Da Lat, Vietnam

We got a pretty decent price on a speedboat back from the young man who owned the restaurant that we had been eating at. All in all, it only ended up costing us an extra dollar each and promised to save us two hours of our time. The ride was quick and we were pretty much the only two who chose to sit up front to feel the bounce over the crashing waves. Our inexpensive investment in speed to be paying off until we noticed the boat make a sharp turn away from the port that we were expecting to be dropped off at. We were not within walking distance of central Hoi An, so we had no choice but to pay a cab to take us back to a spot where we could buy a bus ticket to get out. In the end, we saved enough time to indulge in our own separate vices to help us cope with the long “sleeper” bus ride ahead of us. Juli had her passion fruit mousse cake and I grabbed my packet of Valium from the pharmacy, and in all honesty, I’d say that she is considerably more hooked on passion fruit and chocolate than I am on drugs that make you feel all warm and fuzzy, which is saying a lot.

Everyone waiting for our bus in front of the hotel was driven via motor taxi to the station we were to depart from. I popped a couple of my pills to avoid any absorbing any of my immediate neighborly stress and hopped on the bus before the majority of the crowd in hopes of avoiding a crowded seat in the back. Of course, my technique proved to be more harmful than helpful as I was pushed (literally) to the back of the bus once again. At least I was able to square off a seat where my feet could hang off the end and Juli was kind enough to cram in the corner next to me so I could avoid being sandwiched between two strangers who would undeniably be upset with the girth of my shoulders or something as equally involuntary.

Once Juli had fallen asleep, I began to wonder why I was not dosed into a coma, so I took a couple more of these suspect pills. Whether the pills seemed to be working or not became pretty irrelevant once we arrived at our destination after an impossibly bumpy ride through blackened landscapes of unsleepable hell. I do know that I felt absolutely terrible upon arrival, and a double dose of overly sweet Vietnamese coffee didn’t seem to help… and we were still several hours from reaching our allotted location.

Nha Trang is a popular tourist destination, same with all the other places we had been as of late, and having spent enough to on the beaches of Cham Island, we figured it was best to have a quick walk through town and catch a local bus towards the mountain town of Da Lat instead of settling for densely populated beaches that Lonely Planet recommended just a little too much for our tastes. “Lonely Planet” might as well be called “Overcrowded Tourist Resort”, because there is obviously no secret that can be kept once it’s been published in a guide that ninety percent of travelers refer to. That being said, Da Lat is simply a smaller chapter in our guide, so we were not planning to find ourselves completely off the beaten track by any means.

The bus was full, as always, and I felt a little of hope roll through me as I found that we were the only tourists occupying seats as we zig-zagged through the poorly maintained mountain roads. Elevation rose and temperature dropped before we were let off close to the center of town. The map in our guides left our intuition blind as we assumed accuracy on street names and where they would lead us. Once again, our over rated book pertaining to our situation failed us and we were left to our own methods of systematic questioning and rigorous judgement of the answers we received to find our affordable and high rated hotel. Of course, we found it eventually and checked in.

While I napped off the shitty Valium for a few hours, Juli found herself ecstatic with the realization that Da Lat was Vietnam’s main source of fresh, relatively unpasteurized milk. She finally had something to accompany her chocolate cookies. Eventually I was awoken by a “Jaredjaredjared, are you still sleeping?” and realised that it was time for me to get off my ass and explore my surroundings.

Da Lat was not filled with tourists, but definitely not void of them. At the local market, I found there to be a strange amount of people losing their face with us. This town did not seem to have the kind of kindness towards outsiders that I had anticipated. The street food still proved rewarding and the change of climate even more so, but there was something in the air here that I sure wasn’t going to find myself capable of pinpointing in the brief visit that I was making to it. After eating our street food on a staircase overlooking the market we bought our dinner at, the rest of the night became a sort of post nap blur. I remember a sandwich in bed, but I have to admit that nothing else really came of the night that contained much significance; not that I remember anyways.

Breakfast the next morning was a spread worth reckoning. There is little about the food that I miss from home, but a proper fatty breakfast filled with egg yolk and bacon grease is something that I was more than willing to indulge in, especially when I saw our day plan take form through recommendations at our communal table filled with travelers. We wanted to take a hike. Practically free and filled with promise, we figured that a hike through the local mountains would end up being the best plan that we could construct with our day and lack of planning. Fifty cents and a half hour later, we began our trek towards a view of epic proportions. The first third was a concrete road and the rest was a soggy jog through a steep jungle. On the way, we ran across the two German girls that had sent us that direction in the first place. We passed them slowly with minimal conversation as we were dedicated to reach the summit.

Once there, we were greeted by a departing couple I can barely recollect and a large pile of trash. It always amazed me how the poor countries of the world manage to spread their trash into every isolated corner of their country in such a despairingly organized way. It rarely seems to be a lone bottle or cigarette butt detracting from the feel of a landscape, but rather large piles of organized rubbish set into every corner of your well earned escape from bustling streets of exhaust and inwardly reflected disgust. The top of this peak was no different. Enjoying the breeze and ignoring the pestilent insects, we didn’t have a seating option far enough away from the reminder of our own inevitable contributions to this degrading landscape. The view was amazing, the conversation always better. Juli had a way of inadvertently reminding me of the main reason why I continued this strafe away from my home with such ease. It was never the waterfalls or sun soaked beaches that made any of this worth it. It was always the people that I met along the way, and now it was weeks surrounded by her constant company, and I was still found myself sucked into more joy from her legitimate contact than any landscape or bizarre culture could provide me with to date. I don’t remember exactly what it was we conversed about, or whether or not it was even that important in the grand development of my psyche, but I do remember it making more of an impact than the one hundred square mile view of Vietnamese landscape laid before me. I love my time alone, as anyone who’s ever known me has come to learn about my character, but the value of shared experience in comparison to my isolation cannot be put into words. Sharing an endeavor tends to tromp on the very experience itself.

We made our way back down, encouraging the few people we saw sweating their way up the same path, and caught our bus back to Da Lat. We found ourselves at a cheap-ish bar within a short while. I have to admit, I had not been the best at conversing with some of the older gentlemen I had been running across on this trip, but one smile and a handful of harmless words later, we were getting a trip recommendation from a wordy Australian, who, in the end, gave us nothing of value, but at the time seemed to me to transcribing words and maps made of gold in our little travel journal. Faking my interest for a bit too long, he got up and left soon enough.

I got a little tipsy that night and the conversation that Juli and I had turned a bit depressing. I was not a good drunk this night, and it showed when we returned to the room. We finally ended up pissing each other off for a moment due to some mildly offensive misunderstanding. At least we proved capable of disarming an uncomfortable situation with relative ease, and I was surprised that it had taken this long to happen in the first place. We slept soundly that night like grown ups should.

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