Monday, July 12, 2010


I just took my first long train ride in the US. I spent 24 hours on the Amtrack from Portland, Oregon to Santa Barbara, California.

Now mind you, I have endured my fair share of public transportation on this planet: I've exercised a Eurorail pass on damp, un-air-conditioned trains from Calabria, Italy through Oberstoff, Germany. I've mastered the New York Metro. I've yogicly curled myself into the fetal position on the coach window seat of many a 10+ hour flight. I've burned my shins on the hot tail pipe of a Balinese motorbike. I've shared a minivan with 27 Cambodians, when only 17 seats were available. And I recently took a train from the lush and sunny landscape of Oregon through the Summertime coastal fog of Northern California.

I actually love overnight transportation because how else are you going to sit front row and witness the sun fall into pink clouds, then rise again over a beautifully foreign landscape? And all without the need of controlled substances, and loud techno on the beach of an island in Spain!..... not that I've ever endured such chaos for a blissful sunrise and a freshly baked Spanish pastry or anything. But I really do love watching the trek from point A to point B pass by me. When I told my friends and family that I was taking a 24 hour train ride home versus a 2 hour flight, the reactions were that of shock and discomfort. My experience was everything but shocking- quite nice actually. I made friends with strangers, read my book, watched the beautiful landscape pass, and stretched out in a seat that can fully accommodate a 5'11" girl. Far from some past traveling escapades I've endured.

It all reminded me of the many travel experiences I have had over the years- A special 13 hour bus ride in Vietnam this past September, in particular. I typed up this email to a friend on my phone while on that little venture....

It's 6:40 pm on Sunday- I have just boarded a sleeper bus from Hué to Hanoi. 13 hours, with 1 stop for dinner. We bought this ticket this morning from our hotel that we stayed one night in (Hué is pretty damn boring.) for $10 we get a nice sleeper bus, individual seats with blanket, pillow and complimentary water. The pictures in the add show a lovely seat, fully reclined with a soft red blanket, and a white sheet turned down at the corner. Another image of the bathroom on board, clean, big with pretty light fixtures. The whole thing screams "Smooth Sailing!" and for only $10!!!

So as a smart traveler, you ask all the right questions, look the receptionist dead in the eye with serious intent to get what your about to pay for, check out on time, etc.... And somehow you still get totally screwed over!!!
I'm currently laying on a half reclined, vinyl bed ( that's right, vinyl...) of an old bus- probably built in the 80's. The window drapes are a fowl yellow color, stained and torn. The pillow provided was probably white at one point, now it shows little reminders of all it's past visitors. What blanket? What bathroom? The aircon only works on my side (window side) so Julie has her arm draped over my stomach to keep something cool. It smells like chicken feet and lemon dish soap. If there was padding in this seat at one time, it's gone now. The woman in front of me has been playing the same Vietnamese slow rap song (think LLcool J, circa 1998) on her cell phone speaker over and over again There isn't enough light to read (and therefore i write email drafts, and daydream about a shower...) our bathroom stops will most likely include: popping a squat in a bush, or popping a squat in a hole in the dirt. The creaks, squeaks and over use of horn & brakes are all subtle reminders that you are in fact.... on a shitty bus for 13 hours in the middle of Vietnam.

{Oh, We just got a flat tire. We're pulling over.}

:: 1hour later ::
Other than the really cool lightning show outside the left window- my night is gonna suck!! There is no way that I am taking off my shoes. I'm sure I'll contract some creepy ringworm from sweating and sleeping on this chair. And thank Buddha that I actually bought a tiny neck pillow. At least Julie and I fully stocked up on coconut crackers and banana chips before departing tonight....sustaining happiness by means of coconut.

Other than this present moment, I'm doing great! And I'm sure Hanoi and all its delicious street food offerings will be awesome, and worth the journey.

More soon,
- Ash

P.S. The trip took a total of 16.5 hours. We got another flat tire around 3 am. Then they dropped us off in the rain at the wrong station in Hanoi- we had to then take 2 crazy motos to our hotel, in the pouring rain. Ah, the joys of being a filthy backpacker! I'm currently looking into flights for the remainder of my trip.... And maybe some Vietnamese Valium ;)

Sent from my iPhone

(view from my window in Hanoi, September 2009)

But for a moment with a proper Bahn mi sandwhich from lady in the old quarter of Hanoi, or that rocket fuel-like Vietnamese iced coffee I had every morning, or a glass of warm house beer with an ice cube on a crowded street corner of such a fabulous city - Yes, I would gladly choose that bus over the fancy leg room of an American train any day.


  1. Mmmh those banana chips are addictive! :) Gonna take off to Kuala Lumpur in August and have my share! Greets from Germany, Alex

  2. hurray for public transportation! i bet that was a pretty trip. lovely pictures.

  3. Hi from your newest follower, a gypsy girl that also loves to eat. Loving the blog
    xx Violet