‘What the hell is a Pagoda?’

If you know me at all, you know that two of my very favorite things to do are suggesting vacas and inviting people to visit me. Genuine as these suggestions always are, I’ve learned the hard way to not believe an RSVP till I see it. I guess years of Army-brat-hood instilled a tiny bit of cynicism in me…cause not everyone is gonna come visit you. And certainly, not everyone is gonna drop everything to do a massive vaca. Sometimes it’s just easier to not get your hopes up…

But yall, last week, these little suggestive worlds collided when an Arkansan proved me wrong on both accords.

I think our convo went something like this:

Ben: ‘Hey! I get out of the Army in April, where are you gonna be?’

Anne: ‘Probably hanging out in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand! Wanna join?’

Ben: ‘Yup. I’ll do it.’

Anne: [[thinking, but not saying… ‘yeah RIGHT’]]

He did it. Ben Trouble, as he’s formally called in my world, proved me wrong and met me in Saigon last week. So far, we’ve spent some days doing a lot and some days doing absolutely nothing but lie on the beach with a spiked watermelon juice in hand. All of those days have made me laugh though…

For example…

  • We both seem to be a bit directionally challenged in Vietnam. Whether it was trying to find the Cho Ben Thanh Market in Saigon during our first hour of travel, attempting to motorbike to the most movie-esque beach ever in Phu Quoc, or just hunting down a mini-mart, Vietnamese road signs have bested us so far. Luckily, Ben didn’t get lost in the Cu Chi Tunnels though. About 100 degrees hot, 1 meter tall and far too few inches wide, my claustrophobic butt was NOT climbing down into those tunnels, but I was still sweatin bullets hoping Ben made it out alive and didn’t get lost in the labyrinth of a Vietcong underground fighting city. He made it out, albeit sweaty and cramped. And we haven’t lost each other or our bags yet, so losing track of time and destinations is actually just a funny and welcomed part of the adventure.
  • Ben gets hit on by more men in Vietnam than I do. Yes you read that right. The Vietnamese men loooove them some Ben Trouble. Maybe it’s the twang. Probably the broad stance. Definitely the beard. Men are falling all over this little Arkansan and it makes me giggle every.single.time. The other night, while in transit between the Mekong Delta and a little piece of paradise off the southern tip of Vietnam, we found ourselves at a local restaurant for a delicious Hot Pot dinner. As the ONLY westerners in this packed joint, we felt a little circus-like to say the least. After all eyes on us for the evening, we got up to wait for a taxi when a small group of slightly inebriated locals walked up to get a closer look. They all just shook Ben’s hand and say ‘you so handsome’ and then they shook my hand and say ‘oh, congratulations!’ It is probably the definition of hilarious.
  • Then there are just the moments on moments on moments that prove, without a shadow of a doubt that we are indeed NOT in Arkansas anymore. Culture shock is always a funny thing. But its kind of funnier with Ben. From the Vietnam American War Museum in Saigon [[which is a humbling and horrific dose of recent history]], to the floating markets in the Mekong Delta; from the motorbike traffic insanity, to our new water buffalo friend on Unicorn Island; from a honeybee farm, rice noodle-making compounds and coconut candy making factory, to the live ocean creatures that they season, splice and dice right in front of you at the night markets for dinner, we’ve shoved a WHOLE lot of culture into a mere 7 days. Some of it could easily overwhelm, unless you soak it up and laugh it off instead. Case in point: our new friend and host in Phu Quoc pointed us to the ocean-facing Pagoda up the road and shooed us off for a visit. I hopped on the back of the bike and we tore off. About three minutes into the trek, Ben turns to me and yells ‘what the hell is a Pagoda?!’

So perfect. We definitely don’t know what we’re doing over here half of the time. But ALL of the time, we’re soaking it up and laughing.

Wanna join??

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Wish you were here from the Great Barrier Reef

So we took more than a few moments to relax [trash TV indulgences jncluded] in Hervey Bay…necessary moments I keep reminding myself, for travel endurance sake. Anyway, an ad came on TV that read ‘wish you were here’ and it got me thinking… Who exactly do I wish was right here with me right now? I didn’t think about it long enough to answer my own subconscious question… But today I did. And it was obvious from the moment we boarded our little sail boat, built in the 1950s, down at the marina in Cairns, Australia.

Mr.McCoy likely doesn’t know how often I think of him. But he is responsible for imparting some pretty important learnings on me…

The way he holds hands with Mrs. McCoy is a love I adore and one that I wish for all of my people. His giggle is infectious. And he made me my first Old Fashioned on the deck of his beautiful boat as we topped off a day at Greers Ferry one salty summer night years ago. To this day, that is my favorite drink. To this day, the Old Fashioneds that Mr. McCoy makes me on his boat are the best serve to be had in the country [[I’ve come close to proving it ]]. To this day, I cannot sip on one without thinking about sweet Mr.Mccoy.

old fashioneds

His daughter is one of my most long-lived best friends. But when I’m back at ‘home’ in Arkansas, Mr. McCoy treats me as his very own…and for a moment I really am Bcoy’s sister. Oh I’m smiling.

And when I fly home for a weekend and they’ve booked me a day out on the lake…once everyone is settled in and are happily sipping a drink and floating on rafts soaking up those southern rays, Mr. McCoy slides on his flippers and face mask and quietly slips off to explore the lakes bottom.

When I win the lottery, I will bring that sweet man to visit Doug, from Key West, who will scoop us up at the Cairns marina in his old refurbished sail boat, called the Falla,. Doug will drive us 90 minutes off shore to the outer reef where we’ll spend a day snorkeling one of Gods great natural wonders. It will be one of those ‘I don’t think we’re in Greer’s Ferry Lake anymore, Todo’ moments.

The Great Barrier Reef

We will perfectly replicate today [[except our GoPro will have a full battery…omg #fail]] floating through the teal blue water spotting erradescant everything. We will find the incessant Barramundi the size of Layton, clams the size of smart cars and brilliantly colored parrot fish the size of my leg.

Yes. That's a Barramundi
Yes. That’s a Barramundi

We’ll listen to the tinkering sound of millions of fish, big and small, stunning and strange, all in their own unique way, feed on the coral, and then watch as they spit out the yucky bits. We will ooh and ahh over coral–every kind of coral you could ever imagine and then LOTS that you never could have imagined–coral that Nat Geo doesn’t even do justice until you see it for yourself. We will lather sunscreen time and time again, but still hope for a tan, feast on a lunch of salad and deli meats, make friends with an intimate crowd of fellow snorkelers from France and Germany and Colorado. We will take photos of us jumping into the water from the sails ladder 15 feet up.

The Great Barrier Reef

Then when we see a shark… A real big shark, it’ll scare the piss out of us enough to send us hauling butt back to the boat where they’ll serve us cheese and fresh fruit and wine from a coffee mug  [[which we’ll appropriately swap for some bourbon and bitters]] as we cruise back to shore.

The Great Barrier Reef

If that day is anything like today, I think Mr. McCoy might move to Cairns.

It was an incredible second trip out to the Great Barrier Reef, and all I can think about now that we’re pulling in to the dock is, Mr. McCoy, I wish you were here.

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