A Chautauqua About Elephants Falling

If the strong tasty coffee we had at the hotel didn’t wake me up, the motorcycle’s growls on the rugged road and the wind on my face sure did. After about thirty minutes of driving out of town we stopped at a rose farm, where we got off the bikes and Nip told us about his life, and life in general. Nip had a strong roaring voice like his bike and he spoke passionately, with extreme facial expressions and wide gestures. Quan on the other hand didn’t have good English, so he talked flatly as he’s spreading syllables while he’s thinking about the next word. Nip spoke about the American war, the one we’re calling “Vietnam War”, and said they are a communist country since but it’s a matter of a generation or two before they become capitalist since that’s what the people reallt want. “Communist here” he said and pointed at his head, and then put his hand on his chest and whispered “But capitalist here”. He pointed at the flowers surrounding us and said that poor people care more about having food and clothing than to give flowers to their wives, and then told that his two sons are learning engineering and one of them wants to move to Hồ Chí Minh City and his wife is always crying because of that.

Afterwards we stopped by a large coffee farm with a field of tall coffee bushes and a pen next to it full of weasels, who cuddled together in a furry pile inside wooden rooms. When we approached they took out their tiny noses and sniffed the air, and went back to sleep. By the pen stood a few tables with the coffee beans after they went through the weasel’s stomachs, got cleaned and dried. Wooden steps led to a second floor, where they had a store and a cafe that served the fancy weasels coffee. Roni ordered for himself a cup of Moca beans coffee and I chose the Robusta, and we sat to drink it in front of the view of the farm. Each cup costs about 2-3 Dollars, which is five times more expensive than a regular one, and the coffee has a strong fresh flavour.

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The next stop was at a silk factory, where only women work. First we got into the room where they keep the hungry caterpillars and cocoons on a bed of strawberry leafs. On a second, larger room, there were big containers full of hot water and the miserable cocoons inside, each one with a fine string attached to some sort of loom. They showed us two kinds of cocoons – with one caterpillar or with two, which are called “Romeo and Juliet”. On one of the walls different kinds of silk sheets were hanged. At the end they fry the dead caterpillars with loads of lemon grass, a popular snack. It has a strong flavour of lemon grass and it’s crispy on the outside and mushy on the inside, and pretty tasty once you forget it’s a bug.

From there we went to the Elephant Falls, a big stormy waterfall. The bikers waited for us as we went down some stairs which led to a bridge, that led to more stairs. As we went down the air got cooler and the vegetation thicker, and the ground damp and slippery. We carefully climbed the rocks, passed some lizards and huge spiders and when we almost got to the best lookout point of the waterfall I flinched and couldn’t move forward because I was afraid of slipping on the wet rocks. A couple of Australian pensioners passed by, the man with a moustache and the woman with white hair tied in two ponytails, and the man helped me move on. It really was a great lookout, right by the point where the stormy waterfall meets the river and sprays water drops. We stayed there for a while to look at the river and the people around. Next to us a few women sat with fancy dresses on the muddy tree trunks for a strange fashion shoot, and a large group of Chinese tourists walked behind us. When they got closer we cleared the view-point for them and climbed back up. Next to where the bikers waited we met the Australian couple again, and they told us they loved traveling and mountain climbing.

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Before lunch we made a little stop at a Buddhist pagoda, a beautiful and quiet place. Nip told us about the monk’s lifestyle, different customs such as shaving their heads and chores they need to do during their trainings, and just as he said they eat only one meal each day my stomach began to growl and we went to eat. We stopped at a roadside restaurant where many trucks were parked, and Nip said that parking trucks are a sign for a good place. They ordered to the table chicken, pork, boar, fish, rice and morning-glory. We kept sitting there with the beers and talked for a while after we finished eating. I looked at a tall blonde woman who sat with another Easy Rider.

After eating we deviated from the highway to a dirt road that let into a small local farm. Some animals greeted us – aside of chickens and geese, a small dog ran towards us barking and growling but was too scared to get close. A few kittens were hidden inside a pile of bags with pig’s food and played with their tiny tails peeking out, and a nursing cat slept on top of the pile. A young piglet escaped into a pen with muddy ground and clumsily climbed into its cage, where it felt safe. The adult pigs woke up from their nap and got up heavily, sticking their curious snouts between the fences. Quan led us into a room where the family makes strong rice-wine and then move it into jars with conserved snakes. The room was loaded with big dark containers with flies buzzing around, full of liquid with a strong smell of yeasts. We said goodbye to the big family, and they gave us some of the rice-wine in a plastic bottle.

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Close to the farm there was a village, where most of the people and animals have already retired for their afternoon nap. We walked with Nip and Quan on the main street while they told us it was a Matriarchal village, where the women are dominant. At the end of the street stood a wooden house and a few women sat at the porch, their limbs spread comfortably as they’re chain-smoking, a habit that is usually maintained by the Vietnamese men. In the center sat a middle-aged woman who looked at us confidently and greeted us. A young toddler, the only male creature around, bursted crying and the women laughed, and told us he’s never seen Western people before. The mature woman, the alpha female, talked in Vietnamese and Nip translated. The men go to work and the women take care of the children, which creates a strong female community and the kids get their mother’s last names. It was a Sunday and the Catholic village had the quiet and sleepy vibe of a holiday. As the woman spoke she made more eye contact with me than with Roni, Nip or Quan. We said goodbye and went back to the roads.

During the long consecutive ride that came after visiting the village my mind wandered, to our country, to coming back home, to the future. I thought about a job Roni and I were offered when we get back home, an offer that was too perfect to be real. I imagined how I was going to do the job on the best side, without fear, being the best I could be. I ran it in my mind, like a movie, the day we will finish the trip with its beaches and roads and the wind in the hair, and on Sunday we will go to our new office for the very first time and work. And on the next day, and on the next one. But we will do something amazing, move forward, make money. And we will have an orginized schedule, with normal hours and weekends off and vacations in the holidays, unlike the jobs we used to have until than. And we couldn’t go to the beach on the quiet mornings during week days, but that’s fine, we will go on Saturday afternoon, when everybody else is going, and it’s not too bad since we’ll be satisfied of our job. There will be Winter days in the office, we will leave when it’s dark outside and work sitting above a table. The bike went through convoluted roads between the mountains and fear began to seep in, so I stopped thinking about it and thought instead about a dream I had one day, that a girl I knew has a large tattoo of a white elephant on her arm.

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We stopped for cold coffee at a tiny stop on the sides of the road where a young woman worked. She sat with me and said she’d learned English and wants to be a teacher, but there’s no demand for that. We stopped again on top of a high bridge stretching above a river, with houses floating on it, like in Hạ Long Bay. During the rainy season the river rises so the houses almost reach at the bridge. Nip said they once made a trip with some young Israelis guys that were after their military service, and they jumped into the river with a perfect dive. They served in a dangerous secret unit  in the navy where they learned how to jump into water from heights without being hurt – from the description I understood they were fleet forces. I wanted to say I was in the navy as well, but didn’t feel like thinking about the long days in the office back than so I kept quiet and watched the floating houses.

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The skies went dark and heavy rain began to fall as we arrived at a town and went into a tiny motel with heavy wooden furniture. Quan spoke to the owner and got the keys, and we settled in our rooms. I found out I forgot my phone on the sofa at the lobby in Đà Lạt when we had our morning coffee, but when Roni connected to the wi-fi we saw that Hien from the hotel contacted him via Facebook to ask where we’re going to stay in Hồ Chí Minh and send my phone there. It was nice to be phone-less. We showered, put our wet shoes under the air conditioner and chatted with the woman who offered us the job back home. We went outside to find a place to have tea at. It was utter darkness outside except for a tiny spot lit in yellow – some sort of shop, or a kiosk, or a cafe, where a few plastic chairs were spread. We sat there as the tall blonde woman we saw earlier at the restaurant tried to buy cigarettes and the people around laughed, since they were not used to women smoking, or blonde people, or tall people. Quan and Nip met us there and took us to a restaurant, that aside of the cafe was the only place that showed signs of life. We had a big satisfactory meal of noodles with bamboo leafs and vegetables, fresh vegetables, and duck stew. Together with the beer we ordered, Quan asked for four small glasses to which he poured the rice-wine we got at noon from that family. We sat there for a long while and talked, and drank from the strong wine. When we ordered some more food Roni, that used to be a cook before the trip, asked to look at the kitchen and the way the lady who owns the place makes the food. Lizards bustled around us and stray dogs nibbled on the bones on the floor, and I thought that I might miss working in restaurants. We payed and walked back to the motel, where I stayed up for a while to write about the long day.

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Taking Off, Again

I walked alone and listened to music, and tried to find the Crazy House – a place I saw marked on the map they gave us at the hotel, but didn’t really know what it was. I found the place after looking for it for a long time in a maze of small streets and alleys. At the entrance some Russian tourists stood and local women sold merchandise and strawberries. I bought a ticket for 40,000 Dong (about a Dollar and a half) and entered. It was lovely inside, special and different, like being in a Doctor Seuss’s book. It’s some kind of a museum that functions as a hotel as well, built of a few buildings with lots of steep staircases leading into and out of strange rooms. There are small cosy bedrooms looking as if they’ve been carved out of rocks or tree trunks. Hidden at the bottom floor of a building, there’s a lobby and a living room with wooden furniture and maps on the walls, a funny gift shop is concealed somewhere, and amongst the buildings there are yards with sculptures and hidden places, ladders, low porches. If you go high enough some of the staircases are becoming bridges that go over the whole Crazy House and whole Đà Lạt and you can see the rooftops of the small colorful houses.

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I went downstairs, where there was a small kiosk, and bought passionfruit juice. I sat with my book by a lake, while toads cackled with their gruff voices and groups of tadpoles swam in the water. When I finished the chapter I walked around some more – I looked at a big cage where different species of fat doves napped on the branches of a tree. As the skies got cloudy again I walked back to the hotel, where Roni was already waiting. Rain began falling outside and after we showered we sat on the bed and watched “The Social Network” that I somehow managed to download to my phone, and by evening, as the rain stopped, we went for dinner. We sat at one of the places where you get a small grill to the table and order skewers to roast on it, ate fresh meats and drank beer. Heavy rain was falling again, and when it weakened we quickly went back to the hotel. It was cold and we cuddled in the bed, and continued watching the movie until we fell asleep.

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In the morning we ate soup with mushrooms for breakfast. At the table near us a woman with a Chinese look and an American accent tried Vietnamese coffee for the first time and admired its chocolate flavour. After eating we went to the market again to find me some shoes. At the hotel’s entrance there was a place to put your shoes at, and in one of the days my sandals just disappeared from there. On the second floor of the market there was an area with only different kinds of shoe shops, from practical ones for work to fancy ones, and I found flat colorful canvas shoes which I liked immediately. I still have them in my closet and they’re starting to fall apart, but I can’t throw them yet because they remind me of Đà Lạt.

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For lunch we ate again at the small restaurant a meal of meat and rice, and then went to the Crazy House because I wanted Roni to see it too. I was glad to go back because everything was so cute and strange, and Roni liked it as well. Meanwhile evening came slowly. It was our last day in Đà Lạt and I was a bit sad to leave – the sweet homey hotel, Hien the receptionist, the chill city. We had dinner at a place similar to the night before, with a small grill served to the table, and for the first time I tried a roasted chicken leg. It was nice but poor with meat and with lots of bones. A local mother sat next to us with two little girls who were scared of the grill’s red sparks.

We moved from there to the night market, which was closed to cars and very busy with people and vendors. At the central square stood two people with huge costumes of a Minion and Hello-Kitty, and some teenagers pushed them to make them fall down. We walked around a little, Roni got himself a pair of shoes, and then we had ice-cream at a small cafe. We went back, organized our backpacks and went to sleep.

We got up at seven AM, got dressed quickly and went downstairs for check-out. We sat with Hien for a breakfast of rice leaves rolled with meat, and coffee. Her cute sister joined us too but her English wasn’t so good so she mostly smiled in silence. A rough rolling sound broke the silence – Nip and Quan, the motorcyclists, parked their heavy motorcycles outside. As we loaded our things on the bikes Hien gave Roni and I scarves as a gift to cover our mouths and noses during the rife. Roni went on the bike behind Nip, a middle-aged man with a smile and a moustache, and I sat behind Quan, a quiet man with moon-face that seemed age-less even though he must be over 60. The motor ignited and rumbled beneath us as we made our way in the heavy morning traffic. After we passed by the central square we catched up with Nip and Roni, who disappeared in the distance for a while. The bike accelerated and the wind began blowing through the hair as we left the city, towards another journey.

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Flowers, Snails and Raindrops

On the two and a half days Quoc and Giang were in Đà Lạt they took us to resturants, cafes and bars we would never have found on our own. It made me grateful again about the decision to leave the fancy hotel in Nha Trang and move to their cute one.
On the first evening they left us a note at the hotel’s reception saying they’ve booked a cab to come pick us up at eight and take us to their favorite place. The cab took us to the front of a big loud resturant where they waited for us, and after we got inside and sat they ordered for all four of us a big comforting hot-pot, some soup that comes in a big bowl at the center of the table together with vegetables and meats you can cook inside, and everybody share it. I told them we’ve seen people eating snails but never tried it ourselves, so they ordered a dish for us to try. Aside of the snail itself the shells were filled with chopped pork, and were served with a stem of lemon-grass so you could pull out the shell’s content with it. The snail itself had a texture similar to calamari and a very gentle flavour I could hardly feel, because it was blended with the strong tastes of the pork and lemon-grass. When we sat they told us they have a three years old daughter back home named Sushi, since they like sushi. Quoc tattooed her name on one of his fingers.

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After dinner we went together towards the market. The hotel itself is inside an alley and outside of it there’s a small lake, followed by a steep hill leading to the central square ot the market, a building with four or five floors. We went to a cafe in the area called Windmills and went up to the second floor, where there was a porch viewing the square. Roni and I had tea and Quoc and Giang had green matcha-based coffee drinks, and together we shared a tiramisu and another cake with cheese and berries. We talked about the hotel in Nha Trang. Quoc confessed that when he got our booking and saw we were from Israel he was nervous because they had a bad experience with Israelies before, and asked the receptionist to be extra nice so we won’t have reasons to complain. We said we are aware of it that Israelies can be rude when traveling, and some hotels in the world won’t accept us at all. They told us about customers from different countries they’ve had who complained about strange things, such us not having an elevator even though they knew that when they booked the room, or the place not being fancy enogh, while the price is super cheap. It’s nice you can give a review on Trip Advisor or Yelp, but it can hurt small independent places when people give low ratings for nothing. I said I always check the most negative reviews to see if they are legitimate or just petty.

We really liked the huge marketplace and the area around it. To get there you go down some stairs and reach at the big square with a grass plot in the middle, and lots of resturants and cafes around it. From there you can turn right to a big street where dozens of modern and traditional resturants are under the open skies, together with stalls of jewelries, various hand-made items, souvenirs. Behind the square stands the crowded market building burdened with shoes, clothes, make-up, groceries. Around the building there are more stalls, the merchandise lays right on a rug on the floor in some. From one of the top floors there is another exit to a different, higher street – since the city is so mountainous, it’s built with different levels. In the evening lights are turned on in the square and to the thick crowd thats already there more families are added, dogs, children, young honeymooners, vendors who sells unnecessary items.

On the second day Quoc and Giang took us for lunch at a tiny resturant near the market with two crowded floors and a big grill outside, where we had a delicious meal of rice with grilled meat and small bowls of soup on the side. We went from there for coffee and ice-cream at another place. It began raining heavily, so we sat there for a while and looked at the raindrops from inside. Quoc and Giang are the kind of people you can talk with for hours about anything, and you can also not talk at all.

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In the evening Roni and I walked around by ourselves. We sat at a cafe by the hotel and talked with some friends back home, walked slowly towards the market and stopped for a nice comforting bún bò, and at 8 thirty we met Quoc and Giang for beer. There were some hostels around with young loud American tourists who sat in nearby pubs, and Giang said that Western tourists always seem to her excited and full of energy. Their stories about the Israelies they’ve met before, and tourists from other countries, made me wonder for the millionth time how we are being perceived in this country, and how tourists see Israel.

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In the morning we sat on the colorful couch in the hotel’s loby and had breakfast with Hien, the receptionist we’ve met on the first day. We said goodbye to Quoc and Giang who went back home to Nha-Trang, and went for a walk outside. We walked slowly to the flowers garden – a park that is an attraction in Đà Lạt, which is famous for its flowers and greenhouses. We walked lazily, looking at stores here and there, and got inside a pagoda we’ve seen on the way that was very peacfull and quiet. We almost arrived at a big central lake when a middle-aged man with a blue Eazy Riders jacket approached us and began chatting. He was very welcoming and nice and we were planning to have another motorcycles trip to the next destination anyway, so we walked with him to his office, where we had tea with him and his partner and planned a three days trip and then a bus to Hồ Chí Minh City. They told us that it’s a low season for them since there aren’t many tourists so they lower their prices – they are Buddhist and believe in Karma. What goes around comes around. We took their details, shook hand and went on walking by the lake. We walked on a big grass plot, stopped where two well groomed horses stood and bought a bag of sweet popcorn for snack. The skies got darker and it looked like it was about to rain, so we decided to go back towards the market and visit the flower garden on another day. We arrived at one of the resturants on the market’s square and sat under a big shade right when pouring rain began to fall, and had a spicy Phở bò. A lazy cat took a nap on my bag and covered with my scarf.

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When we finished eating we ran in the rain to the covered part of the market and stayed there until the rain stopped, and went back towrds the hotel with the thunders still roaring in the distance. At the evening we went again and had peach-tea at a cafe with a gentle smell of coffee and cigarettes. We wanted to have dinner at that tiny resturant where Quoc and Giang took us but they were closing so Roni said we should get some pizza, something that suddenly we both had a craving for. We ate at a great pizzeria, even though the service was a bit too official for us, and looked at drunk tourists in the street and dogs playing on the road. It was the only time during the trip when we had Western food and it was very comforting, but to be honest I loved the local food so much I hardly missed anything.

In the morning we sat again with Hien for breakfast, ate the yummy soup they served for breakfast and had coffee. Hien told us about her job and life. She chose this job because she loved meeting and talking with people from around the world, so she can practice her English and expand her horizons. Her sister works in the hotel as well but more at the back on the house, maintenance and kitchen. We asked how come the stay there is so cheap yet the hotel is so nice and clean and they serve such delicious breakfast for free, and she said that Ken, the owner of the place, believes in giving as much as possible.

It was a bright sunny day, even warm, so we decided to try our luck again and go to the flowers garden. We passed by the big lake again, where the beautiful horses stood. Poeple paddled in the water in small flamboyant boats shaped like swans. After a long walk we found the beautiful entrance, payed 60,000 Dong (about 2-3 dollars) and went inside. It was quiet, clean and very nurtured. Small pathways meandered between lawns and floral gardens where shrubs were trimmed into shapes of pitchers, kettles, tea cups. A miniature house with a roof made solely out of flowers stood by a lake and wind chimes gently chanted on its entrance, and nearby stood some bonsai trees that with a close look seemed like tiny fairy-kingdoms.

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We sat for coffee at a nice woman with a stall by the lake, and kept on walking. We saw here and there young local couples, and aside from them the place was relatively empty. We went inside a green house with dozens different species of huge orchids, where a Western women talked with the saleswoman about the cultivation of the flowers. We strolled there some more, enjoying the cool fresh air of the ground and vegetationm until the noon rain clouds apeared in the distance again so we went back to the market’s area. We had a tasty lunch at the small resturant with the grill outside, and when the rains stopped we decided to split for a while and travel by ourselves. Roni went to the market, and I put on my headphones and went to explore the city.

A Journy to Đà Lạt

We began the morning as usual with phở bò nearby the hotel and then checked-out, and sat outside with our backpacks for coffee at the lady with the wagon. Pretty quick the Easy Riders showed up – Mister Lam with flames painted on the front of his heavy motorcycle, and Yen, with a big red motorcycle. They began loading our bags on their bikes as Quoc and his wife Giang were also getting ready for the trip, Quac with a small sports camera attached to his helmet. When we were all ready Roni and I went on the Easy Rider’s bikes – me behind Yen and Roni behind Mister Lam. The bike ignited with a load growl and we started navigating our way outside the city as Quac and Giang driving ahead of us.

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In a few minutes I got used to the motorcycle’s tremblings and its metallic feel, and leaned back on my bag that was tied behind. I took a big orange scarf with me which I bought back then from an old woman in Sapa and covered my mouth and nose with it, and a plastic part of the helmet protected my eyes. We stopped right outside the city by a small shack with a big yard where three middle-aged women sat and weaved rugs in red, yellow and green. Two of them worked on a rug as one adds more strings to the loom with a long hook and the other arranges the interwoven ones, and the third and oldest sat on the side and talked with the two others. They let Roni and I try it in turns, and we managed to slowly weave a clumsy line.

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We drove on narrow roads between fields and small houses in faded colors scattered here and there. We stopped by a rice field and took some of the tall plants growing like  wheat with small tough rice beans inside the leaves. We passed on a long shaky wooden bridge stretching above a green river. Mister Lam said that the rains start at November and the river overflows so the locals break it apart and put it together afterwards, a process that takes three months.

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We made another brief stop in another shack were some women made flat crunchy pastries made of rice and sesame, which goes great with the hot spicy food. They make some kind of a mush out of the ground seeds and pour it on a hot plate which in minutes consolidate it into some kind of a soft pancake, which they then move to a straw surface and take it outside to dry for several hours in the beating sun. Lam said they begin their work at 3 AM and finish at 1 PM, before the rains begin. Quoc and Giang were there with us as well and Giang said she hardly ever sees those rural people, because she doesn’t leave the city much.

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They took us to a workshop of a sculptor that works with wood. He lives in a tiny house with a huge yard where four barking puppies are tied. On the bare ground tools and wood chips with a strong smell of rain were scattered, and the place was full of statues in different levels of finishings. The ready sculptures were smooth and covered in wax and were mostly of fat laughing Buddhas with big earlobes – a sign for luck, long lives, riches, fertility. Other and smaller ones were of gods actually coming out of the logs, which is a part of their bodies. An impressive furniture was standing on one corner – a big tree lying on its side with bare roots, forming into a long bench, and on the other side there’s a smiling Buddha sitting, all made out of one piece. The sculptor said it’s a very expensive furniture which only rich people with a big house can afford.

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We stopped by a local village and Roni and I explored the place by foot while the bikers waited on the other side. Some curious children looked at us, and small pigs and poultry strolled around at the sides of the trail. We were accompanied by two dogs who barked at us from a safe distance, and a black puppy was playing in one of the yards. At the village’s entrance there were stalls with diagonal tables, where dozens of yellow hand-like bamboo leaves were placed.

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Outside of that village we passed by a sugar cane field and Yen chopped us small branch from one of the plants and told us to chew. It’s tough and fibrous, but after you work on it a sweet fresh juice come out. We moved on, now on open and free highways, driving much faster. I felt my feet vibrating near the motor and the scarf flapping behind me. The longer we drove, the higher the mountains around us became and the air was chiller, and the wind felt like tiny tinglings on the skin. It was freshening to finally feel a cool breeze after weeks on the humid shoreline.

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After about 45 minutes of consecutive ride we stopped on a bridge towering above a big waterfall, and went off the bikes. Aside from us there were only a couple of locals with big straw hats. We walked across the bridge until we reached at a small path with lots of stingy vegetation, and after we passed it and climbed over some black rocks we found the chill waterfall. We dipped our hands and feet in the freezing water. It was dead silence there, the plants absorbed every little rustle from the highway.

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We went back to the motorcycles and started climbing over the mountains. White clouds cruised around us like steam, sliding amongst the mountains and covering us here and there. The skies got darker and it began raining – light at first and then fast and heavily, the raindrops stinging like hailstones because of the bike’s speed. We stopped by the side of the road to cover our backpacks and wear some sort of blue plastic overalls that protect from the rain, and moved on. We reached at a tiny village in the middle of nowhere and stopped by a wooden house with a tall straw roof, and went up inside with a small ladder. It was empty aside of a few long wooden benches. Mister Lam said this was where the locals gather up for discussions or special occasions, and such a building is a sign of a strong community. There were similar buildings nearby, their roofs not as tall, and the only living soul around was a chicken picking in the moist ground with its chicks hiding between its legs.

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it was noon and we were getting hungry. We stopped at a small place on the sides of the road where a local woman served rice with fried pork and small bowls of soup, and sliced persimmon for dessert. We gave the bones to a pregnant cat who was meowing under the table and moved on. We passed by a strawberries farm and tasted the fruits straight from the ground. We talked with the farmer, a laughing bearded man, who said he was also growing potatoes and persimmons. Not far from there we stopped again at a coffee farm and tried the red coffee beans – they grow on bushes, like berries. The bikers told us that the coffee came with the French who saw Vietnam has the optimal conditions for growing it, and before that they used to drink only tea. They said there are some kind of squirrels (later on it turned out they meant weasels) that eat the beans and then take them out whole, and it’s used to make high quality coffee because of a chemical process the beans go through in their stomach. Light rain was falling and somehow the conversation rolled onto our country, and we tried to explain them the Israeli – Palestinian conflict in simple words, a thing we do not really understand ourselves.

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Towards the late noon we arrived at the city, which was surrounded with greenhouses and homes in various colors. We stopped at a colorful pagoda which was heavily decorated with loads of sculptures of flowers and small animals, and walked inside. There was a small garden in the center that had a pool with big orange fish swimming in it, and statues of dragons and people with three or four faces holding swords. The place had a few temples we’ve felt a bit uncomfortable getting into, where severe women with blue clothes sat by their entrance. We went up to the second floor, where huge Buddha sculptures were placed, and wandered in there for a bit. After we explored the whole place we went downstairs and sat with our drivers, Yen and Mister Lam, for coffee while they talked about the Buddhist beliefs. Its symbol looks like a swastika but much more ancient and stands for Karma – what goes around comes around. After dying one can reincarnate as different creatures, depending on what the soul deserves basing on its actions in previous lives – animal, human, something higher than human or lower than animal. It reminded me of a book I’ve read before the trip, Life and Death are Wearing Me Out by Mo Yan, about a man who dies in his village and reincarnate as various animals until he learns his lesson.

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The last stop was an old train station, that according to what they told us all the hipsters in Vietnam go there to take artistic photos.
Eventually they took us to Ken’s House – the hotel where we stayed together with Quoc and Giang from Nha Trang. We thanked the bikers and said goodbye, and went inside. It’s a small place, very colorful and clean, with wall-to-wall carpets in every room and a worm homey feeling which fits well in the cold city on the mountains. We checked-in with Hien, a beautiful receptionist who said her name means “Gentle”, and after taking off our shoes and leaving them in a cupboard by the entrance we went up to our room. It was charming, tiny with a floral painting on one of the walls and colorful sheets. We were wet and muddy from the long ride and while we showered in turns Hien showed up by the door with a tray of tea and spring rolls, which was right on time.
We rested for a while and got ready for the evening, since we scheduled that Quoc and Giang would take us to their favorite restaurant.

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Alone in Nha Trang

I went on wandering by myself in Nha Trang. Black clouds appeared in the distance and I was getting hungry, but I had to find an ATM first. Right as it began raining I went inside a touristic restaurant with an English and Russian menu and ordered beer and spring rolls, looked at the rain from inside and read. People ran outside in attempt of avoiding the rain and some employees tried to turn on a wet grill under a shade. When I got bored I went back to the rain and muddy streets and looked at the shops. salesmen tried to speak Russian with me. Eventually I went back to the room.

 This whole time Roni was sleeping and reading – he bought The Queit American by Graham Greene at a second-hand book store back in Hội An. It was about 4 PM and the rain seemed to stop, so we took our raincaots and went outside. We had hot soup at a small booth in a wet  street corner and then got back again for a hot shower, and as evening came we went to have some beer. We sat at one of those places where you get a small grill and skewers which you fry yourself. The waitresses tapped around with miny-dresses and high heels and once in a while renewed the ice in our beer glasses, and an older woman sat on some corner and gave them comments. On the way back to the hotel we stopped for some yummy ice-cream at a cute small place, and then fell asleep while staring at the TV.

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The next morning, after having coffee, we strolled around the city with no particular aim. After we got some tea for the room at a minimarket Roni went back to the room to rest, and I was looking for something to eat. It was 11 and most places that served breakfast were already closed, and it was somewhat sad looking for food by myself while Roni is sick in the room. Eventually I got to a tiny department store with a grandma who served soup, so I sat there to eat and read Lollita. A man with a Chinese look who spoke English with a heavy Russian accent stopped by to get cigarettes, and talked with me about the book. He said that in Russia they read it in high school, which seemed strange and impressive for me since it’s such a serious and provocative story.

I walked back to the hotel. Roni was sleeping and I sat on the bed and wrote a strange dream about the army I had that night. I fell asleep for 20 minutes and towards 1 PM I woke Roni up and we went to sit on the shore. The waves were huge, and I was feeling a bit blue because I worried for Roni who still felt pretty bad.

Afterwards, back in the hotel, we talked with Quoc about the Easy Riders – a national company of motorcyclists who arrange trips, mostly in the center and South, and you can ride with them on their motorcycles or join with your own. Quoc called his friend, Mister Lam, who arrived in a few minutes and sat with us to plan a day trip to Đà Lạt. Quac said he and his wife might join us and go on a vacation in Đà Lạt, and recommended on a hotel over there. We walked outside for dinner a bit faraway from the hotel, at a buzzing and crowded place that served meats with rice and beer. Just as a bunch of ten grumpy Chinese sat a pouring rain began to fall, and in mere minutes the restaurant – which was completely open under the night sky – shut down as if it was never open. It happened as we were finishing so we paid and waited under a shade together with the rest of the people, and as the rain weakened we went back to the room.

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The next day Roni was feeling much better. We had phở bò for breakfast at a small place where a young woman fried fat worms in lemon-grass and snacked on them like nuts, and after coffee we went to the beach. It was sunny outside but not too hot and the sea was blue and clear, and we spent a few chill hours there, swimming, walking on the shore, drinking fresh coconut juice. Back in the room we showered and napped for an hour, and by three thirty went for another coffee and lunch of soup and rice with meat, morning-glory and loads of ginger. Afterwards we sat at a cafe for spicy ginger-tea and booked that hotel in Đà Lạt Quoc talked about, and talked about what was left back home – memories of us being students together, the jobs we left, friends.

Roni felt weak again so we went back to the room and he fell asleep, and around 7 I went for a walk by myself. I walked on the boardwalk and got into an embroidery gallery, which was beautiful with a small garden where a few women sat and weaved and local music was played. I walked in the rooms and looked at pictures made solely out of threads, some huge and realistic, very impressive. I walked out and kept on wandering around the city, in places we haven’t seen before and didn’t show up on the small map they gave us in the hotel. I looked for a place to sit by myself. Eventually I went into a bar called First Contact, that was a bit empty but had a nice vibe, and ordered crab-soup and a drink they served of vodka with apples. I sat with my book and when I got bored I paid and went back outside. I didn’t really know where I was so I walked around until I saw familiar buildings again. There was a big fight in the street – a small dog was bugging a man so he tried to beat it up with a sandal, and another woman went out of a house and held him so he wouldn’t hit the dog, which seemed amused. There were many yellings and people got involved and separated them. The man left angry with his wife, leaving one sandal on the road behind him and walking with one bare foot. I bought hot corn for Roni at a small booth with a vendor who talked Russian with me even though I knew some basic Vietnamese, and went back to the room. I woke Roni up and we sat in front of the TV as he ate the corn, and then went to sleep.

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Endless Blue

 We got up early in the morning and had phở bò at a street restaurant for breakfast, and came back for coffee at a woman with a small wagon under the hotel. By nine thirty the tour guide came and led us to the van, which was already full with Asian and Australian tourists, and we drove towards the port. The ride was short and pretty quickly we got to a pier with lots of small motor boats and a huge cable railway stretching above the port’s buildings and cranes towards distant mountains. The guide, who said his name was Tea “Like the drink”, helped us one by one to get on a small boat with charts of sea creatures. We put on the life vests while Tea went through safety instructions and asked the Asian tourists if they can swim – apparently people from that side of the world do not swim. After about thirty minutes we came by shallow rocky water and got inside with the fins and snorkels we got earlier.

The first touch with the water was amazing and scary. I kept trying to rearrange my diving mask since water came through the left lens and driped into the nose, but I just lost balance and swallowed lots of water. I swam to a rock I could stand on and tried again. I was curious and determined to dive but water kept seeping through the mask, so I swam back to the boat and Tea threw me another one which was better.
I swam alone in the silence, hearing only my breath underwater through the snorkel. I found Roni and we swam holding hands, showing each other the colorful fish – some huge and peaceful and some tiny with bright colors, hiding amongst the corals.

When it was time to get back we swam back to the boat’s ladder and went up, comparing the marks the diving masks left on our foreheads. We sailed by big cliffs with small green houses built on, while Tea talked about the environment and about the birds who build their nests on the tall cliffs. A few minutes later we stopped where the water were about 20 meters deep, and we got an hour to dive there.

When I got my head underwater I found myself lost in a blue void, only my fins floating in the nothingness and sunlight cutting through the water like huge drapes. I moved forward towards some rocks Tea pointed at, starting to see small fish and corals peeking out of the blue. Eventually I reached at a big rock that was peeking out of the water and big colorful fish were grazing on it. I was a bit lost, not seeing Roni or recognizing anyone else around. A huge red starfish was glued to a rock deep down, and scuba divers swam inside the tunnels the rocks created. I had to stop to rearrange my diving mask and catch my breath a little, so I found a relatively stable rock to rest on. I’ve felt small itches on the skin here and there, probably because of small jellyfish, and a slight headache from the pressure the mask created, but it was so beautiful there and I wanted to keep swimming with the fish forever. Eventually I heard Tea calling everyone somewhere in the distance and saw the girls who could not swim with their bright orange floats returning to the boat, so I began swimming again into the blue void, losing myself from time to time, until I reached at the boat and went up dizzy and tired.

I sat next to Roni, who returned earlier to the boat, and we exchanged stories. Tea began breaking apart the wooden benches we sat on so they turned into one long table with benches on both sides. Roni and I sat next to a family of Australians, who began a conversation. While Tea and another man spread different kinds of food on the table an Australian girl told us that they’ve been traveling in Vietnam for three weeks and been in Hội An and Saigon, and they will also go to Bangkok for a week. The children have already been in seven different countries, and were very open and self-assured. The girl told me that she’d learned that the Vietnamese do not like the Russian tourists that get food at groceries stores and eat it in the hotel instead of eating outside, and said it seems funny to her to go all the way here and not try the local food. I couldn’t agree more, as I remembered the Burger-King in Bangkok and the Israeli restaurants on the Khaosan.

We ate the seafood, rice and vegetables they served us and drank beer, and Tea gave us another hour to dive where the boat stood. I was going to wait for a while and not swim right after eating, but I was so curious so I ate fast and dived again into the blue void, swimming towards some rocks. I followed some big schools of blue and yellow fish and some seahorses, among tiny yellow snake-like creature with brown spots like giraffes, and small underwater structures with lots of seashells glued on. A small blue fish scared away anyone around it and tried to attack my fins, but was too scared to get close to me. Once again I couldn’t see anyone and realize I was too far away from the boat as I saw it tiny in the distance, so I swam back, seeing the corals disappear again into the blue as the water got deeper. Roni waited there for me and helped me get up, and turned my mask and fins back to their place while I recovered from the long swim.

Meanwhile the long table and benches were back in their previous settings. Light rain began to fall as we sailed back to the port, eating some fresh fruits they served us. Pretty fast we arrived at the beach and went on the van that brought us back to the hotel, where we showered and fell asleep until the evening. When we woke up we went downstairs and met Quoc, who ran the hotel with his wife, Giang. He sat in the lobby with his glasses and hair that was cut into some kind of a mohawk and tied into a ponytail, and build a tiny house out of toothpicks and glue. We talked with him about the city and the trip we had that morning, and after he gave us a small umbrella we went outside to the pouring rain. We had black hot coffee and moved on to an Indian restaurant. Roni was not feeling well, and I was still exhausted and dizzy from the boat. We had a delicious lemony Caipirinha and ordered shrimp with a spicy cashew sauce and fried fish with white rice. The appetite came with the food. It was all very tasty but the sauce was too heavy and spiced for me, and I realized that perhaps I’m just not that into Indian food. We had spiced tea with milk for dessert, and went back to the hotel. Roni fell asleep immediately because he getting sick and I watched some movies on TV, still feeling the gentle swings of the boat and the blue surrounding me.

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The next day we got up at eight thirty and went to the woman with the coffee wagon under our hotel. It turned out that on the bottom of the wagon, inside a stainless steel cabinet, she had a small fire and a pan where she made noodles with meat and kale, so we ordered two of those for breakfast. From there we began walking towards the marine museum. About halfway there Roni felt bad again so we took a cab to the museum, which was very close to the port where we were the day before. We bought tickets for 30,000 Dong each (about a Dollar and a half) and got inside. We were greeted by aquariums and big pools, filled with huge fish, small sharks and sea turtles. There was also a part with seals, which looked kind of sad because it seemed too small. A group of teenagers on a field trip sat on the edge of the pool with the turtles and played with their smartphones. We passed in a dark hall with lots of blue aquariums with big colorful fish, corals, fish that look like rocks, multicolored shrips, big crabs and octopuses. From the ceiling of another hall a huge whale’s skeleton was hanged, and next to it was a smaller one in an aquarium.

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We went back to a room with sculptures of mermaids and went into another hall with aquariums filled with strange lobsters, and a pool with a sea turtle who played with an oxygen bubble stream. We went to the second floor, where there was some sort of a whole library of wooden cabinets with small jars with a yellow liquid inside where skeleton, small sea animals, corals and seashells were conserved. At the end of the room were different kinds of taxidermied seals and turtle – armors, closed in glass cages.

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We sat outside for a while a curious turtle peeked at us from time to time, and then we took a cab back to the hotel and napped for about 20 minutes. For some reason I remembered when my mom used to take me swimming when I was a toddler, and the mermaid doll I had with pink hair that I used to take to the pool and play with in the water.

Roni, who was getting really sick, stayed to rest in the hotel and I went for a walk outside. I walked along the boardwalk and listened to music, until I sat at a cafe next to a young man who did math exercises and muttered to himself. Everybody was watching a dubbed Indian film on a small TV set, and I had coffee and wrote about the last few days in my journal.