Vietnam Sleeper Bus Gymnastics

The overnight budget sleeper buses in Vietnam can be pretty alright, especially from Ho Chi Min to Muine, and from Muine to Na Trang. However, going from Na Trang to Hoian can be an interesting experience. 

It started off almost normal: The bus swung by our hotel and picked us up. There were other Westerners there. One kept laughing with an odd sporadic laugh reminiscent of the laugh Dax Shepard affected in Idiocracy, probably watching something similar to what Dax's character was watching in the film. 

At one point a few Vietnamese were either yelling or speaking very passionately to one another about something for a good 15 minutes. I couldn't tell which. Maybe they were acting for us, doing an impromptu drama? If so, the acting was excellent; I could feel the heat from their fiery shouts. 

This was all normal. The first thing that was not normal, at least for me, was the fact that they put all of our stuff at the back of the bus instead of under it. 

What was under the bus? Cocaine? A dance party for HATH (hobbits accustomed to heat)? Used socks? Another dimension? No-one knows except for the bus people. That was okay. I was ready for the 12-hour ride.  

Then it got a bit weird. And not weird as in people started morphing into cartoon drawings because someone slipped some ground peyote into my fun dip. 

It got weird because suddenly it seemed as though we were stopping a lot and picking up more people than the bus could hold.  

Stop, pick up. Stop, pick up. 

As I’ve stated in previous posts, I’m no mathematician, however by counting the number of available beds against the number of passengers boarding I wondered how the hell it was going to work. 

No matter. Just as I didn't concern myself with annoying chuckles and fighting Vietnamese, I didn't concern myself with this either. I've never been very good at math anyway. 

I went back to my computer. My travel buddy asked what the sign said at the back of the bus. I told her it said “No Smoking.” Note: I found out later that she wanted to know if it was a bathroom. I knew that it was a bathroom, but I didn’t know that she didn’t know that, and thought she was just curious about what the red sign said. Sorry Lo!

About an hour later I realized I should use the restroom before I tried to get some VBS (VietBusSleep), however, when I looked down I noticed that the floor had people sleeping on it.

So this is where they were putting all those people. Well, fuck. 

I hadn't yet mastered the art of floating at that time, so I was essentially stuck. I was on a top bunk, every bed was filled, and the floor right under me had sleeping humans on it. I was stuck. 

So what did I do? Did I just say “fuck all of these crazy societal norms, I’m pissing my pants!” No. Not yet. I'm still hanging on to the fundamental societal customs, especially when it comes to personal hygiene. 

As I'm still in my semi-sane years I decided instead to just become a Vietnam Sleeper Bus Gymnast. That's a thing, right?

I pretzeled my body and deftly (I’d like to think) maneuvered my way between beds until I could gain access to a part of the floor that didn’t have sleeping humans on it. I'm not sure how I did it without climbing over a lot of people, but I do know that if I had not succeeded I would've have made someone either very unhappy or happy, depending on whether they needed some physical contact. 

Other than that it was bearable. I mean, it was uncomfortable as fuck, but I expected as much in certain places. 

I'm telling you this story so that I can say this: I would rather be in an uncomfortable-as-fuck bus in Vietnam with annoying Westerner laughs, fighting Vietnamese, dancing hobbits in the storage, people-sleeping-on-the-floor-making-me-become-a-gymnast-just-to-use-the-bathroom, rather than being stuck in a cubicle. 

No joke. No offense to those who love their jobs and work in a cubicle; that's actually beautiful as long as it isn't slowly killing you emotionally and physically. 

Next up: I'm Just a Guy Trying to Buy Maxi Pads in a Remote Northern Vietnam Village

I LOVE Buenos Aires! Even though I got robbed big time : D

It was a beautiful day in Palermo, which is a trendy and affluent neighborhood in Buenos Aires. I was feeling great, with my head held high and my back straight, as I strode down the street with my Marilyn Monroe shirt, jeans, Bullboxer boots, and my backpack. Though I wasn't thinking about it at the time, my backpack held about $4000 worth of equipment. Not to mention, it contained hours of video footage accumulated over the past few weeks.

I was going to use this day, as gorgeous as it was, to get some work done. I was (and still am) behind on blog entries, musical creation, and videos. The weather was so pristine that I just wanted to be out walking around all day, which is exactly what I’d been doing. Anyway, on with the story.

I was about halfway to my destination when I felt a splattering from above or behind, and when I looked at a bit of the stuff on my shirt I found it to be really foul smelling, like rotten eggs mixed with hot mustard. There was a lady behind me when it occurred, and we began discussing how disgusting it was and how in the hell it had happened. 

She was very kind and sympathetic to my plight and pulled out some napkins to help clean me up with. She even had some water that she soaked the napkins in and asked if she could just get some of the foul stuff off me.

Of course, I agreed to this, as I didn't want to walk into some establishment smelling like a rotting dinosaur carcass dipped in wet landfill. She was a sweet old lady, and I was grateful. Thank God for sweet old ladies. During this time I had set my bag down, not even thinking about it and the investment of money and time it contained.

She kindly gave me a few extra napkins to wipe myself off with before she somewhat abruptly took her leave.

I wiped my neck down a bit more, then I decided it was time to go. When I reached down to grab my bag, instead of my raven-black Osprey a battered old bag was in its place.

Immediately I went into I-need-to-find-the-motherfucker-who-did-this-and-get-my-bag-back mode. I was looking around for the old lady and for any sign of my bag for a few seconds when a young girl with a cell phone told me that she had seen the perpetrator go toward a street corner and that I should run there.

I had my doubts. My gut sensed something was wrong, but my mind said, "She's a concerned citizen and owns a cell phone, run and get that piece of shit who stole your bag!" So I ran. Barbarian yelps were going through my mind. About halfway down the block my gut instinct was insistent, so I stopped and ran back, finding nothing and almost no one.

I think there was definitely a 3rd (and possibly a 4th or even more) component to the team. I continued to walk around looking for any sign of the shitheads who did this, to no avail.

There was a guy sitting on a step across the street from where this happened, and when I asked him about it he asked me if my bag was the one across the street. I asked him if he saw what had transpired, and he said no. I walked around some more, then the guy went and picked up the "switch" bag. He asked again if it was mine. I said, “No, it's not mine,” and he walked off with it. (I know, I know, in retrospect I should have kept it, and he was probably in on the whole thing. I'm trying not to let myself go down the self-defeating "if only I would've done this or that" vein of thought.)

I walked around, not panicking, but really just pissed off. I was mad at myself for falling for it, and at the grandma gang who did it. My tile turned out to be of no help at all, so my next investment will be a GPS tracking device. A police officer drove by, and I flagged him down. He told me to go to the local "comiseria," which is basically a police station, if you can call it that.

So I walked over to the police station. There was one lady helping people, and a young man who shuffled papers and set things down with a "pop" to exude some sort of illusion of power. When he spoke it was with the feigned arrogance of someone who had watched way too many cop shows.

I sat down and waited while the lady typed and typed and typed. There was a TV playing shitty pop music videos, making it like a very surreal and bad dream. I looked in the "chief" office and noticed another TV blasting some regurgitated media refuse. In the office (and yes, I'm slightly jaded) there were a few self-important-looking dudes talking as if they were somehow taking down major cartels. Maybe they were, who the fuck knows.

When it was my turn to report the theft by the grandma gang, I had some trouble communicating with the officer. With some people it's more difficult, and the Spanish in Argentina is very different from the various dialects of Spanish in the rest of Latin America. Anyway, a girl offered to translate, and I was grateful for it. She communicated the story, and when the officer went into the chief room for whatever, I asked the girl if everything was all right with her. She said no. There was some creepy asshole at her apartment who kept looking in her windows and standing at her door. He sounded very much like a sociopath. Anyway, lost stuff is not as bad as getting stalked by a creepy slimy asshole. Hell, I'm alive and breathing in the still beautiful Buenos Aires.

I told the officer that I didn't expect the police to find it but that I needed their report. The next person was a kid who’d had his bicycle stolen.

The next day I went back to the same neighborhood to see if I could catch a lucky break and get near the tile. No such luck, but I did get to see how beautiful Palermo was. Despite what happened, I still recommend going.

Because I can't go back in the past and implement James Bond-type cunning, I have to accept this as a learning experience. I paid a lot for this unwanted lesson, but hopefully it helps both you and I in our future travels.

Here are some things I learned:

•Be wary wherever you are. I really thought that I might get robbed at gunpoint in La Boca, which is another neighborhood where a few other travelers reported just that: getting robbed at gunpoint. Instead I was tricked by an old lady.

•If you suddenly get splattered with something that seems like bird shit, bird shit mixed with mustard, or some other concoction on the street, clean yourself up and be super aware of your stuff.

•Don't bring your external drive with you. I have my important things all backed up in the cloud, but I still lost a lot of video.

•Before going out, make sure you have your videos backed up to your hard drive, and again, don't bring it with you.

•Find insurance that will cover stolen things.

•Look into GPS tracking hardware for luggage.

•Lock up your bags when walking.

•When you think things are just great, enjoy it. But don't let your guard down!

•If something like this happens to you, do what you can to rectify the situation, but don't let it consume your mind (I found myself replaying the event, wishing I’d acted differently and getting angry as hell at the perpetrators).

•Remember, it's just stuff. Health, life, and love among friends and family is more important. 

There are many things that are very messed up in the world, and my bag incident is incredibly minor compared to real world tragedy, so in the end I gotta be grateful. I have my health, family, friends, and freedom to travel.

Maybe the biggest lesson here is this: Just like my bag was slyly and swiftly taken away, life can be taken in the same way.

"Live right now..." Jimmy Eat World



It Could Be Worse - Goodbye GT Timberline

Recently I re-read the book "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho. If you've read it you may remember a lot of talk about omens and heeding them. Now, I'm not a religious or metaphysical guy, and will leave that to the likes of Aquarius Bjorne. However, there does seem to be something about intuition, and I'm open to the possibility of the universe helping me out (whatever that means). 

"Never stop dreaming. Follow the omens."

For some time now a friend of mine has urged me to get a more robust bike lock. His is this huge chain link formidable looking thing seemingly fit to contain demon-possessed Hercules types. Mine was a sort of luggage lock thing with a single cable. Sometimes my hubris with some things can go pretty far while in other instances it seems to be driving away really fast from me.

I remember one day when I rode over to SXSW for some music sessions, I was pretty sure I locked up the bike to something. When I was done for the day I went out and noticed that the lock was on a the bike rack, but my bike was completely free. I looked around in mild bewilderment half-wondering if someone was trying to film my expression after having found out that my bike lock magically unlocked itself then locked itself back up sans bike. 

I shrugged my shoulders and just rode home into the beautiful sunset thinking that it was a pretty cool magic trick. 

Recently I've been capturing footage of the Lady Bird Lake trail on my bike and being on the third floor of my yellow apartment complex, I tend not to worry about thieves and the like. Prior to last night, I had left the bike out without a lock. 

Here is where the omens come, or maybe just common sense. I was talking with my neighbor who is an incredibly kind older gentleman a few days ago about how he used to bike. He said that the two bikes he had in life were both stolen. That was omen 1. 

Omen 2 also came from my neighbor when I told him I'd be going to San Francisco for a week. He asked if I would be putting the bike away (inside or on the balcony), and I replied saying that I'd be leaving it on the porch but locked up. 

Omen 3 came in the form of a thought that was dismissed. When I returned from my bike ride filming adventure last night, I thought that perhaps I should take the bike to the balcony for the week. Then I thought that damn, the thing was just dirty as hell, I think I'll just leave it here. 

This Morning

This morning I awoke at the literal crack of dawn. It was a beautiful morning, and still is as I write this. Though the lazy part of me protested, I was determined to go on a fasted run. I opened the door, looked outside, and noticed something different. 

Ah! The bike was gone. They did, however, leave the severed lock for me to dispose of. I decided that before I reported it, I'd ask my friend with the Herculean bike chain whether he had anything to do with it. He would joke about doing something like that just to teach me a lesson; he was also a practical jokester. I thought maybe he got really wasted last night thought it would be an awesome idea. Anyway, it wasn't him, which is good because that would've made things awkward for a minute or two. 

Before getting on with my run, I asked a couple of police officers if they had seen any crazy person on a very dirty black bike. They told me they'd be on the lookout, but hadn't seen anything.

It was a damn good run, with the temperature a really nice 80 degrees, which kind of feels cool during this time of year in Austin. While on the run, I realized a few things. 

1) Next time I get a bike I'm getting a better lock (gotta learn right?!)

2) I have a choice. I can either let this get to me or just accept that it happened and move on with life. That said, I still filled out a police report and setup a Craigslist notifier. I want to get the bike back and yell into the ears of the offenders. 

I choose not to let it get to me. Life is too damn short to stress about the little things (is it obvious I just went for a run? It just provides much needed mental clarity). 

3) Maybe karma really is a bitch, but a just bitch. When I was a teenager I wasn't exactly an angel all the time, including an instance or two of taking something that wasn't mine. 

4) Maybe the bike will be sold to someone who really needs it, and the thief, in a state of immense remorse over stealing that bald guy's bike, decides to donate the money to charity. I know, there's probably a greater chance of me winning the lottery and getting struck by lightning, but one can dream, right? 

5) Things could be a whole hell of a lot worse. I'm grateful that I have my legs and arms, air to breathe, functioning lungs, and coffee I'm about to drink. 

Goodbye GT Timberline. It was fun. I will now use rentals, or just steal one of my neighbor's bikes. I'm joking!