29 March 2006

Winding Down

Two more days until the end of the term. One more day of finals, and all the reading of essays, marking, recording scores, and handing in paperwork. Then one day of teaching, although I doubt more than a few will turn up, if that. And on Sunday I leave for my trip up north.

After I finished marking about as many exams as I could for the day, and knowing I had to be home before 5 for my acupuncture doctor, I grabbed a taxi for the Sinh Café tourist office to purchase my train ticket/tour. I had only ever been to their office in the backpacker’s section of HCMC, but saw that there was a second one not far away.

I pretty much detest the backpacker area. It is jammed with cheap guesthouses, travel agents, low-priced cafes, somewhat costly boutiques, drinking establishments, and hookers. Quite a lot of people from work live in, and/or hang out there. I have no idea why. It’s quite the seedy locale. The Sinh office, right in the middle of it all, is a ghastly, hole-in-the-wall, with over-worked, under-paid, rather unpleasant staff. I was hoping that their sister office was better, and I was not disappointed.

Although it is walking distance from the nasty branch, it is a different world. I only saw a couple of foreigners on the street. The office actually looked like a tour office, and the ladies there were helpful and pleasant. Well, as helpful as they could be with limited English and my zero Vietnamese. (my language classes have again been put on hold because the teacher is out of town, but that is a whole, other, boring story.)

I pulled out the information I had picked up over the weekend and asked about other Sapa tours they might have. It all got very confusing. Mostly because a 4-day, 3-night trip, includes 2 nights on the train, and only one night in Sapa. I just can’t seem to get my head around flying up to Hanoi, a 2 hour flight, on Sunday, then boarding the train at 9:30pm, and arriving in Sapa at 7am. I think I am then taken to a hotel and either go village trekking right then, or after lunch. I finally decided to just pay for it and if I want to stay a day or two more, I’ll deal with it when I am there.

The whole idea of a 12-hour, overnight train ride, in a “soft-sleeper”, (which is a cabin with two bunk-beds), with three people I have never met in my life, sort of makes me itch. My worst case scenario is being stuck with a bunch of drinking, smoking, 20-somethings, or a local family who have brought on pots of fish and rice and screaming kids. I know I will never be able to sleep, and what do I do when I have to walk to the end of the car to pee? Will my clothing be safe? I can’t very well take a travel bag into the loo. I tried to see if I could pay extra for my own “room”, but was told I couldn’t. I felt totally trashed when I left the ticket office, but told myself this is how it always feels, and once I am on my way it will work out.

I really should stay either a few more days in Sapa, or take a few days in Hanoi. It’s just that I don’t like to do more than one thing a trip. And then there is the problem of taking cold weather, trekking clothes to Sapa, which will not be appropriate for Hanoi. Once again, the whole by-yourself-luggage hassle. Not to mention the freeze factor.

Lately, in HCMC, it has been 100ºF, (37ºC), and it stays toasty all night. Sapa might get up to 60ºF, (16ºC), during the day, and around 53ºF, (12ºC), or lower at night. That is a drastic climate change. And I do believe that it is 6000 ft elevation, so not only will I be experiencing hypothermia, but I will get altitude sickness. And no, I do not have the right clothing, but will make due. One friend told me not to worry, that they had the fireplaces roaring in the hotel. I simply can not, as I sit here drenched in sweat at 10pm, even imagine being cold, let alone cold enough for a fireplace.

But look on the bright side, I say to myself. I think there is still a bit left of that solar eclipse going on, somewhere in the world. Mercury is out of retrograde. I will pull out my tarot cards to make sure all the forces are in alignment, and if I had any incense, I’d burn it.

Best reason of all that I have to go is that I need new photographs. I have been reduced to this latest, which is another neighborhood shot. I refer to it as the Wisteria Lane/Stepford/Hollywood- back-lot, section of the burb.

If I don’t find anything to write about before I take off, you’ll hear from me in about a week.