Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Central Highlands

river woman

silk patterns

big bus and bridge

great elephant hunter's family

"you can xem voi here" (see elephants)



Buon Me Thuot Kick

suspension bridge

drying bamboo Separating the silk from the silk worms

Silk weaver


Duy Viet

Dalat was quite a treat situated near the highest altitudes in Vietnam we enjoyed cool temperatures and significantly less humidity. Our motorbike ride was mostly a success calculating traffic and traveling over 20km along narrow tightly winding roads. Rows of greenhouses filled with gerber daisies and roses were scattered nearly the entire way along our journey to the 30ft tall laughing buddha keeping watch over Elephant Falls set in front of lush mountains (very feng shui). We met a woman half French half Vietnamese weaving scarves and blankets made from silk acquired from the nearby factory. There you are able to see the whole process of creating the fabric from the worms to the machines that pour out patterns calculated through a primitive computer system reminiscent of the scrolls used in player pianos.

By recommendation from other travelers we made our way to the meandering alleyway of the Stop 'n' Go Cafe. Duy Viet, local poet, sculptor, caligrapher, and our host treated us to his homemade cherry tea, crowned us with flowers from his garden, and treated us to his musical talents while we enjoyed the hideaway reading his poems and quoted texts that he sells from his longtime home in the mountains. Being on the other side of the planet it was impressive to find postcards of Taos, NM artist Erin Currier's work hanging in his home complete with well wishes from the artist herself! It is a small world after all, isn't it?

I was sad to leave Dalat, but we have so much more to see so we hopped on the tourist bus to Buon Me Thuot farther north to visit the hill tribes. The tourist bus was worse than the public maybe because our driver on the single lane, badly maintained, and crazy winding roads drove like a bat out of hell nearly missing head on collisions at every turn. When we stopped in a completely dirt road town halfway through we thought it was all over. If the roads were dirt the rest of the way we surely would not have been able to hold our lunch! The stop was for restrooms and eating, but a local woman decided she wanted my bandanna and proceeded to buy me a fabric face mask that we see many of the locals wearing about to avoid fumes, dust, and maybe even smells. We made the trade and a brief but charming friendship before we left the town relieved to find the roads were once again paved just past the village.

Buon Me Thuot's bus station was quite a trek from the main town, but we made it 4km in the beating sun turning down moto and cab rides after our nauseating drive on the bus. Feeling the pressures of time we purchased flights to Danang for Monday and inquired about options for our two night stay here. We wanted to go to the village of Buon Don and visit the stilt house tribes in the area but all the guided tours were pretty far out of our price range. Unsure of how we would make it we took an easy morning with pastries and yogurt in the park nearby. Having observed many early morning groups of people in every town performing aerobic exercises we joined a small group of women in their routine clapping after every 10 count. Some of the movements were awkward and confusing, but all in all we moved our bodies in just about every way possible.

Desperate to avoid the bus experience from the previous day we saw a large orange bus filling with passengers and Julia decided to stop and inquire where they were going. The town of Buon Don! She simply asked if we could come along and within minutes we were seated in a comfortable bus full of Vietnamese business people touring the same route quoted to us by the tour companies the day before. Though we didn't understand the language of the tour translations were offered where possible by friends we met on the bus. Highlights include climbing a ladder where you held onto carved breasts, indigenous musical performances, wandering along a questionable suspended bridge, and visiting the home of a deceased elephant hunter whose secret wine recipe has been passed to his family members and made available for guests. The potent potion is said to have the strength and significance of "Viagra" according to our hosts translations. All in all a full day topped off by a haircut and highlights from Ty Anh hair salon whose small crowd of stylists would giggle and greet us in our native "hello" each time we pass.

Eager to help despite the language barrier and particularly generous outside of the most dense foreign tourist destinations, the people of this country have truly captured our hearts.

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