Monday, February 25, 2013

Open Canoe to the Mountain of the Fragrant Traces

Vietnam, Dec 29th, 2012:
(From the Road...)  60 km southwest of Hanoi by bumpy shaking narrow gravel lanes shared with racing lorries and oxen cart, likes a complex of pagodas and Buddhist shrines built into the limestone cliffs of Huong Tich Mountain... The Mountain of the Fragrant Traces.
We disembark at the village of  My Duc along flooded rice fields, drink warm fizzy Fanta, check our gear, and make arrangements to cross the Yen River.
Small metal boats are rowed by old village women with wooden oars, cutting slowly over the rivers murky surface. 
Passing fishing huts and over lotus gardens hidden beneath the tranquil water, Huong Tich recieves vast Buddhist pilgrims in the second month of the Lunar Calendar.
But today we have the river basically to ourselves.  Crammed into the tiny crafts for a ninety minute ride, I joke to the woman, "Shouldn't I be rowing?  The others are leaving us behind?" 
But she laughs a toothless old grin and adjusts her bamboo hat.  I was told later by a village guide smoking on a wooden bench beside the muddy makeshift dock, "How would she receive a tip if you did all the work?"
No matter, the beauty of this trip are the small details.  A wild crane lifting off a sullen branch toward the clouds.  A yellow fish darting beneath us causing a splash.  Monks in the hills beating low drums, signalling our arrival.
There are scents too.  Deep lavender and sweet lotus blossom.  Sugary honey blossom and a gentle breeze.  The sense of smell is the strongest tied to memory, and I feel like I am moving into my past.
This morning on the Yellow River, floating into the unknown.

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