The walking way is something I’ve given thought to and about more than a few times. My friend Mikka Luster walks the Camino and records in a delightful mix the day in photographs, stories, and travel content that mix both. Very cool to read since I consider Mikka to be a rather wonderful story teller. Oh, to have him at a open fire in the desert hearing him discuss his walks both on the Camino and in the states!
But lets descend for a minute to the daily walking with the camera which is what I do. My goal each day is to get lost in whatever city I happen to be in, record that getting lost part with my erstwhile buddy the Fuji camera and then consider the reward which usually is an iced drink be it coffee, tea, or smoothie. Here in Vietnam, the art of smoothie making has had a serious upgrade and the fresh fruit and wonderful taste really excels.
There’s a number of ways to get around here in Da Nang. One can ride a cab or grab bike or car, one can rent a motorbike, one can walk. Walking requires one to agree that the heat is not an enemy but a thing that will test you a bit. I’ve felt the sweat literally streaming down in Hanoi when it was F’ing hot and humid and then in Saigon when not so hot but F’in humid. Then in Hoi An where it was both. Now we get to Da Nang. The city streets a wondrous mixture of small alleys, two lane roads (where no one really agrees on what the lanes are for), bigger roads, and then 4 lane roads with traffic lights and a semblance of control. I do admit that here in Da Nang people stop at red lights for the most part. Motorbikes are probably the least committed to red light discipline and they also will ride just about anywhere. You have to be careful walking on the sidewalks because those are extension lanes for motorbikes to go either way. Also if you are walking its common to see them going the wrong way down one way streets. I don’t think that people going the right way give it much thought until there is a “mix up” where the wrong way bike strikes a car or bike going the right way. Yes, this happens and have seen it when out walking.
Walking here though is not really that dangerous if you don’t zone out. You have to keep your wits about you. Observe always the traffic but look the wrong way for those obstinate bike drivers that believe its okay to go the wrong way in order to get to the right place. Also remember that red and green lights are subjective and a lot of people really pay no attention in most places save what I have seen here in Da Nang. Crossing a street either in a crosswalk which is another optional thing that no one pays attention to or in the street requires some basic skills that you learn here.
- Motorbikes do not want to hit you.
- Cars do not want to hit you
- Buses I think care less whether they do or don’t
- Trucks are merciless and will blare their horns at the slightest hint of pedestrian malfeasance.
So how to cross? I have watched visitors try to wait for a break in the traffic. There is no break. You have to just start across the street with purpose in your stride and watch both ways but once you start just continue to go. Bikes will swerve around you, cars sometimes will slow down. Trucks and buses don’t care and you will wait for them. They are at the top of the highway food chain so care should be taken around them. When you reach the mid-way point its important to not just stop. If you stop you will get stuck in the middle of the road because the motorbikes will not break for you and cars will continue. So you must just go.
I have never been even close to being hit in six months here in Vietnam but it can be rather frightening at times and once a Vietnamese police officer waved down a motorbike riding on the sidewalk when I walking down a wide street in Hanoi toward the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and was shaking is finger at the guy and finally pulled out his ticket book. I guess I walked by smirking.
So there is justice on the roads sometimes. There are motorbike accidents where neither wants to give the right of way. Cars do hit each other. Buses and trucks seem completely oblivious to all this. They know they own the road.
Back to Walking…
So with all this set, and going out every day to get a walk in with the camera, there is no real goal. I know I will just walk and turn on various roads, get away from the tourists and the shoe shine guys and the people wanting me to ret a cyclo or a motorbike. When I get there, there are what I call the real people. Those people smile and say hello 9 times out of 10. I think Vietnamese are some of the most gregarious, fun loving, and friendly people on the planet. Young children, when I am out walking, all wave and say hello. Adults and teenagers often stop and ask how I am and want a picture taken. They never get the picture back but its just the act of the picture I think. I walk through all this and do not zone out. Because I still am conscious of the traffic around me. The camera becomes an outlet to feelings, art, and views for me. I want to capture the ordinary on the streets. The woman selling fruit. The Banh Mi stand. The older people. Buildings and construction sites and wagons and a variety of things are grist for the mill.
Its the most basic of human transport and one I enjoy most every day. It stopped being let me get the walk done after work and became let me see the place I find myself in. Each place, Japan, Vietnam, Hong Kong and a whole bunch of others in the past has had a charm and vitality and wonder as I do my steps. I sweat and look for a Circle K or Vinmart for water. I usually find one and settle down for about 30 minutes with a 1.5 liter water bottle.
But soon its back up again and the road beckons and my feet answer. Perhaps I am more than half done and I kinda sorta figure out a way back and then a cafe with cold drinks like those smoothies or an iced Vietnamese coffee. I will sit and watch and carefully observe the others because here in Da Nang are lots of tourists from Korea and Japan. Its fun to see people as they travel across a landscape.
Soon the walk is over though and I’m back to my room. Perhaps I get the photos copied from the SD card and weigh in how I did that day. How was the walk? Did I see and feel? Yes! Most times I did. Some days I realize I just want the lesser steps so the walk is shorter. Most days though I do somewhere around 6 to 7 miles and at the end is the feeling.
The feeling of goodness. The feeling of a life spent one step in front of the other. I think as my friend Mikka would say, its not the end that grabs you but its the getting there. Stories unfold, blog posts are planned, photographs are looked at. Perhaps I look at google maps for an approximation of where I went. To be honest though, it does not matter if I was there or not before. Each day in a city like Da Nang is new. The city is reborn and offers you a new look at its wonders.
Cars and motorbikes and people and businesses and lives all are born again. And so am I as I see their worlds. I silently thank them for letting me be that fleeing part as I walk through.