Sunday, January 19, 2003

Day 1: We Have Arrived

Well, we made it! It wasn’t easy. Something always seems to go wrong no matter how well we try to plan and arrange our trip. First a big thank you to Merri, Larry, and Shel, too. Without your pickup truck and van we would never have been able to make it to the airport with all of our supplies.

We arrived at SFO a little later than planned. No problem, EVA was ready for us, as usual. We checked our personal luggage and proceeded to the VIP lounge and left the cargo for them to take care of. It was very nice of them to let us go and not wait around for them to check through all of the stuff. And, there was lots of stuff… 30 cartons in all.

We all retired to the lounge and spent the time there getting to know each other better. Great group this trip!

The flight to Taipei was uneventful and long, as usual. Most of us spent a good portion of the time sleeping. We landed in Taipe on time and began our two-hour layover. We got to the gate in time only to find that there was going to be a delay. We were delayed about an hour and a half. No big deal. The people waiting for us in Saigon would just have to be patient. We arrived in Saigon late as expected. The baggage game was a zoo as expected. We finally rounded up all of the luggage and cartons and proceeded, en masse, to the customs check out.

This is one of the times I worry about most on our trips. But, this time we had them! The hospital wrote a great letter for us to present at the customs desk. It took them about ten minutes to check the letter and get approval. We breezed right through. I was amazed!

Cam Hoa was there with a bus ready to take us to Can Tho and the hospital in Saigon was there with a van for our Physical Therapy Team. Minh Tu, our PT team's interpreter, was there to accompany the Team to their hotel and get them settled in. Barry and Annamarie went with the PT Team and will spend the night in Saigon and get the PT Team settled into the hospital tomorrow, then join us in Can Tho. Everything was going just great!  I should have known better…

Everything was going along just great! No snags, no hang ups… We were a bit tired, but spirits were high. We fought through the Saigon traffic and made it to the open road in good shape. Just a couple of more hours and we would be in Can Tho. Never had a trip gone so smoothly.

We took a short rest stop about a third of the way to Can Tho. Just time enough for a coke, ice cream, and personal breaks. Back on the road refreshed, we were on the final leg. About halfway to Can Tho, people in passing cars and trucks started waving frantically as they passed us. Finally the driver pulled over and a huge cloud of smoke overtook us. The driver opened the engine compartment and the smoke poured into the bus -- nothing like a lung full of burning oil! Damn, and we were almost there.

The driver took off back down the road looking for oil for the ailing bus. We knew the poor bus was ill, but we expected to be back on the road soon… Luckily, we pulled over near a café and spent our time waiting for the driver to return sipping a cold beer and joking about our minor delay. The driver returned in a few minutes with about five gallons of oil and transfused our ailing bus. He somehow got the bus restarted and we were again off toward Can Tho. Only 55 kilometers to go. We can make it easy!

About another 10 minutes down the road, we again had passing travelers waving and shouting at us like crazy. This time the throttle on the bus stuck and the engine went crazy. I think the bus was dying before our eyes. Again to the side of the road and again a lung full of smoke. This time it was serious. The patient was dying and we didn’t want go down with the ship. Stumbling and choking we poured off the bus and onto the roadside. Immediately a large crowd of people gathered to get in on the excitement. We looked back up the road and it was a sight to behold. We laid a smoke screen that couldn’t be believed. It looked like a forest fire was burning behind us. There was smoke as far as we could see. I amazed there wasn’t a 50-car pileup behind us!

I started getting nervous that all of our supplies and luggage would go up in smoke on the bus’s death pyre. Luckily there was no fire. The driver got on the phone and had another bus sent to take us on the rest of our journey. We must have made the six o’clock news! People came from everywhere to see what the crazy Americans were up to this time. I think we must have provided more excitement than they had in months. Glad we made someone happy…LOL.

Our relief bus arrived in pretty short order and we formed a bucket brigade to transfer all our baggage to the new transport. The drivers decided to tow the dead horse in with us. After being pounded in the behind by our dead friend several times and breaking two chains, we left the dead levitation floundering by the side of the road. Good riddance!

Finally, off again. Tired and about three hours late, we checked into our rooms. The Golf Hotel was ready for us and all were off to the comfort of their rooms in no time. I think our total travel time from SFO to Can Tho worked out to be something like 29 hours. Some of us went out for a quick meal while others just wanted to go to bed.
Tomorrow will be a better day, I hope.  At least we are laughing about our woes this trip.

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