Chamonix Day 1 and 2

I had initially planned to have a few days at the end of my trip but with some scheduling conflicts it worked out better to make a long weekend of it (my research budget did not get approved for that much time in Geneva). I had initially thought of going to Lauterbrunnen or Zermatt but one of my good friends has spent time in Chamonix, doing the Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc (163 km race and she crushed it) and just wrapped up a month of skiing so with someone being familiar with the area that I could pick for trail recommendations (and the fact that it’s wayyyy cheaper than Switzerland) that was all it took.

day 1 cham
The building behind me is La Para but I also could have been on a completely different trail too…

I planned to only do one posting about my time in Chamonix but rather than encumber you with an insane number of photos thought I would break it down into two days for each post. I arrived Friday night after taking a shuttle from Geneva and just in time for yoga hosted by Patagonia. Normally I avoid studios (shout out to YogaGlo on my computer) but figured it would be a good way to get some stretching in for the next day. Thus, I attended my first bilingual yoga class.

day 1 waterfall .jpg
Cascade du Dard

Saturday I decided to ease into being here so only sought out a trail that was about 2 hours give or take. I went up to the Cascade du Dard and then continued on the trail to the La Para. I thought about continuing on but didn’t want to overdue it with the next few days allowing for more time on the trail.

day 1 cj.jpg

Today at the recommendation of my friend I took the trail up to the Lac Blanc. I started in Chamonix and at the recommendation of the Tourism office took the tram up the first leg (they said it would save me 3 hours of hiking and they told me to plan for a 7 hour day without the initial hike). I opted for the tram, which meant I was sweating profusely before I even got to the trail (still an abnormally high amount of anxiety in them). day 2 signage .jpg The signage is fairly good but because of my poor sense of direction I took off in the one wrong direction I could have gone and spent an hour getting up to Col Du Brevent. I back tracked (it was only about 15 minutes down if that gives you an idea of steepness) and got on the right trail.

day 2 more viewwwwwws .jpg

It was sometimes hard to focus on running though as each step offered a new view of the surrounding landscape and it was hard to contain my excitement.

day 2 running away .jpg
Running away from all my responsibilities

After passing through the last hut before Lac Blanc I had assumed I was nearing 14,000 feet elevation (later I saw I was only at 8,000-what?). My breathing felt labored, my legs were starting to retain lactic acid (is this what people deal with going to Leadville?!? Yikes!). day 2 ice with guy .jpgIt’s the only time I’ve noticeably felt the effects of the altitude but continued to scamper up the trail, hoping it would be worth it.

day 2 selfie at lac blanc.jpg
Made it!

It was, I was in complete awe that my travels allowed me to come here, my mouth was completely open as a surveyed the landscape, is this real life—EEEEEK! Major fan girl moment. How has it taken me this long to get here?!

day 2 descending .JPG
The descent wasn’t as buffed out and reminded me of the Centennial Trail in SD

I was a little low on water at this point and wasn’t sure if I would make it back without running out so instead opted to go left towards Argentiere instead of right back to Chamonix (it was still about 90 minutes down as opposed to the 3 hours it would have taken because I was not going down in the tram). Then opted for the bus, fortunately I had enough left over skittles to contain me until the bus arrived

Hoping to go up the other side tomorrow and reach De L’Aiguille.

Here are a few more photos from today- if you want access to the full 150 (probably why it took me so long to get anywhere today), I’ll send you the google photo link!

day 2 blurry .jpg

day 2 from left side .JPG

day 2 lac blanc.jpg
Lac Blanc

day 2 more trail .jpg

day 2 sound of music .jpg
You knew I was going to reenact this at some point, right?

day 2 put this one in too.jpg

day 2final views .jpg
Last views from the trail

day 2 waterfall .jpg

day 2 mountain view .jpg

day 2 better1.jpeg

And if you’ve made it this far, congratulations! To reward you here is a PSA on the use of SPF 100, it only works when applied correctly! Looks like I’ll be rocking the pantsuit the rest of the week- ha!

day 2 sunscreen.jpeg

 

 

The Hills are Alive

The problem with doing a split location for research is as soon as I was starting to feel comfortable in Hanoi, I was uprooted to Geneva. It’s great being able to be in two different locations and experience two very different areas, but I felt like I was just starting to get the hang of things in Hanoi.

I was tied to being in Hanoi my last two days waiting for an email to come in so went to a few museums. It was a rather peculiar feeling walking through the Military Museum and realizing that they view the Viet Nam War a little differently; we (Americans) aren’t viewed as the good guys but instead as imperialists that they defeated…

The last few days in Hanoi I knew it was time to go when “Raspy Kate”
showed up*.  Normally I love when “Raspy Kate” shows up, usually a day
or two before a full blown cough and lingers a little bit after with a
low, seductive should be in a cabaret voice. This Raspy Kate was
prompted by smog and second hand cigarette smoke. What I assumed was developing throat cancer dissipated with one swift inhale of clean
air. It makes sense why everyone has face masks in the city. Anyone
thinking we should roll back EPA regulations should go spend a week in
a country that doesn’t have them. I’ve been amazed at the amount of smokers in Geneva as that clean air was soon interrupted.

mountains

I arrived in Geneva and the next day the World Health Assembly began. I’ve been attending on and off depending on what they are discussing. And then re-watching parts of the day in the evenings. It’s been nice just to observe and see how a large international organization appeases 194 individuals countries. It hasn’t been without drama, as Taiwan wasn’t officially invited this year and the assembly elected a new Director-General that ushered in a few protests of its own.

Tawain protests .JPG
Taiwan protesting to be officially recognized by the WHO

I made time to go to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, which I thought would be more of look at all the times we’ve intervened and the lives we’ve saved but it ended up being a harrowing experience as I was compounded by all the times the international community was silent for far too long towards heinous war crimes.

records in ICRC
6 million records to track 2 million displaced people during WWI

 

I went to France this past weekend to run/hike up Mont Saleve, it’s visible from Geneva and was a short bus ride over and the easiest border cross I’ve ever had (it was non-existent). It seemed fairly simple to get on the trail so I grabbed a trail map from the start of the tram and headed off to the right.Short overlook I ended up on a trail that went up so figured that was it and proceeded to go. It was steep, any thought I had of running up was now laughable as most of the time I was using my hands to help scamper up. It wasn’t until I reached a rock face that had a rope to clip into that I thought maybe I should turn around (for my family reading this, sorry the thought didn’t come sooner).

rope going up
Left my climbing harness at home

I turned around as one of my goals is to not create an international incident and I can’t imagine that injuring myself on some random unmarked trail in France would go over smoothly. I headed back down, albeit slower than going up as I would catch one tree and push off and catch the next one to prevent from just sliding down. I opted for the tram at this point to at least reach the top. Upon boarding I immediately regretted it as we were all stuffed into it like sardines and while I looked at the floor the entire time it didn’t help when upon nearing the top a girl went, “it looks like we’re going to crash”. Vowing not to ride it down I went to the look out point to figure it out from there.

view point photo .jpg
Carrying the map that I never used

At the top I ran into a French man who was willing to take my picture, I asked about what trail he used to get up and had indicated that the one I was on they call the “throat” and gestured to his neck as if he was choking, “because it’ll squeeze the life out of you” Ohhhhh. An American woman interjected and told me about the trail she had taken up that only took 1:45 and they took it pretty casual. I figured it must not have been too bad as she had an empty beer bottle in her backpack so I opted for that one. It was a smooth, buffed out, well marked and I could not figure out how I missed it. Until I realized at the end when I should have went left instead of right to reach this trail head. Next time!

The stark contrast between Hanoi and Geneva has led me to some reflecting on how we (I) showcase the two countries. My biases against Hanoi really stems from that I’m not a city girl, at all. The traffic, horns honking, constant noise, fast pace I’ve also found in Boston, Chicago, NYC. This past spring when I went to Boston for a conference and upon returning my dad asked if they were going to lose me to Boston for law school. I said the first few days there I was really feeling being back in the city, getting around no problem, fully handling public transportation, I was ready to move back. Then I got off at the wrong stop, and my uber driver took the long way around and getting back to the train station my phone sent me in the wrong direction and I was over it. I’m really good in cities that are less than 500,000 people. I did an 8 month stint in Denver once but was constantly driving back to Boulder or the mountains to get out of it.

It’s also made me think on how each country is reflected towards the outside world, a lot of photos (mainly on pinterest) coming out of Viet Nam are of the people or of food, whereas Switzerland it’s more landscape shots. I thought of how strange it would be for me to be circled by a bunch of Swiss kids on a park playground, but yet that’s often the photos coming out of low-income countries. I had the realization when I was walking to the UN in Geneva and crossed a 4 lane street in the morning without much traffic. That same scene in Hanoi prompted me to stop and take a photo. Someone told me that you’re often attractive to the unfamiliar in a new area and so I hope that I have I done Viet Nam justice as I really did enjoy my time there, especially once I got into a groove, and would have liked to have spent more time in the Sapa region as mountains and less people seems to be more of my style, no matter what country I’m in.

I digress a lot with this blog as the transition just provided a stark contrast. I also meant to get this up sooner but was hit with a 24 hour bug that led to me throwing up a lot. Feeling better now, and one day left of the WHA marks my time here almost halfway done! I can’t believe it.

More Photos:

in front of the flags
Inside the UN with the flags
Peacock
Peacock at the UN
Lake geneva
View from Mont Saleve
ICRC museum
Outside the ICRC
church
Never very far from a Catholic Church!
Assembly hall
Inside the Assembly Hall

*I have asthma so am more conscious of air quality and someone mentioned that the smog in Hanoi is similar to smog levels that were in the US in the 1970s. Sapa had very clean air, slightly more humid than my lungs are capable of handling. Not to put it in a negative light, but this is the bias that I’m bringing to the table.

The Mountains Called

back of sapa
The mountains called

With the finite time that I have in Hanoi I knew that getting out of the city to sight-see would be limited so this past weekend decided between going to Sapa and Ha Long Bay. It wasn’t that hard of a decision because given the choice between mountains and the sea; I will always pick mountains. Off to Sapa I went. I took the train overnight (8 hours) in a sleeper car. It’s a bit odd to share a chamber with people you don’t know but everyone went to sleep pretty quickly and only awoke at 6 am as we pulled into Loa Cai. From the train station it was was a 45km drive up to Sapa and the views did not disappoint.Sapa 1I knew as soon as stepping off the train I had made the right choice, the air was so much clearer and thinner. Getting in to the hotel by 8am, I was able to drop my bags off and head to go to Mt. Fansipan (the highest peak in the Indochina region at 3,143 meters and for those of you back in the states 10,312 feet). Looking at the trail map it was feasible to climb with the fastest person going up in 2:30 hours and the slowest being 22 hours, yikes! gondolaI did not bring enough snacks so instead opted for the 45 minute walk to the gondola that would take you to near the top with 700 steps up to the top. gondola 2

The gondola was enough to make me grateful I opted not to hike, the sheer steepness of the peaks made me realize why the slowest was 22 hours. Getting to the top with 700 steps I soon realized that the steps were not made with a size 42 shoe in mind as they were tall and shallow leaving me a few times grabbing the railing as to not fall backwards. Sapa 2Getting to the top the views were incredible at least when the clouds broke. I was surprised at how many people were at the top and then remembered it was only a gondola ride up. I was more surprised at how many people at the top were smoking (a reoccurring theme in Viet Nam). Getting down the gondola was a little more nervous wracking, the first time the mountain drops off my stomach ended up in my throat.

jump on fansipan
I’m sure this doesn’t help stereotypes of Americans

I spent the rest of the day just walking around the town and familiarizing myself with the area, and of course stopping to stare at the views from time to time.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0575.JPG
Down we go!

The next morning I signed up for a trekking route that was 12km. One other reason that I was drawn to Sapa was the Hmong people. I read a book earlier this year, The Spirit Catches you and You Fall Down. A story about a Hmong child and her family as they navigate the medical landscape in America. It’s a book that stuck with me as you see the lack of communication and good intentions by both parties fall short in the best interests of the child. The opening scene of the book is the mother giving birth to this child in a small house in the same room as her other children who were sleeping. They are only awoken by the cries of the new baby as the mother is silent throughout. Damn, now, I’ve never gone through childbirth but if I do I’m definitely planning on all the drugs. My guide who was Hmong talked about how with her first child her water broke on the trail and she hiked home, hopped on the motorbike and went to the hospital because she needed a c-section; one of her friend’s had her child on the trail(!!!!). DCIM100GOPROGOPR0586.JPG

We trekked through terrace rice fields where there was a look of the irrigation system up close. I kept thinking of how many years back this practice has gone and how incredibly intricate it was. The trails were steep and with it raining the evening before a little slick too. Some of the Hmong women hiking with us wore slip on sandals and our guide was in rain boots and they all floated along the trail. Meanwhile I’m in full on trail-running shoes and still struggling to find traction. There is an ultrarace in the area in September of each year, I can’t even imagine how intense that must be given the grades that we were hiking. , It would be fun to come back and do the ultra for the views alone, even if it would destroy me.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0579.JPG
Giant bamboo trees

Part of the economy in the area is based on tourism and the handmade goods that the various ethnic groups sell. I was able to resist the first group of kids that came up to sell bracelets but it must have exceeded all my self-will for the rest of the day as each child that would approach me I gave in, fortunately each bracelet was only 5,000 Dong (22 cents USD). One group there were 3 girls selling them, and I told them I wanted 5 which made their eyes light up. After thinking they were the only ones, I was soon swarmed with many other children–I have no idea where they came from. I won’t tell you how many bracelets I’m coming home with, but if you want one, let me know!

when it rains in Sapa
When it rains, everything just runs straight down

About half-way through the trek it started raining, unlike Hanoi it released the humidity and was a warm rain. It made me think of Forrest Gump and how he talked about it raining so much, “And sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath.I had this same thought until I realized I was getting sprayed by an irrigation hose leak. My rain jacket did little to overcome the wetness and it was apparently clear why umbrellas are the way to go.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0703.JPG
“One day it started raining…” and only lasted for a few hours

I had asked our guide about snakes and she told me not to worry, they eat them so if they hear us talking they run away so they won’t get caught. This made me feel slightly better. I only saw one snake while in Sapa and someone was carrying it on the back of a motorbike, I’m assuming to go home and eat it.

empty morning street
The calm before the storm of the day

It’s one area that I wish I could have spent more time in but had to get back for a meeting on Monday and took the train back overnight. Walking back to the apartment at 5 in the morning the city was filled with calmness and most of the streets aren’t recognizable with all the shops closed up instead of spilling out.

More photos from Sapa and the Temple of Literature in Hanoi:

sapa tourist
This is not the first person to randomly ask to take their photo with me
pineapple
Thankfully I did not regret eating this fruit later– soo good!
Catholic church in sapa
Catholic Church in Sapa
temple of literature 2
Also had time for the Temple of Literature
temple of literature 4 .JPG
Temple of Literature
temple of literature 6.jpg
Water I did not want to fall into
temple of literature
Figurines at the Temple of Literature
hanoi hilton
Outside the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ which came highly recommended by Sen. John McCain….
Hanoi backdrop
Pretty sure this is just a spot used as a photo backdrop–or at least for me!
Viet nam UN
And in case you thought I didn’t do any work this past week.

It’s This Whole Other Country

I picked up a book before I left the States about how to be more merciful. It was a bit of a whim purchase only recognizing the author from another piece I had read. If there is anytime to explore a more merciful life it’s in another country with a huge language and cultural barrier. 63947067

One of my first meetings this week was only 2K from the hotel but not wanting to show up sweating I opted for cab and wrote down the address in my notebook. Leaving the abyss of wifi rendered me kneeling before the paper gods to help me. The cab driver spoke little English but more than I spoke in Vietnamese. I pointed to the address and he shook his head no, I shook back yes and we were off.

NIHI
I had been to the building previously, unfortunately the cab driver had not

I watched the timer go by from what google maps had showed as a 9, max 12 minute cab ride from the hotel slowly ticked into 23…24…25. Where is he taking me, maybe I was wrong, he had never heard of the company so that was useless and there was nothing else for me to do but sit in the back of his cab and hope that he shows me mercy to deliver me on time. He didn’t and I was about 30 minutes late, fortunately the people waiting for me were very kind and still welcoming as I ran huffing into the office from the cab.

official status
In my haste I almost ran by security….talk about an international incident

I had sat in the back of his cab for 50 minutes, knowing that something was a miss but nothing to be done about it other than pointing to my address. It was the right address and walking back home was only about a 20 minute walk. I have no idea where the break down happened and it doesn’t really matter but I went to a pretty dark spot in that cab. I cursed the whole country to get influenza, I know petty, and fortunately since I’m so close to a catholic church have already gone to confession for that one. I also thought a lot of people who are trying to get to the US (or another country), either as an immigrant or refugee. What place of desperation or hope that move must come from to abandon every comfort you have and arrive in a country where there is certainly for most a language barrier and even more cultural. I have the ability to Facetime with my parents, almost constant contact with friends by text message and email (when in wifi) and still it’s been a bit of a struggle. I’m leaving in 10 days and even knowing that my mood fluctuates between euphoria and dread.

chickens
Most of the other chickens I have seen do not live in cages

My cultural competency was a little low yesterday when finding a watermelon and purchasing it I returned to the hotel and asked for a plastic fork and was met with glazed over stares. It only took me a moment to realize just how absurd that question was. Thank goodness for China Buffet growing up that I have some idea of what to do with chopsticks. One guy I know has told me the story of coming to the states as a refugee after the Viet Nam war, before they had left Viet Nam his family packed up all their chopsticks. He laughed when he told it because he said there were plenty of places to get chopsticks but they had no idea the world they would encounter.

Finishing the book about mercy left me with this quote, “Love and Mercy are sovereign, if often in disguise as ordinary people…forgiven and included, when we experience this, that we are in this with one another, flailing and starting over in the awful beauty of being humans together, we are saved”. My parents will often send me articles about vaccinations or anything related to a pandemic, I respond with my usual, “viruses don’t know borders.” And it seems that I’ve found being here that kindness and mercy don’t either. Not that I needed to leave the country for this lesson but it’s easy to take for granted in a familiar world.

suitcase
This weighed as much as him, I’m sure.

I’ve been shown plenty of mercy and kindness: from a 4-year-old wanting to engage in English with me in a park; to the barista recognizing me and asking me about my previous order from the day before; to the boy at the hotel who not only carried my suitcase (that might have weighed as much as him) down 5 flights of stairs and into the cab and then my hosts at my airbnb carrying it up 5 flights of stairs; to a woman offering me her phone to call someone when my phone wasn’t doing the trick; to the people who engage in conversation in English with me even if they have no idea what I’m saying. I’ve been amazed at the kindness that has surrounded me.

Sorry for going soft with this post, and if it comes off with political undertones, that was not my intention but instead to express what I’ve experienced and thought while being here.

flagsss
Out and about

I haven’t had as much time this week to get out and explore the city but I did download an app that gives me a map offline so my radius of exploring went from about 800 meters to the city as my oyster. I spent one day (that I had a lot of free time) walking 3 miles one way for tacos. I’m still waiting to find an area where the city unfolds and it’s not chaotic or crowded but have yet to find it, so learning to embrace it.

I think the strangest thing is that being 11-13 hours ahead of most of my contacts in the states leaves me in bizarre state where I wake up with all my emails for the day already delivered and my text messages overflowing. After responding it’s radio silence until people begin waking up again and I’m going to bed. It’s almost as if I’m waiting for things to happen on the other side of the world.

all the messages
466 text messages in one night.

Good Morning, Viet Nam

My first thought upon walking off the airplane and into the Hanoi airport was, “Oh wow, I’m tall”. Most days I think of myself as being 5’5-5’6″ even though I’m just over 5’9″. I blame this on the fact that Frank and Mary tower over me. I’ve never thought of myself as being tall before arriving in Viet Nam. Most of the people stood up and I soon realized that they looked much taller when they were seated on the plane. This sense of feeling like a giant hasn’t gone away.

church better one
This church is about half a block away from where I’m staying so how I orientate myself

I walked around a bit Sunday night but with the travel and lack of sleep on the airplanes went to bed at 7pm. Both Monday and Tuesday were holidays here, first International Labor Day and then celebrating the Fall of Saigon.  I woke up at 4am the next morning and was ready to go. I facetimed my parents because it was early evening for them and waited until the noise of the street crept in to let me know the city had awaken. I got up and went to walk around the Hoàn Kiếm Lake, or “Lake of the Restored Sword”.lakeview 2 I also walked across the Huc Bridge into the Temple of the Jade Mountain. Right before the entrance two girls in front of me had to turn around and the man seemed to be gesturing to their shoes. Looking at my sandals I wondered if it was a problem but he let me pass. I later realized it was because they were wearing shorts and had to go back and put smocks on to cover their legs.

in the temple .jpg
Inside the temple
lake view 1
View looking onto the lake from the temple
brdige 2
I’m taller than everyone on this bridge

The temple is still active with people putting money (fake money) to burn as the offering.

I then met up with one of the guys here for lunch to talk about preliminary things, like areas to go running and what places are the best to eat.

near the temple
My shorts were too short for me to go up into the temple

Tuesday was the celebration of the Fall of Saigon, which is probably a similar feeling to a Brit being in America on the Fourth of July, but with less fireworks. Given that everything was still shut down I decided to make my way to the Temple of Literature and maybe the Viet Nam Museum of Art. Unfortunately both of those are off my paper map by a few blocks and ended up instead at Ho Chi Mihn’s Mausoleum and Museum.

masoleum
Not as busy as I thought it would be on the holiday

There was a temple there as well, which I could not go in because of the shorts I was wearing and they didn’t offer smocks. I also didn’t go into the Mausoleum because it was closed, which I found a little ironic given the day of celebration. templeI never found the Museum of Art, which is what I was really after. I would go up to a police officer and ask, “English?” and they would respond, “Hello” and that was the just of it so besides trying to point on the map any phrases I knew in Vietnamese that I did not butcher were not sufficient enough to get me to where I wanted to be. I took a cab back to the hotel, which was maybe my first and last cab ride given how terrifying the roads are here.

taxi ride .JPG
Slightly terrifying

Yesterday I woke up again around 4 so decided to go for a run when the daylight broke. I decided to go run around Hoàn Kiếm Lake because it was close and that way if I didn’t want to do 6+ miles I could just cut it short whenever. Within about the first 5 minutes I soon realized why I didn’t see more runners, the humidity and the heat even at 5am was miserable. Plenty of people where out exercising, either walking around or doing group fitness, but not a lot of runners. Most of them in normal clothes and a few times seeing their clothes drenched in sweat I wanted to yell, “Cotton kills!” but didn’t.  The side street markets were also unfolding spilling out fruits, vegetables, and handmade goods. I couldn’t believe all the activity happening still in the wee hours. I only last 3 painstaking miles and then went back to my air-conditioned room and did yoga. I only had a dinner on the schedule for the day so spent most of the day just roaming around. The Old Quarter is a mix of tourists interjected with the locals. A lot of shops seemed tailored to tourists and then I turned a corner and found myself on a street that only sold coffins and memorial flowers.

Hoc Bridge
On the Hoc Bridge

Other things:

(1) It doesn’t make much difference whether you look or not while crossing the road, there is always traffic so you just go–sorry mom!

(2) Not speaking anything more than really basic Vietnamese phrases means that I’m surrounded by thousands of people but still very isolated. My mom asked how I would do with it but it hasn’t bothered me yet, I’m actually enjoying it. I do worry that if I do something wrong and someone starts yelling I will have no idea why

(3) I have yet to a store that sells hairbrushes, and I’m in desperate need. I’m debating just cutting it so someone will have to brush it.

flowers .jpg
Flowers outside the Ho Chi Minh Museum