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Short Reports from part TWO of the journey 2003 (13 – 17)

We are in Hanoi, in the middle of the old town bustle. But first we took a nap after a 32-hour-trip from Germany to Asia. Everything went fine. We have to thank ”Emirates Airline” for being so kind with us instead of our baggage and the ”Goethe Institute” for their support. Our heavy luggage and the bikes eventually arrived in Hanoi without any damages. Two days of sightseeing followed, still we are among the hundreds and thousands of people of Hanoi. Everyone’s friendly and greeting us with a smile. Traffic is unbelievable, most people use motorbikes. Weather is fine, too. It is not raining at a temperature of 15 degrees Celsius.
     On January 5th we want to leave Hanoi on our bikes and we hope to find a comfortable way out of this pulsating city on our way south.
     Keep your fingers crossed for us. We feel fit and ready to set about the journey.
     Jutta and Gerhard

We have been on our way south for four days now, 350 kilometres (207 miles) lay behind us. Tomorrow we will set about the next 150 (88). This national road ”Number one” is stunning. While travelling we are surrounded by dozens of people, most of them sitting on bicycles, with which they transport just everything: glass windows, piglets or chickens in little cages, enormous wardrobes or long heavy iron bars.
     After a rain shower we reached our lodge soaking wet and dirty. The next day held a bad surprise. The gearshift of my bike broke which had always been a nightmare for me – now only the heaviest gear was left for me to use. Just a moment later I had a flat tire, which forced me off my bike. Fortunately we could fix everything with the help of a smart mechanic.
     People here seem to have so much joy. It is almost contagious. Everyone offers help. We enjoy every second.
     Jutta and Gerhard

We love Vietnam – it is an impressing country. After 700 kilometres (414 miles) we arrived in Hue. Today we take a break. Travelling by bike in Vietnam is exciting but also demanding. Men on bicycles, motorbikes carrying two or three persons, buffalo and cows in-between, suddenly crossing the road without any warning. We crossed lots of villages and cities with urban life. The natives are not at all impressed by busses and trucks, which work their way through the crowds honking. We often have to make way for them. We saw columns of students on bikes on their way home after school, but also accidents, ambulances (bikes of course), and little kitchens cooking soup just by the roadside.
     We had to fix four flat tires in two hours, once we almost lost one of our bike packs. We are preparing for the mountains; lodging and food are very good here.
     But there are also peaceful moments, when the number of trucks and busses decreases, the condition of the road improves and we reach a speed of 25 kilometres per hour (15 miles).
We see hundreds of workers in the fields planting rice, bananas and palm trees by the roadside, lots of new houses as well as old little huts. The view from the bridges shows yellow, indolently running water, huge fishing nets and fishing boats just like in the old times. Day number five was the most exciting one. People are still very friendly and hospitable.
     We are still in love with each other, never argue – we should have more time, days are short.
     Wish us luck – Jutta and Gerhard

We are in Buon Me Thuot, a mountain city in the south of Vietnam situated 400 kilometres (239 miles) from the Cambodian border. We plan to pass Saigon north, which is kind of difficult because of inaccuracies in our maps. 1100 kilometres (650 miles) on the national road lay behind us, the ”vein” and lifeblood of Vietnam, that connects Hanoi with Saigon. The road is highway, expressway, and cycle track, taken by students on their way to school, sidewalk as well as shopping street at the same time. For many it is place for trading and earning money. We felt relief anyway, when we finally left it for the mountains in the west of the country. DaNang was lying ahead of us, when we had our most difficult passage climbing a mountain road in serpentines together with the trucks. We witnessed a fatal accident involving two young men on a motorbike.
     Now we have managed three mountain passages, several hundred metres uphill. We were pretty exhausted, especially Jutta, when we arrived. It is sunny and warm up here. The houses of the mountain people are built of plain wickerwork, often covered with straw. We saw rubber trees and enjoyed the smell coming from coffee plantations. We discover new things behind every hill and every turn. Camping and private lodging is forbidden up here, if we cannot find a hotel, we have to come up with a new idea. But somehow it will work out.
     Jutta and Gerhard send you best wishes.

We found a way to drive round Saigon. From Thai Ninh we went for the Kingdom of Cambodia. At the border the world seemed to have just ended, as if the Khmer Rouge had just left the country the day before. Unbelievable: The road from Saigon to Phnom Penh almost did not exist anymore because of floods that had destroyed it almost completely. The country is totally isolated towards Vietnam. People here live in even bigger poverty than the Vietnamese people do. After two hard days of cycling we reached Phnom Penh. It is still amazing despite of all the things we know how different the Cambodian people look compared to the Vietnamese. Their skin has the colour of coffee, most of them have real dark, round eyes – not at all like what we imagine when we think of Asia.
     The smell of the water buffaloes was dominant; we had to share the road with them for a while. We struggled with potholes, sand, gravel and wet loam. I was worried about our tires. Jutta was grumbling at the bad road, but didn’t argue with me. She is tough enough to manage these difficult parts of the journey. When I praise her strength after a hard day she gives the compliment right back to me.
     The children’s Hello reached us before we reached the children. They came running down the road before we even arrived in the little villages. Their shouting was like bush drums. We could not answer all of them, because the underground demanded all our concentration. We crossed Mekong River by ferry, cramped between bikes carrying chickens, squealing piglets or banana piles and dozens of motorbikes. The roads on the opposite side of the river were in good condition and sometimes the tropical trees gave us shade.
     We also are in good shape and say hello to those thinking of us back home in Germany and all the other countries from where we receive good wishes. Jutta and Gerhard

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