Our rower kicked ass, she was great!

Trip Start Oct 31, 2012
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Trip End Dec 12, 2012


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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Tuesday, November 13, 2012


The train arrives in Hanoi at 4.30 in the morning, but it's only the start of a very long day.  Since I am not at a hotel, I have to go to the cruise line's office to be picked up and transported to Halong Bay.  I kill time at the train station, starting up a conversation in Spanish with a girl from Panama; she and the boyfriend were on the same Sapa/Lao Cai shuttle, which is where I first heard her speak Spanish.  Once it gets light outside, I take a taxi to the cruise ship's office.  That means, of course, having to deal with taxi drivers. 

The one I got tried to overcharge me -- the cruise line told me how much it would cost to get from the train station to their office 3.5 km away (about 2.1 miles),  He claimed he knew where he was going, but he doesn't, his sense of direction is as bad as mine, but at least the price is fixed and it kills plenty of time.  I see the office while he is driving slowly up and down the streets, I get out, sit and wait on its steps until the office workers arrive.  When the staff finally arrives, I board the bus, which will pick up the other 20 passengers from their hotels, then we leave Hanoi behind for a four hour drive.   

Halong Bay, like Luang Prabang, is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  When we arrive, we get lucky, as the weather is very nice.  The bay is kind of hazy, but it's still going to be a pretty day.  Once we get on the ship (around 1 pm), check into our cabins, have lunch, it's off to a floating fishing village, where several thousand people live spread along the bay.  When we get to one village's pier, we have a choice: go kayaking, or climb into a boat and let someone else do the rowing.  As usual, the men are running the show, but the women are having to do the hard work by rowing each boat's arrival for about one hour, and they do this all day, day after day.  Our rower is awesome.  We're the last boat of about six to leave the pier, and she kicks ass.  Unlike the other boats, who take the shortest routes available to get from one place to another, ours takes us on the long route, then circles the sites so we can see them from all sides.  With all this extra work,  she's still able to beat the others to the preferred spots.  When we approach a rock with an opening big enough for the boat to pass through, she hauls it to beat the other boats.  She then blocks them from entering in before us, then motions for our cameras, and takes pictures of us.  If one tries to pass her by, she holds out her oar to block it; she definitely wants just us and the rock in the photos.  After we are done, I turn around to see the other boats, who don't get this same service.  Their rowers just keep rowing, one right after the other, it's like a traffic jam in the opening.  When the boats pass through the rock, it signals the end of the cruise, and a return to the pier, but ours just keeps rowing.   

When we do get back tot he pier, the other two riders and I tip her handsomely for her wonderful service.  You would think that we bestowed $1M and a green card to the US on her, as she was so appreciative.  She grabbed our hands and brought them to her face and held on to us for what seemed like a really long time.  It looked like she had tears in her eyes -- or maybe they were in mine -- for our gesture; the other rowers weren't tipped at all, their passengers just stepped off the boat.  We later learn that these women are paid just peanuts for the work they do, but to them it is still something.  My only hope is that the mean men who were yelling at the women won't shake down this rower for the tips we gave her.    

We get back to the ship, then head out to Titop Island, which has a beach and staircase to the top of it for views of the bay.  The island was named after some Russian cosmonaut, though I don't know what made him special.  It's now back to the boat, a quick shower, then dinner.  People on the boat are from all over the world, and everyone is so nice and friendly. Everyone is sharing their travel stories, advice, and experiences with one another. The boat can actually hold up to 40 people, but it is nice that it is only half full, or it would be too crowded. It's then time for bed, and sleep in a very calm water.

  
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