Monday, 31 January 2011

4 September 2001

In the morning swung by Frontier House then stopped for lunch at a bun cha stall on the corner, where I got pork burgers with sweet chilli sauce, noodles and salad for 5000 dong 9about £1.20). Spent most of the day exploring then in the evening went on a mystery tour.

 I was on the terrace at Minh's when I got talking with a guy who had just arrived from China. Then we met two other tourists and decided to go to a place called New Century disco. When we got there the door charge was 40,000 dong and while we were debating if it was worth it we were approached by a Croation who persuaded us to head off in search of a cheaper place. We got a taxi and the Croation spent the journey talking about how cheap the local prostitues were, which was a bit worrying.

The first place we tried was closed so we went to Apocalypse Now. It was awful, very young Vietnamese girls in tight miniskirts being pawed by fat elderly white men with German accents. After about 30 minutes we had finished our drinks and the music suddenly stopped dead so we left. Tried yet another closed bar before ending up back at New Century where it turned out they weren't actually collecting the door charge. On getting inside I realised this was probably because they had more staff than customers.

3 September 2001

When I got up I went for a stroll along the street and spotted a crown of people round a roadside Pho stall. took a seat and before long I recieved a china bowl full of clear beef stock, spring onions and noodles toppe with sliced beef. The child sat next to me had a raw egg cracked into his.

Everyone had to go into Frontier House to check the kit but it only took half an hour then we were back on the street. I took a cycle to the lake to change dollars but he bank was closed so I changed them with a woman on the street. I got talking to a Vietnamese man who introduced himself as an English student and offered to show me round to practice his English. We went to the temple in the middle of the lake (linked by a footbride), which as a giant stuffed turtle though they claim an even bigger one was sighted in 2000.

Then it was off on the back of my new guides motorbike right out past Ho Chi minh's mausoleum and West Lake. It was well scary shooting along in that traffic protected only by a borrowed motorbike helmet and my ability to hold onto a metal bar behind me.

About 3 we stopped at a snake restaurant where they killed one for us and we ate it in seven different dishes with rice and a kind of crispbread. The place itself was well done out but was on a dusty backstreet where the neighbours lived in their one room shops. I was persuaded to try xeo mixed with snake blood, "make you strong". The meal turned out to be very expensive, which may have been part of the scam but I decided it was worth it for the experience.

2 September 2001

Vietnamese National Day, I spent most of the day wandering aimlessly taking in the sights. I visited two pagods one of which was full of tourists, the other empty except for an old woman lighting incense sticks.

In the evening we went down to Hoan Kiem lake and mingled with the celebrating crowds. There was a carnival atmosphere but not much actual attractions and the only thing that drew attention was a speak your weight machine. Afterwards I got lost exploring the back streets of the old quarter.

1 September 2001

Up early to pack the truck then we left the valley for the last time.When we reached a surfaced road we all changed seating arrangements and I wound up sitting on the engine, which was located under the floor between the driver and front passenger. Fucknig scary ride downhill all the way to Bac Can.

We had lunch in Bac Can and transfered to a bus . I fell asleep among mountains and woke in the flatness of the Red River delta. Hanoi approached slowly through the afternoon and it was night by the time we got the Frontier House and unloaded. Had a pizza at the A & Z cafe and slept in a real bed.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

30-31 August 2001

30th Hungover all day, decided xeo is evil.

31st Packed the remainder of the equipment and gave a presentation on the work to the local Peoples Committee, which turned into a long meeting mostly conducted in Vietnmamese. Afterwards they gave us a meal of rice, pumpkin and chicken although the chicken was mostly gristle including the deep fried head.

29 August 2001

Got up at the crack of dawn to help collect the harp trap, which was set up in the Indiana Jones ravine on the top of the hill opposite, only got three bats this time. Five of us went but it only took three to carry everything, I took some metal joining bits that have to be kept out of the bag to avoid tearing the threads.

Started breaking up base camp by filling in the rubbish pit and putting some equipment in trunks. Only two days left, which seemed hard to believe.

Following a rumour that a hunter had shot a gibbon Martin headed off and managed to buy the hand and part of a skull, which will be taken back to Hanoi for identification.

Will, Myron and Colin went out for a walk and they came back carrying Colin who was very drun kas a result of meeting some miners. Myron bought some more xeo and a group of locals showed up wanting to drink with us, after that it went downhill fast.

26-28 August 2001

26th Took the long walk back to base camp and collapsed.

27th Did very little as I recovered from exhaustion.

28th Climbed the seconds highest karst around with Chris and Rachel, lots of scrambling but the main problem was the thick bamboo we had to push through. Still it was worth it for the view from the top of mountains stretching north into China. Coming down we passed through the village where a woman let us walk through under her house. Darren and Mr Tue came back from the final vegetation plot and told us they heard monkeys and there was a rumour that gibbons had been seen in the area.

The harp trap got 20 bats, ten at the morning check and ten when it was checked shortly after dusk.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

19-26 August 2001

Hard walk to satelite camp 3, got the oldest and leakiest tent even though most people had brought their own hammocks.

Relatively lazy day, found a location for birding and tried to waterproof tent with a tarp making it pitch black inside. Mr tue built a table and Mr Tien built a backgammon board. Only two weeks left in the forest but even Hanoi seemed very far away.

climbed a karst near the camp, which is also close to gibbon spot.

All day on the vegetation plot, knackered.

The vegetation plot finished at 2pm and Mr Tue produced some xeo. Ended up playing poker till late.

Did very little, flooded out of my tent early on saturday morning and spent time packing up the camp.

11 - 18 August 2001

 Took a long hard walk out to satelite camp 2 and as soon as we arrived it started raining and I was covered in leeches. The local guides cleared banana trees for the camp in no time.

Reccied and later surveyed a transect for bats.

Marking out and recording a vegetation plot and found the skeleton of an unidentified mammal.

Got up early to walk to a hill refered to as gibbon spot although there were no gibbons. Returned to camp by lunchtime  and spent the afternoon failing to birdwatch.

Camp duty and a resuply from base camp. Mr Tue the local guide cooked the new food, not trusting us foreigners.

Helped Mr Tien the Vietnamese scientist to check the Sherman live traps for small mammals and got one mouse. Was quite pleased with myself when he changed his mind about the species as a result of my checking the field guide.

Birdwatching and butterfly catching, packed up camp.

8-10 August 2001

Spent much of the time lazing in the stilthouse, which was full of people sleeping on the floor or in hamocks and down by the waterfall. Hong learnt a new English phrase "you have crabs".

On wednesday afternoon someone was taken into the Peoples Committe building by a group of police and the rumour was that a gold miner from the hills had been caught dealing heroin.

Friday the 10th was spent packing up the kit for the second satellite camp and buying supplies in the village. we stocked up on prawn sticks as the alternative was banh ep.

5-7 August 2001

On sunday I was supposed to be assessed by Martin for managing the camp but he went to a local house for dinner instead. The next couple of days were fairly lazy but we did re-erect the sphingid trap, which was a kind of shelter made of tarpaulin with a lightbulb powered  by a very noisy generator. Some of the moths were brightly coloured but most were just a dull brown.

3-4 August 2001

Did little work on the friday except for dismantling the harp trap and discovering that the satelite camp would be closing a day early.

On saturday I was up at 5.30 to walk out and to camp to help carry back equipment. On the way back we stopped at the gold miners camp and were offered tea and xeo to drink.

2 August 2001

Slept through the harp trap check but got up in time for breakfast. Walked out to the satelite camp through Indiana Jones style ravines and up rocky slopes. The camp was in an area of very tall grass and they'd actually made tables and chairs. The village got electric lights for the first time making the valley light up in the evening.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

31 July -1 August 2001

Up very early to go birding then as it was a very hot day the four of us went down to the river and swam under a small waterfall. The kids lined up on the side of the road to practice their English chanting "Big penis, small penis"

Later the Vietnamese staff member Hien arrived with dried squid to eat and we had chicken soup for tea. The only real work was carrying the Harp trap to a site at the top of the hill where Troy had seen bats.

We got up to check the trap at 6am and were back by nine so I had a quick nap. Hien cooked lunch (prawn crackers) and tea (spring rolls) so there wasn't much to do.

29 -30 July 2001

Everyone on the first satelite camp left and we made burgers and chips for dinner. Hong came up to the camp and took pictures of everything with my camera. In the evening Martin, Colin and Myron went to buy some Xeo and came back drunk. I joined them and regreted it for most of monday.

Martin bought a chicken from somewhere and cut it's head off with a machette, it didn't run around after but did make a few kicks. It was still delicious roasted with onions and tomatoes.

25 -28 July 2001

25th Camp duty, made pork cracking in the morning and roast peanuts at lunch. Tried and failed to make baked potatoes but did manage to produce mash and onion gravy and two cakes.

In the evening we briefly set up a light trap for sphingid moths but took it down again as a storm came through.

26th Up at six to collect the harp trap with Martin and Colin. Hong brought us a live chicken and killed it in the kitchen. We agreed a plan for the rest of the time in Kim Hy including time off on the 27th and 28th. On the 28th I was persuaded to get a checkerboard pattern haircut.

20 -24 July 2001

Started the proper science work on the 20th by marking out a vegetation plot and starting to mark numbers on all the trees. The site is about 2 hours walk over the mountains on steep limestone covered in rainforest. On the way back I took a wrong turn a walked through the village  which was like something out of the middle ages with wooden stilthouses and buffalo and people watching from balconies.

Ended up spending four days on the vegetation plot and on the final day finished early and met some illegal gold miners who invited us to their hut.

18 July 2001

Spent the morning training to set out a vegetation plot up on the hill. It was very steep and overgrown and I thought how hard it would be to do this for real.

Later tried to identify the tree frog but using a key for Sabbah a few thousand miles to the south.

In the afternoon we carried the bits for the hapr trap up a muddy waterfall to set it up. We returned to check after dinner but found nothing. There was another dry storm with lightning and wind but no rain or thunder. The kind of weather that makes you expect the villagers to come out with burning torches looking for the monster.

17 July 2001

Started science training with lectures on birds, bats and frogs and made plans for a satelite camp. Also built another table and Troy built a clay oven.

We made a start on re-stringing the harp trap but it got dark before we finished so we tried to catch frogs instead but only got one tree frog.

14-16 July 2001

Spent saturday carring bamboo poles from the far side of the valley to build base camp. Everyone finally arrived and we spent the evening drinking whisky. Jo named three pigs that live nearby bacon, sausage and eggs.

On sunday 15th we set up a mess tent and a longhouse made of tall bamboo A frames you could walk under. The local kids were everywhere and one called Hong caught a big dragonfly by the wings and tried to make it bite people.

The rest of the camp including the toilet was completed on monday and we got beer to celebrate. The toilet was on the hill above camp and allowed you to lie back and take it the view while using it.

12-13 July 2001

Slept well in the stilthouse but then at 6.20am the floor holding the tiles collapsed. Got up, made coffee and started frying chips for breakfast, which took hours. It was decided the stilthouse was unsafe so we moved everything out.

In the evening there was a storm in which we could see the lightning miles away but the sky above us was clear.

On friday the 13th it finally rained making it cool enough to work and we dug drainage ditches around a small storehouse.

11 July 2001

Rice noodles for breakfast then started work. First I went off with Troy and Colin to cut bamboo and got my first leeches including one on the sole of my foot. After we cut the first two stems Myron came up and said that we weren't supposed to but we cut another 3 anyway before going to join the others setting up camp in a stilthouse.

They'd already fixed the roof with tarps so I helped move some clay tiles on the floor and lay out tarps to put the sleeping gear on.

Monday, 24 January 2011

10 July 2001

Finally deployed all the way to Kim Hy in a truck and a Russian made minibus. A few hours on roads to Na Ri the district capital, which was a tingy place where the children ran out to see us and practice their English. Then wew headed out on dirt roads into stunning scenery. At one point we had to stop to tie the minibus to the lorry to cross a river. Later we waited at a smaller river because of rumours of a landslide and met an old man drunk on Xeo who seemed to be the village idiot.

When we go to the site we set up camp on a hill behind the road across from the post office and I collaped with exhaustion.

9 July

Very good nights sleep in the cooler mountain climate and my first Pho for breakfast - it was delicious. The staff got all our hopes by suggesting we might go but then it started raining again. In the evening we went out for Jo's birthday and ended up in a pool hall playing a strange mix of pool and cards.

8 July 2001

Up at 3.30, taxi at 4 to Frontier House to load up an old bus with plastic seats with kit trunks, food sacks and finally our bags. Once on board I feel asleep again and woke up going through the countryside of water buffaloes and rice. The road got roughere when we reached the mountains but the views were fantastic.

Got into Bac Can provincial town inthe pouring rain. It was a long street of tin shacks with signs inVietnamese. On arrival we were told the road was impassable and taken to lunch nearby. There seemed to be something strange on the meat so I filled up on rice and chips (yes chips even here). The meal finished with green tea then we went to a local hotel and unloaded the bus before going upstairs. I was shocked again to find aircondition en-suite rooms with TV and elctric lights that were more reliable than Hanoi.

Dinner was at the same place as lunch and we sat out on a balcony before someone came out and talked urgently to one of the Vietnamese staff. He translated "we have to move the balcony is unsafe". As well as the usual selection there was a new dish, fried chios of something white with black bits.

7 July 2001

Prepared to leave, packing up trunks of equipment then traipsed around Hanoi looking for a stereo so we could play music in camp. Had dinner at the A2Z cafe for a final western meal. I ended up going twice, once on my own and once with the others.

Two people were barred from deploying due to sickness.

5-6 July 2001

Spent a dull thursday sorting equipment but was pleased to but some sandals from a man I had no words in common with. We bartered by writing numbers on a piece of paper.

On Friday the 6th we went to the Ethnology museum, which was full of displays about minority tribes and has a selection of house types out the back.

4 July 2001

Up at 6 for a bus to Cuc Phuong national park. The road was bad and the driver went like a maniac past paddy fields and tin shacks. After an hour the mountains appeared and then we were driving between the smaller peaks stopping occasionally for checkpoints.Bamboo huts began to appear scattered in the fields and then we arrived.

First was the Primate Centre where they have arange of gibbons and macaques some living free in a 1/2 km area along with small deer. Apparently they have a good interspecies thing going on, females of the gibbon and monkey groups groom each other and they ride on the deer like horses. They are in the enclosure as they are ready to be released into the wild but can't be until hunting stops in the area.The rerst of the priamtes are in cages but still amazing including one male who is the onlyu one of his kind in captivity.

Next we looked at turtles and tortoises, turtles have distinct fingers and a concave sternum but I missed a lot of species detail, luckily there are ID books.

Lunch was at a place in a nearby village where we ate outside under an awning. The heat sapped my appetite and the sight of raw meat left in the sun didn't help. The condiments included a small bowl of MSG with a wedge of lime.

After lunch we went to the visitors centre and it was a shock. A modern visitors centre like you might get in England in a place where people live in bamboo stilt houses, not because they are quaint but because they are poor.

Finally at 2 the Vietnamese finished their long lunch hour and we went to see the civets, which are a kind of carnivore and not normally shown to the public. Even as privelliged visitors we had to go in small groups to see one old male. They look like a cross between a cat and a weasel but are apparently unique.

Finally we went to the Rescue Centre, which is run by park rangers separately from the conservation project and has animals rescued from food markets. Only one man had a key so we had to wait. The animals have bare concrete cages and packing crates to sleep in. There are plans to put a bear in a space the size of a shower cubicle. On the way out we passed the old bear farm where the Park Manager used to keep bears to harvest their bile for medicine.

On the way back the air con was on and I slept a couple of hours. On waking I noticed the railway running between the road and the shops with no barriers at all before disapearing into a narrow side street.

In the evening several of us went out for the leaving do of one of the Vietnamese staff at a westernised restaurant called Mocha, where I had beef in sesame seeds then explored the town. It abolutely pissed down. I remember the phrase "rain will come and wash the filthy scum from the streets" but here it was literal allthe dog shit and rotting food washed into the gutters and away.

3 July 2001

Took taxis to Frontier House via the ANZ bank to change cash, which was needed as soon as we arrived to pay visa fees. We also had to surrender our passports to get work permits.

Frontier House is a tall building with tiled floors and air conditioning in some rooms! After an introductory talk we went to a Bia Hoi for lunch. There were small bowls of everything rice, beef, beansprouts and bizarely chips. After lunch we returned to the house and some people went off shopping while the rest of us cleaned and repaired tools. At 4 we walked back to the hotel across terrifying streets where the traffic weaves round you but never stops. Ate dinner at Minh's again but I was still full from lunch and put off by the smell of rotting veg in the street.

2 July 2001

Moscow airport is very big and very dark with bizzare 70's decor. After considering a large bottle of vodka with 6 shot glasses (not my idea I hate vodka) we settled for Carlsberg in the bar. On the second flight I got an aisle seat and was able to sleep but the meal was vile.

Hanoi airport seemed small and quicker to get through that I expected then we were met by someone from the Vietnam office of Frontiet and loaded onto another bus. It was very hot and humid.

There are no road rules in Vietnam, where a dua lcarriageway forced it we drove on the rightbut elsewhere anything goes especially for the bikes and mopeds. We passed rice fields, water buffalo, farmers in conical hats - all the stereotypes. Then Hanoi - a mess of people with shops spilling onto the street, run down buildings and noise. After dumping bags at a cheap hotel we went to the local bar (bia hoi).

Ate at Minh's restaurant, an upstairs place with an open terrace and plastic chairs. The beef and fried noodles was delicious. Then on to Highway 4 a xeo (sp?) bar where you sit on the floor at low tables and are bought shots of rice wine, which is not a wine but a very strong spirit, in a range of colours. It seemed strange to think that the bare fan cooled room was probably the closest to top range I would get on this trip.

1 July 2001

The next morning I made my way back into the airport by bus. Heathrow is the size of a medium sized town with its own shops, cafes and tube network before you even get to check in. Met up with the others in my team (see later entries) in terminal 2 and finally got my tickets and visa. Checking in I had to wait while my onward tickets from Vietnam were checked and rechecked. Still I got off lightly compared to the two Americans, they couldn't change planes at Moscow without Russian transit visas and had to be sent back into London to the embassy and fly later.

The top floor of the terminal seemed to be ten times the size of the ground and of course full of duty free shops. The flight seemed to be delayed as there was no gate number but also no anouncements. Eventually it came up as gate 12 and we checked in an hour late at the gate, then waited another hour in a lounge before bussed out to the plane, several miles out in a sea of tarmac.

Finally took off three hours late. My seat was apart from the others and the flight magazine was in Russian.

30 June 2001

I started out at the bus stop at the end of the High Street. The National Express Coach took as long to get to London as it would later  take to get to Moscow by plane.

After changing buses twice, somewhere on the outskirts of Heathrow I ended up at a hotel called the Posthouse in a small single room. By 9 I had eaten and bathed so I decided to try and catch up on sleep in advance and went to bed for ten hours.

Travels 2001

The next few posts will be transcribed from diaries made in 2001. I will try to remember to put the date as the title but if not please assume that each post follows from the one before.