We’d had an exhausting 6 weeks. First it was our whirlwind camper van adventure in New Zealand, spinning the odometer on a 1973 VW so quickly we thought it might crack. Then more driving from Sydney to Melbourne in Australia, then some brutally long bus trips to get us from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in Cambodia and back again. We really needed a break from moving. After discovering, to our great joy, that a one-hour flight to Da Nang was cheaper than the 12-hour train we’d been planning to take, we bought the tickets and were there before we could even pretend to read the emergency guidelines.
Our stop in Hoi An, a charming UNESCO Heritage site about 30 minutes down the coast from Da Nang, was already supposed to be a longish one, but it keeps getting longer. The fun started when we ran into my old friend Hank (of Padlette fame) as we checked into our hotel. We knew we’d be seeing him during our time here, but we didn’t expect to run into him right away. He gave us a quick lay of the land, and took me for a spin around some key points on his scooter. And there is nothing like riding on the back of a scooter at dusk when the weather is hot and the streetlights are starting to come on. This place was already working its charms and I hadn’t even seen my hotel room yet.
When we did get into our room, we found one of the nicest hotel rooms we’ve stayed in yet. And also one of the cheapest, at $35 per night for the four of us, including wifi that usually works, breakfast, and use of not-terrible bicycles. And with those bicycles we can ride 3 kilometers (listen to me, talking all fancy about kilometers!) to one lovely beach, or 4 kilometers to another lovely beach, or 2 kilometers into the sweet but totally touristy center of Hoi An.
In Hoi An, we found all kinds of things to keep us here a little longer. In addition to the preserved historic port town of Hoi An, which would be totally tour-worthy on its own, there is a custom-tailoring culture here that is irresistible to oddly shaped design freaks like John and me. We couldn’t wait to get clothes made that would actually fit us. John had two shirts, two pairs of pants, and a suit made to fit his not-made-for-off-the-rack long lean body. I had three pairs of shoes made. Maybe they’re not perfect, but they’re not bad, and they are pretty close to what we asked for.
And then there was the need to just slow down for a bit and take care of ourselves. I had repairs made on a couple of pieces of clothing that were starting to wear out after 7 months in heavy rotation. My eyeglasses were so ill-fitting they would fall off if I tilted my head the wrong way. In ten minutes and for fifty cents, I had them fixed. Calla got a manicure for $4. 60-minute massage plus pedicure for $10? Thank you, yes. Fresh draft beer for 15 cents a glass? (I know I’ve mentioned that before, but it’s just… it’s just awesome.) If I have to. We’re taking care of ourselves here, without feeling the least bit guilty about it.
We’re also catching up on schoolwork and blogging, after effectively taking a month off. And it’s ok. It’s ok to spend the morning in our hotel room doing that and not being out touring. I can see a pagoda from my window, and I can hear sappy Vietnamese pop playing from the cafe across the street. We’ll get out there and set some culture later.
In extending our stay here in Hoi An, we will also get to see something pretty magical here. Once a month, when there’s a full moon, the businesses in the central historic area turn off their lights, and the town is lit only with the lanterns this area is known for. So that should be nice.
Another thing we’ve been doing is making plans for the rest of our trip. Though the next couple of weeks are still a bit fuzzy (something about trying to get a visa to go into China on the way to Hong Kong), we have some solid plans for May and June, and we’ve even bought the plane tickets that will take us home to DC at the end of July. So here’s the plan: after visiting my cousin in Hong Kong in mid-April, we’ll spend 8 days in Tokyo, and then we’ll fly to LA – that’s right, Los Angeles! in the U.S. of A.! – and spend a few days there with John’s brother. From there we’ll fly to Lima, Peru, and we’ll spend the month of May in a town called Ayacucho, where we’re renting a house from a friend so we can explore the archaeological sites and visit artisans in the area. The month of June we’ll be in Buenos Aires, where we’ve already lined up an apartment and possibly an art project for John. Then in July we’re heading to Colombia. Still working out some plans there, but very excited about the possibilities. And then we fly home!
One of the things I’m really excited about is planting ourselves in one place for a month at a time when we’re in South America. That is something we had hoped to do more of during this year, but there was so much that we wanted to see that we put ourselves on a pretty furious pace to see as much as we could. But now we’ve done as much of that as we want to do. We’ll still have some pretty crazy travel days ahead of us – this Hanoi to Hong Kong overland trip is looking like it might be an interesting adventure, for example – but we’re intentionally slowing things down so we can feel a little more like we know a place, rather than just hitting the highlights and taking off.