Put the Repellent Down and Keep Up, Indiana

We started our tour of south east Asia in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, where I spent my time searching for enough mosquito repellent to keep safe from malaria and dengue. Nora made fun of me, “You think you are the Jaques Cousteau of Jungle Temples. I would be surprised if at any point you will be more than 500 meters from Vietnamese coffee”. Apparently, coffee is the mark of advanced civilization for Nora. I am no connoisseur of Asian cat shit coffee like Brad and Nora and its availability is inconsequential to me – I had plans to be swinging from temple roof tops on jungle vines and that required copious amounts of defensive sprays.

The pharmacy selling the repellent was on the other side of the street. Crossing the street in Vietnam is like swimming the English channel: you have to be trained, in shape, prepared and above all feeling lucky that you might actually make it to the other side with only minor injuries. While I stood on the curb debating whether to risk my life now for the chance of reducing dengue later, Nora admonished me, “the CDC currently has your house under surveillance for being the epicenter of dengue in the Americas. In fact there are so many mosquitos back home you even identify them by sub-spices”. She failed to understand that the Asian mosquito is wild and dangerous unlike the tamed pets that my sister so carefully breads in her zen garden fountain back home.

I decided to postpone my jungle ambush prevention arsenal purchase for the time being since it was the 1000th birthday of Hanoi and the odds of crossing the street alive proved low. It wasn’t until later on during our tour of Halong Bay that an English and an Australian girl preyed on my paranoia and insisted that malaria pills were of indispensable need. Nora spent the rest of the trip pointing out families with babies who clearly couldn’t be on anti-malaria. I should have kept my worries to myself.

Arriving in Laos, in the wat wealthy town of Luang Prabang, we were ready to start our jungle excursion with baby wats that required no sprays – at least during the day. Here it seemed there were more monks than regular folks but then the math wouldn’t add up as the regular folks are responsible for feeding the monks at sunrise every morning. I’d like to say I could vouch for this but you will have to read Nora’s account because 6 am was clearly too early to get up for me. (At least this is what I told Nora but really 6 am was late enough for the malaria mosquito to have a snack before heading to bed and I felt safer inside next to my mosquito coil.)
I was also on strike for being forbidden to feed the monks carrot cake. I had previously spotted delicious and perfectly-alms-sized carrot cakes at the night market and congratulated myself on being charitable and thinking of the monks. However, Nora insisted that since I was not Buddhist I could not give alms and more importantly that the monks were not interested in carrot cake. This clearly was pure fabrication, as everybody loves carrot cake, religious or otherwise.

The dogs were as confused as me in figuring out how the whole thing worked.

After a brief stop in Vientiane, the capitol of Laos, we continued our tour of the four main towns of the Mekong River. Next up Siem Reap, finally the lost temples of the Khmer. I had been practicing my swinging over water and was now ready to do it from temple roof tops. Although large, majestic and impressive there turned out to be very little leaping involved. Angkor Wat, the main complex was devoid of any vegetation except grass. The outer temples, being slightly less kept up, did have a tree here and there but nothing worthy of my skills which would have Lord Greystoke turning green with envy. Each temple had its own tourist center with souvenirs and food and hawkers at every corner. Of course Nora did not miss an opportunity to point out how she is always right, “Look Indiana, it’s a two year old baby in a temple and drinking coffee”.

Surveying the lands after a difficult climb.

It was not until six days later that I managed to commune with nature, but unexpectedly underground. We visited the Viet Cong tunnels at Củ Chi where the Vietnamese hid for decades. You might think that there is little nature in underground tunnels but turns out they’re full of roots, worms and other creepy crawlers. It also has the advantage that when you pop-up you are in the middle of a forest with no idea which way is north – you know which way is up. Tourists are allowed in only 200 meters of tunnels which include 4 rooms and a bomb shelter. With my pent-up energy for swinging, I crawled all two hundred meters and managed to lose my tour group as almost everybody else ascended at twenty meters. There were a pair of South Koreans ahead of me but they abandoned the crawl at 60 meters (they have exits every 20 meters to fit all levels of claustrophobia).

Before the tunnel crawling adrenaline rush could wear off, they quickly take you over to the attached shooting range and try to persuade you to buy (and shoot) some bullets. They have a range of weapons available ending with the big M60D machine gun that was mounted on the hueys during the war. The park wardens insisted I try the AK47 as it would not jam. I tried to explain to him that the benefits of a gun that can shoot after being submerged where not part of my immediate concerns. He failed to understand I had no need for a reliable rifle and the only way to keep him quiet was to purchase 10 bullets (minimum amount). After shooting the tied and chained AK47, I did feel the urge to test the bigger guns. But at 1 dollar a shot they where on the low ratio of value for money, so I passed. Especially as the satisfaction of not hitting the target cans diminishes with a glued gun or simply being a bad shot. And I clearly couldn’t both aim and watch my surroundings for predator mosquitos simultaneously.

Although I failed to discover long lost temples, I did enjoy those that others had so thoughtfully cleared and restored for my pleasure. But the highlight of all Southeast Asia is really the food. Now I just found out that malaria can incubate for up to four weeks, so excuse me while I go buy some antibiotics.

3 Responses to “Put the Repellent Down and Keep Up, Indiana”

  1. Martha says:

    Very funny Conor 🙂

  2. Vicky says:

    just relax. the tiger mosquito is already since years in Panzano and we are all still alive 🙂 just eat enough garlic and you will be fine…
    enjoy australia now – free of malaria but full of mossies that can bite as well
    un grande abbraccio

  3. Dani says:

    Hello, this is where your Christmas present comes into play. ¡Seguro la dejaste botada en una caja por ahi!!!!!!!!

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