Not only does it have a clip of me on horseback (unawares), it also shows more of the estancia in San Antonio de Areco, some truly fabulous tango dancing, and clips from the Carnival in Gualeguaychu!
Check it out on YouTube, or simply watch it below:
Last night we had an absolutely marvelous dinner at the Faena Bistro. Seriously, it was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten – a glorious mix of molecular gastronomy and Argentinean traditional. So so delicious.
But I thought I’d use it as an example to show you what the difference is between going out for dinner with a working pancreas, and going out for dinner as a diabetic:
* 7.30pm: We arrive early to shoot a few of the dishes before the other guests arrive (nothing like a bright flash going off every 30 seconds to spoil the mood). I haven’t eaten for a few hours (in preparation of the big meal), and I suddenly start feeling a little light-headed. Turns out that walk to the subway station (which was supposed to be 5 blocks and ended up being 10) was more strenuous than I thought, and I’m going low. Fast. There’s nobody else in the restaurant and everybody in the kitchen speaks Spanish. I have extremely limited Spanish skills. I mutter the phrase, “Soy diabetico, quiero jus de frutas,” which I think means “I’m diabetic, I need fruit juice” to myself a few times, then brave the kitchen.
Thank goodness one of the chefs understands a little English and can get me a Coke. Crisis averted.
* 8.15pm: Our first course arrives – candied spiced walnuts, homemade pretzels, miniature cheese scones and a white martini smoothie (in a shot glass). While I’m enjoying the range of extraordinary flavours, I’m thinking to myself, “How many carbs are in this, I wonder?”
* 9pm: I decide to simply take the plunge and take a rough amount of insulin that will ‘probably’ cover most of the 6 savoury course tasting menu (I’ll deal with dessert later). Roughly two carbs per course, perhaps? Fried egg foam has me flummoxed. But there’s rice and breadrolls, both of which I recognise.
* 10.20pm: I realise I way under-calculated the amount of insulin I should take, and take a second jab, this time hopefully including the dessert, a modern-day interpretation of lemon meringue pie with a soft biscuit base, lime ice-cream and lemon cream (that looks a lot prettier than it sounds – see below).
I am given some top-class stares from the waiting staff and the other guests as I jab into my stomach as discreetly as possible while lifting my already-rather-mini-skirt. I calculate in the 10 blocks we’ll have to walk after taking the subway home, so take a little less insulin than necessary.
* 10.25pm: More dessert! Mini Magnums and three raspberries on a stick. It’s a once in a lifetime meal, so I eat it all…
* 10.30pm: And now it’s time for my long-acting night-time insulin, so another public injection. They must think I’m a heroin addict!
* 10.45pm: The subway that was supposed to close at 11pm actually closes at 10.45pm… So there goes my 10 blocks of walking! We’ll have to take a taxi.
* 11pm: Hop out of the taxi a few blocks early so we can walk off some of the feast. The few blocks are further away than we thought, so end up walking around our neighbourhood for half an hour; but with full bellies and happy hearts, we’re not complaining.
Our latest video shows our most eventful two weeks so far…
As Mark puts it, “After flying in to Jakarta, Indonesia, we travel to Yogyakarta to see the Hindu temple of Borobudur. A diversion to the Bromo region to see the active volcano Gunung Bromo and then off to Bali. Add to this the drama of failing insulin due to exposure to heat while traveling and the past week or so has been a roller-coaster of highs and lows.”
So today, 15 December 2009, marks our halfway point in the trip: we’ve been away three and a half months, we have three and a half months to go.
Yes, alas, although we intended to be away for 9 months, it turns out travelling around the world is more expensive than we’d anticipated! So we’ve had to change our 9 months into 7 months, returning home at the beginning of April 2010. I’m sure in some ways it will turn out to for the best – perhaps it was slightly insane to plan our return date for one week before the World Cup begins, when the whole country will be turned upside down!
I thought it fitting, at this halfway point, to reflect on what it is we’ve learnt so far… Here are some thoughts:
• Travelling is a great teacher. I had no idea I had so much to learn – about myself, about our relationship, about life in general, until I was whisked out of my comfort zone and into completely unfamiliar surroundings.
• A place is made more beautiful if you stay somewhere beautiful. Or, at least, somewhere quite beautiful. We made the decision early on to choose comfort over budget, and it was a really wise one, I think. The times we’ve stayed in really stunning luxury accommodation have been amongst the highlights of our trip so far – where you stay, it turns out, makes a huge difference to how much you enjoy staying there.
• Mark and I make a great team. I always knew this, but in the last couple of months it’s really been put to the test. Travelling with someone 24/7 really shows you their real character, you get to see them tired, grumpy, hungry, sick, worn-out and irritable. And if you still love them after all that, that’s saying something!
• We’re tougher than I thought. Apart from the last week of bad health, Mark and I have hardly been sick at all, despite strange food, strange beds, strange transport and strange weather. It turns out we’re tougher than I thought we would be… It’s amazing how adaptable the human body is.
• There are many forms of transport. Before this trip I’d done a bus, car, bike, scooter and boat. Now I’ve done a becak (bicycle rickshaw), horse-drawn cart, bemo (open-sided minibus), ferry, train and moto (motorbike taxi) – and that’s only in the last week!
• Control isn’t always necessary. This is my hardest lesson, I really like being able to have things as much in control as possible. But you learn, when it’s late afternoon and you don’t know where you’re sleeping that night, and you have to move on tomorrow but you’re not sure how, and there’s no way of finding anything recognizable for dinner, that sometimes you just have to release control. And it is a rather lovely feeling, in fact.
• Going slow is key. To rush around while travelling takes all the joy out of it. You don’t get to experience anything or relax anywhere or have any authentic interactions with people. The slower the better, as far as I’m concerned (and don’t ever only spend one night somewhere – it’s not worth unpacking for!)
• It is possible to travel well with diabetes. I’ve had my fair share of ups and downs these past few months – insulin not working, crazy food, hormones and weather making my blood sugar do unusual things – but all in all it has been SO manageable. Much easier than I thought, in fact. Which just goes to show that although travelling with diabetes is more of a challenge than travelling without it, it’s just one more thing to think about, not something to make you give up entirely.
- Packing and unpacking your suitcase is a nightmare if it’s too full… These incredibly useful Vac Bags have saved our lives on a daily basis. They take all the air out of your clothes so massive piles of stuff shrink into delightfully packable flat packs.
- The rumours are true: You don’t need to change your clothes as often as you think.
- We will never again take being able to drink water out of a tap for granted. Months of bottled water makes tap water seem like a luxury!
- Travelling when you’re sick is just awful. Our solution? Take vitamins every day, don’t try dodgy food, and don’t overdo it.
- Sleep is very important if you want to be able to enjoy every day to the fullest.
- Backpacks give you a sore neck, and let you (mistakenly) believe you have enough space to buy things you don’t need. Suitcases are better.
- Patience is vital.
• We are the luckiest people in the world. To have been able to have these months together, exploring this wonderful world of ours, has been such a gift. And every day we’re able to continue doing it is one more day I feel like the luckiest girl on earth. Here’s to the next half being just as wonderful as the first half!
Yesterday was so awful that I feel the need to get it off my chest, before I catch you up on Our Most Eventful Week Ever (capital letters intended).
It was without doubt the worst diabetic day I’ve had since I came out of hospital post-diagnosis.
Before I begin, let me explain some numbers, so that what I say makes sense to you:
Non-diabetics (normal people) have blood sugar between 4 and 7. Diabetics should always aim for below 10 – 7 is the magic number, but I’m happy anytime I test in the 8s too. Between 10 and 12 is high, over 12 is really high, over 16 is dangerously high and I start panicking. I’m hardly ever over 16 – it means something has gone very wrong (i.e. my insulin isn’t working).
Yesterday, Thursday the 10th of December, promised to be a somewhat challenging day before it began. We woke up in Cemoro Lawang, the mountainous village not far from Gunung Bromo, the most famous volcano in Java, Indonesia. The plan was that at 9am we would catch a public minibus down the mountain to Probolinggo (1 hour), then catch a train to Banyuwangi (5 and a half hours), then catch a ferry to the port of Denpasar (45 minutes), a bus to Denpasar city (3 and a half hours), and a taxi to Sanur (20 minutes), where we would finally be in Bali and wouldn’t move for 5 days. That’s what was keeping me going: the thought of staying put for a few days. I’ve had a cold all week, so my blood sugar has been slightly high the last few days (I blamed it on infection and simply took more insulin). All in all, though, I was feeling strong.
Everything went smoothly till I tested my sugar two hours after breakfast (we’d just boarded the train) and found it was 15.9 – crazy high considering I’d taken slightly more insulin than usual at breakfast, because of my cold. I thought maybe I was going high because it was so hot (SO hot, like sitting in a humid oven, and we’d been waiting on the platform for an hour) and took another 3 units of insulin, which would definitely take me down to below 10. So far, not too worried.
Two hours later, I tested to see if the insulin had worked (you have to wait 2 hours for it to get into your system).
It hadn’t. I was still really high – 13.4.
So I deduced that the heat had killed my insulin, and took a fresh pen from the cool pack in my backpack. Not too worried. Fresh insulin would sort me out in 2 hours. I had a small lunch, took a generous injection, and waited.
2 hours is a long time to wait when you’re not feeling too well and not sure what your blood sugar is going to do.
When I tested at 3.45pm my blood sugar was 18. The highest it’s been since I came out of hospital over two years ago and figured out carbohydrate counting. The 2nd pen had obviously also been heat damaged, and wasn’t working at all.
And this, dear friends, is when I freaked out. Because if an insulin pen that was in my cool pack wasn’t working, that means that all the insulin pens in my cool pack might not be working. I’ve been as careful as possible with my insulin, but as you know it was left out of the fridge for 2 days last month, and most of the places we’ve been staying in lately haven’t had fridges, so it’s been going in a communal fridge. The weather is so hot here that to take it in and out of the fridge probably doesn’t help, and I’d come to terms with the fact that it wasn’t as effective as fresh insulin. But if it wasn’t working at all that was dangerous. Really dangerous.
We were only due to arrive in Sanur after 10pm. If the next insulin pen didn’t work I wouldn’t be able to eat anything until we could find a hospital or emergency room that could sell me insulin. We’d have to buy insulin to last the next 3 weeks. Who knows if that wouldn’t get heat damaged too – Bali is having its hottest summer ever known.
But on top of all these fears racing around my head was one clear question: Were we idiots for trying to do this? Was 4 months too long to travel in sub-tropical climates with diabetes? Was I being really stupid and careless with my health? For the first time since we left home, I felt scared. I wanted to go home.
But of course I couldn’t. I had a ferry to catch. Two hours later, on board the ferry to Bali, I checked my blood sugar again, and Hallelujah, Praise Every God in Heaven, it was fine. Totally fine. So now I’ve found a magic insulin pen that still works perfectly. I need to test all my others so that I don’t have another yesterday happening to me again in a hurry.
When we finally arrived after 11pm last night, I was completely exhausted and hollowed out. I can handle travelling with a bad cold and stuffy head. I can handle a 14 hour journey. I can handle high blood sugar for 8 or 9 hours (although I’d rather not have to ever again, thank you very much). But a 14 hour journey with a bad cold and high blood sugar is too much for me. Being that high is so awful. I couldn’t stop crying, my head felt full of clouds, my body felt weird and hot, and there was no sense of balance in me, no rational thought to cling to. I honestly haven’t felt scared of being diabetic since I got my eating plan and got it under control over two years ago. Yesterday was the first time that I really felt the weight of my condition.
Poor Mark was wonderful. Calm and soothing and practical, figuring out how we could get to a doctor or a hospital as soon as we arrived, and not getting freaked out by my constant tears.
And now, today, I feel shaky. My blood sugar is fine and I’m eating really normal food to keep it that way. I’m going to test the other insulin pens over the next two days and chuck out anything that doesn’t work, so I’m pretty sure this won’t happen again. Yesterday, of all the days of this wonderful trip, is one day I would not want to repeat. Not for anything.
And just recovering from the trip here. Well, the busy week leading up to the trip here, and then the actual trip itself.
I foolishly thought that because we were flying (from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh at 2pm and then from Ho Chi Minh to Jakarta at 8pm, arriving at 11.30pm) that it would be easier than a land border crossing. Well, no. Yes and no – the actual travel was easier, but finding real food (at a semi-reasonable price) in an international airport is a nightmare, and all the waiting around in queues is pretty exhausting.
And, of course, as is now common, my blood sugar was crazy all day. I think I might be allergic to border crossings.
Actually, I started a new insulin pen the night before, and realised when my sugar went through the roof at breakfast (17! One of the highest readings I’ve ever had!) that it wasn’t working. At all. Of course, seeing as I was high and not thinking straight I’d already given myself a come-down shot by the time I figured this out, and seeing as insulin on its own is usually pretty powerful (even if it’s not working 100%), I didn’t want to jab twice and risk going low on the plane.
Turns out the bad pen wasn’t working at all, so I stayed high for hours until I could test again after lunch. Bleerurgh. By now I was feeling truly rotten. Emotional, irrational, cotton wooly, hot and cold, all kinds of horrible.
I had taken a new pen from my luggage before we checked it in (thank goodness!) and the moment the insulin started to work I felt instantly better – like a fog lifting.
So we arrived in Jakarta at about half past midnight and woke up exhausted yesterday. Mark had a cold, I had a whole heap of tiredness, and we’ve spent the interleding day and a bit catching our breath and aiming for somewhere halfway human. We’re staying at the very comfortable, extremely stylish Alila Jakarta (a lovely business hotel) which is the perfect place to gather our energies. Feeling a LOT better today (both of us), and we’re off travelling and finally seeing a bit of Java in Indonesia tomorrow.
We’ve actually recorded a new video diary, too, but we still have to process it so it’ll be a tad delayed. I think we need a slight break from all the constant uploads too, so if you’ll excuse us, we’ll be taking it easy for the next couple of days!
In the meantime, any tips about Indonesia (on here, on Twitter, or on Facebook) are, as always, appreciated…
So if you’ve taken a look at our latest video diary, you’ll know that I was feeling rather stressed about the hectic amount of travelling we had to do this week…
From Hue, in central Vietnam, we took an overnight bus to Hanoi (about 16 hours on a bus with ‘sleepers’ that lay back at a comfortable enough angle, but were created with short Vietnamese in mind, so didn’t let you stretch your legs out. Ouch.) When we arrived at 6am, we dumped our bags and then wandered around the city allll day, a day spent getting our bearings, picknicking by the lake, going to the market to buy scarves and a warm hat for the suddenly cold weather and, oh yes, buying train tickets. Because that night we were heading for Lao Cai, in the North, arriving at 5.30am, and then catching a bus to Sapa, an hour away.
Now, before we left, I was rather worried about this whole trek. Not only because it seemed exhausting from the starting point, but because I wasn’t sure where we would get food, and how my diabetes would react to all the moving and lack of sleep, and if it would all piece together smoothly enough. Turns out, it wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated. Our bus and train both left and arrived on time, and finding food was (obviously) no problem at all. The only problem, in fact, was how exhausted we were, and the resulting sense of humour failure. Walking around a foreign city filled with honking motorbikes and cars and people people people is exhilarating when you’re feeling fresh and energetic (as we were at the beginning of the day, relieved to be out of the bus!), but at the end of a long day of getting lost and found, and not having a place to call ‘home’, it’s simply infuriating. Especially when as you’re trying to navigate the hordes of motor vehicles, people are approaching you on all sides asking you to buy things. Grrrr!
Still, at least this was a once-off for us. We met a couple on the train who have been travelling at this pace for the last month and a half, and another couple last week who spend only ONE NIGHT in each place they visit. Lord Above, if that was us I would be completely exhausted. And they seemed to be, actually. Turns out travelling is a lot less fun when you’re really tired.
I am so grateful we get to take it easy! I think that’s why this trip so far has been such a joy, and why we still have so much energy to keep going – we’re very careful to conserve our energy and sleep enough and eat really well. As soon as we arrived in Sapa, actually, we took straight to our bed (a deliciously warm, electric-blanket-heated wonder with bouncy pillows and a warm duvet. Heaven!) Since then we’ve been wandering around the town and surrounding mountains… But more on that tomorrow!
So I might think I’m a pretty savvy diabetic traveller after having tackled Malawi, Swaziland, the USA, Canada, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, but that’s nothing in comparison to Alex Williams, a type 1 diabetic from Australia who has zigzagged all over the globe, and is planning to walk across the Sahara desert next year in the Marathon des Sables. Pretty impressive stuff.
Here’s what Alex has to say about travelling with diabetes…
1. Hello! Please could you introduce yourself – name, age, how long you’ve been diabetic?
Hi. My name is Alex Williams. I’m 52 years old and have lived with type 1 diabetes for 36 years.
2. Where have you traveled?
I’ve travelled all over the south east coast of Australia, from as far north as Townsville all the way down and around to Adelaide. I can put my hand on my heart and say that I’ve probably driven on every stretch of highway in the state of Victoria. I started travelling the minute I got my driver’s license at 18 and haven’t stopped since.
My international travel started 25 years ago when my soon-to-be wife took me to “meet the family” in New Zealand. I was blown away by the beauty of the North Island and caught the travel bug there and then. But how do you describe to someone who has never done it, the adventure and curiosity of seeing an airport in another country, and then the strangeness as you drive through the city for the first time?
I’ve been back to New Zealand once since then, but as we were staying with family, there wasn’t a lot of diabetes adventure involved.
Fifteen years ago I got a job in Saudi Arabia. I travelled there on my own for the first trip and shared a flat with another westerner for 12 months. Then my wife and children were able to come over to join me in Riyadh, where we lived for the next 4 years. Each year we would do an international trip somewhere. Sometimes it was back to Australia to visit with family in both Brisbane and Melbourne, and sometimes it was elsewhere. During this time we did a 4 week driving tour around Great Britain in a Kombi Campervan, driving almost as far north as John O’Groats and south to Southampton. We spent a week in London just enjoying the history, the culture and the sheer joy of being there. http://www.geocities.com/alex_of_oz/Saudi_pages/Pommy_trip.html
During this time we also did a 5 week driving trip around Western Europe, flying from Riyadh to Paris via Jeddah and then driving from Paris to Luxemburg, Germany, Austria, Italy, France, Switzerland and then back to Paris. We stayed in Paris for a couple of days, and then caught the overnight train to Rome, where we stayed for a week of walking. Many interesting things happened including nearly getting arrested in Rome. http://www.geocities.com/alex_of_oz/Saudi_pages/Europe_99.html
I also managed to squeeze in another trip from Riyadh to Glasgow, this time for business. The interesting thing about this trip was that the night that I was flying into London before swapping to the plane for Glasgow, was also the night that Princess Diana died in Paris. My whole trip to Glasgow was over-shadowed by Diana’s death. I caught the train from Glasgow to London on the day of Diana’s funeral. That was an experience that I will never forget. The flowers arranged around the gate to St James Palace were truly incredible.
Travel took a back seat for a few years until about 2005, when I travelled to Bangalore in India for four and half months. This was a business trip in which I was meant to train them up so they could take my job. I still have my job. This was also the first time I had travelled in a third world country, so the food, hygiene and medical side of things were interesting. All went well with few dramas. While there I wrote a number of stories, with one focusing pretty much on my being diabetic – http://www.geocities.com/alex_of_oz/Bangalore_stories/Missive_8.html
The last trip I did, which was 3 years ago, was a 4 week trip back to Bangalore. This time the food caused me some difficulty because I was staying in a serviced apartment where I was reliant on other people providing and cooking the food. You don’t realize how reliant we become on our “western” time schedule until you are living in a third would country where time is much more flexible.
3. What was the most difficult thing about traveling with diabetes?
For me, the most difficult thing about travelling with diabetes is keeping track of where there is a reliable source of food, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For example, lying down on the public seating benches at Rome airport to stay until the first plane left in the morning, only to discover with 2 minutes to spare that the food shop that we can see just across the walkway is not staying open all night as expected, but is about to close and won’t open again until the plane is airborne. And guess what? I don’t have any emergency food in my bags.
Another difficulty is the effect that the jetlag, time differences and physical and emotional stress has on the sugar levels. There is an underlying constant awareness that the sugar level can plummet at any moment, which is especially stressing when travelling by yourself. This happened to me while in a hotel in transit in Bahrain; the sugar plummeted and it took me 2 or 3 or 4 hours (see what I mean) to get it back. However that was not in time to catch the airport shuttle bus!
4. How prepared were you before you left?
I believe I have experienced most things a diabetic can experience while travelling, and learned from the experience. Yes, I have woken up in intensive care in hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia after having a massive hypo. I needed to go under a general anesthetic so they could put my arm back in place. I had managed to dislocate my shoulder while having a fit in the hypo.
I have found myself without food, and learned from the experience. I have found myself with nowhere clean to have my injection, and learned from the experience. I have been challenged by the customs officers in Jeddah airport when they saw my injection kit, only to be deflated when I told them “Sucre dam”, which means “sugar blood” in Arabic, which is their way of referring to diabetes. I learned from the experience.
And I’m sure I will learn more when I travel to Morocco and walk across the Sahara desert.
5. Do you have any hints or tips for diabetics who want to travel?
Always carry a doctor’s letter
Always carry extra insulin and equipment
Always have emergency food with you that is robust
Always know where food can be obtained
Write lots of lists, to reduce the stress level and therefore the hit on sugar levels
Always pack your medical kit and emergency food in your carry on luggage
Maintain 2 medical kits; one for your carry on luggage and one for your suitcase
So long as you plan properly, there is no reason why you can’t travel
Yip, it had to happen. Two and a half months in, and although I’ve had disheartened days and sad days and bad diabetes days, I hadn’t had a freak out, till this morning.
Let me set the scene…
The last couple of days have been really interesting – we left the chaos and colour of Ho Chi Minh City on a late-night (11pm) overnight train to Danang, which was actually a lot of fun. We chose the soft-sleeper option, a four-bed sleeping compartment which we shared with two older American guys, who left at 5.30am so we had the whole cabin to ourselves for the rest of the day. Lovely! We could have flown for almost the same price, but we wanted to see some of the countryside, and I’m so glad we did…. It was stunning. Loads of rice paddies and local farmers and gorgeous scenery. I loved it (and just realised that I was so busy videoing it that I didn’t take any photos! How foolish of me). We arrived in Danang in the late afternoon, and headed to a beachside hostel that came highly recommended.
Not really our usual cup of tea – very basic accommodation and without doubt the hardest beds and worst water pressure we’ve had in any place so far – but we were won over by all the reviews of the lovely owners and the communal dinners. The dinners were fabulous, everyone heads down to the dining room and the family brings out big plates of food to share – incredible baby spring rolls, fresh grilled fish, tofu, a chicken dish, piles of vegetables, rice and noodles. YUM. What’s even better, though, is that because you’re all sitting at a communal table, it’s impossible not to start chatting, and make friends. It’s funny, most of the time I don’t really notice the absence of friends, but any time I do we meet some lovely people and make new ones – I suppose it’s one of the rhythms of travelling.
Anyway! To cut a long story short – we had a lovely two days in Danang, wandering around the town, swimming in the sea, and eating delicious communal dinners. Our room didn’t have a mini bar fridge (as most of our rooms do), so when we arrived I asked the lady at the front desk to put my bag of insulin in the fridge – and pointed at a fridge in the room. She nodded and said, “Fridge, yes, fridge, no problem,” then took my insulin off to another room – which they often do, to take it to a fridge with more space.
No problem! I thought, and sat down to dinner.
This morning, when we checked out, I asked for my insulin, and she went over to the safe, which was a cupboard, and took out the bag of insulin. So it had been sitting – unrefrigerated! – since we arrived two days before. Not only that, the room it was in wasn’t even air conditioned (as our bedroom was), so it had been sitting at room temperature or higher for two days.
I lost it. For two and a half months I’ve been carrying around this precious bag of medicine, making sure it’s kept safe and cold every time we stop anywhere, and now, because of a miscommunication and me believing that when a word was repeated back at me it meant that word was understood, it had all been put in jeopardy. I burst into tears, and it took me a loooong time to calm down.
I’m feeling better now, obviously, but I have yet to test out the insulin to find out if it’s okay… We’re about to go out for dinner now and I’m going to test it then. Please say many prayers to any god you know that it is, or I’m going to have to stock up from a doctor in town, and there goes any budget we have.
Ironically enough, yesterday was World Diabetes Day (we didn’t have internet, so I couldn’t blog), and this morning – before the drama – I was planning a blog post on why I’m grateful for diabetes. That will come soon, I promise!
Okay, well, perhaps not quite first impressions – we have been here 10 days by now! But some impressions of Vietnam…
* We were told to be on our guard about scammers and tricksters, and expected to be harangued at every turn. So far, hasn’t happened.
* That said, people are out to make money here, so you have to be aware of that and cleverly sidestep it (for example, you can buy train tickets directly from your hotel, and they tell you the only other option is to go to the train station outside town and buy your tickets from them. Turns out there’s a tourist railway office just around the corner, and it’s US$8 cheaper each to buy from them! But nobody’s going to tell you that, obviously).
* The people here are a lot less wowed by foreigners – in Cambodia and Thailand we felt like we stood out a lot, whereas here the Vietnamese seem much more confident in their own country, and don’t seem to feel the need to kowtow (is that how you spell it?) to foreigners. There’s hardly any English signage anywhere – finding our way around is quite an adventure!
* Things run well here. We’ve been in Ho Chi Minh City (the old Saigon) for the past five days, and we’re amazed how different it is to the other capital cities we’ve been in (mainly Phnom Penh and Bangkok). Traffic is ridiculous – more on that later – but there are wide sidewalks, rubbish is swept away and picked up, and people take charge of their property. I like it!
* Traffic is ridiculous. Completely and utterly insane. For the first day, I stood paralysed on the pavement because I was too scared to step off into the mass of scooters, motorbikes, cars, taxis and buses. Absolutely terrifying. Eventually you just have to step off and trust that they will weave around you, but try remembering that when a bus is heading towards you at full speed! Eek.
* The food is great. Ho Chi Minh is kind of a melting pot of all of Vietnam, so it’s a bit of a hodge-podge menu, but the national dish (pho noodle soup) is light and delicious and fragrant, and there are all kinds of other delicacies to choose from (including spring rolls every way you look, yum!)
* It’s busy here. Reallll busy. We’ve been in the city a couple of days, and have been taking a few hours each day to explore and get lost and found and make a personal map of the city for ourselves. Thank goodness we’ve had the time for this! I think if we only had one or two days it would just be totally overwhelming, but to take it in bite-sized chunks it’s good fun. I’ve actually really enjoyed Ho Chi Minh.
And now! Tonight we catch an 11pm train northwards, to the beachside town of Danang for two or three days, and then into the historical town of Hoi An… I’ll keep you posted!
PS: On the diabetic front, nothing to report. Isn’t that lovely? One of the main things I love about cities is that they have supermarkets, which means I can buy normal food, which means my blood sugar is more stable. We’ve also been walking around so much that I’m getting a good dose of blood-glucose-lowering exercise. Great stuff!