30 Day Travel Series: Honk Poisoning

Ten minutes into round two, as I was looking at Julian in the dark, I saw something huge crawling on his neck. I went to flick it and the cockroach bolted down his back.

I'd been telling Julian that we'd cracked the code with the Million Person Project because we were able to have an incredible experience abroad, do the work closest to our hearts and not have to deal with any of the negative parts of traveling. He'd never been traveling backpacker style before, so I had been telling and prepping him how it can sometimes be miserable. You're out in the world trying to have fun but a lot of times it is just hard; you can't find a place to stay, you get stuck with some downer travel mates, you get lost, you don't have enough money, you have really high expectations, you don't know if you are getting ripped off, people you meet complain or are closed-minded or boring. I think anyone who has traveled in the backpacker circuit can relate to this.

Anyway, the whole trip I'd been talking to Julian about how much more fun the Million Person Project was than traveling for the sake of traveling. Everyday we had something to do. If we didn't have a workshop, we had meetings, some mission in preparation for the workshop, or articles to write; plus we got to make friends with people with whom we shared a deep passion for creating positive change in the world! We made friends with all kinds of change makers from rebel-rousers to celebrities running their own projects.

So we had been pretty pleased with our situation, but we had been in Vietnam for three weeks and we hadn't done one touristy thing and we had definitely spent too much time furiously typing behind a computer. We had three days between trainings, so we decided we needed to take a vacation from the Million Person Project: a two-day one-night boat trip of Halong Bay. It was supposed to be amazingly beautiful, fun and a good way to meet other tourists. We hoped we’d get on a boat with some partiers who wanted to have fun and trade travel stories with us. But when we got to the dock and met our fellow boat mates, it took about 30 seconds to realize we were NOT on a party boat. We boarded the boat with three Israelis, a Czech guy, two Belgians, a few Russians and a old American man who had traveled to every black-listed country on the US travel list: North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Cuba and on and on.

The trip started off on the wrong foot when the crew lead assigned the Czech guy to share a TINY double-bed with an Israeli guy he didn't know. Shouting started, free beers were demanded, and people asked to be returned to shore. In the end, no concessions were made and the two had to just get over it and snuggle up.

The sun was blazing when the crew announced without explanation that if anyone jumped in they'd be fined $100, though the brochures showed people diving off the boat and floating in paradise.

The boat smelled strongly of diesel and people kept coughing. The scenery was pretty but the smog was so thick it was hard not to be overwhelmed with the pollution. I tried for a while to convince Julian it was fog because I could tell he was disappointed with our trip and I wanted him to be having fun as a tourist.

Once he made me admit it was smog we laid on the top deck and played a game where we talked about every person we had met so far on our trip, analyzed them and figured out who they would be friends with if they lived with us in San Francisco. That was fun.

At night, we tried to get the party started. Julian and I bought beers for the Czech and Israeli bed mates and as they drank them they complained that they were overpriced and the tour company was ripping us off. We gave up on making friends and went back up to the top of the boat and restarted our game. Ten minutes into round two, as I was looking at Julian in the dark, I saw something huge crawling on his neck. I went to flick it and the cockroach bolted down his back. Another cockroach was on his collar. He jumped up screaming and running around in circles.

Once he caught his breath we decided to go to bed. I didn't sleep all night because I was worried that we were getting poisoned. We were above the motor and it was idling and pumping diesel into our room all night.

As we pulled back into the dock the next day everyone, with their long faces, clapped. I felt bad for the boat staff but they'd really made us feel like we were in prison not on vacation.

When we got off the boat the shuttle back to Hanoi was supposed to be there to meet us. But we waited three hours and it never came. People were up in arms, yelling at the staff and each other. We were baking in the heat, sitting on the side of the road. Julian and I tried to make the most of it and did free style walking for a couple hours. The shuttle showed up after four hours and there wasn't room for everyone, but we packed in anyway. Three miles down the road we pulled over and a friend of the driver tried to get in the shuttle to share a seat with one of the boat staff that was already in the van. There was a Lord of the Flies style uprising and people tried to oust him out from the shuttle. Julian and I sat quietly; we moved our bags a little bit and tried to make room for the guy. He ignored the yelling and sat on the floor.

The bus ride took four hours, two hours longer than the way there, because there was so much traffic. The honking was constant. Some of the horns played a sort of musical tune when they honked. I kept dozing off and my neck would fall back into the aisle and I'd do that big head nod thing. I felt really car sick and my hair smelled like diesel.

I put my scarf over my face and tried to sleep. Finally I fell asleep. I don't know how long I was asleep for when I woke up but I could feel someone’s face close to mine. I opened my eyes. Julian face was right outside my scarf. He pulled the scarf open and peered inside. “Are you okay?” he asked. My eyes were burning and I felt nauseous. I was half awake and really delirious. “I have honk poisoning,” I said, and shut my eyes. I could feel Julian laughing at me; his seat was shaking. “Don't laugh, it is really bad,” I said. He couldn't stop. He put the scarf back around my face and patted my head. “Poor baby, honk poisoning is the worst,” he said as he laughed.

When we finally got off the shuttle and we were walking back to our friend’s house where we were staying, Julian saw a copy shop on the side of the road. “Let's hang out there tomorrow morning and make copies for this weekend’s training. That’s way better than being a tourist.”

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This is one of 30 untold stories of launching a global project (with my boyfriend, Julian) about love, story telling and connecting change makers.

Read all 30 days here: http://www.smithmag.net/community/people.php/HBOX

Throughout Vietnam, South Africa, and Uganda, we engaged with 650 everyday people working to make the world a better place to share their stories. Inevitably, there were parts of our adventures we couldn’t tell while on the road, because we were a start up trying to prove our merits as a serious social change project or because of nervous families monitoring our journey. But the truth is while we worked passionately to bring our dream project to life we also had an adventure of a lifetime. Here are the stories behind the stories of the Million Person Project: http://www.millionpersonproject.org.

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