Monday, March 16, 2009

When Everything Goes Wrong But Is Still SOOO Right

The morning after the crazy night at the Viking party I was supposed to wake up at 7 to meet Jack, Defne, and Katrine in District 1 to take a bus tour up to the Cu Chi tunnels, which are 65 km from HCMC. The Cu Chi Province is where the Viet Cong dug an intricate and immense system of tunnels to both hide from the Americans and to attack them. It was essentially an entire underground city, complete with kitchens, dormitories, wells for water, hospitals, command centers, etc. 

I didn't wake up to my alarm, however woke up on my own at 8:10. The bus left at 8:15. I was angry at myself at first, then thought about my options. I already bought my ticket for the bus and tour, which cost $10 US, so I decided to try and meet them at the tunnels. I got dressed and went out to the street and hailed a Xe Om, or motorbike taxi.

I don't think that I have talked about Xe Om yet. In HCMC there are regular taxis that have meters, etc., but there are also guys that don't have jobs and sit around waiting for foreigners to walk by that they can solicit for fares. They always try and overcharge, but if you know how to bargain you can get anywhere in the city for 25,000 dong max ($1.50 US). 

I told the Xe Om where I wanted to go, and he immediately said 200,000 Dong. He was upset that I only wanted to go one way because he didn't think that he would find a fare up there that would want to come back to HCMC. But after some haggling I got him down to 80,000, and he grudgingly accepted.

It took us 2 hours to navigate through the traffic in the city and get up to the tunnels. He dropped me off at the military compound that runs the tunnel tours. I called Defne to ask her to come find me, but when she told me landmarks to look for I couldn't find them. After 10 minutes of trying to meet up I approached a soldier and asked him to help me. As it turns out, there are two places that you can get tours of the tunnels, and they are 20 km apart. I was at a different one than the others. The soldier said that the only way to get to the other tunnels was to walk, so I decided to stay at that site and take the tour by myself and figure out how to meet up with the bus later.

The tour was interesting, not because the "tunnels" that they showed us were cool (the guide took us into 10m long tunnels that were recreations of the real ones), but rather because it was interesting to hear the Vietnamese talk about the war. They showed us a movie that was in black and white and was basically 30 minutes of anti-America propaganda. They showed us the weapons and booby traps that they used against the Americans with pride. 

The tour ended, and I needed to find a way to the other site. When I tried to call Defne her phone was off, and after a few tries I gave up and decided to find a different way home. I asked the soldiers that were around how to get back to HCMC, and they didn't understand anything except for "Ho Chi Minh" and "bus". The all kept pointing in a similar direction, so I just kept walking till I got to what looked like a bus stop. I asked a shop owner where to catch the bus, and she pointed down the road a bit further. On blind faith I walked to where she pointed and waited. And waited. And waited. It wasn't unpleasant though, there were mango and durian trees all around me and a large pond with lilies and ducks in it across the street. 

I sat in the shade and ate a mango, and after 45 minutes a bus finally came. I got on and asked the bus driver if it was going to HCMC, and he said yes. This was not entirely true. We drove on a windy countryside road for 30 minutes and the whole time I was cursing the Danish guy that pushed me in the pool and destroyed my camera because it was so beautiful. There were farms next to forests and coconut, mango, lime, and durian trees lining the road. We ended up in Cu Chi city and everyone was told to get off the bus. I was confused because I thought that it was the bus to HCMC, but then the driver came up to me and told me the number of the bus I need to catch- in Vietnamese, and I understood!!! 

The second bus ride was an hour and a half and dropped me in the center of HCMC. I caught the usual bus I take home from the boys shelter and walked into the PH at 3:30. What an adventure!!! Nothing went as planned, but it turned out to be fun anyway. I really enjoyed riding the bus with all the locals, even though they looked at me funny. In the evening I caught up on my blog for 4 hours then went to bed.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you are really getting the hang of everything over there JerBear. Nice going.