Author Archives: S.A.H.

About S.A.H.

Cycling. Espresso. Photography. Words. Travel. Aimlessness.

Version 0.97 (on the previous night’s host, reflections on two guys I met today, and the night’s camping spot)

08/04/19

I met my Warmshowers host, Michael, yesterday. He lives about ten miles west of Santa Barbara in the suburb of Goleta. By the time I arrived to his neighborhood the day was well into the golden hour and all the houses, shrubbery, trees, and cars were painted in a warm and softly glowing yellow-orange light, that was patterened and broken up by trees, limbs, leaves, rooftops and so on—a magical experience as that period always is on the California coast, even in such a place as mundane as a suburban neighborhood.

Michael is a fascinating man. Of Korean descent. Adamant that I leave feedback on the Warmshowers site so that others may read about how wonderful a host he is (fair enough—I appreciate positive feedback too, and he was an excellent host). Possibly lonely, though his wife who previously lived elsewhere has recently moved in with him, so now he is no longer living alone, but seems, if possible, lonelier than ever. I met his wife. They do get along well, and she is a pleasant lady herself. I get the impression though, that he was used to living alone, having all of this space to himself, but is now finding it necessary, and finding it difficult, to share with another person (and not just any other person!). I don’t recall the details of her reappearance in his home as I didn’t put it in my written journal, and I’m typing this up more than two months after actually having been there.

He has a large backyard that he allows travelers to camp in. Even provided me with a better tent to use than my own seeing as I had lost the tent poles in an airport in Kuala Lumpur months previous (if you’ve been reading this sorry diary of mine you might remember my having written about that). I wanted nothing more than a warm shower (surprising, what!?), but got corraled quickly into conversation about my travels before I could so much as even remove my shoes.

Eventually I was allowed inside to meet his wife and to shower and to cook my dinner. By the time I got around to setting up the tent it was long dark and all I wanted was to lay my head down and fall asleep.


Miractulously, as sometimes it seems, I have finally found a spot to “pitch” my tent. I thought it might possibly be quite private, in a field behind some buildings at a school, but apparently not because a bunch of kids found me while they were running around playing a game with flashlights. Seemingly they disappeared though, just as I’m writing all this. I wonder if they noticed me…

I like this town. But it’s easy to like California towns that are on the coast or relatively close. They all seem so idyllic. Pictures of paradise where everyone is happy and the weather is always perfect.

I think I have a flat tire, but I’m not sure. Not what I wanted after a near 70 mile day of riding, with something like 3000 feet of climbing. The tire was flat when I came out of the grocery store, but I thought some mischievous kids might have let the air out, so I reinflated before pedaling off to look for a place to camp, but after bout 15 minutes I noticed it was low, so again I added air, but then at this school it was a third time. Currently seems fine though. And it’s been about an hour.

I met a couple of nice guys in Los Alamos. One dude was on a road bike. Clearly he has money. A lot of fat too, according to him. Said he was 240 but wants to get down to 200 because “it’s the perfect weight.” Whatever that means. 200 might be good for some but not so good for others, and seems bit of a strange blanket statement to make. Anyway, I’m eating a potato and garlic sandwich on a great baguette from this incredible bakery in Los Alamos. Possibly the strangest meal I’ve ever had. Anyway anyway, this guy rolls up to me so excited to see me, all hi-fives. You would have thought he was meeting his best friend. I couldn’t make heads or tails out of him. He’s in his fifties but races dirt bikes. Works 80-100 hours a week, so he claims (which would justify/explain his waistline), and generally seems like maybe a fun guy, but kind of a blockhead. I want to say he was on some sort of drug when we met, but I dunno… in this heat and all decked out in lycra cycling? Maybe he was just suffering from heatstroke. I’d totally talk to him again. Not sure how much of that energy I could take, though.

The other guy I met, at the bakery actually, was typical Cali chill. Stoked on my adventures, and only words of encouragement. It’s good to meet folks like that when you’re out there alone. Meeting people, whether they exude positive energy and vibes, or even if they’re complete knuckleheads, is one of the most enjoyable aspects of solo travel.

Oh, looks like the flat is indeed for real. Will deal in the morning.

Version 0.96 (An Extra Day in Santa Barbara)

08/03/19

Decided to stay in Santa Barbara a day. The two times I’d previously been here were to just grab coffee, but I’ve wanted to explore some of the historical sites, check out the beach, and simply wander about the town in general since those first two visits. It’s been great to have that opportunity, plus the chance to really rest my legs (after months of not being on a bicycle, and to have suddenly thrown myself into this trip, it should come as hardly a surprise that I am feeling fatigued and needing rest days). I have plenty of other stuff to keep me busy too—photo stuff, writing, editing writing, etc.—the usual. So I am back at Handlebar. Haven’t yet texted back my potential WarmShowers host. Maybe in another thirty minutes.

Can’t stop yawning. Slept poorly last night. Fell asleep watching a James Bond movie (I’ve been obsessed lately, so of course) and woke up at midnight. Sent Huyen some goodnight messages and proceeded to attempt to go back to sleep, but failed badly, so I lied awake for over an hour before finally falling asleep. However that wouldn’t last for long, as moisture had condensed on the walls of the tent (which was not staked out well in the hard, rocky soil) causing it to sag and the guy line to slip down the utility pole it was tied to so that the tent had nearly collapsed on top of me. In order to fix this problem (as I previously stated, I have no tent poles) I set up a tower of rocks as rear support and added more to the corners in place of the stakes, eventually falling back to sleep until the crows woke me up at 6am making the maddest racket I’ve ever heard a murder of crows , or any kind of bird, make.

Version 0.95 (Into Santa Barbara)

08/02/19

Today was alright. One might even say it was enjoyable. Thanks to a properly early start (10am, which, admittedly, isn’t very early but is before noon) I was in Santa Barbara by 3:30. You might think this to be plenty of time to find a suitable grounds to camp, have a snack somewhere, and wander around a bit, but, no, I have the weight of this photography submission on my mind, as well as needing to charge pretty much every electrical device that I own—gps watch, phone, laptop, and battery backup. Additionally a good number of the streets in town were closed down, blocked off, and crowded with festival-goers. Because of this I spent my time until dark in cafes. Not a great use of it, but productive in a way. Now, I’m camped out on someone’s vacant property (thanks, actually, to having spent so much time at Handlebar Coffee Roasters) thinking about how I don’t feel like continuing this cycling trip even though it’s only about a two week tour. Hoping to stay with a WarmShowers’er tomorrow night as I’d like a day to sort my life out further, to explore a city I’m fascinated by, and to give my legs a rest from the pedaling and my skin a break from the sun.

Version 0.94 (Leaving L.A.)

08/01/19

This is so typical of me: leaving late and poorly packed my first day cycling. Woke up at 11. That was the first problem. Second was really just not being prepared to pack when most of that should have been taken care of last night. Thought I had less gear that I apparently do. Even threw a few things into my hiking pack which I am cycling with. The problem there is that due to my body position while cycling the stiffener in the pack, which helps to keep it rigid when hiking, is in the way of my neck when cycling. Also, having a backpack presents problems when considering what to do with my camera which normally rests on my back. I’m just hoping that things aren’t so uncomfortable as to make my life miserable. Mostly I’m annoyed today with the time that I woke up and that I am just now departing. Yet even now I sit at a cafe having a coffee and croissant! (and journaling my thoughts, no less) The psychology behind this I find fascinating. I’m well behind my imaginary schedule, but I’m still giving myself the luxury of sitting down for a light breakfast. All this when one, one supposes, would normally be in a rush. But then, this is bicycle travel after all. Any time lost can be made up later, and I doubt that I’ll be covering a lot of ground today; getting out of a city is always a much more prolonged endeavor than one imagines it to be. I still have to stop at REI for alcohol stove fuel, as well. Well, this was just a quick jotting down of thoughts. Putting the finishing touches to my breakfast (nearly 1 o’clock).

[later[

The cycling is not going to be easy. Not just because I’m out of shape, but because the headwinds are brutal at times depending on the direction of the road, if there is a hill I’m climbing, if there is or is not a wind-block of trees, whimsy, fate, whatever.

I knew the headwinds would be fairly regular, because they always are here on the coast, so I’ve read. It’s just how it interacts with the climate, ocean currents, geography and probably countless other things that I am unaware of. Tomorrow is a longer distance, but I should hopefully get going three or four hours earlier than today.

Anyway, I’m here at La Jolla Canyon now, sleeping on a picnic table because the weather is so fine, and I can’t get stakes in the ground for my tent.  All that is audible is the soft, tranquil chirr of insects, the turning over of the ocean on the distant beach, the occasional car passing on the highway, and sometimes an animal scrambling through the vegetation on the nearby slope. It is a perfectly rejuvenating and peaceful night. I finished a pot of rice and lentils not long ago, and my banana and peanut butter are waiting for me. I noticed there happens to be magnitudes more stars in the sky than I am used to seeing, while sitting here on my picnic table, and thought I’d find an open space to see what I could see after supper, as beneath three great pine trees was where I sat. The night sky, I tell you, is so full of stars, it’s just like a black velvet jewelry box encrusted with diamonds. It left me smiling and laughing for joy, but leaving me speechless otherwise. What was it that caused such mirth, such joyful laughter to burst from my lips? It was like I was looking into myself, into God, into some perfect impenetrable void. That we are this tiny speck floating within this star-flecked sky is something of a miracle. That we exist to see this. That we exist to observe this. That we exist that I might write this down in a flimsy paper journal…. What is the meaning of it all? The stars sparkling down on us, the ocean crashing and roaring on the beaches, rolling in its depths; the angels singing hallelujah. It’s all just whoopee (as Alan Watts says)! The whoopee! The ‘whoopee’ of existence. The miracle of joy. The miracle of happiness.

Version 0.93 (First U.S. Journal, but Nothing Really to Write)

07/31/19

First journal from the U.S. in some time. It’ll probably be a short one as I’m needing to meet a friend in about an hour and it’s a 35-40 minute bike ride. Life since returning to the States hasn’t been quite as shocking as I thought it might. I’ve just realized my financial situation is not nearly as sound as I thought it was though, so the expectedly higher prices are in a sense more stressful than they would be. The weather is a huge improvement though. It’s no surprise so many people want to live on the California coast.

Anyway, my thoughts are running away from me like usual. Nothing journal-related. Just streamers of kites streaming off in the wind, fluttering and snapping, then breaking, carried off.

I’m at this great cafe. Had an espresso. Talked to a girl about Vietnam. A dude walks out and asks me about my camera lens. So we talk for a second and exchange Instagrams. Seems like it’s probably so easy to network out here. He does editorial work. Maybe he’ll like what he sees. I dunno. Probably should get rolling. Not really accomplishing much sitting here writing about nothing

Version 0.92 (Cu Chi Tunnels and a Mekong River Tour)

07/27/19

I leave Vietnam tomorrow, not for any new foreign land, but for America (sounds quite exotic actually, now that I think on it). Yesterday I went on a guided tour to a couple of places: one, Cu Chi Tunnels, northwest of Saigon, and two, a short Mekong River trip. I developed a fondness for our guide immediately: intelligent but with a sort of silly sense of humor, a bit like he was playing dumb in order to get a laugh. The biggest surprise in regards to our guide, or, say THE surprise, was his obvious distaste for the communist government and communism in general. Well, that’s not the surprise—I imagine that might be a common feeling—but his outspokenness about his feelings is the surprise. Up to that point I’d not heard anyone talk about anything remotely political the entire four months of my time here. Of course the war itself was much more complicated than communist guerrilla forces vs. America and the American backed nationalist forces, and I will have to do much reading and/or watching into the history of Vietnam and the war when I have time. That won’t be anytime soon though.

Cu Chi Tunnels were in my opinion the best part of a too long tour. I definitely recommend to break these into two separate tours, or even better don’t bother with the Mekong River tour but take a bus to My Tho or Ben Tre, or rent bikes in Saigon and drive yourself instead. Get a homestay for a couple of nights using Air BnB or some other service and explore the area on your bikes or by foot. The Mekong River and its delta are ENORMOUS, and deserve more than an hour of your time. Also they’re not something that requires a guide in order to get the best experience of, unlike the Cu Chi Tunnels which have a significant history that may be explored at length with someone who has the knowledge to do so. Anyway, to put it simply, the Cu Chi Tunnels were fascinating from an historical and educational perspective—far more than just a cutesy tourist ride. The tour turned into a bit of a wildlife walk, too. This was a surprise. I’m not sure what I was expecting of the site, but an open forest plumbed with wandering trails and filled with animal life was defintely not it. I couldn’t take a step without a butterfly fluttering across the path or dancing in the bordering foliage, and birdsong filled the silences between our tour guides explanations and the group’s questions and chatter.  We even spotted three different types of lizards on our walk. The air was clean, clear, and cool (relative to south Vietnam summer temperatures). The forest was how any forest should be. Really, I felt less like I was walking through a tourist site, but more like I was wandering through a war memorial, but without the often accompanying somberness or solemnity of a war memorial.

The Mekong River trip felt a bit too touristy for me. Nothing educational or particularly interesting, just two people paddling, or in our case because the tide was so low, pushing a group of four of us through an island canal that loops back on itself. It seems they once used these boats for fishing and various other things (probably transportation), but now it’s just a tourist ride which simply doesn’t feel authentically cultural to me, no more than a means of generating income (which I’m not saying is bad, these people can use all the extra income they can get, but it’s just not my thing, and leaves me feeling uneasy in much the same way the cyclos (bicycle rickshaws) do even though, again, these are jobs that provide income to people). Anyway, in our case the water level was so low the paddlers couldn’t even paddle but instead pushed us along with long poles they carried in their boats, and because the canal was so narrow at the bottom it became a cluster fuck in places with boats banging up against each other regularly as they passed each other. It probably didn’t help, either, that we arrived very late in the day so that I thought they might refuse us. There was a road closure somewhere between Ben Duoc (where Cu Chi Tunnels are located) and wherever our river tour took place (my guess would be somewhere near My Tho).

The day was long (half the twelve hours sitting in a van) but worth the $55. However, the smarter way to go would be to follow my previous recommendations.

So, I go back to the U.S. tomorrow. Flight from Saigon to Hong Kong at 11 am, then flight from HK to LA six hours later. I’ll meet Danny at some point and hopefully chill with him a few days before cycling north to Seattle then east to Missoula. Those are my vague plans at the least. I would really like to visit Jacob in Missoula.

Version 0.91 (Apocalypse Now and The Vietnam War)

07/24/19

Watched two-thirds of Apocalypse Now last night. Had never seen it before, but since having begun watching it I understand why it is so highly regarded. It’s definitely a bit of a mind-fuck after having walked through the War Remnants Museum. I don’t know what it is about being here in Saigon, but I’ve suddenly developed a strong desire to learn more about The War. Perhaps it’s because here resides histories of four different governments from three different countries—French, American, South Vietnamese under the auspices of the United States, and the current Vietnamese government which took control after the defeat of the Americans and the South. One can find influences and historical artifacts from each and every one of them here. There is none of that in Hanoi. As well, in terms of historical attempts at influence abroad it may be the single biggest blunder in American history; and, being an American myself, and one who is here in Saigon, I am curious about how this came to be: what were the causes for the strongest military power’s on Earth defeat by such a small country with a middling economy and largely undeveloped urban areas? And that has caused me to reflect on the Iraq/Afghan war, and the the general state of politics in the U.S. today. One would think the lessons learned from the Vietnam War would stick, but frankly I think they’ve all been forgotten. Are there any students of history and war in the military today? Were there ever? Sunny thoughts on a sunny morning….

Version 0.90

07/23

I have just sat down, and am waiting on my coffee order to be delivered at the La Viet in District 3 that my Grab driver unceremoniously dropped me off at moments ago. I found their cafe to be a good place in Da Lat to do a bit of writing, and as all the reviews on Google stated how great a place this Saigon location is to work from I thought I might go. There are a few other cafes in the vicinity that I can walk to as well whenever I decide to leave.

The Grab ride was a surprising and fascinating one, largely because Saigon is a huge city—one which I am completely unfamiliar with. I must correct myself though. The ride wasn’t surprising in any way, but my arrival at my destination was, as we simply stopped at the opening of an alley and my driver signaled for me to get off. I don’t know where I thought I was when we arrived, but I certainly did not think we were at my destination. I imagine if my interior world had a face, a visage to read, it would have looked similar to Harry’s after going for a bit of a tumble on Dumbledore’s arm. That ride, looking back, was fascinating because of the surprise—the sensation of time and distance passing while on our way was nil. It was just me flowing through the streets on the back of this motorbike driven by a guy in a green jacket and helmet.

Yesterday I was moved. On one occasion, possibly two. I visited the War Remnants Museum. That was one. And I guess I could say the espresso I had at Saigon Coffee Roasters was moving as well. It was certainly the best one I’d had in Saigon, and possibly all of Vietnam, so that would be the second occasion. But before all of that I visited the fine arts museum. The museum building, while a bit run down, is a fabulous old colonial villa constructed in the early 1930’s. A/C is only provided in select rooms—those with particularly important works—and the three story structure encloses an inner courtyard. The topmost floor is my favorite. It is full of artworks pre-1975, meaning they were created before the end of the war. To these eyes they seemed much more cultural than the later and more contemporary works which have a more personal, inward looking, and often abstract form to them, and seem to me less culturally Vietnamese and more global. Many of these earlier works were simply depictions of everyday life, similar to Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s paintings of Dutch/Flemish life and town scenes. But what moved me and interested me most about the works on the third floor was just how immediate they felt to the war—how they brought it forth into the present day—and how so many of them directly depicted the war’s influence on daily life.

The War Remnants Museum is really special though. I will start by saying that in my opinion it’s fair and objective, and isn’t anti-American, though I could certainly see why some particularly sensitive people might think it is as it is highly critical of America (I would say for good reason!). The combination of written testimony regarding the war by various political figures around the world, and the imagery in photographs and news articles is well arranged, and it’s those photographs and the testimonies of so many against the war, and also certain statistics relating to the supply and usage of munitions during the war that does such an admirable and convincing (if one for some reason needed convincing) job of the absurdity, the madness, the stupidity of war in general, and the Vietnam War in specific. In the two hours I was there I probably only covered three-quarters of the exhibition space, and at only 40k dong entry I am certain to go back. It is an absolute must-visit for any traveler who finds him/herself in Saigon.

An Interruption

I can’t put my finger on the thing that interrupted my semi-regular posting of my travel journal of 2019 here. But that’s likely because I haven’t given it much thought, just like I haven’t given the blog much thought. I can say this: I do not consider many of my journal entries to be particularly insightful of anything. There are a number which I love, and I think in some way are important to me, and could be meaningful to the right reader at the right time, but by and large I do not find a great interest in my journalings. Granted, I have not looked back at any of this in months, so it is possible my mind may change. But I think largely a lack of interest in my own ramblings is what has kept me from continued posting. That and I’ve had more important things to do. But I do want to get the rest of these out there into the world for no one to read. And I want to save those which I find most meaningful so that some day I may produce a physical copy of these bits of thoughtful, insightful brain energy.

Anyway, if you’re still reading this, I have maybe fifteen or so more journal entries to publish that will be going up over the next few weeks. And while I don’t yet have solid, or even flimsy, travel plans for the future, rest assured there will be some, potentially starting this winter.

Cheers,
Scott, The Eye

Version 0.89 (Happiness)

07/20

Been in Da Lat for five days and hardly written a thing. It’s hard to when one is always on the go with very little quiet, peaceful, distraction-less time to himself. But here I am! At last! Yet my initial thought is that I will write very little. That I have very little to write. That despite five days of being in a new and fascinating city nothing has tripped a switch in me to write—the link between external stimuli and internal feeling and thought was not connected.

“Here I am!” means that I am alone—and will be for quite some time. I am also enjoying an excellent V60 coffee from Da Lat at La Viet. Mozzie and her friends have departed for the airport for flights back to Nam Dinh. I don’t have to be anywhere or do anything in particular until 21:30 as I have a bus to Saigon at 22:00. Well, what to do to fill my day? Wander with my camera all over town. Visit a couple of cafes that I have earmarked in Google Maps. Eat bahn xeo; they make a different style here than in Da Nang. Thinking about food, am I ever grateful for Mozzie and her friends. Because of them I tried so many different dishes than I would have otherwise. Most of the places we went to eat clearly rarely, if ever, received western guests. Many of them didn’t bother to have english translations of anything—food or drink. Certainly there are areas where foreigners are more commonly seen, though not many, especially when one compares it to another popular mountain town like Sa Pa, but we spent no time in those areas besides racing through on our scooters.

So, this morning she left. I walked with her up to her waiting taxi and friends. We were lying in bed this morning and she told me she was happy. This may seem like a strange thing to tell your lover the morning of the last day that you will see each other for quite a long time, but it made me happy to hear her say so; to know that I could contribute, nay, to be the sole contributor to that happiness. That is something too easily taken for granted. Like, “of course!” but it’s a thing that is never “of course” (at least with me), for it is all too easy to hurt someone, to cause pain, to cause suffering, and there is already far too much of that all around the world (as there ever has been), so why make more? Furthermore, to be able to make someone happy on a day such as this when in most relationships, there would be tears is another reason to be happy myself. Perhaps it was easier because we knew there was a strong chance of this happening, that our relationship was running on borrowed time, so to speak. I can’t say for sure though. All I know is that it’s all been worth it.