People who cruise Halong Bay on the Emeraude come from all walks of life. We ferry teachers and doctors, construction workers, singers and dancers. As I say, from all walks of life. But not many of our passengers walk to Halong Bay, and not many walk here all the way from Singapore.
A recently discharged U.S. Marine named Winston Fiore did just that. Or I should say, he’s doing just that. He’s on his way here at the moment, stepping toward us at a rate of 20 miles per day. When I last checked in with Winston, he was just north of Ninh Binh, and making good time.
Winston is in the midst of a 5,000-mile, year-long trek through eight countries to raise money for theInternational Children’s Surgical Foundation. For about $250, this foundation can surgically repair a cleft lip and palate. Winston’s goal is raise $50,000, and he’s almost there. What this means is that some 200 kids around the world are on the verge of life-changing surgery, thanks to Winston’s boots on the ground.
How do I know all this? Because as soon as we found out what Winston was doing, we invited him to cruise Halong Bay. Take a load off, we said. Please.
We’d caught up with Winston in Hanoi, where he was delivering a presentation to 110 people. He’d come into Vietnam by way of Laos after walking up from Singapore through Malaysia and Thailand, camping out on the way. In Vietnam, he hasn’t been camping.
“In all the movies I’ve ever seen about Vietnam, everyone is always sweating,” said Winston. “They’re in short sleeves, and the sun is shining. But I had to pick up a fleece for the part of the trip.”
In Vietnam, he stays in hotels, budgeting about 200,000 dong per night. He’s imposed limits on the caliber of his accommodation, understanding that the more like a spartan he lives, the more kids he can help.
Winston’s a big walker, as you can see from the web site that’s detailing his journey. In 2008, he walked from Madrid to Barcelona. The following year, he walked 540 miles from Santiago, Chile to Luyaba, Argentina. Last summer, as he built momentum for the Smile Trek, he rode his motorbike across America, talking all the way about his upcoming, 5,000-mile journey through Southeast Asia.
His foreign adventures haven’t involved walks only. Remember the part about Winston being a Marine? He previously served with the Marines in Afghanistan, and in Senegal, where he first saw how much more terribly a life had to be lived with a cleft lip and palate. This was a far cry from Indiana, where he’d grown up in a middle class household.
“I chose Southeast Asia for this walk because it was a part of the world I had never been to before, and because it has a higher occurrence of cleft births than other parts of the world,” he said.
He also liked that there was a natural circle, a natural loop of a walk to be made through the region.
After about 10 days in Hanoi, and two days with us on the Emeraude, Winston took a bus back to Thanh Hoa to resume the continuity of his walk. He’s walking faster now because his visa for Vietnam is only good for 30 days, and he suspects he’s going to run over by a couple of days.
About two days from the time of this writing, we expect Winston will be back on the edge of Halong Bay again, walking for the kids. We’d gladly give him a ride again, but we have a funny feeling, this time around, that he’d refuse the offer.