Cluster Bombs in Casing

Cluster Bombs in Casing
76 milion of these individual Bombies remain unexploded in Laos. This is a mother pod that failed to spring open and cast it's deadly cargo.

Project Pineapple

Remember, go to Archives for full story at bottom of picture column

National Senate Call-In Day to Ban Cluster Bombs MAR 30
but keep up the pressure after this date

ALSO for those who wish to make donations to Handicap International, a co-founder of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997, and now widely recognized as a key international lobbyist on weapons of war, please got to:

Be sure to contact your political representative too wherever you are.


Laos was carpet bombed along the Vietnam border to wipe out the VietCong's supply lines, the multiple trails known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Now, the issue is still being swept under a diplomatic carpet.

The Iraq war opened on 19th March, 2003, with Cluster Bombs being dropped. I was in Laos walking through remote villages on a water well project when I got the news on my short wave radio. Those same villages were carpet bombed 35 years earlier and still living under the threat of 76 million unexploded Cluster Bombs.

Billions of dollars continue to be spent on Iraq but a mere 500 thousand dollars annually on clearing unexploded Cluster Bombs in Laos.

The Vietnam War ended on 30th April 1975 when the last ten marines were choppered out.

I used the Belarusian 125cc Minsk motorcyle to ride from Hanoi, Vietnam, through Laos and Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City between 19th March and 30th April representing respectively the start of Cluster Bombs being dropped on Iraq and the final withdrawal of US marines from Saigon.

Visits were made to various relevant projects and programs both for clearing unexploded bombs and supporting the victims.

Should you be in any of these countries it is worth
finding out what you can about this 'forgotten' problem. Rural children and adults are still dying and being maimed every day.

Please email any comments to :

Remember to go to Blog Archives at bottom of Picture column for the full story.

See you around


Project Pineapple Logo

Project Pineapple Logo
Inside the shape of a BLU26 Cluster Bomb is the result it can cause.

One Reason for the Name Project Pineapple

One Reason for the Name Project Pineapple
America versus China

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

ESPN Star Sports Presenter Supports Project Pineapple

So a "copy and paste" of Andrew Leci's support email


Good to meet you on the Sunday at the football dinner in Bangkok.

As suggested, I have taken a look at Project Pineapple, and am in full, wholehearted and unequivocal support. I would be happy to lend my very minor celebrity status to the cause by posting something, Couldn't see where to do it on the website, and I'm such a technophobe that I imagine my computer will crash if I press something I shouldn't.

A little guidance would be appreciated.

All the best

The Football Dinner was a BCCT, British Chamber of Commerce Thailand, function with English Premier League stars of old in attendance, Ian Rush, Liverpool and Wales, Lee Sharpe, Manchester United and England and Clive Walker, Chelsea interviewed by Andrew Leci with entertaining jests but also interesting insights.

Thursday, June 4, 2009



Cluster bombs scatter up to hundreds of small bomblets over wide areas. These weapons have killed and injured civilians during attacks and their deadly duds have shattered lives and livelihoods long after conflict.

Half the world banned this weapon one year ago at diplomatic treaty negotiations in Dublin, Ireland.

Now we need you to help us finish the job and get all countries to join the treaty.

This week is the Global Week of Action Against Cluster Bombs. It is your chance to tell five important countries to join the treaty: tell Brazil, Cambodia, Iraq, Nigeria and Serbia to sign by visiting this link:

You can also check what your country is doing to ban cluster bombs:

Sign our global petition:

Please forward this email to all your family, friends and colleagues.

The Cluster Munition Coalition

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Phnom Penh Post Published Project Pineapple Posthumanously

Posthumanously? Well, the riding part of the project is over and I felt like another Pee not to mention the hundreds of thousands if not millions dead from Cluster Bombs

Mark, the Production Editor of the PPP and who took the pic, sent me this link to their story

Copy and Paste and have a look. Sorry to say a few inaccuracies but hopefully they will publish corrections. If not, read the blog and the website FOR THE REAL STORY.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Lets Go Duch On War Crimes ......

....And Crimes Against Humanity

Lets go Dutch means lets share the responsibility. In Cambodia Duch, not Dutch, is on trial for his part, S21 torture prison, in Khmer Rouge war crimes causing the death of 1.7 million. Read about all that stuff elsewhere. Here the subject is Cluster Bombs.

In The Remnants Museum in Sai Gon was a plaque with the Vietnamese death tally during the American War as they rightfully call it, 3 million. Many of these deaths were caused by Cluster Bombs.

It seems strange that, depending which side you are on or perhaps from which race, war crimes and crimes against humanity are either condemned and token culprits rather than the masterminds are put on trial or a country is lauded for is fight for so called democracy and freedom.

Strange really. The North Vietnamese thought they were fighting for their freedom thus the determination and tenacity behind their ultimate overpowering of the agressor.

But as in Iraq where it is clear now to all that there were no weapons of mass destruction and it was all a ruse to get western hands on the vast three largest known undeveloped oilfields in Southern Iraq so the Viet Nam War was an oil war. Just google 'standard oil, vietnam war' and you can read all about it. It is a little know fact that within the Asian Region Viet Nam is the 3rd largest producer of oil and gas after Indonesia and Malaysia. On a separate issue you may add Burma to this list, producer of oil since 1857, remember Burmah Oil company now through corporate integration, the giant BP.

The patern is similar in most wars over the last 100 years. Look at the Falklands War as the UK just recently pressed its claim to develope its exploration for oil and gas by excerting the 200 mile mineral rights under the International Law of the Sea. Unsurprisingly, Argentina is objecting. Journalists for 27 years, apart from industry technical magasines, have not been reporting the hydrocarbon issue hiding their ignorance behind their arrogance.

So all this war mongering that allows the war machine to do as it wishes and carpet bomb victim countries leaving its trail of destruction and inevitably a 200 year legacy of UXOs, unexploded ordinances, is actually merely a gambit to grab others hydrocarbon resources.

Does the world wish to face up to this reality, will politicians continue to camouflage their intention, does the media largely owned by large corporate business care to distribute this knowledge, must the poor hill farmers in the mountains of Lao, Vietnam, Cambodia and now Iraq and Afghanistan continue to die and lose limbs and eyes from the cluster bomb curse for the west's thirst and greed for oil and gas? Looks like it unless those who are aware stand up and be counted and take up this political task.

So write to your political representative about the Cluster Bomb issue from which ever country you come to persuade those that have not signed the Oslo Treaty against Cluster Munitions to do so. 96 governments have already. Project Pineapple does not stand alone.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

From Skeleton to Full Blown Business

As the Manager of a water program in Svey Rieng and Prey Veng for an humanitarian organisation in 1987, there were always less than 100 westerners in Cambodia at any time. The infrastructure was skeletal and basic, comfort zone the same. Roads were awful and local people were very much still in a state of shock.

Returning to Kampuchea after 22 years, as expected, I saw vast changes, another country in fact. Having travelled in Lao in 1988/89 and worked in Vietnam in 1991, I had already seen the transformation from Soviet days to more western style economies in the first 6000 kilometers of the ride.

In those '87 days, one of the few hotels available was the Monorom Hotel, famous in journo circles as the base for most correspondents in those earlier hectic times. I discovered it is now Asia Hotel after 2 changes of ownership and sought it out. During my '87 stay Vietnamese technicians were unravelling the 2 person lift elevator. All the NGO workers were afraind to use it so I have the honour of having been the first westerner to have gone up and down since Pol Pot days. Now redecorated and looking pretty swish, I asked permission to repeat the short journey to the 6th floor now renovated to rooms while previously a rooftop bar.

While taking my pic with the Minsk outside a nouveau riche Chinese couple shoved me out of the way to get their pic with my bike. Not polite. Reminded me of standing in the lobby one morning way back trying to get out to work when a cerain French videographer also shoved me out of the way to 'get his shot'. Not polite. Nothing seems to have changed no matter what they call this hotel.

Photographers too. The one who got personal sponsorshiop on the back of this project also shoved me out of the way to get the career path under way. Not polite.

While Cambodia was put on the map by Lady Diana regarding the Landmine issue, its problem with Cluster Bombs has been neglected and brains washed so when the subject is raised they ask "you mean landmines?". Thus the point of Project Pinepple, to gain publicity and raise awareness of the issue. Please tell your friends, write to your political representative.

Positive Action, Not Passing The Buck

Ben joined Project Pineapple as the first active participating rider. With many riding trophies to his name in Oz he remains quiet and humble yet deeply concerned about the Cluster Bomb issue. So much so that he wrote to his political representive to voice this concern. A copy of the Australian Government's reply is shown on the picture column.

Ben is the finest example of what an individual can do to maintain political pressure by our governments to persuade the other 100 or so countries that have not signed the Oslo Treaty banning Cluster Munitions to do so. You too could write to your Political representative in which ever country you live.

Coincidently also from Oz, an old Scottish friend who emigrated years ago, Linda, got wind of the Project and set up a Facebook page for donations to Handicap International. Some exerts from her email:

"Hi Robert

Remember me? Linda Campbell from Sydney, from Stirling. Was talking to John Sinclair today and he told me what you are doing. I think it is amazing. Good on ya, mate! (Have to imagine an Aussie accent for that one!)

I hope you don't mind but I have started a cause on Facebook for Project Pineapple

I have sent the cause to over 60 people so I hope that they will pass it on to others and that you will get some more awareness through this.

Good luck with everything - you are a very special person to be doing this.

Take care


Please have a look.

You see what an individual can do? If each individual was as positively active as Ben and Linda we might even manage to Change The World.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Death of Hugo Van Es

Hugh's famous picture was often believed to show a helicopter evacuating people from the roof of the US embassy in Saigon . In fact it was an apartment building that housed employees of the CIA.

"Like so many things about the Vietnam war, it's not exactly what it seems," he wrote in the New York Times in 2005.

Van Es was part of what became a famous generation of reporters and photographers who covered the Vietnam war, and many of those colleagues were quick to pay tribute to him on Friday.

"His sunny demeanour endeared him to his colleagues and to the American and Vietnamese soldiers he photographed," Peter Arnett told AFP.

Arnett called him "one of the few Western photographers willing to take the risks of witnessing the war's end."

Saturday, May 16, 2009



National Senate Call-In Day to Ban Cluster Bombs MAR 30

but keep up pressure after this date

The Last 'Leg' of The Ho Chi Minh Trail

The North East Ratanakiri Province of Cambodia is not generally associated wth the Ho Chi Minh Trail although it got it's unfair share of Cluster Bombing too. I headed up the 127 kilometers on what I was hoping would be my last dirt ride of the trip to Ban Lung, soon to be upgraded to blacktop. This is the new provincial town after the original one, Lumphat, got severely bombed in the American War, relocated no doubt due to the widespread threat of unexploded Cluster Bombs and the rest.

I stayed at Ratanakiri Guest House, on the near edge of town. The family's grandmother recalls way back before all the wars when they were only one of five houses located there. Now it's the booming new town near the border crossing with Viet Nam. Mother ponders the Pol Pot era and the subsequent stabalisation period when Vietnamese swarmed all around the region. I did not care to stir too many memories, to see their eyes was enough. The young grand-daughter does not have the older ladies regretful expressions but radiates an optimistic wide smile.

I called in on CARE who do agricultural and education programs and to my surprise knew little about the 18 million unexploded Cluster Bombs in the region. This is surely in part to do with the Cambodian government's lack of commitment to sign the Oslo Treay against Cluster Bombs. The prominence of the Landmine issue in Cambodia also has been allowed to override the problem. However, now that the region is opening up to trade, tourism and particularly developing agriculture it surely must be time for those who can do something about it to do so. There will be many further accidents. No doubt it will take an injury to a western tourist to highlight the issue.

Like Viet Nam, Cambodia is burying its head in the sand. As usual city people quickly forget about Cluster Bombs, too busy making money, but the poorer rural folks, those who cut and clear the forest are the ones who continue to die and be maimed. They are the ones putting food in the markets and on the table but never get the proper support and representation they deserve. They are today's frontliners.

America continues to disperse Cluster Bombs at will in any country they please. It is time for us with a conscience to apply our will on such callous governments and remind them of the values they are meant to represent, to stop using them and clean up those still lying in wait, unexploded, for the innocent farmer and his children.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


After circumnavigating 1000 kilometers from south Viet Nam around to the north Laotian gateway, yesterday, a Cambodian nataional holiday, Ploughing Day, I finally made it in to Cambodia.

It was an easy trip dowm from Champasak, just south of Pakse, despite a few monsoonal downpours, where the visit to the 1000 year old Wat Phou had been both stimulating and relaxing. It was my first side trip off Project Pineapple's main theme, to ride the Ho Chi Minh Trail to publicise the Cluster Bomb Issue here in Indochina and indeed where ever they are still being randomly scattered to cause havoc for future generations living on top of them.

In contrast, Wat Phou has a grand elevated location overlooking the flood plains of the Mekong River the 12th longest river in the world. The impact such a civilisation had on the simple folks in the surrounding regions must have been awe inspiring.

I met a Laotian monk with whom I chatted in Lao and English as he escorted the visiting Thai monks back to their minibus.

Thinking positive thoughts and strengthening my inner 'ki', I headed for the border and passed through in a stream of energy unstoppable. An easy ride down to Stung Treng, guest house, change money, Cambodian SIM card, repair riding long pants a couple of Angkor stubbies with a stick barbie and I feel I'm back home.

It was 22 years ago when some young aspiring career minded photographer was still in nappies and still is judging from the apparent petulance that I first came to Kampuchea managing a provincial water program for an NGO. Less than 100 westerners and a similar number of eastern block people at that time. Not a guest house, not even a bus in sight. Gosh. Or should I say w-i-c-k-e-d, but doesn't that look silly in print even worse in speech. I was based in Phnom Penh, in the famous/notorious Monorom Hotel, when the first tour group arrived using rather surprisingly, transport.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Pakse in Pieces

Crossing this border from Viet Nam to Laos was no problem due to their reciprocal vehicle agreement. I get to Attapeu easily to rest after an anxious 2 days ride since replacing engine cylinder and piston. On to Paxse in one run with fine weather, threatening rain clouds disipating.

I pause in Pakse to take stalk of my situation having been turned away from Viet Nam's border with Cambodia at Moc Bai and necessarily making the 1000 kilometer northern loop back into Laos and get ready for next leg. In the mean time I bumped into Dan a British journo based in Bangkok on a project of his own. When going to meet him for a meal after interneting I get to within 10 meters of his hotel and a strange disintegrating sound with loss of drive occurs. Oh no not the engine agin surely. Indeed not, a black snake was following the Minsk, the drive chain had broken and trailed behind.

Parked the Minsk in Madam Muoy's noodle shop for the night. An early morning assistance from my guest house got me to a very fine gentleman and his apprentices who guided me to the correct chain purchase and fitted it carefully.

These breakdowns are mentally exhausting, wearing you might say, the trip being hard enough as it is. To relax a bit, I will make the short trip to Wat Phou, a pre Angkorian temple, to run in my new drive chain.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Long Way Round For A Short Cut

Heading out of Ho Chi Minh City was a whizz despite it's size with a brief stop at the War Remnant Museum. Got to Moc Bai easily in time to cross and get to Svey Rieng in Cambodia, a towm I did some water supply stuff for way back in 1987, when it was lonely, all you conveyor belt planet guide book readers.

But a little bit of missing paper would not let my Viet Nam registered bike in and with no time or way to fix it the only boring option was to retrace my wheel tracks to Bo Y about 600 kilometers up north to re-enter Laos who have a reciprocal agreement on vehicles.

Making speedy headway back up the Trail, day 2 saw me pass through Chu Se when about 2 clicks out , c-u-r-l-u-n-k, and a sudden halt. Thought it was that damned primary chain again but getting it down to Kien's workshop and disheartenedly watching the bike being torn to pieces like never before, the mangled piston was extracted with the pistons top roller bearings at fault. It had failed and crunched between piston and cylinder. I could barely believe it and thought all hope of continuing and getting out of Viet Nam with Minsk before expiry of visa in 2 days was lost. Perhaps the end of the road for Project Pineapple.

Eldest son Kien made a few calls, rode up to Plie Ku with the entire engine and bits boxed returning around 3 hours later with more bits than when he left. He'd located a used cylinder and piston.

Chu Se, a small village, had no accommodation so they kindly housed and fed me and local hootched me too. I watched a rerun on TV with father Kien 'The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram - Last Night I Dreamed of Peace'. A poignant moment. Kien, a Party member, now running his motorcycle repair business, showed me a pic of him adressing a Party conference.

6.30 am next day they were up and putting the engine together. One minor hitch sorted, the amazing Minsk started first kick. As Tien whom I met in Mordor several weeks previously said, Minsks never die.

So pouring more 2 stroke oil than would normally be fit to lubricate the refitted parts off I went, cautiously, up to Plie Khan but a handful of clicks from the Lao border the next day.

At this point I would like to thank the 2 westerners on motorcycle taxis for aloufly not stopping to assist for surely I would never had such benevolent assitance and professional service as radiated from the Kien family. Thanks guys.

See you on the other side.

Friday, May 1, 2009

There Is No Excuse For What We Did - Last Night I Dreamed of Peace

Enjoying the comforts of Hotel Continental Saigon included satelite television. Lots of stuff about the American Viet Nam war. Australian Network had an story on an American vet who returns each year as a pilgrimage to visit a family in the zone said "There is no excuse for what we did". "That war puts a great shame on our nation."

Somehow he, Fred, and his brother Ted Whitehouse had the diary of the family's daughter which has been published as 'The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram - Last Night I dreamed of Peace"

Each person you meet has a story. The Communications Manager in the Hotel, his father died in the latter stages of the war when he was nine. "Most Vietnamese people don't care any more" he says "as they live in the cities". Not so for the people in the rural areas who live with the problem daily.

Despite the extant problem, Viet Nam did not sign the Oslo Treaty against Cluster Munitions as they worry about China to the north and maintain stocks.

May Day, May Day, Soft Landing

After the best part of 2 months on the Trail getting saddle sores on the old Minsk, I visited the Hotel Continental Saigon built in the colonial days of 1880. I used it as my base 18 years ago while managing a little independent Scottish oil company, now not so little.

I asked to look around as it was still not fully renovated on my previous visit. Asking the room rates I was offered a 'very special' rate due to Project Pineapple, an offer I could not refuse. Full service and comfort after some bone rattling extreme and exhausting situations. So a sweet treat to myself at the end of the road. A soak in a hot tub, cool air, flat screen TV and fresh dragon fruit.

Security again said "no, no, no, no" when I road my bike to the entrance to unhitch the saddlebags. The parking attendant said "no, no, no, no" when I went to house the Minsk. The most efficient and courteous receptionist smiled when I brought in my spare tyre and called to confirm I was a bone fide guest. "Yes, yes, yes, yes."

With tourism booming and competition on all fronts the management were most considerate with an excellent room overlooking the inner breakfast garden which I recall had singing birds years before and hope to enjoy croissant and cafe in the morning if the forecast heavy rain decides to hold back till later.

Management kindly gave me free internet and while talking withthe Communications Manager he explained that his father died in the last week of the war. City people have forgotten the Cluster Bomb issue he explained with tears welling in his eyes.

A soft landing in Saigon. But the road to Cambodia awaits. Some sections of the Trail were bypassed there due to visa considerations. Those saddle sores will have to get ready for a few more days of aggitation. The last of the Trail beckons. More Cluster Bombed areas to ride through in the last of the Indochina countries.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

30th April 1975, Independence Day?

Minsk made the front page today of the English language paper, Viet Nam News. So it was about trade agreements with Minsk, capital of Belarus, but the same Minsk which gave name to my motorbike.

30th April, Independence Day, somewhat subdued in Sai Gon, Ho Chi Minh city, no air of celebration here. After all the restrictive influence of Han Oi has percolated down to penetrate the more relaxed lifestyle previously used to, the 'good living' the French introduced.

Walking back from the City Opera House near the Hotel Continental Saigon whch had been my 'home' for a month 18 years ago when working here, I saw an old lady hawker selling rice snacks in banana leaf from a woven tray, breaking from the clutches of motor cycle police searching for illegal traders, losing several packages as she dashed off, maybe assisted by the raising of my camera too late to capture the event. Independence Day indeed.

A war vet looked with thoughtful interest at his history on the Independence Day display on the central reservation of Le Loi Avenue wondering where the good times had gone, and his leg.

Yes, there were flags and banners around but in an organised manner rather than the fierce abandon of up north where their pride of being Vietnamese is abundantly clear. There is a parallel somewhere there, is it the 18th?

One guy confided his father had emmigrated to America before 30th April 1975.

But this day, 30th April, represents Peace for Project Pineapple. After the Americans left in 1975 no more Cluster Bombs were dropped in Indochina.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Obama Suppports Ban on Cluster Bombs

A copyright piece by UPI dated 12th March is worth a look at the following URL{C69C0597-8E17-4FF7-8B61-41B02E55148A}

in which Obama says he will take a further look at the Cluster Bomb issue.

At the moment that 'look' seems only to ban the use where there may be civilians. Huh. Usually civilians get out of a war zone if possible to return later. Also a USA general was interviewed saying Cluster Bombs are a 'good' weapon. The political and military argument continues. But not for Project Pineapple. Cluster Bombs should be banned outright as stipulated in the Oslo Treaty.

Please view also the following URL

in which 'Humanitarian, Faith, Medical and Veterans Groups Urge Obama to Review Landmine and Cluster Bomb Ban'.

If America signs the Oslo Treaty agianst Cluster Bombs then the pyramid of countries under its influence would likely follow suit.

The same would apply to Russia and China. We need to pursue this goal other wise more Indochina situations will continue to arise as in Iraq and Afghanistan. Arms and legs all over the place for generations to come. Keep an eye on it.

Tamed Terraine, Road War Rages

The next few days is merely getting down to Ho Chi Minh City for the 30th April, the day the American War ended and a goal post for Project Pineapple. A day representing Peace. A day to tell our war mongering governments to cease using Cluster Bombs and clean up the mess they have already made in other people's back yards.

The Ho Chi Minh Trail is quite well displayed graphically on the following link

I have followed it quite closely. Even this area, now fairly tame to the eye, with its rows of coffee bushes, pine trees and some pantiled houses could remind you of a French wine growing region. It's cultivation no doubt assisted by America's determined effort to assist it's clearance with the help of its special agent, Agent Orange. These rolling hills consist of the rich morraine soil deposited by the receding glaciers on these toenails of the outreaching skeletal toes of the massive Himalaya body to the north west.

But the present day's prosperity has brought another kind of war to the region, road war. The well designed roads, constructed over the old Ho Chi Minh Trail and which are once more being upgraded to major highways, are the worst I have ridden so far, in terms of inherent danger. The volume of traffic is significantly greater than further north.

Trucks and buses eat across the centre line into a third at least of your space and motor cyclists just come and go as they please seemingly without a care, pedestrians too. This has contributed to one clashing of my front fork with the others rear mudguard and exhaust as he suddenly turned across my path. Fortunaely as I hollered at him, I was able to guide the Minsk out of full entanglement. Both stopping on the laterite siding, for once I saw a sheepish look on a Vietnamese face.

Next day a young schoolboy, 6 or 7, walked out in front of me and with just decimeters to spare, avoiding action prevented a serious accident.

So these short sections of the old HCM trail from Kon Tum to Buin Ho, to Gia Ngia, to Dong Xoai and the next to Thu Dau Mot are actualy the most stressful despite the surrounding beauty.

But Ho Chi Minh City, Saigon as those in the south still call it, awaits the 30th April, the day the war ended. In all those city centres, Vietnamese flags and banners fly reminding us of the day. It must be said the national flag is much less apparent on private housing and shops of the south compared to their northern couterparts.

Some say the war was to do with a susidiary of Standard Oil making seismic survey in the Gulf of Tonkin under the protective blanket of war which simultaneously ended with the last helicopter leaving Saigon. When I was managing another oil company there, BP, having taken over various American oil companies, moved into Ho Chi Minh City lock stock and barrel for a full development HQ in 1991 spending it is estimated 70 million US$ without so much as one exploration well. Now how could they have done that without full technical knowledge? The Iraq war too is widely accepted as being a play to gain access to the three largest known undeveloped reservoirs in the world similar to 60 year producing reservoirs in Saudi Arabia

Cluster Bombs, were not only used to carpet bomb Indochina, but also were the first bomds to be dropped on Iraq on 19th March 2003. Should not the oil companies also finance the clearance of Cluster Bombs as well as their national governments?

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Southern Approaches to Saigon

The multi strands of the Ho Chi Minh Trail wind down through and around the broadening lower reaches of Indochina. Having now crossed the border back into Viet Nam, I pause after my first leg in Kon Tum right on one of them. Difficult to tell these days, the road construction and city expansion that is progressing fiercely with no regard for the economic downturn in he rest of the world. See what Peace can do for your national economy?

The Rural horizons are similar. As in Thailand where over the decades the farmers have been busy transforming the forest to manicured high yielding crop lands so the Vietnamese have also done the same. 40 years of industrious activity with that focused determination shown in all that they do, the land is almost like a garden with each altitude level being cropped to that most suitable.

It is almost a joy to see. But when you talk to the locals and tell them what you are doing you don't see joy but they see you and understand you. You even get the seat of your saddle worn longpants rethreaded as a courtesy. You don't get that response on a bus journey.

Forest Fire

After an encounter with a couple of 'farangs', foreigners, one of whom kept me up till 4am with Beer Lao and stimulating conversation, it was a difficult to rise bright and early. So I didn't. This left a short ride to the Viet Nam border and time to rest for the formalities next day.

A night in the jungle. The border post of Phu Cua is but a collection of timber and bamboo dwellings with basic reastaurants. Not for long I suspect judging from the pace of development at other border crossings. I found a 'room' in such a restaurant/guest house.

It was richly enjoyable, no tv's, radios or loud music playing anywhere. The jungle was natural multichannel full surround sound, sometimes silent, you could hear the scream of the butterfly. The light show as the sun set was like a forest fire which sent the young footballers on a patch of levelled laterite for their showers.

What fires there must have been 40 years ago when USA was carpet boming with Cluster Bombs and applying their special agent, Agent Orange, to the region.

The Road To Recovery

A Viet Nam visa was required so I whizzed down to Pakse where I rested up over the weekend for the Consulate to open after the extended Lao New Year holiday. I still felt I in a state of shock not only from the extreme route I had just completed but the extreme contrast within Laos social strata. These folks along the way are so distant from attaining modern life it is a step back into another era.

Visa in hand earlier by several days than expected I took easy rides over the next days going round one mountain range just to keep on the black top to reach Attapeu. I had had enough of rough riding for a while.

These roads have been recently upgraded, some of the best I have ridden, making obvious the recovery and development of the straddling towns and villages. So too in due course will the remote regions gain their access to modern life.

This whole region is further south so the climate warmer, the terrain less rugged and access to infrastructue better. Prosperity shows through widespread land clearing, slash and burn, opening up the land to the riches of its fertile soil.

Up north, one bungalow owner who could not afford the UXO clearance payments, cut the bush and set fire to it, ducking for cover as the Cluster Bombs exploded. Who knows what still lies around his bungalows awaiting unsuspecting visitors. This is but one sample from the entire region which was carpet bombed.

Surely ALL clearance should be paid for by those who laid these atrocious weapons 40 years ago.

In Xepon, I met Tawee and his 80 strong UXO Lao clearance team, delivering more COPE's limb fitting brochures informing them of the District's Pakse office. Where they go few others approach. I saw some of their pics of 4 wheel drive vehicles up to their headlights in the rainy season, reminded me of my 4 day hazardous journey from Vientiane to Luang Prabang in 1989 before the blacktop. And what my recent ride from Nong to Saravane could have been.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

International Artist Cuts a Swathe Through Cluster Bombs

Man Winkler kindly donated one of his idiosyncratic drawings to support the project. Man, a German artist, has been living in Thailand for many years. Earlier this year he kindly gave this contribution to Project Pineapple. He now has a one man show in Bangkok. Please go to for futher details. See Graphic above.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Trial Of the Real Trail, Not On The Bus Route

Setting out with confidence of a dry day but ominously no mobile phone signal, I turned the laden Minsk on to the road to Along. I recalled it being on the other side of the river but assured it was the way to go. The track suddenly stopped high above the Nong river. A short clamber down the bank showed a timber and bamboo temporary dry season bridge which would be swept away come the monsoons. An extortionate toll on the Along village bank was finally paid after some discussion and the appearance of a machete. Better than turning back for the long way round. Finally, I was on the real remote part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Little did I know what was coming.

Initially it was fairly easy going. the undulating plateau track being rough but manageable. Three hours of this down to Taoy then right to Saravane on the laterite road which would be a whizz, right?

Huh! Out of the plateau and the surrounding hills proved to be quite rigorous, not only washed out over seasons of tropical rains but the deeply rutted river gulleys with no bridges had to be crossed. My first one, I stopped took off my backpack, left my camera, phone and wallet to be retrieved once safely across. This was such a painfully slow technique, I gradually recovered my skills, little used for 20 years, of dirt road riding.

Then there were the steep sided upslopes on the otherside and the Minsk's clumbsy gear system which if you missed the moment to first gear you were all but lost. No way could the momentum be regained. Off the bike with 120 kgs of me and backpack, kickstart and drive the bike on the clutch, steering from the side. This was strenuous work. As these situations increased the dread of the next one was forboding. What was I doing this for, one day before my 59th anniversaire, in the bloody jungle panting for breath, heaving on the handle bars, only a smattering of the dialect, phone signal-less and clouds gathering? would this damned Minsk hold out, were the recent fixes good enough to get me through these jungle roads, the original Ho Chi Minh Trail?

My respect grew for those who built this multiple system of trails. On occassions, the original hand laid cobbles would appear once more but most had been washed out long ago.

This torturous grind continued as I went deeper into the jungle further from emergency assitance. I had one number in Nong village, if the signal returned.

Occassionally, a guy on a Chinese step-through bike would appear, light weight and zipping through the rutted trail looking quite relaxed, well they know the road don't they, once in a while with a greeting but always a surprised look at this 'farang', foreigner, riding through the jungle on a strange bike.

Some of the down hill sections were a real shake up where the cobbles still were in place, not your manacured ye olde down town cobbles in central European cities. This rattled the whole bike, my orgins and my skeleton like I was on some overly designed keep fit machine or more likely a test to failure program for the Minsk. Still it was only about three hours of this to Taoy then the big laterite road.

Big laterite road indeed. It was. Must have been great when they built it so many years ago but now was in much the same condition as the last 50 kilometers. Only difference the some of the topographical undulations had been removed and and sweeping corners must have been grand when new. The deep gulleys to the streams and rivers remained the same stressful events. Finally a new laterite section and I thought I was 'out of the woods'. But of course not , just another false hope, merely an improvement for can you guess? yes, the logging road. Slowly, getting out the main mountain range, the road returns to a more level playing field, relatively speaking, and I reach the village of Han. Not sure if I have sufficient fuel due to a carburetor leak, I top up with expensive bottles of petrol. Yes, they have f-u-e-l even here, wicked, do you know what I mean? They are still celebrating the Lao New Year, music, water throwing, powder on your face, and of course beer. So thirsty, I down the two glasses quickly but steady my self for the remainder of this unrelenting trip.

Winding along the wide laterite road with deep potholes, ney excavations, still full of water from the previous days' rain, I lose concentration for a moment in what appears to be an easier environment and slide down the side of one into a pool of diluted buffalo poo. Saved from submergence by the saddlebags and support frame. My only error of the day. Apart from doing the ride.

Finally the big new road to Saravane appears, still under construction but allowing much faster progress. Many hazards remained having to get through the detours through the rivers where the culverts were still being installed. Then there came the 'completed' blacktop. Yes, I should make town before nightfall. But just when you think all is rosey again, having dried out the boots and the breeks in the warm late afternoon sun, the incomplete bridges have to be detoured so it's into the water again up to your knees in water but somehow the Minsk forges through, sometimes reluctantly, but eventually makes it.

Ah, Saravane, was I happy to see it? A room, a shower, and a cool one. Only the anticipated relaxation didn't come easily as everyone seemed to be overcharging for about everything. New money prosperity with the major road improvements.

Nine hours of continual grueling riding, the most arduous I have ever experienced, but I had made it, the Minsk too had done its job without so much as a whimper.

I was exhausted, I was amazed, I had pulled it off. Looking back I could not believe the route, the obstacles, the physical exertion, the concentration required, the reputation of the Minsk was intact. I sent a text message to Mick of PCL, Phoenix Clearance Limited, a UXO company, who had advised me of the route more than a month earlier on my way up to Luang Prabang, that I had made it.

That evening on a sports channel were highlights from the Romaniacs, one week cross country event. Must say it looked pretty easy compared to what I had just done fully laden.

I had seen one other 'farang' in a Huckleberry Finn hat out there in the lower reaches. Had a photographer actually dedicated to Project Pineapple, not transfixed with 'buses' but aware of the English language and travel sufficiently to know what 'transport' means then some amazing pictures could have been posted of this section.

Next day it rained. Had I waited one day more as requested in Nong, I would never have made it. The red clay would have turned to grease, the steep sided gullies impossible hurdles and no doubt a jungle camping event to contribute to the hardship.

I recalled the classic book of the late 60's or 70's 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance'.

I also contemplated the hardship the Vietnamese must have endured during the American War and their determination to succeed constructing this, one of the many trails, under continual bombardment. I also contemplated the resilience of the contemporary Laoations who continue to live in the shadow of the 76 million unexploded Cluster Bombs.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sabadee Pi Mai Lao

Happy Lao New Year, belated now, as I departed Vientiane and internet facilities just before. Due to the three day festival falling mid week, the governmant adjusted working days to permit a full week off. This proved to be a significant factor in Project Pineapple's itinerary, initially causing disappointment but ultimately proving beneficial.

Heading back east to pick up the Ho Chi Minh Trail again in easy stages to Lak Xau and Mahaxai. A commercial clearance company had originally offered to let me witness demolitions but the extended holiday interferred with this too, fortunately. They do much work for the hydro electric power plants such as the vast catchment area potentially generating 1,000MW at Nalaolouang. Past Muang Phine where I had worked 6 years earlier, I sped by the 38 kilometer detour to the Xepon gold mine. Previously intending to visit there showing the contrast of commerial interest versus mere human interests, you know, legs, arms and eyes getting blown off in the remote 'uncommercial' villages. It gave me more time to head up into Nong District, the most heavily bombed area in the world to date, where I had walked those 6 years earlier on the water well project. But before that a quick spin up to the Lao Bao border with Viet Nam that I reached 2 weeks earlier. Looking through the arches of time, it was hard to guess there had been such horrors here, at least in these commercial areas. But what of the remote villages? well I'm going back there now.

No buses to Nong but where there are people always transport as any traveller would know. I rode up the improved laterite road on the Minsk past the now fenced off portion or the original cobbled Ho Chi Minh Trail that was the road 6 years earlier looking like a sad forgotten cemetry which it effectively is.

I found the new Naiban, village head, Mr Somsanit. I explaned my return visit and gave him the brochures from COPE, the limb fitting enterprise, asking them to be distributed to the mostly forgotten outlying villages so they would know to contact their centre in Savanahket. There free artificial limbs could be supplied.

This is one of the main purposes of Project Pineapple, to put these people on the political map. In these new days when the USA is seeking to talk about old issues in a new light, when emerging countries are demanding to be spoken to properly on equal terms and not in some neo colonial form with demands and conditions it is surely time for the USA to clean up the mess that it made on someone elses back yard that still kills and maims. This would be unacceptable were in in a Texas or Florida or Ohio backyard. There would be a Hue and Cry about it. So what is less about these people, what is less about their human rights, what is less about their right to farm these fertile mountain slopes without the fear of losing eye and limb or death.

Cluster Bombs here were scattered widely to carpet bomb the multiple tracks of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Nong District is the most heavily bombed area in the world ever yet most of the world does not know it. That is why I am riding down the Trail or what is left of it.

Next day, I rode, baggage free, to Phounmarkmy village where I had located 2 water wells and the Health Centre previously. Met the naiban and nurse. Caught in the start of a downpour, I napped for an hour to allow the track to dry up.

Fortunately the village is in a fairly level part of the plateau so only a few slips and slides but a warning of the dangers ahead were a motorcyclist be caught on the Trail in the serious monsoon season. In 1989. I made the trip to Luang Prabang by truck convoy, semi automatics behind each drivers seat, in October the height of the rainy season, 4 days of heavy treacherous driving on the axle deep mud 'roads', now 9 hours by bus.

The forecast was right, four days of rain then a break of which I took advantage to rough ride the old Ho Chi Minh Trail down to Saravane.

Viet Nam Support

New blog coming soon, just fresh out of the jungle and the 'real' Ho Chi Minh Trail. In the mean time have a look at my friend Dat's page in Hanoi, featuring Project Pineapple. Got a Vietnamese translator at hand? should you be lucky enough still to have a hand.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

From Russia With Love, From America Mr Ta

During my few days in Vientiane, one of the continuing coincidences took place with the arrival at my guest house of 4 freelance Russian photo journalists. With no hesitation Maria offered to translate the webpage, not this blog - too much, into Russian, so please check for that update coming soon, and Andrew fixed the wonderful sitecounter. Thomas, the Austrian, kept me alert with his continual stream of questions and comments equal to the intake of local Lao distillate.

Project Pineapple was invited to the COPE centre, Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetc Enterprise, day after Bomb Awareness Day to meet Mr Ta who was being filmed for a documentary. This is the essence of the Project. This is what the month long preamble following along the Ho Chi Minh Trail was leading up to, the meat of the matter. What happened to Mr Ta is what is occurring every day in Indochina, not only the maimings but the deaths, mostly of small children, searching with primitive Chinese metal detectors for scrap war trash, often active UXO's, Unexploded Ordinances, kindly donated 40 years ago by the Americans.

Should they not in the name of Peace and Democracy clean this mess up and provide compensation to these innocent victims? Should they not stop advocating these horrific tools of war as 'good weapons'? 94 countries signed the Oslo Treaty against Cluster Munitions in December 2008. Should we who have power to speak to our elected representatives not persuade them to demand the end to at least this one kind of perennial explosive device?

Will the 'ayes' please stand up and be counted.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Bomb Awareness Day, Cluster Bomb Focus

The Bomb Awareness Day in Vientiane, 7th April, was opened by the Lao Minister of Defence in the Lao National Cultural Center. An International UN day, Vientiane had decided to focus on Cluster Bombs.

When, on the Minsk, I rode up to the huge entrance, security tried to send me over to bike parking until an aware NRA official waved me into the huge entrance hall calming their aparent panic.

A space just inside had been reserved. All the NGOs, government agencies and commercial enterprises somehow involved in the Cluster Bomb issue were represented. Answering many questions, Project Pineapple became an intergral part of the day.

After much official process, various artists performed a number of sensitive traditional style songs directed at Bombies, cluster bombs. Finally a remarkable break dance group, Lao Bang Fai, including some with prostheics and blind, performed a stimulating set.

Next day, an invitation by Cope to their National Rehabilitation Center,NRC, gave me the opportunity to meet and photograph Mr Ta, one of the most photographed victims of a Cluster Bomb, armless and one eyed.

Visits were set up with a UXO clearance company and to a gold and copper mine. All was ready for my departure from Vientiane and a return to the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Cope was arranging bikers both 2 and 3 wheeled for those with disabilities to send off Project Pineapple.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

From Mordor to Happy Hobbit Land

It was an easy ride to the border posts and through them. Only startled by 6 ten-wheeled trucks in no man's land, not dogs land, each with close to 1000 live whelping dogs stuffed into cages packed high, bound for the dinner tables of Viet Nam.

Crossing the ridge the gloomy skies cleared into beautiful sunshine. Good roads and wonderful land scape I wound down to the alluvial plain of the Mekhong, that vast river, 12th longest in the world, that sustains life in these parts and hopefully will continue to do so if those dam builders will only leave nature alone.

After what was often taxing riding in them there spiralling mountain roads, the long straight stretches of the flat lands seemed quite monotonous. But I could communicate again in Lao language after nearly 3 weeks of relative isolation by lack of Vietnamese language, gesticulations and play acting usually getting the message across.

The big capital city of Vientiane loomed. The National Regulatory Authority for UXO in LAO PDR will be my host on 7th April, Bomb Awareness Day. This year, only in Vientiane, it would focus on Cluster Bombs.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Mystical Mountain Mist

The early morning drizzle cleared despite the three days of rain forecast. Loading the Minsk for the penultimate leg of Northern Viet Nam, I set off satisfied with events so far despite some difficulties. Refueling at the same gas station in Trook where my clutch chain had broken for the second time a week earlier, Toan's repair shop was shut.

Continuing onwards and winding upwards into the low slung clouds cloaking the mountain peaks, it felt like like some pillow land riding in the mists of time. Down the other side, unwinding, and into the plains of fresh green paddies to Pau Chou for a final Vietnamese dream ready for Cau Treo and the crossing into Laos through the Kaew Nua Pass next day.

Spooked - Saved by Two Jokers

The day before, returning to my guest house, I found two Jokers from a pack of cards, those to be played at any time, on the road. I picked them up and kept them.

Later the following day, after visiting the cave, I took a ride to Nuoc Mooc Spring, more of a river in fact, similar to that of the cave. A few kilometers on, I turned the Minsk into the road to the spring. It was eerie. This was the road I had decided not to take just before my clutch chain broke for the second time a few days earlier. But that wasn't what spooked me. It was the resonance from those tall closely packed karst mountains, the heavy overcast sky did nothing to brighten the atmosphere. This was one section of the Ho Chi Minh Trail I didn't want to go down. But I did, for a bit any way, to get to the spring.

After a kilometer walk through the relaxing green scenary, back to the Trail to complete a round trip to the village. Again I felt spooked as I made my way down the Trail. In over 30 years of living and travelling around the world, up vast African rivers in 'pyrogues', days into the forests hunting jungle meat with only what I wore plus trust in my new friend, before guide books and internet were invented, before bus timetables, I have never been spooked like that.

Significantly, I approached the crossroads where I should turn off. To my great relief I heard the sound of a motorbike approaching from the west. It was Tien on another Minsk. Never having met him before, he stopped as a fellow Minsk rider to share stories as country folks do everywhere. He came from close to the Lao border and found only Minsks hardy enough for the terrain, they never die he said.

Within minutes the crossroads was jammed with bikes as the two Frenchmen I'd met the evening before, Ludivec and Alain, appeared on their Hondas. I thanked them all for turning up just then when I was feeling vulnerable for the first time on this ride. A cross roads indeed.

The swollen group of Project Pineapple riders joined together to weave our way down the more than undulating Trail, Tien on his Minsk ahead, us following.

Back home, I could only compare to Tolkien's Mordor, the gloomy land where dark forces reign. Had I been sensing the dark days gone by, the many troubled spirits that lay within and down that section of the Trail?

Later that evening, I again thanked those two Jokers for playing their hand at a most opportune moment.

Subterranean Blues Again, and Red and Orange..

I shared the boat with three guys from Hanoi and a bunch of language students who get to go free, a very pleasant diminutive, even by Vietnamese standards, 20 year old girl, Quyen, chatted with me. An interesting 20 minutes of rural riverside activities up the River Son brought us to the outlet of another river sourced from under the karst formations, running from deep within the cave.

Cutting the motor, the woman crew paddled, one each to bow and stern, silently into the vast opening chamber. Onwards for more than a kilometer, coloured lights have been placed to enhance the beauty of the slowly evolving inner landscape. With little idea of the depth of the cave, the American airforce had no hope of penetrating the Vietnamese base more than 8 kilometers long. Their only success was to destroy the 'teeth', stalagtites, after which it was originally named, of the cave and embed their steel missiles into the rock that now leak russet red staining from the corroding fragments down it's facade, a poignant symbol of the spilled blood on both sides defending and attacking the Trail.

As returning boats of tourists swished quietly by, powered gondola style, it felt like a surreal subteranean Venitian city with magnificent limestone abstract sculptures towering overhead, the cool still atmosphere contrasting the cave's grim history.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The 18th Parallel and Mr Bean

Almost the number of multiple trails collectively called the Ho Chi Minh Trail, this parallel being a natural boundary used in colonial days to distinguish between North and South Viet Nam. The next leg was to return across it.

Dong Ha, a big city, as nothing much going for it in itself other than Mr Binh (Bean). With good English, he's a tour guide and was hustling me gently. Met him several times including at the tunnels with a Canadian 'victim'. It was Mr Binh who advised me not to take the old trail road from Khe Sanh back north, difficult and dangerous he said. It was with reluctance I followed his advice after those mechanical problems. He appeared to say bye at the gas station.

Where ever you go and what ever you do, the war pops up. The father of Mr Vu(Rain), owner of the internet cafe I used, worked with the CIA. Mr Vu, a graphic designer, had to go to Korea before finally returning.

So up to Dong Hoi, a real easy but boring ride on Highway No1, a rapidly expanding river come seaside fishing resort town. Lots of boats with bamboo woven coracle tenders made watertight by a thick coating of tar on each side, powered by a single paddle. Baked sea fish and a couple of local Huda beers by the breezey river mouth made for an easy day and a good night's sleep.

Off to Phong Nga, the vast caves used by the North Vietnamese in the war as a hospital and a logistics base to send supplies down the Trail. The caves are now a UNESCO World Heritage site presumably for their natural beauty as apposed to the representation of determination shown by the north Vietnamese . Arriving too late for the full tour I found a nicely hosted guest house in Son Trach who kindly gave me, and you, this gratis internet use and blog.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Washington DC Riders Amok in Vinh Moc Tunnels

Having ridden down from Hanoi, these guys, Mark, Paul, Roger, were the first Americans I'd met in Viet Nam, on real bikes. They caught the point of Project Pineapple easily and filmed a short explanation of what it was about. They now just have to knock on their neighbour's door in the White House and deliver the message.

Piggy backing their guide, I stooped painfully to pass through one of the easier tunnels, I'm 1.94m. Water well, washroom, family room, all was catered for underground. Getting cramp in forgotten muscles, I popped out for fresh air and a stretch taking an access track up past the erroding shoreline where I met Miss Hue. Her dad was born in the tunnels in 1967, one of 17. She latched on to me to practice her English as she wants to become a guide after studying in Saigon as she called it. Escorting me back to the museum entrance, I felt privilaged to have met part of the real life history of these remarkable subterranean dwellings.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Khe Sanh, Bloody Great Battle

So why should I be going to Khe Sanh? Well, it was 19th March 2003 when working in Savanakhet Province, Laos, walking 120 kilometers to remote villages in Nong District to determine water well site when I heard on my short wave radio that America had dropped the first bombs on Iraq, Cluster Bombs. Standing in the midst of the terrible destruction of 40 years earlier among these simple hill farmers, I was shell shocked. How could any sane, civilised society be doing this again? Modern business studies and technical reporting expound about 'Lessons Learned'. Huh!

Khe Sanh was a bloody great battle to which the Americans dedicated the majority of its forces and planning, not being aware it was but a red herring, Red Haranguing even, by the North Vietnamese prior to the Tet offensive. So Nong District being but a long range shell away across the border received a pounding. It is on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and nearby the strategic pass from Khe Sanh, Vietnam, through to Laos. It was carpet bombed with millions and millions of Cluster Bombs, or the more sedate term, bombies. Whatever you wish to call them, they are still there waiting to kill for the next 3 or 4 hundred years unless we can convince our governments to stop using them.

For all you historians there is much information on all this, Khe Sanh Combat Base, Camp Carroll, the Rockpile, Dakrong Bridge, read all about it elsewhere.

Basing myself in comforable Dong Ha for a couple of days, I set off for Khe Sanh minus the saddle bags, tank bag and backpack. The good road to a main border crossing wound its way up through the hills. Light weighted at last, the Minsk with it's new clutch and chain whizzed up the road only occassionally changing down to third gear as apposed to second and occassionally first when fully laden. Passing through the town where a huge memorial statue stands dominantly, I rode on to the border town of Lao Bao. Sat by the lake, I drank a freshly squeezed cane sugar iced drink contemplating how the current tranquility must have been quite different in those historic days past.

But the Blood Bath was then. Now it's a Business Bath. Unbelievable. Huge super stores in there myriad constructed for cross border trading, seemingly for the future as they didn't seem too busy just then. The money shows, however, with construction of large swanky houses all over the place.

I had to come to the place that caused Nong District, just across the border, and other nearby parts to be the most heavily bombed areas of Laos, ney the world, devasted also by agent orange. Not much to see superficially, wonderful nature and industrious Vietnamese have transformed the ravages of war into a beautiful cultivated landscape amongst an inspiring mountainous setting. But ask the locals and that superficial serenity soon fades to the dark, vivid memories firmly implanted in their minds.

Hitting the saddle, it was a joy to be motorbiking again, sweeping down the mountains leaning hard into open S-bends. Ever vigilant on the 'blinds' for 10 wheeled trucks that are quite likely to be coming up on your side of the road. An acquaintance was taken out by such a bus in Sumatra several years ago. Or water buffalo sauntering down the middle with their fresh steaming dumps a further hazard which will send you through the bamboo crash bars should you catch one.

Que sera Khe Sanh.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Rider of the Storm

Riding around in wide circles measured in kilometers, eventually by trial and error I get back on the Trail. A map with new names while old names prevail adds to confusion, posting is poor also, language difficult. After a couple of days and thinking all is well again, just north of Huong Khe, the clutch drive chain breaks. By good fortune, 50 meters up the road is a mechanic, Duc. He strips down the Minsk clutch casing which is holed by the broken chain to reveal the front cog in two pieces. No problem, an hour and a half later he returns with replacement parts. But Duc is not a perfectionist and it takes another 2 hours to lever and hammer the chain into place. After overcharging by a great deal, I do my first night riding into the town of Huong Khe. Minsk repaired but me broke, next day I search for a money changer which I find nearly 2 hours later.

Continuing down the road, I'm not happy with the sound from the chain so keep an easy pace. Fuel stopping in a little village, Trook, I kickstart and c-r-r-unch. Oh no, the chain again. Where is the nearest Minsk mechanic? Literally across the street. With great ease of a true professional, Toan whips off the casing, goes to the shelf and pulls down a brand new chain. Off with the clutch housing which I had suggested to Duc the day before to which he said, no-no-no-no-no, preferring the hammer. Replacing the damaged clutch plates, again off the shelf, securing the clutch cable fiting, 30 minutes later, voila. Good as new. After settling at a fair price this time, I set off once more. To the sweet sound of comfortably meshed chain and cogs, tight driving clutch plates, I confidently hit the Trail again.

Feeling sure I could make Cam Lo, the clouds gathered heavily. Sheltering from a tropical downpour, once at a friendly young mechanic's shop in Phu Qui, secondly 2 kilometers outside Ben Quan, the start of the DMZ, demilitarised zone, in a little corrugated shelter. Horizontal lightening and strong winds bend the trees, the road awash in seconds. The storm passes quickly despite it's intensity, the sky brightens, a full rainbow appears. The last time I saw such an arc was last year on the Isle of North Uist, Scotland when I returned to pay my respects to a recently departed dear friend. On the shore, at the bottom of his croft, triple rainbows appeared exactly from boundary to boundary. I felt Mike's presence again here in Viet Nam astride the rainbow.

With a full heart, on to Cam Lo where the government hotel said, no-no-no-no. This meant 12 kilometers more to Dong Ha. A good inexpensive room, hot shower, air conditioning, fried beef noodles and a couple of local Huda beers saw the end to an eventful day. Khe Sanh is 65 kilometers due west.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Project Pineapple Nearly Squashed at Outset

Across the bridge at Cam Thuy which spans a wide river flowing under tall karst hills with gypsies in their boats anchored on its banks, once more I am a solo rider. Hoping to make the coast for a day's relaxation, dark sets in. Nong Cong is not exactly on the tourist trail but stopping there was a necessity. With only one expensive hotel which I didn't want to use, I asked around and was taken to a lodgings which ordinary folks used. Already evening, several of the men who hustled around to view the foreign spectacle had been drinking. Eventually I bunk down only to find my wallet 'mising'. I call to Dat in Hanoi who tells the manager about Project Pineapple. After quite a fuss, Hanh, the school teacher arranges everything and tells me to stay at home and wait till the morning. Which comes. As I pack my stuff I notice the wallet in a plastic bag of plastic utensils. Eh? How did it get there? Still not sure if I put it there absent mindedly or one of the 'visitors' who had sat nearby had returned it, problem solved. The entire little community had batched together to support me saying Vietnamese were good people and would not allow me to pay for the room. That's Nong Cong for you. Thanks guys. Project Pineapple continued, unsquashed, to the beach for a day's rest. Seafood and sleep after months of continuous preparation. Slow walks along the beach exchanging with the cockle gatherers and photographing the friendly kids. Phew, that was good. And it's not in Lonely Planet. Ha, ha. Onwards, refreshed, down the Trail

Dundee Jazz Singer Supports Project Pineapple

Recently, Alison Burns from my home town of Dundee in Scotland, played a jazz concert in the Thai Clutural Center in Bangkok. I spoke to her later and discoverded that she used to live just along the road from me. As a fellow Dundonian, Alison has kindly added her support to Project Pineapple.

"Good luck with the project awareness. Will keep up to date on your progress.

Best of luck

March 24, 2009 11:50 AM

See picture below

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Cam Thuy, Start of Ho Chi Minh Trail

Leaving the hotel in Hanoi which had been our base for five days, we set out as a small group on motorbikes to Bach Mai Hospital. It is well known in Vietnamese history regarding colonial wars and has a large mural memorial. For Project Pineapple it is significant as Handicap International, the agency for whom I worked in 2003 in Laos and thus became so poignantly aware of the Cluster Bomb issue, fincanced a limb fitting department for the victims of UXO accidents.

Lighting three incense sticks and placing them in front of the mural to recognise the endurance of the women and children, men also of course, we rode on to the Ho Chi Minh Trail Museum. Two hours spent viewing the remarkable pictures portraying the feat of constructing the multi-trail and displayed items including a casing containing cluster bombs we were warmly hosted by the caretaker who was aware of the project.

'Bubblegum' had to return home. Thanks for joining and looking after us so well.

We rode away from the noisy, jostling outskirts of Hanoi and south where we found a traditional Big House guest house where we ate and slept. Even in this rural spot the local cafe served fresh mango yoghurt shakes and eye widening coffee in the morning.

Continuing a bit further south we came to Cam Thuy (Cum Twee), the start of the Hi Chi Minh Trail. Stopping for lunch, Dat found the Minsk mechanic who had one spare indicator lens which was somehow missing. Eating together for the last time, it was time to part.

Thanks Hana for the introduction all your friends in Hanoi. Thanks Dat for the Minsk and publicity support. Thanks Dom for believing in the project and getting yourself and your cameras over here. Ben, big thanks for giving such quiet, big heart support. Miss you all. But see some of you again soon.

Loaded up and ready to roll we rode to the junction. They headed north back to Hanoi. I, on my Minsk, headed south on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Heading South on the Trail

To accommadate our Vietnamese friends and supporters we are departing Hanoi this morning, Saturday 21st March. Meeting at Bach Mai hospital with a limb fitting center set up and handed over by Handicap International some years ago. On to the Ho Chi Minh Trail Museum. Then the Trail itself.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Heavenly Hana, from Aberdeen to Hanoi

Monday, 16th March, I finally roll into Hanoi City. The Vietnam guide book I found on the top a wardrobe in Xam Nua, Laos, with written on the cover, 'Good'll need it' seems to have done the trick. It's maps lead my directly to the door of the Little Hanoi Hotel in Hang Ga street in the old quarter. This is where Dominque, a photojournalist from UK, was booked in for next day. We were put in touch by Jack working in the Frontline Club in London after a visit to it's AGM last year. She did a great job in getting sponsoship funding to get over here to cover the Cluster Bomb issue.

Parked the bike nearby and went to find Cuong Motorbike repair shop. Phuc, his brother, said to bring the bike along and it would be ready next day. Picking up the Minsk, 200 meters along Hang Bo Street, the clutch cable broke. Yep, Andy in Luang Prabang said sure the bike would make my Hanoi destination. It did, plus 200 meters. Had that cable given way up in them there Lao mountains, ahhhgggg. Pushing the bike the last few hundred meters I couldn't thank the owner of that guide book enough for their good luck wishes.

Later in the evening I met 'Hana', Hoa Anh Dao, and her friend, another Cuong. Hana I met in the snowdrifts of Aberdeen last year in a hostel, never seen snow before. Learning she came from Hanoi I quickly explained the project and to my amazement her Vietnamese friends were Minsk bikers and could help with everything. She is Media Marketing. And they have done. It is fantastic, opening the doors to alternative bike servicing and the local media. We worked out the project name together. Thanks Hana.

Visiting another Minsk repair shop, Trong's, Hana had arranged for other friends to meet there, having lunch in a 'Quan Bia', beer restaurant, with draught Hanoi beer, stir fried dog and pork shank, local clear corn liquor shots. Along came Dat, short name, short man, big heart, big contact. Dat is a Minsk biker having toured Vietnam extensively and reporter for a group of 4 magazines. Visit his ride report and meet the man.

Ben from Australia got in touch after meeting someone in a coffee shop in Bangkok. He came specially to Hanoi to be part of the ride. What a guy. He's an old bike racing hand with thirty two trophies to his name and a commitment to ridding the world of the Cluster Bombs. He emailed Steve, an Oz poiltician, to tell him about the project. Welcome to Project Pineapple, Ben.

A fellow guest at the Hotel, Aussie Luke, a computer engineer, got hold of my hand drawn logo and put some smart touches to it maintaining the initial concept. Thanks Luke, great job.

My Minsk sorted by first fix: fork seals, boots, chain guard, levers, cables, wheel bearings, brake light switches, air filter. Dat took us to Trong's for second fix: rubber seal for carb to filter, refit foot brake, adust speedo dial, grab spare headlight bulb and spark plug. Set.

Down to Lao Emabassy to submit visa application as returning to Vientiane Cluster Convention early April, Cambodia Embassy for eventual tour of NE Cambodia, end of Ho Chi Minh trail. Ha Trang, the street of bag and zip repair, saw my saddle bags clips and rucksack sorted.

19th March, 'official' start of Project Pineapple, saw a meeting in an Hang Trong Street coffee lounge with Dat's and Hana's friends who were interested in helping with the project's planning of places to visit around Hanoi and the route south.

It was decided to postpone the actual riding departure until the weekend when the local guys and gals have free time for a couple of days to visit relevent sites and start on the road of the Ho Chi Minh trail.

Laos ratifies cluster bomb ban treaty

New York, 18 March 2009 – The Lao people’s democratic republic, the country most affected by cluster bombs in the world today ratified the treaty banning the deadly munitions and requiring their clearance. The ratification took place at a special event at the United Nations in New York on the Convention on Cluster Munitions attended by 75 countries.

For full story please view:

Monday, March 16, 2009

Unplanned side trips

Onwards and eastwards to Xam Nua my next destination. With no clear sign to Xam Nua at Muang Kham I took what seemed to be the main road but ended up at the Vietnam border at Nam Kan. Retreading the peaceful 80kms to Muang Kham, the Xam Nua road was signed from that side. On to Nam Neun to overnight with three Chinese touring on small step-through bikes. Next day finally made Xam Nua. Checked in and up to the so slow internet where old pal Canadian Jason was battling with his patience. A surprise encounter, we enthologised part way through a bottle of Johnny Black. Jo from Cope was in town too on a field visit. Xam Nua is in the middle of the Pathet Lao war zone so many UXOs and limbs to be replaced.

Time was pressing for Hanoi deadline so headed along highway 6A to Pahang, a bone rattling, bike shakin' unpaved 80kms, very beautiful, no tourists. Having asked in Vientiane and along the way about this border crossing I was told it was possible. On arrival I was told for Lao and Vietnam people. With only about 35 kms to Moc Chau and a paved road I was obliged to rattle back down the 80 kms bumping into Jo from Cope again, forks leaking and carb looking wet, to Vieng Xai, a Pathet Lao stronghold in the karst terrain. This is a beautiful lakeside town where I took a stilted guest house overhanging the water. So cold at that altitude, no shower that night.

Next day, 15th March, and down the official crossing at Na Meo where an impressive imperial customs edifice is in stark contrast to the endless trail of bamboo and wooden structures seen along these parts. After several checks of paperwork, bags and bike, a sniffer dog paying much attention but no bonus for him that day. Finally into Viet Nam. Bamboo is big business in that neck of the woods with poles and house siding being woven in roadside villages all the way down to the valley floor. Unexpectedly finding myself on a major highway, it looked like Hanoi was in sight. But once off the highway it was a battle of endless trucks and buses with echoing horns, pushy CRVs and a multitude of motorbikes jostling for position. After many pitstops as nearing dark, eventually found a very kind family run guest house in Ha Dong, 20 kms out of Hanoi. Hot water, big bed, internet down the road.

Plain of Jars, another war another death trap

On my way at last towards Hanoi. But first the northern mountains of Laos must be traversed. Touching down in Phonsavan, the Plain of Jars is a must to visit. In 1989, during my first trip to Laos, the plain was still a difficult and dangerous place to get to. The Pathet Lao, a nationalist communist party, was still very active at that time. The US military bombed this historic archaeological site too.

The jars are generally regarded as funerary containers dating from around 500BC to 500AD

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Getting the Minsk from Bangkok to my 'local' mechanic in Luang Prabang, Laos

Mercedes and BMW, Honda and Toyota service centres are just round the corner, right? Getting to my local Minsk motorbike service centre in Luang Prabang took five days.

Trained up overnight on 4th March to Nong Khai, northern Thailand with bike in parcel wagon. Arrival was delayed several hours due to the new rail link between Thailand and Laos being opened by Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn on the 5th March.

Part of he Royal train was shunted forward to allow passengers and goods to be unloaded, including my Minsk. There I was asking politely the best way to navigate the rail track to the platform with senior officers in ceremomial white uniforms advising the way across the track next to the red carpet, temporarily parking there while I went back to retrieve the saddle bags. Loaded up and ready to go, I walked the bike to the end of the platform, many official eyes and bystanders observing the spectacle.

Next day, paperwork complete, a ride across the Friendship Bridge to Vientiane bumping into MAG near their well appointed colonial riverside office. Flying visits to Cope, BAC and Phoenix Clearance provided a good set up for the forthcoming 'official' start on 19th March from Hanoi.

An early morning start next day saw the Minsk being hoisted by rope, driver and three or four helpers, to the roof rack on the orange bus, Project Pineapple colour. Spectacular scenary made the eleven hour journey whizz by. A day of rest, Sunday, allowed me to sweat out some of the fever I brought from Bangkok. Monday saw German Andy and chief mechanic Lao Joe sort out what they could to get the bike roadworthy for the Hanoi leg. Sam welded up a pair of racks for the saddle bags.

Next day, 10th March I was in the saddle heading to the wild, wild east.

Another Good Reason for Name Project Pineapple

Another Good Reason for Name Project Pineapple
This cluster bomb, known as a pineapple, which is still active, is in the collection of Tourist Information at Phonsavan, Plain of Jars, Laos

Two Good Reasons for Image on Project Pineapple Logo

Two Good Reasons for Image on Project Pineapple Logo
Cope publicity staff Soksai 'plays' Project Pineapple logo

Mr Ta, No Arms One Eye, Cluster Bomb Victim

Mr Ta, No Arms One Eye, Cluster Bomb Victim
This is what the ride is about, to stop the perpetrators of these weapons

An Animated Mr Ta Gesticulates....

An Animated Mr Ta Gesticulates.... best he can during interview with COPE's Cluster Bomb display behind

'Handling' His Misfortune by Selling Maps at War Museum, Sai Gon

'Handling' His Misfortune by Selling Maps at War Museum, Sai Gon
This victim armless, one legged, one eye, is pragmantic, I shook his 'hand' with both of mine

Arms and Legs All Over The Place

Arms and Legs All Over The Place
That's COPEs limb fitting centre, not going out of business soon, unfortunately.

Colourful Collection of Cluster Bombs

Colourful Collection of Cluster Bombs
A tasty collection, you can see why kids enjoy playing with them

Togehter We Can Make It Happen

Togehter We Can Make It Happen
Bomb Awareness Day in Vientiane, is that an American flag I see before mine eyes?

Out of Nong Across to Along and The Hardest Trail

Out of Nong Across to Along and The Hardest Trail
The Along villagers build this crossing during the dry season with a hefty toll on the otherside

War Vet Wonders Where The Good Times Went, And His Leg

War Vet Wonders Where The Good Times Went, And His Leg
The restrained display opposite the City Opera House on Le Loi Avenue, Sai Gon

International Artist Supports Project Pineapple

International Artist Supports Project Pineapple
Man Winkler's contribution to the project , see blog entry, April 22

Little Remains After 40 Years of Scrap Hunters

Little Remains After 40 Years of Scrap Hunters
Too big with rusted bolts for the recycling confirms you are on the Trail

Forest Fire

Forest Fire
Sunset on Lao at the Viet Nam border. Imagine these skies on real fire 40 years ago.

Descendant of First Generation Clearance Team

Descendant of First Generation Clearance Team
Pigs, Dogs and Children were the first to clear UXOs before western conscience finally activated, see website

Jettisoned Fuel Tank Takes to the Air Again

Jettisoned Fuel Tank Takes to the Air Again
B52s dropped their supplimentary fuel tanks after their deadly Cluster Bomb missions

UXO Lao Xekong meet Project Pineapple

UXO Lao Xekong meet Project Pineapple
Mr Tawee and some of his crew receiving COPE's brouchures

Mountain Villagers Have Little But The Land They Live On

Mountain Villagers Have Little But The Land They Live On
Why should these people be suffering from the war remants so flagrantly scattered 40 years ago?

Complex Weaving Designs Take a Complex Comprehension

Complex Weaving Designs Take a  Complex Comprehension
Villagers skilled in weaving intricate designs easily capable of searching their mountainous forest floor plan

Unstoppable Road Development of the Ho Chi Minh Trail

Unstoppable Road Development of the Ho Chi Minh Trail
Parking a Minsk even for a moment can be hazardous

Minsk 125cc 2002

Minsk 125cc 2002
Your going on that? remarked Tony, the web man.

What's that Minsk doing up there?

What's that Minsk doing up there?
It's on the way to my 'local' mechanic in Luang Prabang of course.

My 'Local' Mechanic

My 'Local' Mechanic
Hey Joe, Second Gear, not Top Gear

A Jarring Ride

A Jarring Ride
Phonsavan, Pathet Lao stronghold

Hanoi, Minsk's Second Fix

Hanoi, Minsk's Second Fix
Snagging repairs after first fix

The Ride Kickstarts

The Ride Kickstarts
Project Pineapple departs from Bach Mai Hospital, Hanoi

The Big House Pitstop

The Big House Pitstop
Not reaching the start of the Ho Chi Minh Trail on the first day we make a pitstop at this fine traditional Big House.

Cam Thuy, Start of the Ho Chi Minh Trail

Cam Thuy, Start of the Ho Chi Minh Trail
Outside the restaurant, our last meal together before they head north and I south

Project Pineapple Riders

Project Pineapple Riders
Ben from Australia, with 32 biking trophies to his name, rides the Minsk in Hanoi

Ho Chi Minh's Birth Place

Ho Chi Minh's Birth Place
Not far off the Trail to which he gave it's name, Uncle Ho's house

Phong Nga Cave's now Toothless Mouth

Phong Nga Cave's now Toothless Mouth
Like Venice, Cave Gondaleers have time

Spooked at Trail Crossroads

Spooked at Trail Crossroads
Tien with Jokers Alain and Ludivec

Moody Mountains of Mordor

Moody Mountains of Mordor
The Spooky crossroads of the Trail

Friendly French

Friendly French
Missing a gear change causes a photo op returning to the caves

Chain of Events cause Delays

Chain of Events cause Delays
Tuan speedily replaces clutch and drive chain