“Be like a train; go in the rain, go in the sun, go in the storm, go in the dark tunnels! Be like a train; concentrate on your road and go with no hesitation!” ~ Mehmet Murat ildan
After a three hour delay leaving Hanoi, we finally boarded the train at 11:00 PM, found our compartment, and tried to get some rest.
I was half-sleeping in my lower berth when the train abruptly stopped. Immediately someone pounded on our compartment door and began shouting. When I opened the door, we were told (in Vietnamese) to get our bags and get off the train. One didn’t have to know the language to understand.
“Why do we have to get off”? I ask. “This isn’t Danang”.
But the woman official didn’t understand me. Our travel companions, Robert and Paula, quickly began gathering their things and I was left with another matter. Ron, my husband, who had just taken half a sleeping pill at 3:00 AM, could not be aroused out of his slumber. I yelled and pulled and finally got him to a standing position, but it was clear he did not want to participate. I loaded him up with bags and looked around one more time to see if any thing was left behind. Robert’s boxed leftover supper was there in a plastic bag. I threw my journal and loose stuff in with it and guided Ron down the train steps.
It was now 3:30 AM
We were the last ones to get off and I could barely see Robert and Paula at the end of the line of people heading around the building. It was dark and a gentle rain was falling. I proceeded to try and catch up when I noticed Ron going in a completely different direction. It looked like he was trying to get a luggage cart which we didn’t need. I shouted to him and started to go after him, but the not so tiny Vietnamese uniformed women standing there would not let me past them. She ordered me to continue up the road. I tried to stay calm, but being separated from my husband in this bizarre nightmare only created more anxiety. I kept walking and there appeared Ron. He had merely gone through the building and caught up with us, but looked like a sleepwalking zombie.
There were three transport buses and everyone had boarded except for us four. The male official pointed to the first bus for us to get on, but then decided it was full. We pulled our wet muddy luggage onto the third bus, but there were no seats. They put folding chairs in the aisle at the back for Robert and Ron who dragged their luggage with them. Two men near the front of the bus were told to give Paula and me their seats. They too ended up on folding chairs in the aisle.
“Does anyone speak English?” I asked and there was only silence.
The man next to me looked at me and said, “Madam, I speak a little.”
With relief I asked him why we had to get off the train, board buses, and where are we going? He explained that the tracks were flooded and that we must go by land to another town so that we can reconnect with the train. Of course, this made sense.
I thanked him and relayed the information to Paula who was sitting behind me and she passed it back to our husbands. Ron had already fallen asleep with his head propped up on a Vietnamese woman’s shoulder who was also asleep. He said how well he slept.
I did not sleep. It seemed like everyone on this bus had a cold, cough or flu. The woman in the seat across the aisle from me was vomiting in a latex exam glove. I had to really use mind over matter to get beyond this. Her husband was holding their small son while all their belongings were stuffed around them. The mother looked feverish. I truly felt sorry for her.
We were on a hilly, curvy, two lane road dotted with villages. Our driver was trying to make up lost time and going fast for rainy conditions. He was also trying to keep up with the two speeding buses ahead of him. I just prayed we didn’t end up on our side like the buses we had seen along the roads in Tanzania.
When it becomes light enough to see, I try to get glimpses of the roadside between bobbing heads.
Amazing how village life starts early. The road is lined with bicycles of uniformed school children all heading in the same direction. Efficiently, the bicycle is carrying two to three kids, each with his tiny backpack stuck in the face of the one behind. The last child often held an umbrella over the group. Most were wearing plastic raincoats or ponchos in pastel shades of pink, blue, yellow and green, billowing like tiny sails.
Crude hand carts overflowing with produce were being pulled to markets. Out door kitchens were still busy making pho, a traditional noodle soup which is eaten for breakfast and lunch. I pretended to smell that wonderful aroma.
The country side is beautiful in the rain. Water buffalo are ankle deep in the rice paddies which are shrouded in mist.
I am finally relaxed and enjoying the sights and even thankful for getting bumped off the train.
After several hours, we finally arrive at a small train depot, gather our belongings and once again drag the suitcases through more mud. Ron is awake and actually a little chipper. We board the train and find our compartment only to discover it is occupied. We take another sleeper and now we are on our way. Our 11 hour trip from Hanoi to Danang has taken almost 16 hours.
Such is traveling.
I reach in the plastic bag for my journal only to discover that Robert’s leftover box meal had spilled. I remove the journal and clean it off and hand him his leftovers.
I find a spot on the bottom bunk and begin writing.
My journal smells like fish sauce reminding me of all the good meals we’ve had and the laughs the four of us have shared on this month long SE Asia trip.
Ron immediately goes back to sleep and all is right with the world.
Travel Memoirs: 2010
“There is nothing like a train journey for reflection.”
― Tahir Shah, In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dream