A few years ago, I saw pictures of what I would learn is Halong Bay. One of the pictures was so magnificent that I decided to make it the background on my phone. I wanted to get there. To see this beauty in person. To be amazed and in awe. As my time in Vietnam was drawing to a close, I decided to prioritize going to Halong Bay over everything else. The Ha Giang Loop. Sapa. Ninh Binh. Hanoi.
While spending some time on the island of Cat Ba in Lan Ha Bay, I took a day boat trip through that bay to Halong Bay. It was just as beautiful in person as it was in the picture saved as my screensaver a while ago. Activities in the bay included swimming, snorkeling and kayaking. The tour guide also pointed out several of floating communities in the bays. The 1,969 limestone karsts protect the communities from typhoons, tsunamis, and the like. There are some communities that have a small tunnel entrance. One such entrance is only accessible during low tide. Many of the floating communities have fish farms. The above picture was taken just before kayaking around some of Halong Bay. If you look closely, you can see some of the passages we kayak through.
Be kind to yourself.
Moving around in Vietnam can be done many different ways. Private cars can be hired. Bus, plane and train tickets can be acquired for travel. Then, there are motorbikes. Scooters. Motorcycles. Mopeds. They are extremely popular around the country. I learned shortly before visiting Hoi An (in central Vietnam) that it was possible to take a motorbike tour from Hoi An to Hue, a city about 100 kilometers north also in central Vietnam. I had also heard that the route was absolutely beautiful.
For the motorbike bike tour, there were two options. Option one would put me on the back of a guide’s motorbike to relax and enjoy the ride with the views. Option two would give me a motorbike to ride on my own with the guide riding another motorbike. I promptly chose option two. Last week, the time had come for me to leave Hoi An and set off for Hue. A tour guide and two motorbikes arrived at my hostel during breakfast. We were on our way.
One of the biggest attraction of the route is the 21 kilometer long Hai Van Pass. The mountain which the pass runs through separated two kingdoms in what is now Vietnam. Other than a few flash rain showers, the sun shone through some clouds throughout the day. The entire route was a visual treat. I remember riding and questioning whether or not what I was seeing was actually real. I was wondering how I’d somehow transitioned into a postcard or painting. It’s just that amazing. The photo above is a view of DaNang Bay from the Hai Van Pass.
Be kind to yourself.
P.S. – here’s a picture of me on my motorbike for the day. All smiles!
Because I am posted in a country where I might contract malaria, I have been given an antimalarial medication called, “Mefloquine”. One of the side effects of this medication is lucid dreaming. The following is what I dreamt last night (as best I can remember).
I was with one or two friends when we decided to visit a theme park. We were very excited to spend the day riding the rides and enjoying the water. This was mostly a water park. One of water slides was made completely of wooden boards. I’m not sure how anyone was able to slide down, but we did.
The biggest attraction at the theme park was their really big pool. I thought it was the ocean. There were small boats and people sharing the space. My friends and I decided we would get a boat for activities. There was water skiing, tubing and other things. At some point, I think our boat is a little low in the water. I think we’re sinking. My friend who’s driving the boat says that there is nothing to worry about, so I stop worrying and continue with activities. While water skiing, I managed to fall down. At first, I was still holding on to the handle. Eventually, my grip loosened and I let go. In the midst of this, my swimming shorts came off and were nowhere to be found. I swam back to the boat, which was clearly sinking now. We managed to get back to the shore. I didn’t have any other clothes to put on, so I had to walk around naked. I decided that I should ride the wooden water slide one last time. I did. It was only slightly more painful without swimming shorts.
As we were leaving, there were three theme park workers at the exit. They were selling college funds for babies, insurance for babies, and funeral services for babies. When I declined the college funds and insurance, one of the workers said that I really needed to look into the funeral services for babies. I told her that my wife would be mad at her for suggesting that our baby should die.
Be kind to yourself.
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Some weeks ago, we experienced the effects of Cyclone Dineo. It brought high winds and an abundance of rain. For a week, rain muddied the roads while rain clouds hid the sun. As a rookie gardener, I have learned to appreciate the rain for what it does to my garden. Swaziland, as a whole, appreciates the rain as southern Africa recovers from a severe drought.
Water is necessary regardless of where you live. Across the kingdom, different families get water in different ways. Some families have indoor plumbing with running water. Some families take water cans to the river, and fill them before returning home. In some communities, there is a community tap which typically pulls water from a rain caching reservoir. On some homesteads, you find a borehole which extracts water from the ground. I have also seen families divert streams or rivers to deliver water to the homestead.
On my homestead, we are fortunate to have a jojo tank. The jojo tank sits on a large concrete slab, and has one tap at the bottom. The jojo tank is connected to rain gutters leading into to the jojo tank. Our jojo tank has a capacity of about 5000 liters. When the rains come, the jojo tank fills with water and all is well. When the rains don’t come, there are services that can come out and fill your jojo tank. Our jojo tank provides all of the water used for drinking, cooking, gardening, cleaning, and bathing. I also use the jojo tank to wash my hands after using the pit latrine.
To get water in my house, I fill a 25 liter water can (as seen in the picture above) to bring inside. Because water access isn’t as simple as turning on a faucet in the kitchen or bathroom, I’m more cognizant of my water usage. I try to conserve water. Now, I can happily add “showering with 5 liters of water” to my skill set.
Be kind to yourself.
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Last week, Peace Corps Swaziland hosted Peter Jensen, a permagardening specialist based out of Peace Corps Ethiopia, to facilitate two workshops on his specialty. Volunteers were invited to participate in the workshop with a counterpart (community-based colleague), with the expectation that the volunteer and counterpart would take what they learned to train others in the local community.
For those wondering what exactly permagardening is, allow me to share my understanding. Permagardening is a permanent garden that focuses on strict natural water management, double digging, and using locally accessible materials to keep the garden and soil healthy and productive.
I attended one of the workshops with a counselor from my community. She’s an agriculture friendly person who grows various things on her homestead. In contrast, the only plant I’ve managed to grow with any success is ivy, which is extremely difficult to kill. Peter presented permagardens in a way that was accessible and interesting to novices, like myself, and experienced folk, like my counterpart. He made me believe that even I can build a fruitful garden using the permagardening techniques and principles. The workshop inspired a conversation between me and my counterpart about how to take these techniques back to the community. Currently, we are planning on building three demonstration gardens around the community.
When I returned to my home, I talked with my host mom about the possibility of me building a garden. She excitedly pointed me to a fenced area on the homestead and told me that I could use that space. Now, I have the space, some tools, and the training to practice before co-facilitating a community training. The only thing left to do is the work of actually building the garden. Wish me luck!
Be kind to yourself.