Mandy and Jon's Journey 2005 travel blog


{DUE TO A CORRUPTED PHOTO CD ALL PHOTOS FROM DALAT ARE CURRENTLY UNAVAILABLE - LETS ALL HOPE THAT THESE PHOTOS CAN BE RECOVERED BY SOME REALLY NICE COMPUTER NERD}

After a rambling bus ride that was cramped and warm, we stepped onto the curb to soft rain in Dalat.

Along with the Open Tour bus ticket that we purchased in Ho Chi Minh, comes a couple of less than perfect perks. The main one has to do with the hotel tour that they tack onto the conclusion of each leg. When the bus arrives in the destination city they swing by the parent tour company and pick up a hotel representative who is eager to show you the "choice" hotels in town. These hotels have all subsidized the bus ticket and the tour company so we become caught in a little forced salesmanship. We are not obligated to stay in any of the recommended hotels, but we are "encouraged." Most people already have a place in mind when they arrive, but others find it in their interest to check out every room in every hotel they show us. We recognized it as a tedious and unnecessary process and quickly decide to grab our bags from the bus and set out quickly on foot.

Dalat is a hilly (and chilly) mountain town, and with the slight drizzle we are glad to walk the streets and get the grime of the bus (and some residual dirt from HCMC) off our backs. We get a little twisted around on the narrow streets, but soon enough, with a little help from a grocery clerk, find the hotel we had in mind. They have nice room on the very top floor with sloped walls and a large window that looks onto the large window of the next building. We are finding that a six dollar hotel room gets you alot more in Vietnam than, let's say, Guatemala. Two comfy beds, a big desk and bureau, our own bathroom, and cable television. Doubly nice are the thick blankets that accompany the beds. The cold weather outside reminds us of a Maine autumn and nothing seems so nice after a miserable bus ride than a cozy nap, in the attic room with the window open, as mountain rain falls outside.

After a little snooze and warm showers we go out to see the town. Our hotel sits on the bend of a winding city street with stone pathway leading up towards the market area, or down towards the lake and local restaurants. We are on the look out for dinner, but take our time to amble up and down a few lanes before we decide. One place in particular, back closer to our hotel, looks very nice, but we hesitated to look at the menu for fear it might exceed the daily allowance. White table clothes and swan-folded napkins fool us into thinking the prices would be high, but as we steal a peak we realize the food is very reasonably priced and decide that white tableclothes or no, we can easily afford the dinner. I order the most delicious meal I've yet had, which was a pork stuffed capsicum with some peppery sweet sauce. Mandy had chicken in claypot, which is a traditional Vietnamese preparation. Both were out of this world and we were all giggles when we had fifty cent chocolate cake with ice cream for dessert and the bartender gave us two free glasses of wine after I helped him uncork a rather difficult bottle of Dalat Sauvignon Blanc.

After dinner we took a short walk in the rain and the meandered back to the hotel where we reinitiated our old habit of playing Rummy. New game (and as of this writing Jon is winning - finally).

In the morning we enjoy noodle soup breakfast (in case anyone was wondering) and then set off to find a place to write and read and pass the cold, rainy day. Our original plan was to rent some bicycles and cruise around town, but the rain made the idea unpleasant and we decide to take in the city from the inside of one of its many cafes. We throw our books, our journals, and playing cards in a bag and head of in search of a romantic cafe.

As we walk we feel invigorated by the gentle mist and the fresh air. Still there are motorbikes on the street and there is nothing to convince you that Dalat is a "clean" town, but the pace is smoother, the people friendlier, the sidewalks emptier, and the atmosphere all its own. As we get closer to the market there are more and more examples of the Vietnamese street vendor. Pho for sale, or corn roasting on a small charcoal stove. The are as many barber shops as hairdressers, and as many tailor shops as shoe shops. One store front after another sells the same selection of soda pop, razor blades, rain ponchos, toothpaste, peanut brittle, toothpicks, batteries, bottles of water (six different kinds), shampoo, pots and pans, and much more. Occasionally the book seller finds you with his or her 20 books, stacked high in one arm like sometimes you see a barman with pint glasses stacked. The flurry of activity is impressive here, but unlike HCMC, it is much less aggressive and when you smile "no", they say "maybe later" and simply smile back.

Our wandering gets us lost. And getting lost gets us wet. The gentle mountain mist turns into a downpour and before we find the cafe we're looking for we get soaked. Of couse, there's nothing we can do, and as always, as soon as the rain comes you cannot seem to locate any one of the twenty places you saw that sold ponchos. Oh well - just as the rain stops we find the Stop and Go cafe that we were looking for. It is manned and owned by a Renaissance Man named Dung Viet. He is a poet, musician, painter, gardener, and former politician. He and his wife hold the cafe as an open house and as they prepare you warm cups of delicious cherry tea they give you over books of poems to read and show you the historic guest books that date back (at least) to the 1970's. Every woman who comes in gets a flower put in her hair by the poet and Mandy was no exception. He played us a song on his guitar, which was lovely, and as we perused the poems hung all over the walls, intricately painted in curving strokes, he would read them aloud to us and clarify the words that we couldn't make out.

In this way, we spent a couple of hours and as our clothes began to dry and the weather cleared we wrote our own entry in his thick guest book and said our thanks to he and his wife. The whole town seemed to be drying off as we made our way back towards our hotel. We bought some warm bread from a young girl who had perched herself on the stair railing that overlooked the vast market below. She was so sweet and lonesome, but happy this twelve year old girl, sitting very businesslike above her over-burdened basket of bread. Even if she was to sell her whole basket, it would only have amounted to a dollar or so for her. But she seemed happy anyway, despite the rain or her vocation, despite her age or her location. She seemed content in a way that didn't fit and still doesn't if I think about it. And whether she was or not is a different story, but that she 'seemed' so is an indication of something. If anything, my explanation is that she was breathing the same air that we were that day. Nothing much of importance had happened, but still, you have those days when for no good reason you feel very positive and very content to be where you are, do what you are doing, and little - not rain or getting lost or maybe not even peddling bread - could get you down. Sometimes, and as John Prine put it so well in a song, 'in spite of ourselves' we end up sitting on rainbows for no good reason at all.



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