Saturday, 25 January 2014

Winding mountain lanes of Northern Vietnam: A Photo Story

Bullet Points:

- We cycled north out of Hanoi eight days ago
- We have cycled on small roads through the mountain country of the far northern provinces of Vietnam: Thai Nguyen, Bac Can, Cao Bang and Ha Giang.
- We are now in Ha Giang town, and will head west towards Sapa and Dien Bien Phu.


Day Two and the quiet lanes begin

Every morning for breakfast we buy "banh me trung" (egg in bread) from a roadside stall

Babe Lake, Babe National Park

Ollie fixes a rare puncture under audience pressure

Our shortcut becomes a beautiful dirt lane

A clear blue day in the mountains

New friends who watch us as we munch our morning tea

They load the buses hard! They offered to take us, but we thought riding looked more comfortable!

A winding route through the karst land

Big climbs with big views

Morning market vendors, Bao Lac.

Market day, Ma Na Phong, Bao Lac

Brighter than your Kiwi motorbiking outfit

Village, Bao Lac - Meo Vac road

Carrying loads, Meo Vac

Company for the beginning of the ascent up Ma Pi Leng Pass

Climbing Ma Pi Leng

Climbing Ma Pi Leng

Some pretty tough people have made these rugged mountains their homes

Descending to Dong Van

River riding on the Yen Minh - Quan Ba road

Bright warmth again as we descend Quan Ba Pass

Saturday, 18 January 2014


Bullet Points

-On January 9th we flew from Barcelona to Hanoi.
-After an awesome week with my sister Monica in Hanoi we have departed to cycle around Northern Vietnam and in 2-3 weeks plan to cross the border into Northern Laos.


In a bizarre change of direction and continent we touched down in Hanoi, Vietnam, a long way and a far cry from Barcelona. We felt victorious after nearly 48 hours of connecting metros, trains, buses and flights, and must say a huge thank you to Adela, our friend in Spain, for helping us through the logistical challenge of carrying our boxed up bikes to the airport.

Within five minutes of arriving at our hostel in the old quarter of Hanoi my sister Monica appeared outside the front door, our rendezvous a highly anticipated occasion. Anna and I had seen no family, in fact nobody at all that we knew previously, since leaving NZ on April 8th. Monica’s been living and working in Hanoi since early November, being a ‘local’ she has come to know her way around pretty darn well. She’s also a little bundle of energy and enthusiasm and the three of us have had an amazing week together. We’re feeling very lucky!

With a population of around 7-8 million Hanoi is a lively place to visit and has a cheerful vibe about it. The air is undeniably heavily polluted, but on the flip side the city is blessed with a myriad of cute little lakes and parks, and in a great piece of town planning many of it’s streets are lined with rows of great leafy trees growing over to form long archways of greenery. The streets that we experienced were kept surprisingly clean and amazingly free of the funky smells you might expect with such a density of population!

Our week has consisted of buzzing through the crowded streets, following Mon on our bikes, amidst the sea of motorbikes, moving from one great eatery to another, sampling a great range of delicious Vietnamese foods, and chatting over a great range of topics. We’ve also loved just watching life go on by, so many curious and entertaining things I’ve not seen before. Things like enmasse exercises, aerobics and dancing in the park, young boys trying to repair Anna’s jandals as she walks, babies squeezed between parents on motorbikes, crashed U.S. war planes in stagnant lakes, a whole city curfew at 11pm, and themed streets where all shops sell identical products. Space feels like it’s in short supply in Hanoi, for the first time ever we were regularly charge a small fee to park our bikes, most restaurants had chairs and tables the size of pre-school kids furniture, footpaths were so filled with eateries and vendors that anybody walking is forced to brave the road. Road traffic spills over onto the footpaths and foot traffic spills onto the road! We’ve loved it. The week has been an extremely precious time and Mon has given us a very good initiation to the country. Massive thanks Mons!! After seven days of fun today it was time load up the bikes again, to leave the nest and venture forth! To North Vietnam we have embarked and by the sounds of it some very hilly adventures await us.


Thursday, 2 January 2014


Bullet points:
- We cycled from Tafraout west to Plage Aglou and Mirleft on the Atlantic Coast.
- We enjoyed some time and New Years festivities there.
- We now catch a bus north to Tanger, catch the ferry to Barcelona, and fly from there to Hanoi.
- We will spend time in Hanoi with Ollie's sister Monica, then spend about ten weeks cycling south through Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, before flying home to NZ on the 25th March.

Along the last 11km

How does one ride the last 11km to the Atlantic? The last 11km to the attaining of their goal? For 9 months we have been riding and there has always been land out there to the west to be explored. For a long time our initial plan of riding to Istanbul and a vague “beyond” had evolved into a type of “coast to coast” from the Pacific to the Atlantic. A great thing to aim for, adding some direction to our sometimes rather circuitous wanderings.

And now, as I read the road sign, “Plage Aglou 11km” I know the end really is nigh, and I don’t know what I feel. I am aware of the beautiful importance of this time, and I look around me at the square pink houses and dry pale hills rolling under a bright blue sky, and I savour the place and the moment. I feel reminiscent with almost a weight of all the memories, experiences, encounters and kilometres of road stretching out behind me, a snail’s silvery trail through the land and a forever blazed trail in my own heart. And alongside this I feel a little anxious, anxious that we seem in immanent danger of achieving our goal! Really a very scary thing! How does one finish a thing? How does one ride there, and arrive?

Sometimes it is more simple. Riding for Dushanbe as the finish of the Pamir Highway we had no such qualms about reaching a goal. Exhausted and drained by days spent at altitude, battling head winds, giardia, mid-40°C heat and a lack of decent food, we were hanging out for our Dushanbe finish line and we welcomed it with open arms, falling happily into its luxuries of vegies, meat, showers, fan and a couch.

Here in Morocco though, no great physical deprivations are hastening our pedal strokes in desperation towards the finish. All is very pleasant and very good. No, this is a different kind of finish. We finish here, now, because it is the time to finish; we have chosen a place, and drawn a line in the sand as they say, and now boldly we must claim this finish although we cannot fully comprehend it. “Sad, sad!” I hear the voice of the free spirit inside me, “Let no lines form your movements, don’t be hampered by such chains, even of your own making. Drift along all the winding roads that entice you!” But there are other voices I have chosen to listen to, and I choose them again. Voices telling me that to recognize “enough” is important, and that reaching always for more of a good thing is not always the best way to enjoy a good thing.

However, I probably need to stop here, as I can anticipate the odd chuckle from some of you at me philosophizing on these topics. As the practical among you may be considering, our “line in the sand” is quite literally a line in the sand, the sand of the coast where the land runs out, so our finishing here may seem to be more of a necessity enforced by the laws of geography than a humble and grateful claiming of “enough!”. Others may very rightly point out that we are travelling on even beyond this line in the sand, heading to South East Asia for ten more weeks cycling before we really head home, and may question just which of those inner voices I’m actually following! This would all be quite justified, and I venture no defence.

I only say that for us this is a finish. It is the finish of a wonderful and extended period of journeying, and that the reaching of this point has brought us both expected and unexpected feelings and discoveries. Finishing is a strange thing, and achieving goals can be scary as well as glorious. So we are toasting is with CocaColas and kofta sandwiches, burying our toes in the wet shining sand, taking photos, writing thoughts, and holding each other close, in the trust that in time we will make sense of it all, but for now our job is to live it. 


Finishing celebrations

Reaching the goal of the Atlantic Ocean we did miss having friends and family to share this with (in the flesh I mean; we treasure your lovely and fun emails!). But like so many times on our trip, we have again been treated by wonderful people meeting us at the right time, welcoming us, offering kindness and enrichening our time greatly. 

Reaching the Atlantic!!!!

Alain met us as we were trying to photograph ourselves by the "Plage Aglou" sign, took a much better photograph and in an enthusiastic whirlwind of gestures and excited French, dragged us to where he and his wife Madeleine were camping and set us up in the spot beside him, gave us their deckchairs and table, and kept checking with a huge smile and thumbs up to see that we were relaxing and enjoying our well earned rest! Madeleine, with a bit more English, asked us question about our travels, and pulled out her world map to track it, with all the wonderfully heart/ego warming exclamations to go with it! 

Enjoying the table and chairs from our kind neighbours at Plage Aglou. Somehow we missed getting a photo of them

New Years Eve we were in another campervan park in Mirleft, with some spuds and eggs to cook up and a bottle of Coke to celebrate (no beer of wine in the shops here!). In a lovely, natural way our Danish neighbours Karl, Hanna and their son Aster had us join them first for wine, then smoked salmon, an apple-fed pork dish and later champagne, all totally top class food they had brought down from their home. They own a resturant on a small Danish Island, where they treat guests to fine local organic foods, and going by the taste we got of their cuisine and their hospitality, I think it must be a wonderful place! We had a lovely New Years with them, enjoying talking over aspects of our journey and our homeland, and hearing about their home and country. Interesting stuff!

Hanna, Aster, Karl and I ushering in 2014

Then third and finally, Elizabeth and her husband Chris met us in the local shop, and asked questions that we were happy to answer about where we'd cycled from, followed up by handshakes and warm "congratulations"! They have been living in Rabat, Morocco for two and a half years, where Chris works at the American Embassy, Elizabeth teaches English and their youngest son attends school. They invited us for a New Year's breakfast at their holiday spot, and we spent a lovely time eating the most wonderful fruit salad, yoghurt, homemade muesli, toasted bread, chorizo, eggs, guacamole and orange juice! What a treat for us! So interesting to hear of their experiences in the foreign service, mobile around the world in a much more long-term way than us. We loved the warm and relaxed company of them and their two sons, it was lovely to be with a family like this.

Beginning 2014 with a breakfast for kings and queens!

A better photo with our new friends Chris, Andrew, Peter, Elizabeth and us

Dropping two small shells from Aramoana Beach, Pacific Ocean into the Atlantic. We have carried a bag of these shells with us on our journey, and given a number as thank you tokens from our homeland to people along the way.