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Day 131 – The End of the World (Cup) and Sapa

July 12, 2010

Dateline: Tram Tom Pass, Sapa, Vietnam – Monday, July 12, 2010

I’ve already discussed my delight in motorbiking the roads around Sapa, so I’ll spare you a repeat of that discussion. With my previous sentiments in mind, it should be no surprise then that I opted to spend my last day in Sapa riding around the hills on a motorbike. I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking.

Before we get to the pictures, though, let’s talk briefly about watching the World Cup final overseas. Outside the United States, the final is a big deal. When you think about it, this should be surprising. If football (soccer) played out like the NBA, NFL, or MLB, total viewership should decline as teams go deeper into the playoffs.

Think about it. In the NBA, once the Celtics are eliminated, most Celtic fans will stop watching. Same goes for Giants fans when their team is eliminated (whether American football or baseball) or any other team fan. When you have no rooting interest, you’re less likely to watch.

Not so with world football. I’ve witnessed people in Vietnam and China watch nearly every match even though their country’s team wasn’t in the tournament to begin with. The obsession has carried all the way through to the final, even though nearly every country has been eliminated. It’s hard to fathom in the U.S., but the football craze isn’t isolated to a particular team, it’s for the sport in general.

Last night I, along with a gaggle of Holland partisans (a mix of Dutch, Vietnamese, and otherwise), crowded into a bar and watched the game all the way to the bitter 4:30 a.m. end. We passionately rooted for the Oranje. Not until the overtime Spanish goal did we learn the bar had a second floor where all the Spain fans had gathered. Our floor was crestfallen (think groans, screaming, swearing) while the upstairs crowd was jubilant. As we stewed in our depression a Vietnamese bartender who was partial to Spain raced upstairs to join his compatriots, whooping and yelling the whole way. Gotta love the World Cup.

With that, we dispersed into the night, serenaded by the songs of delighted Spanish fans. Someone tell me why we have to wait four years for the next one?

Despite the late night, I managed to get up early enough to ride the hills. It’d been raining off and on for the past few days, so the trip was considerably more muddy. The scenery was still stunning. The roads were still perilous. And I still had a great time.

In the afternoon, I hopped a bus to the Lao Cai train station, a one hour mountain road ride away. I traded my travel agent receipt for a train ticket, then clambered into a hard sleeper cabin with five Vietnamese people. All were in their 20s. All mistook me for Vietnamese.

For the first hour, the heat in the train car was stifling. Local guys stripped off their shirts and I spent that time hanging my head out an open window, taking in my last looks at the northwest. Eventually, the train cooled and I squeezed my way to my top bunk to doze my way back to Hanoi.

From here, my journey back to the real world begins. Every place I visit from here out will be someplace I’ve been before. Call it the decompression chamber for my return to a more permanent place. In just over two weeks I’ll be back in the U.S. Seems like a short time to go from paradise to not-as-paradise (i.e. Southern California). Four months on the road really does warp your senses. There was a time when two weeks would have felt like a really long vacation. I wonder if I’ve broken myself permanently.

GALLERY: Click through to see more pictures of motorbiking and the train.

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