Saturday, September 18, 2010

And finally into Hue

Dateline: September 18th, 2010, day 11 of 49. Written in Hue, about 700 km South of Hanoi on Highway One, 1229 km on the bike so far. Lovely weather all day, with dramatic skyscape in the afternoon turning into drizzle at dusk. Not enough rain to really cool it off, but it's really quite pleasant.

I last wrote from Sam Son, just leaving for Cua Lo, which is to say, from one river mouth harbor with a beach resort (Sam Son) to a Beach Resort with a river mouth harbor (Cua Lo) about 180 km road distance further south. I have been to Cua Lo once before, and thereby, as it often does, hangs a tale. I deliberately sought out a small guest house (though quite a very nice one) that trip and enjoyed the family that ran the place. I was actually on the inbound leg then, headed back to Hanoi to sell the bike and catch a plane ride home, and they, for some reason, decided they really wanted to buy that bike. I, on the other hand, didn't want to sell until I'd gotten safely back to Hanoi. Even a half day ride on a local bus holds a certain amount of terror for me, so I made excuses and said maybe I'd figure out how to get it down to them and so forth and we parted friends. I even remembered to give them the room key. So this time, when I rode up to the house on, to all appearances, the same bike (bear in mind it's been almost four years) the lady of the house took one look, laughed out loud and said “You still haven't sold that bike!!” (“Chua ban xe may ay!!”) I didn't fool her for long though, she looked it over, spotted the odometer and stared me down. . .”This one is a new bike!” Busted again. Nonetheless, I've found that being a returning hotel guest confers privileges and status you don't get the first time. . .only assuming you behaved yourself the first time, so I was very well treated again.

I've no real interest in beach resorts and have really pretty good documentation of the harbor and the boats so this was more in the nature of a quick check of the trap line, only a one night stand. I spent the afternoon at the harbor, where there was a certain amount of activity and a couple of good specimens hauled out for repairs (though no new construction in the yard) and patrolling the beach, where there was very little action offshore. One boat shoving a net ahead of itself on a pair of outriggers (I call them “push aheads” but “bulldozer boats” might be just as good a name), they scoop up anything in their path, about 30 feet wide and six or eight feet deep, but they look kind of ridiculous doing it. Other than that it was pretty quiet. I set up for an early morning departure, room and pack all tidy at bedtime, with a 365 km run to Hue, I'd need a long day on the road. I've done 420 km in a day on a twin to this bike last trip, actually also trying to get to Hue, but that was before the broken knee.

Then with the morning came perfect lighting, blue skies and gold highlights in everything, so I ran back to the harbor (ten minutes) with the camera and spent an hour and a half. Sometime earlier they'd landed tons and tons of tiny fish, stacked up in piles two or three feet deep all over the pavement of the fish market. The boats were finished offloading, but it was a very busy scene, with fish being sorted and cleaned and iced down and loaded in baskets or boxes and put on bikes and in trucks. . .busy. Good chance for photos. Lovely light. So much for an early get away. I was on the road by 0930, fed and watered and with a full fuel tank, good for over 200km, so, one stop for fuel, a lunch somewhere, and I'd have eight and a half hours of daylight to run in, still do-able.

I crossed the bridge at Ron just after 1300, still looking like making schedule, though it was starting to look tight. I've never crossed the bridge at Ron in good weather. Granted it was mid day and the light was high and harsh, but still, it was bright, the colors were screaming, and I'd written a lot about the fleet of traditional boats above the bridge. I'd never gone down through the town to the river mouth (in the rain and mud?) but had passed on by. I turned off downs stream on the southern bank, through the little downtown as it followed the river. Glimpsed fleets of more modern boats (still beautiful wooden boats, but not the long double ended low and lean boats that tie up above the bridge), kept on to the point where the street started to peter out and turned south along the back of the beach front. Or, to put it another way, kept on until I came to the boat yard where two magnificent new fishing boats were building, one fully planked, the other framed out and about half planked, the same boat yard where a dozen or so boats were hauled out so I could photograph them whole. Boats, I might add that I'd written about and surmised things that I could now see clearly out of the water. I parked the bike. It didn't take quite an hour I guess, but (though I didn't admit it yet) it put Hue out of range for the day.

No matter. If I hadn't stopped you'd never know that there are perfectly round inboard powered motor basket boats working every day. I mean. . .round basket boats are the most common sort of thing on the Vietnamese waterfront. . .perfect dinghies, they carry a lot, land easily through modest surf, (scoot rather than anything else, and how can they trip over their forefeet, they have none!) and wouldn't you rather roll your dinghy up the beach rather than having to drag it? However, I'd never seen a powered one before, and here was a whole fleet of them rigged up about like a seine skiff. In fact, these people do a lot of seine work, so it may well be that's exactly what they are. They look a bit odd with their rudders mounts sticking out like a tail on a tadpole. . .but the motor installation is perfectly reasonable. Once you're used to the idea of basket boats, the tricks for putting a motor in one seem straightforward enough and motorized “boat shaped” baskets are very ordinary here.

So by the time I was back on the road Hue was out of reach though I kept pushing along and didn't stop when maybe I should have. . .I don't think I'd ever photographed the sort of boat I saw up a slough of a river I crossed about four. . .long and skinny, high ended, a lot like the lagoon boats in the Hue area. . .but somehow the ends seemed odd. I'd have had to hike through marsh grass to get close enough and didn't stop. Maybe next time eh?

The rest is simple. I stopped in Dong Ha, a perfectly ordinary nice small city, a province capital I think, with a whole string of perfectly nice hotels and what turned out to be some of the best chicken and noodles I've ever had in Viet Nam. But the clincher. . .the hotel had an elevator. My knee loved it. This morning, after that fine chicken and noodles we got on the road and roared into Hue before eleven. Oh. We needed a new exhaust gasket and a nut to hold the tail pipe on. More of that later, it's way late. Good night.