G’day readers. Put an Australian accent over that and say it again. G’day is a ripper of a thing to say to educate and confuse the local people. But I digress, and this blog doesn’t need sidetracks. It’s going to be longer and with more bends and twists than the MeKong River.
The 120km ride today was sensational. Tough, wonderful, confusing, scenic, diabolical, friendly and slow. And then more of the same for the second half after lunch. Today was my busiest with the camera of the whole trip because it was so diverse. There were people, animals, buildings, bridges, crops and a many other things to photograph today. Where do I start? Maybe at the start of the ride? Genius.
Cycling out of Dong Ha, a vibrant city on a big river in North-central Vietnam, I’m thinking of the 85 km to Hue. It is a shortish distance and flat as a pancake, so I’m in no rush, and after only half an hour I see a nice cafe and slow down, and there are several older women sitting, having a nice cup of tea. That’s two reasons to stop, so what am I going to do?
One is smoking a fat cigar-like thing, which is unusual because (as far as I know) it is frowned upon for women to smoke in Vietnam (at least in public). Around the table, we quickly get chatting and laughing. I suspect that they are “taking the piss”, perhaps because of my bicycle pants and pink and black top. A few people over the previous weeks have commented that I’m wearing women’s clothes. They are mostly wearing austere grey/mauve pyjamas, which means they are either Buddhist nuns or they might be from an old people’s home. One or two of the women are wearing pyjamas with a fine print on them, so they might be the local older women hanging out in the shop for their morning tea and an information-gathering session (aka gossip).
It doesn’t take long for them to get frisky. Three of them want to marry me. Usually, that would be the normal cheeky sort of thing a sixty or seventy year old Vietnamese woman would say about a “toyboy” like me. But in this case they make it clear that they plan to share me ! The cheeky Devils! We talk about cycling and they explain that they do a lot of it, and show me the strong arm muscles that they have developed. Maybe something got lost in the translation? Anyway, they pose for a photo, and each of them spend ages checking out how they look. They say goodbye and head out onto the street. To catch a bus? Five minutes later, I pass their procession a kilometre up the road, and indeed they are Buddhist nuns out for a religious festival, with a beautifully adorned golden wagon, a dozen cars with them, and many people praising and worshipping them. Wow. Fun nuns.
A bit further down the road I turn off the highway and immediately there’s a sign for the citadel at Quang Tri (kwong chee). Why not, I think. A good choice, because it is extensive and well made and explained. Of course, not much remains after the Americans bombed it in their war. But away from the new parts built after the war, there are ancient walls in wonderfully craggy and decrepit condition. And I really like the BIG brass cannons. Short and wide. Later in the day I was thinking about how these worked, and a wild guess says that they were loaded with big rounded rocks that blew apart when the cannon was fired. The wide mouth would allow the shrapnel to fly in a wide pattern, harming many people. Similar cannons in HaNoi were exhibited in an area where rounded rocks were also exhibited. But I don’t know.
Heading northeast now, in order to get well away from the busy highway and ride through the rice crops and canals. The canals are for irrigation because the area is very low – just centimetres above sea level – and without fresh water, salt would creep in and kill the crops. As shown on the map, my blue path was very wobbly and long near the start today (I got lost a few times). But in my defence, the map didn’t mark many of the roads I was riding on. Maps of this area are universally hopeless. But it’s not like it was all bad – I didn’t have to backtrack on any of the long skinny roads, the traffic was very light, there were people about the place and the scenery was good.
Bending back to the south resulted in close scrape with Highway 1 (the grey line) – and at a big crossroads I ignored the local people and continued straight. Not towards the highway and not towards the sea. The montage below shows the progression of the road from superhighway to dirt track. For some reason, every downgrade in the road seemed hilarious.
After two or three hours I got to the minor highway running parallel to the coast (49B). Sometimes it was a good road, sometimes a dodgy road, but always there was a headwind and always the people were friendly. As I make my way along, a young fellow (Kim Trong) cruises up next to me on his motor scooter and we start to chat in English. When I stop for a drink, he stops and translates for me. How friendly is that? Just to top things off, at the drink stop there is a very funny guy who is about 60 years old and has had a few lolly waters, and a wonderful old man who is….90 years old. He is in damn fine shape, getting in and out of his mini chair and walking down the road to go home (how many hundred metres to home?).
Back on the bike, I’m getting to within a few km of the bridges that will rise up and take me across the waterways, paddies and wetlands to Hue.
Then three things happen at almost the same time. Some westerners go past on motorcycles. They seem friendly and well – equipped and are having lots of fun. We exchange “peace” signs. Also, now, just before Hue, there are road signs giving directions to Hue. A bit late! Last, when I stop to check my GPS and take photos, children beg for money. Worse than that – some of them are demanding money. It’s a shock to me.
In no time, the brazen kids are forgotten when I see a group of happy school kids in colourful hats,who are shy but fascinated. They scatter and run for their lives when I take a photo. Why?Are all 8 year old schoolgirls as nutty as fruitcakes? Probably! These are.
The carnival continues with goats high on a bridge (without a goat herder), an apricot-coloured church, crazy driving, more headwinds, eating cassava fritters. All crazy, surreal things, except for the cassava fritters, which were delicious.
Not long now….almost there….more traffic….but the GPS isn’t showing where the hotel is located. Surely it’s close – I can feel it in my bones. The hotels are mainly around here, but there are so many. After 8 hours and 15 minutes on the road this is a pain in the arse (long-distance cycling joke). A fellow asks me if he can help, in a typically wonderful Vietnamese way. His answer was a great close to today’s lost and found, up and down, round and about travels.
He says, in good English… “it’s not far”….”this way”…”not more than 20 metres…”
Tam biet. Goodbye. See you later.