Biking on a day in the mid-90’s, the water stop couldn’t come soon enough. After pulling off the road, I drank half a bottle and poured the rest down my back to cool off. John, one of our guides in Vietnam, planned water stops at places of local interest. We’d watch men mend fishing nets one day and we’d talk to a local farmer the next. Once we walked through a shady grove of latex trees. Breaks meant drinking water, finding a WC, and taking a few photographs. At this stop, young women were hulling and skinning cashews.
If I’d thought at all about how cashews were produced, I would have guessed groves grew somewhere in California and Kraft Foods operated processing plants that hulled, roasted, and packaged them. But that’s not so. We import them. Our imports primarily come from Vietnam. They’re processed, at least in part, through forced labor or under harsh conditions.
One fan under the corrugated tin roof hardly moved the air. The hullers wore masks and long sleeves because oil from the husk is caustic and burns the skin. These women might make $5 a day, according to John. He didn’t say how long the days were.
I walked back out into the mid-day sun and biked away. Pouring more water down my back didn’t make me feel cleaner.
Our bike trip through Vietnam was booked through Vermont Biking Tours. We flew to Hanoi in mid-December to meet eight other couples. Some folks were in their 40’s. One man, an incredible cyclist, was 78. Most were in their 50’s. Two men in our group served in Vietnam during the war.
Biking started when we arrived in the central region of Vietnam, near the towns of Hue and Hoi An. After a short flight south, we biked through the Mekong Delta. Along the way we saw temples, pagodas, markets. We visited Ho Chi Minh’s house and watched water puppetry. We saw Da Nang and bamboo boats. We saw small temples within rice paddies. We saw thousands and thousands of mopeds and scooters. We visited the heartbreaking Củ Chi tunnels.
My thanks to Cameron for most of these photos. It takes a rider more coordinated than I to snap photos as we pedal along.
In Williamsburg, actors dress up like 18th century characters. They wear petticoats and bonnets and ask where they might buy salt.
Several streets of the town are preserved. Some homes are private residences. Others are open for tours. Colonial Williamsburg has original taverns, churches, a cobbler, and post office.
Petticoats look more fun than they are. I was six during the Eisenhower-era petticoat days—layers of nylon organza rolled up and cinched at the waist. I suspect the 18th century version was just as uncomfortable.
Proud Americans walk the Freedom Trail in Boston, snapping photos of Old Granary Burial Ground. Moms and Dads gape up at the tower of the Old North Church. “One if by land and two if by sea,” they tell their children. They read from brochures that Benjamin Franklin attended First Public School until he dropped out.
Ben was lured, no doubt, by cool water on late summer days.
We remove our shoes before approaching the River Ganga. This river is a temple, her water holy.
Families gather on wide marble steps leading to the river banks. Men strip to the waist to swim. Mothers pull up their sarees to rest their legs in the cool water. Little boys jump in naked. Bathing in her waters washes away sins.
As the sun sets, steps fill with pilgrims. Music begins. The chant is familiar, if only because of George Harrison’s 1971 song “My Sweet Lord.”
As the sun sets across the Ganges, oil lamps are lit. Arms lift in praise. Lamps pass high over our heads and our arms stretch upward toward the fire. We waft smoke–a symbol of our praise and thanksgiving–toward our hair.