.
As I mentioned above, our entire crew left Marble Mountain and headed to some remote location for lunch. BUT... just before we stopped for lunch... we just happened to pull over in to this one parking lot - and I think that I can speak for everyone when I say that I thought it was lunch... but no. Not lunch. It was... in true 'tour'fashion... our official 'shopping' spot. Get out and buy stop. A marble shop. A GARGANTUAN marble shop. Very tourists souvenir dream. Enormous Buddha's and Venuses and fish ponds and turtles and dragons and lions... nothing anyone on our tour would even consider buying. You couldn't buy anything if you wanted to! There was a large, round marble table outside the main shop, so a bunch of us sat down and started the usual travellers conversation about where we have all been and where we're going. It wasn't 10 minutes before we were completely surrounded by the shop attendants, coercing us in to help us find something to buy.
After lunch, we were all split in to groups as to what everyone was doing for the afternoon portion of the tour. Some were heading to My Son, others on a scenic mountain drive and us... we were heading back to Marble Mountain to see the Am Phu Cave and then moving on to Monkey Mountain... to obviously see all the monkeys.
Why didn't we all just see Am Phu Cave as a group? ...Good question.
I have to admit though- this part of Marble Mountain far exceeded the previous part and it became my personal favourite part of the tour.
Am Phu was the 'hell cave' of Marble Mountain... and it was pinned as the devilish underworld of demons. It was creepy, I will give it that. These demonic statues, figures and images hidden in each nook & cranny of the cave made it especially eerie. I ignored most of the satanic sculptures and we all paid more attention to the exploring - climbing and clambering up, up, up the steep, tight stairways and narrow passages that led to the light break at the top of the cave! These little steep channels were hidden throughout the cave and the intricacy and attention to details of the wall carvings along every passage... was second to none. Probably big thanks to a summer of biking, Oxygen fitness classes and Fall biking, but I was up and down those steep, narrow cave tunnels like a cave goat!Are there cave goats?
If so... I was one.
Although I didn't come across any monkeys, I did see an impressive pagoda and a 67-metre tall white statue of the Goddess of Mercy, set atop a lotus shaped platform. Apparently it is the tallest statue in Southeast Asian. None of us went in and up, as there was an additional fee involved to climb the statue.
I would like to take this opportunity to give myself a high five for finally mastering the art of the camera timer. It works wonders to get me away from the ever annoying selfie... Nothing says 'Yes, I travel alone' more than 700 selfies! The camera times also lessens the annoyance of asking strangers to take your photo... because, let's face it, most of them are crap photographers and you end up looking like a headless blurry blob standing in front of something that no one can really make out. A lovely couple from Madrid were the photography gurus of the day. Any opportunity for a fun photo shoot, they were in. I got one of them jumping in front of the Goddess of Mercy, and if I do say so myself - it turned out perfectly. I know it turned out perfectly actually, because when they saw it, they both started squealing with delight and jumping for joy... again. They then suggested that capture one of me doing the exact same pose - jumping in front of the statue. Seemed like a fabulous idea at the time... so off I went to position myself for the big jumping photo shoot. I did not squeal with joy when I saw the picture... and as you may notice... the picture did not make the cut for this blog. I can't even jump gracefully... nor can I do it with a decent expression on my face.
We all stopped for an ice cream and after we had all purchased and were sitting in the shade enjoying... then we saw the sign.
Fish ice cream?
Put that on my list of things to try. Back at the hotel, I had a quick nap before immersing myself back in to the vortex of shopping in Hoi An. I was actually really excited to get back 'out there' and spend some money! I don't necessarily think that I needed retail therapy, so to speak, but dammed if I wasn't going anyway. You can't help but have a laugh at the markets. Sure there are the traditional, normal, true-to-Vietnamitems for sale - like silk and marble and woven purses, chopsticks, Good Morning Vietnam t-shirts... etc etc.
Then there are things like the crawling Spiderman commando, Matryoshka Dolls, Che Guevara depicted as a monkey shirts... the list goes on and on... dumb. You find yourself just wondering why? The Spiderman stuff reminded me of when I was in Rome. I remember walking across the main bridge that led to the Vatican and the entire sides of the bridge were lined with people trying to sell remote control walking Mickey Mouses.
Surreal. All I kept hearing as I was walking along the Hoi An promenade was "Bo-Ri?" No, thank you."Bo-Ri?" "Bo-Ri?" "You? Bo-Ri?"
No, thank you.... Head down... keep walking... "Bo-Ri" translates to "boat ride?"... lazy English... and as tempting as these beautiful little lantern-lit boats are, they were something that I'd leave for the happy couples, dressed in the same pattern outfits, enjoying the 2nd most romantic place in Asia... I opted to walk...
From the moment I arrive in Hoi An, everyone recommended going to a tailor and having something made. It seemed like a really fun idea and I was extremely tempted... BUT... it's not like I'm exactly at my goal weight. I didn't want to spend all this money getting a pink taffeta ballgown made and then potentially (fingers and toes crossed)... God forbid... lose weight?
The last thing I wanted in life was to be crippled trying to maintain this particular body mass so that I could flutter around Mission in my silk smock.
Plus... I haven't been invited to any balls... not yet anyway. The day is still young.
To ease the pain of forgoing the Tailor, I decided my time, money and experience would be better spent looking for the ultimate in amazing smoothie. I had been told that Hoi An was known for their delicious smoothies and God dammit, I deserved one.
On the tour, everyone had been passing around this information on one particular location that Anthony Bourdain had frequented... and apparently it was to die for. The smoothie anyway. Hell if I could find it though. I looked everywhere too. Fuck it. I google mapped another closer location and headed there.
You know you're getting old when you're roaming the streets in the evening, bypassing the urge to just sit down & enjoy a glass of wine, ignoring invites to nightclubs and instead searching for the fruit substitution that might serve to act as a natural laxative. And be yummy, too. That's right folks... the stomach has calmed down... but there is still some work to be done... After looking at the menu and speaking to the attendant about which was the best smoothie, I opted for the Avocado selection. Strange... but something inside of me told me that it might be good. It wasn't. Don't get me wrong- I like avocados. I do. But not pureed and through a straw. And that's almost exactly what it was. A little touch of coconut milk. I asked if he would add something else to it... maybe banana, strawberry... anything? Nope. That's how it came.
Then I did another smart thing... I stopped at the mini mart next door, bought the first juice I saw (the equivalent to Sunny Delight) and tried to mix that wit my avocado baby food. Not a good idea. Trash can delight #1.
So... let's just stick with the old favourites, shall we? Time to stop at the nearest street food vendor and pick up one of my favourite quesadilla things! Can't go wrong with this delight. Turns out you can. I think it had been sitting out too long, was abnormally chewy and had a distinct fishy flavour which I figured I might veer away from. Can't be good. Trash can delight #2. Then I stopped and bought these little potato cakes from this sweet, little lady crouched down on the road. ... to be kind, she threw in something else sweet - it was like dough, with crunchy peanut butter inside, rolled in icing sugar. Wasn't my thang... #3. ... 3 for 3...
Maybe it was time to just give in and try the BBQ frog and snake.
I'll save that for another day... I just have to say to anyone planning on making the trek to Vietnam... watch your ATM transactions! They charge you $5 transaction each time you take out money. I ended up spending $20 in total one night, all because I'm thick and couldn't figure out the zeros! First, I meant to take out 2 million, but took out 200 thousand... so on and so on.
Frustrated me to no end...4 transactions later.
Put on the plus side, I had four receipts in my wallet... which have proven already to come in handy during a 'no toilet paper' bathroom emergency. Finally I had exhausted all financial means - and even had to stop and purchase a new leather duffle bag to transport all my goods home. Super cute... pink sueded and only $110 Canadian... and the lady threw in a Louis VItton wallet. Knockoff? Probably... but no biggie.
I have no idea how big... or what kind of bug... it was just a bug. I could feel it fluttering and I could hear the buzzing IN MY EAR! I can't blow it out.
I was making my way back to my homestay, still meandering through the markets stalls and taking in the merchandise for sale. On the lookout for a shirt for my uncle... and one hanging from the rafters caught my eye! I walked up to it immediately and felt the material. Cotton... boo. Not that there is anything wrong with cotton, but I was hoping to find one in silk, if possible. The lady approached me immediately, of course, and I went about starting to ask (complicated enough) if she had any mens shirts in silk. The power of showing, as opposed to telling, works wonders in the art of translation. It's hell. Learn Vietnamese next time! Learn Vietnamese next time! As I'm desperately trying to explain myself... a bug flies in my ear. Seriously.
My finger nail's too long to suction it out. I couldn't scrap it out or grab it.
So... basically, I'm freaking out, while desperately trying to maintain my cool in a public place.... I'm trying to knock the bug out of me... all the while, this girl is rambling on and on, presumably telling me that all the shirts come in only cotton and trying to determine what size I want to buy.
The fluttering and buzzing eventually ended... but I have no idea if the bug eventually got free or died trying... or maybe it found its way in to my brain and as we speak, is nesting.
Then there's me... wacky tourist, yelling foreign absurdities and I'm leaning right over towards her and trying to shove my ear in her face so that she can tell me if there is a bug in my ear!I need help here, lady!!!
Nope... no help to be found here. She's not pickin' up what I'm puttin' down. She thinks I can't HEAR her and starts yelling her loud Vietnamese cotton shirt size information in to my ear. It was too much to take. Me and my bug had to walk away...... hunched over... banging my other ear... Lovely thought.
On the way home, I finally gave in... stopped at a pharmacy and bought laxatives. That was another interesting 'show and tell' conversation between me and the man behind the counter. This trip just gets more and more interesting...