Day 34: The Cat Ba Quintet

Time flies when you’re having fun. When I started writing this I was in Hanoi and still not dead, maimed, injured or mentally scarred and now I’m on Cat Ba island and am all of the above.

I have continued to remain classy. You can tell I’ve remained classy because aan old Vietnamese man walked in on me on the toilet at a local street bar and then later I had to wee in Piss Alley, a stinking dead-end that served as a street toilet for the local bars. Fuckin’ A.

It was the day of Food Tourism. Dinner had included snail, frogs, pig heart and pig liver stir fried with crispy noodles, all washed down with medicinal tree wine. The medicinal tree wine came in a reused plastic water bottle, was the colour of poisoned rivers and tasted and smelt like bad ideas and whisky sweats. Later that night I experienced mu first tropical storm as we sat outside under the awning of a little kerbside bar opposite our hostel fat rain hoofing it down, thunder cracking open the sky and neon-bright lightening bleaching it white. Big Weather. Makes UK storms look like sneezes.

Hanoi is my favourite of all the cities so far. I love it for no single reason I can immediately think of. Maybe because it’s cool here, not so sticky, or maybe because our hostel’s so sociable, or because I got a pair of prescription glasses and sunglasses made up for $30, and a hat for 50p. All that and more, maybe. The streets are smaller and less hectic, winding, more varied. The shopping streets are themed. Here’s metalwork street, every shopfront crammed with pans, hangers, buckets, drums, cans, wire racks and all other metal things. Next is bamboo street for all your bamboo ladder needs. There’s woodwork street, clothes street, party craft street, mannequin street, Things To Sell To Tourists street and Stuff That Goes In The Garage street. The fruit and veg are together, live seafood close by. The markets sell coffee beans, herbs, spices, unrecognisable fruits. It’s weird being surrounded by so much stuff you can’t name.

On Easter Sunday we travelled to Cat Ba Island, discovered that there is no Cat Bar on Cat Ba, and are staying in a guesthouse that has MOUNTAIN in the kitchen – or just a rock wall, depending on which way you look at it. We are a quintet. Hartley, Callie and I have been hanging out since Phong Nha, we met Keegan in our Hanoi dorm room, and the fifth is Tazmanian Tom who I’d met back in Mui Ne – happened to spy him on the street in Hanoi, chased him down, appropriated him.

Cat Ba island is breathtaking, a prehistoric wonderland chock full of enormous jagged karst (limestone) slabs jutting out of the ground, blanketed with jungle. It’s stunning, otherworldly, more Jurassic Park than Jurassic Park. You half expect to look into the distance and see a heard of Stegasaurus lumbering around the rice paddies, or see a pteradactyl swooping overhead.

We rented motorbikes and rode to the other side of the island, eyes full of scenery. Keegan climbed a mini lighthouse and got stuck because he couldn’t jump backwards and I rode my bike into a bollard, but only a bit, and only the wing mirror and only at about .5 of an mph. I was distracted by THE GROUND. I’m a dunce but no harm done.

Yesterday we went out on a junk boat to explore the rock formations and kayak. Stunning. Hard to believe that such scenery really exists. We kayaked through caves, into huge, sheer-walled grottos, saw – just by chance – a Cat Ba langur, and kayak-raced the boys and won, obviously, as if it could end another way. I found some green slime on a rock that tensed and moved when you poked it, jumped off the boat into the sea over and over again and almost kayaked into a dismally large jellyfish sitting around in the water. It was hungry work, all that Fun. When we ate lunch our table was the only one silent, intent on stuffing our faces. We won that race as well, finished about 10 minutes before everyone else and left no scraps behind, cleared up next door’s fish rolls as well. Our guide was surprised but he had admiration in his eyes, I could tell.

At nights we drink beer and eat delicious food, bully Keegan, laugh. On our first night there was a beer/hallucination tent and dancing Chinese dragons on a stage. Last night I ate shrimp, the whole thing, even the brains, even the shells. We lost to the boys at pool, drew some vagina dentatas on people. Standard.

Today is Wednesday. I’m out front of our guesthouse, hungover from Vietnamese whiskey, Tiger beer amd too-little sleep, tapping this out on my phone whilst listening to the harmonious sound of building works a few doors down and looking out through the trees into the bay. Hartley and Callie leave for the mainland in a few hours, Keegan and Tom to follow tomorrow and then me on Friday. Over so soon! Can’t believe it. This has been frikkin’ awesome. Can’t wait for the next adventure.

PS/ If you want to see a photo of me crossing a river with a bike and riding a tandem, you should check out Callie’s blog post, here:


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