After an eventful week in northern Vietnam, we caught an early morning flight across the border to Laos. Two impressions struck us on arrival in Luang Prabang. First, after relying almost exclusively on Google Translate for communication in Vietnam, it was refreshing to hear English spoken widely. Second, because Luang Prabang is a backpacker haven, a powerful wave of nostalgia swept over us.
Posts tagged ‘memories’
Each time a milestone passes, it offers a brief but pointed reminder of our mortality and the all-too rapid passage of time. We had two this month: the ninth anniversary of the day we snuck out on an extended lunch break to get married in a Chicago courthouse and our son’s sixth birthday.
The principal challenge with touristing in Vietnam – aside from the arcane visa process – is rooted in the country’s geography. Vietnam is long and narrow – it is barely thirty miles wide at its narrowest point, but extends for more than one thousand miles from north to south. The country’s karst formations, long coastline, innumerable caves, and multitude of rivers ensure that there are gorgeous places to visit throughout. Stringing Vietnam’s top highlights into one trip is difficult, however, as doing so requires a lot of driving in between destinations.
Rizal Province, with its jagged limestone peaks, forested views across the Sierra Madre Mountains, and proximity to Manila, is fast becoming our favorite day-trip getaway destination. We loved the Trilogy hike and have found ourselves returning to Rizal with regularity since the Taal Volcano eruption affected the primary route to beaches and other places of interest south of the capital. After some beach time in Palawan with S’s family, we headed back to Rizal for a hike through the Masungi Georeserve.
A few years ago, the NY Times ran an op-ed encouraging travelers to plan less, ostensibly to reduce stress. It stuck with us, not because we found the advice helpful but rather because we thought the piece thoroughly infuriating and completely out of touch, a flippant acknowledgment that “for most travelers, particularly those with families, such an extreme lack of planning seems impossible, even inadvisable” notwithstanding. We traveled like this during our backpacking days, but that was before grad school, marriage, kids, and careers. Once adult responsibilities entered the picture, such travel became out of reach. During his recent visit to Nepal, D found an opportunity to practice what the article preached. Whether arriving in country with only half of his work itinerary booked led to less stress is debatable, but D did manage to turn a potential bureaucratic nightmare into an enjoyable adventure.
Certain countries possess an undeniable mystique, holding sway over one’s imagination long before one has the opportunity to visit. For D, Nepal was high on this list, though his fascination had more to do with the country’s landscape than its reputed spirituality (as one travel guide puts it, “Nepal is a one-stop spiritual destination: every activity here revolves around finding yourself, seeking your roots…”). Ever since D got into mountain climbing during his Peace Corps days in Ecuador – and especially after reading a handful of mountaineering books – he had longed to see the Himalayas.
Last weekend may well go down as the wildest of our Manila tour. On Saturday, we welcomed S’s parents and aunt to the Philippines. It was a beautiful, sunny day. On Sunday, the sky went dark. Taal Volcano, located 37 miles away from Manila, erupted for the first time in 43 years, triggering hundreds of volcanic earthquakes, spawning a lightning storm inside its 10-mile-high ash column, and blanketing the capital and a good part of the country’s north with volcanic debris.
Since returning from Japan, we have visited Vietnam and Laos, and D has also traveled to Nepal for work. Those trips did nothing to dispel a notion that began forming in our minds as we made our way from Kyoto to the Japanese Alps and back, and which has solidified with our subsequent travels. Part of Japan’s mystique, and the reason we think Western travelers find the country at once alluring and bewildering, is that it feels uniquely foreign in a way that other foreign countries do not.
We’ve written several posts about D’s love of live music, and the dearth thereof at every post we’ve served, but the subject bears revisiting – not only because, as Nietzsche wrote, without music life would be a mistake, but also because Manila figures to be quite different from our previous tours in this respect.
The end of one year and the beginning of another tends to invite reflection. As Munchkin nears his sixth birthday and Junebug begins her second semester of preschool, we can’t help but marvel at how different our two kids are. Even as Junebug endeavors to follow in Munchkin’s every step, she has developed a personality so distinctly her own that oftentimes it feels that our kids are mirror twins, their characters polar opposites of each other.