Day 263: The Worst Bus Ride of My Life

It was time to checkout of my hotel in Hanoi and head north to Ha Giang. I talked with a woman at the reception desk about the best way to get there because it was a six-hour bus ride away. I asked her about the 10:00 am bus and taking a taxi to get to the main station. I found a site online that said the seats were recliner seats and it was not a sleeper bus. I also read that the sleeper buses were very uncomfortable. I wanted to get some writing done, so a seat would be better than a sleeper bus.

The woman told me that I’d be better off taking the 11:00 am bus because she could get them to pick me up. Going to the main bus station would be backtracking. I explained that I needed to get there by 5:00 pm and she assured me that I would. After eating breakfast, I brought my bags to the lobby.

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At 11:08 am, I asked the woman at reception, “I thought the bus left at 11:00 am?” She replied, “Yes.” Finally, at 11:30 am, a van picked me up. It was small and the back didn’t have much space for luggage. There were three guys in the back from Europe. I sat in the front seat with my duffel bag on my lap. Next, we picked up three British girls and there was no space for their giant backpacks, so they had to put them on their laps. They said the tight van quarters were “mental.”

At 12:15 pm, we arrived at the bus station and were instructed to board the bus. We put our luggage in the lower portion of the bus. I was extremely upset when I saw that the bus was a sleeper bus. There were three rows of sleeper “seats” that consisted of slightly reclined seats on the floor with a metal container where you were supposed to put your legs and feet. There were two narrow walkways and it was already halfway full. There were also metal bars around each sleeper seat that were holding up a second level.

The driver instructed me to take off my shoes and assigned a seat in the middle of the first floor. It was extremely narrow and made for people shorter than 5’2”. Being 6’1”, it was laughable. The problem is that I had to put my legs into the metal container. Since they wouldn’t fit, I had to sit with my legs bent and my knees practically in my face.

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The British girls were behind me and felt bad for me. They could barely fit and knew it was even worse for me. The bus filled up and we were off. I desperately didn’t want to take this bus for six hours, but at that point, I didn’t have an option. The British girls pointed to a guy above them on the second story who had a blanket over him. They thought he might be masterbating. I cringed.

The bus smelled of body odor and farts. People shouted on their phones, watched videos on their phones without headphones, and the driver constantly honked his horn. There was not a restroom on the bus, so I tried not to drink too much water. There wasn’t any air flow near me and I was miserable.

If I stretched my legs, my butt was halfway up the reclined seat and my head would hit the top floor. I found that I could turn to my left side and at least then my legs weren’t bent in my face. However, the metal bar was painful. I put my blanket on the bar which helped a little bit.

After two hours, we stopped at a remote store that also had a restroom. I got off the bus, not knowing how long we had there. The restroom was a squat toilet and didn’t have toilet paper. I was very grateful that I always carried Kleenex with me throughout Southeast Asia. There wasn’t any soap, which was common, so I used my hand sanitizer.

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I bought a small bag of puffed chips and a cup of popcorn. I got back on the bus and climbed to my seat. I couldn’t help but notice that we picked up another six people who didn’t have seats. They sat in the two aisles and two of them decided to sit directly next to me, shoulder to shoulder. This meant I couldn’t turn my legs to the side. It was also absurd that two decided to smash me in instead of sitting near our metal feet containers.

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I asked the man on my left if he could scoot up a little so I could turn my legs to the side, but he didn’t understand me. I called a worker over and asked him to tell them to move. He didn’t speak English either. I tried to use Google Translate, but I lost cell service. I used my arms to motion, showing them scooting up. That worked and he had the men move up a little. It was enough for me to turn my legs to the side. I couldn’t stretch my legs, however, because the men were in the aisle.

I tried to take a nap, but my legs kept losing circulation because of the metal bars. I shifted to try to get the blood flow back. We made several random stops on the side of the road to let people off the bus. To pass the time, I wrote for my blog on my phone and listened to music. When it got dark outside, colored lights came on like it was a nightclub.

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We arrived in Ha Giang at 6:40 pm. I was supposed to meet with the motorbike tour guide that afternoon, but with the delay I had to reschedule to later that night. I stood in the parking lot and tried to find a Grab. They were all busy, so my request wouldn’t go through. A guy standing nearby who appeared to be a taxi driver said he would take me for 50,000 dong ($2.15 USD). I tried to explain to him that all I had was one 10,000 bill and 500,000 bills and needed change. I used Google Translate and he agreed to give me change, but it took five minutes for us to understand each other.

Once I got into the car, I realized there was not a taxi sign on the car and I got nervous. Then I thought about how he talked with some guys as he left the parking lot. Are they kidnapping me?

Thankfully, I arrived safe and sound at my hotel. The man at the front desk didn’t speak English, so he couldn’t answer any of my questions about the WiFi, breakfast, or how to turn on the lights. He just pointed to the elevator. The hallway on my floor was dark and I had to turn on the lights. These are the moments that make traveling as a solo female scary.

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I walked down the street and ate dinner. The town was small, but had a decent amount of shops. I went back to my hotel and met Opie, my motorbike tour guide. I signed up for a four-day tour around the mountains in the north that would begin the following day. Opie was in his early 20s, around 5’9”, had bleach-blonde hair on top, had earrings, an athletic vibe, and was really nice.

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Opie wanted to make sure I knew how to drive the motorbike because it was semi-automatic and I would need to shift with my foot. I looked it over and said I think I could do it. He told me that I could store my belongings at his hostel the next day and just bring my backpack on the tour.

I went back to my room to repack so that I had what I needed for the tour. The BBC was on TV and they were showing live footage of the Brexit deal with Theresea May in Parliament. I found it very interesting because even though they were obviously angry, they still had respect for each other. In the U.S., it seems as though we’ve lost all respect for the opposing party. I enjoyed seeing how another country conducted their politics.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider 
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Day 39: Feeling Vulnerable on a Hike

During the bike tour, the guide recommended a few hikes in the area that I wanted to try. I was already staying on the side of a mountain in West Vancouver, so the drive would be an easy 15 minutes to the trail head.

That morning, I finished up a blog post about how I had felt on day 5: depressed. I was nervous about posting it because it was so raw. The beginning of my trip was not easy. I experienced a tremendous amount of change in a very short period of time and had a hard time figuring out my new normal.

I uploaded the blog post and left for the hike around 4:00 pm. When I arrived at Eagle Bluff Trail, the Olympic rings were still on display from 2010. There was a vacant ski lift, swaying in the cool summer breeze. The clearing of trees showed the runs that skiers traversed the hills during the winter months.

The total trail was just under six miles and 1,500 ft elevation gain. Large rocks quickly appeared on the dirt trail, making the incline a little more difficult. I passed several ponds and lakes.

The green trees against the bright blue sky reminded me of why I wanted to go to the Pacific Northwest so badly. After being in the California drought for more than a decade, it was what I needed. I could feel life growing in the forest.

Continuing to climb, the trail turned into roots from the towering trees above. They provided great shade, but were definitely trip hazards. A fellow hiker tripped on a root when she looked up to see me and fell. The guy with her and I made sure she was ok and they continued on.

Starting the trail, I didn’t have cell service. As I continued to climb, cell service would sporadically appear and a text message would come through – messages of concern from friends and family. Then the Facebook notifications appeared. Words of encouragement after reading my blog post on depression.

I started to panic and thought, “Why did I post that? I shouldn’t have written about it.” I felt embarrassed and exposed as I thought about all of the people who I’m connected with on Facebook – old coworkers, family, friends, and neighbors. I desperately wanted to take down the post but didn’t have much cell service. The entire climb up, I worried about that post and how it would make me look: weak.

When I arrived at the top of the mountain, there were a few people taking pictures and enjoying the view. I found a large rock to sit on, eat a powerbar, and admire the view. It was incredible!

Looking to the west, I could see mountains surrounded by the ocean. To the south was the ocean with some smoke in the background from a fire burning in the bog. To the southeast was the city of Vancouver. With 180 degree, the views didn’t stop.

I sat in awe and reminded myself that the reason I’m blogging about my trip is because I want people to experience what I’m experiencing. Sometimes it’s lonely, scary, and confusing. I was determined not to be afraid of revealing who I really am. I’ve spent so much of my life trying to please others and to be “good enough.”

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I believe God created each of us to be unique and I think he delights in who we are. I try my best to follow the path God has set for me. But society, parents, the workplace, friends, the church, and strangers all have expectations of who we should be. After trying to get the approval of all of these people, I finally broke. It was exhausting and left me feeling alone. Over the last few months, I decided to be me. I have to keep reminding myself of this as it doesn’t come naturally. I’m a people pleaser and I hate disappointing people. I decided I would leave the post up.

The climb was worth the view. A chipmunk attempted to get into my backpack several times and I had to keep scaring him away. I headed back down the mountain so I would finish before dark. On my way back down, I took a wrong turn and ended up at the top of the ski lift. I saw two very fit and attractive guys who looked to be in their late 20s taking photos. One guy had his shirt off, while the other took pictures. They also had a small dog with them. I couldn’t help but laugh in my head. Hopefully the pictures were for something legitimate, but I wondered if they were for his Tinder profile.

When I walked around the ski lift area, the bugs started to attack and they seemed to love my ears. The buzzing sound would make me scream every time. The guys I had seen a few minutes earlier showed up and asked if I knew where the trail was to get back down. I told them I think we made a wrong turn and it was back up the other way. Of course, a bug flew near my ear and I screamed, looking like a maniac.

The guys started heading down the rocky path. I went back to the trail and headed towards where I thought it diverged. I ran into a group of four young, attractive people in their 20s. One of the girls asked me for directions and I showed her on my map where they needed to go. I asked if they were heading to the top because it was getting pretty late. They said they were heading to the top to watch the fireworks.

My bike tour guide told me about the fireworks. It was their annual firework competition. Sweden was going to display their best fireworks by setting them off from a barge in the water. The previous Saturday, South Africa showcased their fireworks and the final show would be the following Saturday with South Korea.

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I didn’t want to hike down in the dark after the fireworks. Plus, I had a great view of the harbor from my Airbnb. I continued to the bottom and made it my car around 9:00 pm. When I got back to the Airbnb, I realized I didn’t have any food. I used Yelp to find a place, but most places didn’t deliver to West Vancouver.

I called a pizza place in West Vancouver and asked if they’d deliver. The man who answered was annoyed and said he would not deliver because they closed at 10:00 pm and he’s really busy. I said it was only 9:20 pm but I could come pick it up. After arguing with him, and having to call him back, he took my order and said, “If you’re not here to pick it up in 15 minutes, I’m closing up and you won’t be able to pick it up”. Dang.

I hurried there and picked up my pizza. They were not busy and I’m guessing he just wanted to close early to see the fireworks. I took my pizza back to the Airbnb and ate in the large dining room that overlooked the harbor. I sat in the dark so I could see the fireworks better. For 30 minutes, Sweden showed off their best fireworks in a stunning show.

I read through the messages, comments, texts, and emails that people had sent me about my blog post. Even though I still felt embarrassed, it felt good to know so many people could relate to my struggle and were there to encourage me when I needed it. I’m not alone. To date, that’s one of my most read posts.

Post Edited by: Mandy Strider

 

Day 37: Stuck at the Canadian Border

I made myself a delicious breakfast at my friend Chanell’s house while she kept me company, trying not to throw up from morning sickness. I felt so had for her. I could see the nausea she was going through and she still had to care for two small children. She was a trooper.

Once I left Chanell’s house, I drove north towards Vancouver.

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I got to the Canadian border around 3:30 pm. With excitement, I drove up to the drive-through window when it was my turn.

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The middle-aged man asked me all sorts of questions as I handed over my passport.

“Where do you live?” – Los Angeles

“What do you do for a living?” – Well, I used to be an operations manager, lol.

Used to be?” – Yeah, I quit my job and sold my house so I can travel.

“How much money do you have access to?” Um, that seems personal.

“Credit cards?” – Yes. I have plenty of money.

“What are you doing in Canada?” – I’m driving the Alaska highway to Alaska!

“How long will you be in Canada?” – Um, a few weeks as I drive up north.

“Do you have any weapons? Guns? Knives?” – I have a small backpacking knife.

“Pepper spray?” – Oh yes, I do have a small thing of pepper spray.

“That’s illegal in Canada.” – Oh, I didn’t know. I can give it to you (digging through my purse)

“No, you need to pull your car over there. We’re going to search your entire car.”  – But I can give it to you right now…once I find it.

“No, pull your car over there and go inside.”

Oh no. I had no idea pepper spray was illegal in Canada. I parked my car and went inside the building. I stood in the line for Americans (I was the only one) and nervously looked around at the immigration officers who now seemed unfriendly.

Definitely trying to intimidate me, the officer called me to the desk and asked for my passport. I explained I didn’t know pepper spray was illegal. I never carry it on me but as I was packing up my house, I saw a bottle in a drawer I had forgotten about. I purchased it years ago but figured since I was a single female traveling alone, I’d bring it with me. I was now regretting that decision.

I was told to sit down in the waiting area while they searched my car and took my pepper spray. I started freaking out while sitting in the hard, plastic chair. I thought, “What else do I have in my car that’s illegal? I don’t know Canada’s laws. OMG, am I not getting into Canada? I just want to turn around. What if there is something else in there and they detain me? Every time I travel, I meet a Canadian and they’re always nice. But these guys are not nice.”

There was a TV in the corner with no sound and of course, a hockey game was on. The other 20 people sitting there were all Asian or Middle Eastern. A guy next to me was sending a text to someone and asked me how to spell immigration.I feel you, dude, I thought. I helped him and asked why he was there. He replied, “My visa expired.” I said, “Oh. I brought in pepper spray, which is illegal apparently.”

I didn’t have cell service (I think they purposely block signals) so I couldn’t search for Canadian laws. I noticed the agent who had helped me was on the phone at the counter. Thoughts raced through my head, “Oh no, who’s he talking to? What’s happening?

After 30 painstaking minutes, my name was called so I headed to the desk. “You also had apples in your car. You cannot bring them into Canada. I put them on your hood and you need to throw them away”, he said.

“So I can go?” I asked.

He lightened up, “You need to sign off on the pepper spray. Did you want to pick it up when you leave, or have us dispose of it?”

“You can dispose of it.”

“You know, this probably cost you $10 in the States. But it costs us $50-$60 to dispose of it properly in an environmentally friendly way.”

“Sorry?”

“Bear spray is legal. But not people pepper spray.”

“Really? That’s funny. In California, bear spray is illegal and people pepper spray is legal.”

I headed to my car and threw the apples away as the officers watched me. I felt relieved but also still shook up. It’s not a good feeling when you think you’re about to be detained. I am a law-abiding citizen, and I respect law enforcement. Being made to feel like a criminal felt horrible. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

I always meet Canadians when I travel and I’ve always thought they were so nice. I wondered, “Are the border patrol agents tired of the “nice” reputation so they overcompensate and intimidate people?” At any rate, I would end up crossing the border many times and each time I was nervous because of this incident.

Post Edited by: Misty Kosek

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