Homecoming

It’s crazy to think that it’s been ten months. Ten months of wandering without a real agenda, spending our life savings in the same four outfits, sans makeup, and despite a fear of flying. We have missed births, weddings, performances, and family dinners.  We have gained new friends, a sense of adventure, and a willingness to say ‘yes’ and make fools of ourselves. We have learned the world isn’t as scary as it looks in the news.

As Cale put it: ‘since we’ve been away, my favorite restaurant has closed (Kingfish), and my favorite brewery (Elysian) has been bought by Budweiser. It’s time to come home.’

As we plan our first week back home, I have realized that although I have been thinking a lot about it, I haven’t really planned any real next steps. That part is a bit scary but seeing friends and family, and good old grey Seattle, is very exciting for us.

Luckily we have had our first taste of the USA in Hawaii with the in-laws.  We came back to… real sidewalks! Where people can walk and cars/motorbikes don’t try to run you over! We came back to bitter beer and new jeans (an item we strategically left out of our backpacks)!  Actually the very first thing we noticed, immediately after exiting the airport, was that cars stop for you at crosswalks and you don’t have to just step into traffic and start praying in order to cross the street.

We had an amazing week in Hawaii with family and we’re on our way home tomorrow!

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Our last meal in Vietnam

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Our first meal in the USA

With the fam at a luau in Maui

With the fam at a luau in Maui

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And that, my friends, is how a pineapple grows.

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Family Dinner

Cale and Terry

Cale and Terry

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The nearby beach in Maui

Whale Watching on the last day of our trip

Whale Watching on the last day of our trip

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Hanoi Side-Trips

After the family left we took a couple side trips before flying halfway home.

Sapa is in the Northwest corner of Vietnam. We took overnight trains to get there and back. Then spent a couple days trekking with one night at a homestay and another at a hotel.

We almost didn’t go to Sapa because we had heard from other travelers that the weather was pretty bad. One couple traveled up on one night train and left town on the very next night train because the fog was so terrible. So we were kind of risking it with this trip. In the end it turned out quite well – we had one day of decent weather before the clouds rolled in. So we could see far enough in front of us to glimpse these amazing views:

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Our guide, Thai, leading the way through the fields.

 

First day of hiking

First day of hiking

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Luckily our guide and the other travelers in our hiking group were all really awesome and we had a fun day hiking, learning about the area, sharing travel stories, eating meals, drinking rice wine, and playing cards together.

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Our awesome group eating dinner at the homestay. Cale, Jon and Emily from the U.S., Hringur and Erna from Iceland, Mauricio and Natalia from Columbia, and Thai from Vietnam!

 

We left our homestay after the first night and continued trekking. Emily and Jon had been trying to figure out an opportunity to gift several pairs of reading glasses to some of the women in the villages.  A family friend of theirs who lives in Hanoi had given them a package of glasses with instructions on how to check vision using postcards with different-sized letters and distributing glasses of varying prescriptions.

Any hikers that come to Sapa are followed by an entourage of local women who assist you on the trail (whether you like it or not) and then try and sell their handwoven products at the end of your hike. They speak enough English to ask where you’re from, whether you have siblings, and whether you are married with kids- but not any more than that. So mid-way through our hike on day 2, Emily and Jon decided to figure out if the women in our entourage needed the glasses.  First they gave them postcards to look at, then handed out the glasses. There was obviously a language barrier but they were able to pass out the glasses and the women tried them on.  Immediately they put down the postcards and looked at the stitching in their clothing (which is exactly what the family friend said would happen). In this way they were able to figure out who could use which prescription.  It was so fun to see them getting excited that they could see their stitching more clearly- this is their livliehood and a pair of glasses that isn’t otherwise accessible out in the hills of Vietnam was a welcome gift. There aren’t any Walgreens, Bartells, or 7-11’s in the hills of Sapa.

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Testing the prescriptions

 

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Emily and Jon with our group of ladies and their new glasses.

 

After our prescription party, the fog rolled in and didn’t leave for for the next two days but we were still happy to be hiking and active.

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Foggy water buffalo.

 

Our 7th and last train ride in Vietnam. Also the nicest.

Our 7th and last train ride in Vietnam. Also the nicest.

We spent our last few days in Hanoi drinking egg coffee (kind of like coffee with Tom and Jerry’s mix on top), going for runs at Lenin Park, and we took one last side trip to Tam Coc where we were rowed down a river by a lady using her feet to paddle, through rice fields and under caves.

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We topped it all off with a bike ride in the pouring rain. Cale, as we left town for our freezing cold, wet, hour long bike ride: “Well this is fun!!!!”

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You can’t quite tell but we are completely soaked through and our faces are dripping with rainwater.

It’s bittersweet to be ending this trip but we are so excited to come home! Next stop: USA!

Fambly Visit

Who is so lucky that her family comes to visit her not once, not twice, but on three separate occasions within a year? THIS girl.

Mom, Dad, Aunt Pam, and Cousin Katie take Vietnam! Maybe not as exciting as the Kardashians taking Miami but with this family we get way more accomplished on a much smaller budget!

Day 1 in Saigon: The family timed the visit during the Tet Holiday, so we ran into a few street parties, flower festivals, and slightly less traffic than usual.

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Gotta love the electrical wiring here. I think dad noted at least 1,000 code violations on this trip :).

Street Party!

 

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Flower Festival

Flower Festival

Pho on the streets of Saigon. Photo courtesy of Katie Ryan.

 

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KT at the Perfume Pagoda

Cale, Katie and I went on a ‘Back of the Bikes Food Tour’ in Saigon where we got picked up and paired with a tour guide, hopped on the back of their motorbikes, and scooted around the city, stopping at various food stalls. It was delicious and terrifying, all at the same time.

One of the most delicious dishes. Beware: when something sounds good, don’t say ‘yum,’ say ‘yummy.’ Yum supposedly means something so profane that they wouldn’t tell us what. Katie learned the hard way by seeing this dish and saying “OOH! Yum yum yum yum yum.”

With the group at our last stop, eating dessert.

With the group at our last stop, eating dessert.

The “kids” took a 17 hour train ride from Saigon to Hoi An to meet back up with the parents.  Our entourage filled our days in Hoi An with walks around town, food poisoning, swimming at the beach, and a cooking class, in no particular order.

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Pam and Katie at one of the historical homes in Hoi An.

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Wandering the veggie garden outside our cooking class.

 

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A mostly-manual watering system

 

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Chefs hard at work.

 

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Beef wrapped in betel leaves

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Mackerel grilled in a banana leaf

Next stop: Halong Bay.  We didn’t have the greatest weather but it was still an amazing sight.

A foggy Halong Bay

A foggy Halong Bay

Chillin'

Chillin’

Boat cabins

Boat cabins

A grocery store on a boat!

A grocery store on a boat!

Kayak Trip

Kayak Trip

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Cale’s just bein’ Miley.

 

Werk. Katie knows her lines. I could use a few tips from Tyra. Plus I'm pretty sure that's a Spice Girls pose from 1995.

Werk. Katie knows her lines. I could use a few tips from Tyra. Plus I’m pretty sure that’s a Spice Girls pose from 1995.

One last family selfie. What a view!

One last family selfie. What a view!

And back to Hanoi where we had an extra day with KT and Pam.

Cale snuck into my shot and I didn't realize it until he looked at the photo and jumped for joy.

Cale snuck into my shot and I didn’t realize it until he looked at the photo and jumped for joy.

 

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Bia Hoi outside in Hanoi

Thanks, fam, for traveling so far! It was wonderful to explore Vietnam with you.