The year the Earth changed

If you haven’t watched the documentary “The year the Earth changed” on Apple TV+, do yourself a favor: Subscribe and watch it! I guarantee it’s worth $5 you’ll pay, which still is less expensive than a lot of drinks at Starbucks.

The pandemic forced many of us to go into lockdowns, especially around March and April last year. The unusual pause in human activities led to a once-in-a-lifetime drop in human disturbance in the natural world. That is what this documentary is all about. The crew went to different parts of the world to record what happened to the Earth when humans paused for a change. They pieced together a beautiful story of how much the natural ecosystems benefited from our short-term retreat; which, by extension, is a condemnation of how detrimental our existence is to other species.

One example that I remember very well is how tourists to Africa endanger the lives of cheetah cubs. Cheetahs are the fastest sprinters in the world. They run fast because of their slender build. But it is exactly that build and the tendency to live individually that put them at disadvantage against other hunters such as lions or hyenas. Mother cheetahs are responsible for keeping their cubs safe and feeding them at least once every two or three days. The hunts are not always easy. Mother cheetahs may have to run very far away from their cubs to be able to catch and kill preys. Once a kill is completed, there begins a dilemma. Dragging a prey back to the cubs is a laborious task that may invite unwanted guests in hyenas and lions, against which the lonesome cheetahs stand little chance. Going back to fetch the cubs can protect the weak younglings, but mothers and children may find themselves with empty stomachs because the food will likely be stolen. Hence, mother cheetahs naturally use discreet and distinct voice to call the cubs over. They cannot make too big or too frequently a sound because danger always lurks around and the position of their powerless cubs may be compromised. Naturally, cheetahs adapt to the surrounding conditions to develop their ability to communicate with each other safely. Until humans. As tourists with all the noisy jeeps and talk make it exceedingly challenging for the cubs to listen to the call of their mothers. In the documentary, experts said that the pause in tourists to where cheetahs live increased the livelihood of cheetah cubs.

Listening to the engaging narration of David Attenborough and watching how other species’ lives amazingly became so much better without us is simply jaw-dropping. I couldn’t believe how much a disturbance we humans are. This pandemic is a blessing in disguise. No more theories. No more what-ifs. What happened in nature when we took a break was real. There is now recorded evidence that there is so much that we can and must do to protect our environment and other species.

An excellent documentary. Really thankful to those that put it together.

Travel to Trang An in Ninh Binh, Vietnam

Trang An is where the movie Kong was shot. I had long been interested in seeing the place in person, but could only do so this year. Below is my experience in this largely untouched and breathtakingly beautiful place

I had limited time left in Vietnam. So I only did a day trip to Ninh Binh which could only allow me to visit Dance Cave and Trang An. If you want to visit Bai Dinh and Tam Coc, 2 days will be a better choice.

I took a limousine to Ninh Binh and a train back to Hanoi. The limousine ride was comfortable and the trip took 1.5 hours. If you intend to ride a limousine back to Hanoi, it’s highly recommended that you make a reservation in advance. My friend and I couldn’t find any available seats on our way back so we decided to go by train. A limousine seat for one person on way is around 130,000 VND.

The train takes around 2 hours and 15 minutes from the gas station in Ninh Binh to Hanoi, a bit longer than a limousine ride. The ticket is more or less at the same price. The train wasn’t the best in my opinion, but it did the job.

Dance Cave

The attraction is a cave called Dance. However, the main point is the 400-something-step climb to a small mountain that stands next the cave. It’s highly recommended that you go there early in the morning to avoid the heat, wear sports clothes for easy movement and bring water!

Trang An

Our next stop was Trang An. If you are not with a tour operator, you can go from the cave to Trang An by taxi. It cost us 80,000 VND. Do bargain to avoid being ripped off.

Trang An is a marvelous place. It looks surreal and untouched. Just like Halong Bay, Trang An is proof of how remarkable Mother Nature is with her creativity and patience to produce such a beautiful painting over thousands of years.

A boat ride lasts 3 hours and costs around 200,000 VND per person. There are three different routes to experience Trang An. Route #3 is the latest one. The construction for Kong movie was removed in September 2019. So don’t expect to see any of it.

I learned from the trip that local farmers were allowed by the government to carry passengers on boats once every two days in addition to their farming work. They are paid a meager amount of 200,000 VND for their ride, a ridiculous sum for 3 hours of physical work and some more idly waiting time. As a consequence, it’s expected that passengers tip the women around 50,000 VND per person.

The start of Route #3 in Trang An
Boat rides in Trang An
Magnificent Green
Space opening up
The entrance to a 1km-long cave
Not a friendly cave to tall people
A typical rural house in the past
Entrance to a pagoda in the middle of Trang An
Right at the exit of another cave, to the eagle-shaped moutain
Eagle!
Ninh Binh Train Station

My photos don’t do Ninh Binh enough justice, not even close. I urge that you visit the place soon as it is still in an excellent shape with little human impact. To feel the might of nature and the beauty that it brings. To feel humbled. To feel alive. I never got enough of that green color on top of the grey of the rocks.