“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilization, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
In my very first blog post I explained how I intend to use my Big Trip as a way to slow down and take time to really appreciate the incredible places I’ll be visiting. Then I went right out and spent my first month racing around like an idiot.
The blur of July included 12 states, 10 national parks, two stops to see family, two pick-ups of Marie at airports (and one Marie pick-up of me), one sunset and one sunrise in a Navajo Nation valley, one drive-by of the Corn Palace in South Dakota, and one very long flight to Vietnam. Slowing down isn’t as easy as I anticipated.
Oddly enough it’s easier to slow down now that I’m overseas. As I type this I’m sitting in a poolside deck chair at my hotel in the coastal town of Mui Ne, Vietnam, directly overlooking a sandy beach. Occasionally a puffy white cloud floats past an otherwise blue sky. The afternoon is warm, but a sea breeze keeps me pleasantly cool. My hotel room – which includes a strong wi-fi connection and air conditioning – costs $18 a night. Beers are about 70 cents and a big plate of noodles with vegetables and chicken costs $2. It’s awesome. And being in an idyllic spot like this does encourage a slower pace. But even so, after a couple of nights here I’ll be ready to head to the next town.
I know I need to take my time on this trip, but I get restless and like to move. I love the bus rides from one town to the next, the opportunity to watch the countryside as it gradually changes, to steal glimpses inside the roadside homes and businesses. You can’t see any of that from a plane. On the far outskirts of Saigon, riding the bus to Mui Ne, I was struck by a banner on a massive upscale residential housing complex that read, “The Vista – Home of Ultimate Living.” In English. No Vietnamese translation. I felt some combination of amusement, fascination, and horror.
My experience of Mui Ne did extend beyond poolside drinking. I woke up at 4:00 on my first morning to catch the sunrise at the White Sand Dunes, a little over 20km outside of town. The sky looked interesting and I had high hopes for good shots, but I just didn’t manage to get much. The dune field was pretty small and the main attraction, apparently, is sliding down the dunes on a plastic sheet. So it was tough to find sand that wasn’t heavily marked up. I was one of the few people there at sunrise, but on the way back I passed herds of tourists eagerly toting their plastic sheets.
The driver I hired then took me to the Red Sand Dunes, which were even more overrun and tracked-up than the White Sand Dunes.
Next we stopped at the Mui Ne fishing village, which turned out to be a very cool scene. Just off the coast were no fewer than 100 fishing boats, and endless baskets of seafood were being unloaded from them in little circular rafts that looked like oversized bamboo bowls. A throng of people on the shore sorted through the catch – all kinds of fish, crabs, shrimp, sea urchins, eels, mollusks, you name it – then bought and sold it right there on the spot, haggling loudly over the prices.
Finally we checked out something called the Fairy Stream. Yep, the Fairy Stream. It’s a stretch of a shallow creek that flows past some interesting rock and mud formations. You hike right in the stream, just like the Narrows in Zion National Park. Although I have to say that the Narrows is just a little bit more impressive.