Moped Nation

IMG_1110We traveled from Saigon south to Vung Tau on a 1 1/2 hr ferry ride at $12.50 each. Vung Tau is a beach vacation destination for Vietnamese tourist and was an RnR location during the Vietnam war. Over the years many ex-pats from the US and Australia have decided to open businesses or retire here. There is also a small international population that live in Vung Tau because of the oil industry. The town boasts the second largest “Jesus” statue in the world. The largest being in Rio. There is also a large statue of Mary on one of the mountain sides. All remnants of the 100 yr French  (Catholic) occupation.

imageOur host, an old college friend, Andrew (from the states) met us at the dock on you guessed it, his moped. And, like Siagon, Vung Tau had a stream of mopeds weaving here and there, organized chaos. Andrew, a teacher at an international school, welcomed us to his home and introduced us to his girlfriend, Mi, pronounced Me.

Serendipity allowed us to arrive to Andrews on Thanksgiving and so that evening we were welcomed by Andrew, and his friends/fellow teachers to a thanksgiving celebration. There were folks from all over the world including, South Africa, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, the US, the Philippines and Singapore. It was a bit surreal to dine with them, sharing turkey and potatoes but we enjoyed our time and talked of meeting up again over the weekend.

IMG_1113The next morning Andrew had to work, so we ventured out on foot looking for lunch. We stumbled upon a little hole in a wall with a line out the door. It was open air with ladies cooking near the front of the stall. As we stood in line (the only westerners in the joint) we observed trying to discern what they were making in hopes of reducing our uncertainty, especially regarding all of the horror stories we had heard about street food and digestion problems. By the time we reached the hostess we had built up our confidence, had a basic understanding of the etiquette and were ready to dive into the experience. We were glad we did as the place turned out to be a goldmine! You know, the kind of place that Anthony Bourdain might showcase on an episode of his popular food show.

IMG_1111The venue, called Goc Vu Sua, served up Banh Khot, a speciality, only found in Vung Tao. It consisted of shrimp fried on a flour/egg batter, served with bean threads and herbs, wrapped in butter lettuce and dipped in fish sauce. We watched the packed house of locals eat and followed their lead using a combination of hands and chop sticks. We saw a frothy yellowish drink sitting next to many of the patrons and asked for them. Then turned to watch the server use a large press to make fresh sugar cane juice. The drink was served on ice and tasted sweet but not too sweet. It was delicious and we later found out (via Google) that the juice has major healing applications including cancer fighting properties. So we lightheadedly started skeeming ways to bring one of the juicing machines back to Australia or the States in hopes of making big bucks on this superfood.

Each of our meals including our drink 52000 Vietnamese dong ($2.50USD) Goc Vu Sua was top notch local fare and if you ever make it to Vung Tao you have to give it a try. Just make sure you keep your knees of of the table.

Another highlight of our time in Vung Tau was renting mopeds. We walked down to a guesthouse and found two mopeds available. We rented them for two days at 600,000 Vietnamese dong, which translated to $27 USD total. We had to fill out a release form and leave our passports to be picked up once we finished with the mopeds.

IMG_1131The driving learning curve was intense but quick. Within the hour, we found our way weaving in and around the roadways, flowing with the locals. At one point our daughter made a comparison to Mario Cart. We all laughed and concurred.

The mobility offered us more flexibility as we were able to move at our own pace and explore. Over the next few days we rode up Small Mountain and Big mountain, stopped for coffees and mango smoothies, went to mass at the local cathedral which was quite moving, specially hearing the choir. We visited the market, went to a movie in a cinema as well as enjoyed a day at the beach. But the highlight was riding our mopeds, instruments in tow, into the evening sun to a local bar called Haven where we performed for Andrew, his teacher friends, a handful of ex-pats and a few locals.

It was a blast to see an old friend and experience life in Vung Tau through his eyes. If we ever have the opportunity to visit again, we will. Firstly to see Andrew and all of our new friends but as a close second, we’d go back just ride mopeds and to eat Banh Khot again!



Old Factory Aromatics

IMG_0626Soap-i-dy Soap-i-dy Soap! One of our favorite things to do is spend time with kinfolk who are living their dream. So, meeting and learning from the proprietors, Jonathan and Madeline, of Old Factory Aromatics was one of our highlight during our time in Texas.
In 2007, Jonathan Savoie and Madeline Novak met in Chicago IL one evening. Jonathan tells the romantic story of Madeline walking through the doors at Ravins Grin.  A friend of a friend, Madeline joined his table as she had just come from work at a local soap making company. She shared a little bit about her job and the soap making and a spark ignited in their relationship. Jonathan fell for Madeline… and her bag of soap. Over time, Jonathan began to feel a stirring to find a more creative outlet in life. He found soap making intreging and seemed to have a natural knack for creating signature blends. The more he moved towards the craft the more it felt right and the final confirmation was finding out that soap making was actually apart of his French heritage. As their relationship flourished so did the move towards the sundry business, and together, they started Old Factory Aromatics, moved to the Texas hill country along with Madeline’s sister, Emily and set up shop.
We’re glad they did! Their soaps and sundries are made with the finest organic ingredients and Jonathan’s nose for delicate combinations is excellent. And, in the French tradition each product has a fantastic story, including art work. This added touch makes their products even more special.
IMG_0592Their workshop is currently in Canyon Lake, TX just south of Austin but they hope to settle in Wimberley someday. In the meantime, we parked alongside them for a night, enjoying a sunset at Canyon Lake, made Red Thai Curry for dinner and later they showed us the romantically scientific process of soap making and allowed each of us to try our hand at creating a signature blend perfume. Graciana chose a blend of Vanilla, Cinnamon and Blood Orange. Banjo went for Geranium Bourbon, Cassia, Frankincense, and Rosemary. And, Jana used Oak Moss, Cypril, Pink Grapefruit, and Frankincense. It was so inspiring to see the kids really get into the creating process. The next morning we shared breakfast and said our final goodbyes. We roll on with wafts of beautiful smells and fond memories of our time at the Old Soap Factory.
Head on over to their website and get yourself some Old Factory Aromatics.  

Fly Birdy Fly

As we leave our little nest, a small piece of us remains in Sisters, OR. What a joy to stumble into community in such a rich way. The relationships established in the past four months are eternal and we are so grateful to be apart of a larger movement of health and reconciliation.

When we came we had a shell of a bus, the shirts on our backs and a glimpse of a vision. Thanks to the generosity of the community at VAST, we leave with electricity, a beginning of a kitchen, bedrooms, bike rack and an eco-toilet (gift of ALTREC), our belly’s full and a clearer understanding of our purpose and direction. We also leave with a continued partnership with KABUM COFFEE INTERNATIONAL, a world-class coffee organization.

We are team players and it is most exciting to partner with a global/local organization that is legitimately doing amazing things one village at a time. Kabum is a “True Trade” group that is building community in Uganda. They are offering real financial opportunities to local farmers and families. They are partnered with Hope Africa Child Development Program and together they are supporting one of the most impoverished areas in Uganda.

“Arise, Ye Sons and Daughters, lend a helping hand.” That’s what we sing. It is an encouragement to partner with Kabum and we are delighted to share them with you.

Learn more and consider sharing their efforts with your local roasters. Link up with Hope Africa Child Development Program and join us in the process of building this global/local community.