Sunday, October 17, 2010

Loose at Last

Dateline: 15 October 2010, Dong Hoi, Quang Binh Province, Viet Nam, 160 odd km north of Hue on Highway 1. (Check back tomorrow for a photo or 2 and more news. I'm on a slow connection here and can't load photos. Lots more to tell but neither the bike nor I drowned. . .So here's what I wrote 2 nights ago w/o internet:

Wow. I'm out of Hue. Mind you, I like Hue a great deal, and more, I really love the sandy barrier island that stretches from Thuan An 35 km or so on to the South. . .may have to buy a house there someday, but enough after all, this was supposed to be a big traveling trip and I SPENT TEN DAYS IN HUE waiting for my passport to come back from Hanoi. Now, I grant you, Hanoi had a small matter of the biggest celebration in 1000 years of its history. . .or so it seemed, and a lot didn't get done in Hanoi for several days there, including processing my passport, and all that was perfectly understandable (if also a little frustrating, it wasn't MY party after all) but then there was the matter of the Post office in Hue. For whatever reason, they just couldn't get that registered special delivery letter out to the hotel. . . so for two days after they acknowledged that the envelope with that number on it had been logged into Hue I still didn't have a passport or a visa.

I think I'd done a pretty good job of managing my anxiety, continuing with my field work and photography and just plain touristing,. . .up until yesterday evening, but, when I'd spent the afternoon knowing that the document had been logged into Hue's Central Post Office (which is all of six blocks from here, or maybe seven) and waited with the cell phone set to vibrate AND ring loud while I wandered around trying to distract myself with tourist traps. . .and nobody called from the Hotel to tell me the thing had come. . .I suppose I started to show. When I got back to the hotel in the early evening the young lady who was responsible for the paperwork, was on the phone with the Post Office, speaking in a loud and rapid voice, not making any reassuring sounds at all. . .Perhaps my anxiety showed. I stood there watching and listening until she hung up and just raised my eyebrows to ask what news there was. . .and there wasn't any of course. Her name is Hong, by the way, which is another name for “Rose” in Vietnamese. She's the senior desk clerk at the hotel. . .and one of my favorite people in Hue for the past several years. But my staring intently and listening hard had gotten to her. . .be honest, I'd been nervous and worried for three days really, one way or another and no doubt she'd noticed before. Now she let me have all the facts at once “. . .Everything is okay, you will see, your passport is fine, I know, the envelope is already here in Hue, you see, this is the number, I got it from Hanoi, they check with Post Office Hanoi and already the envelope has arrived in Hue, at the Post Office, and I called the Post Office in Hue and they said the man with the special envelopes had already gone out to deliver, all over the city and he will bring it here for you and just because of the celebration in Hanoi, things went slow in Hanoi and they did not do your visa as fast as always, but it is done and the passport is sent back already and already in Hue, I know, I have done this many many times and this is okay, but you watch me and stand there and it makes me nervous so I don't want to see you, you will see, your passport will be here I know.” She wasn't crying but I was starting to worry. I held out one hand palm up and smiled at her. . .told her I wasn't angry at her at all, just worried. She put her hand in mine, I squeezed, she squeezed, we both smiled and said “OK. . .” but the damned passport still didn't come by bedtime.

Anyway, it arrived this morning on a motorbike at about 10:00 in a driving rain. I clutched it to my bosom, paid my enormous hotel bill (that's not fair, they didn't begin to charge for all the help, friendship or free dinners with the family, but ten night's hotel bill is still ten nights!) and packed my bag to leave. The bike already had a clean and oiled chain and a crankcase full of nice new oil, so she was ready to go. We were short the snorkel and wetsuit though, and the bike doesn't look like she'll float when we come to deep water. H'mm. Now that I'm ready to travel it seems we're looking at a five day forecast of typhoon and side effects. It's going to be wet.

The hotel family wouldn't let me leave until I'd eaten an enormous celebration lunch with them (everybody in the hotel has been sweating that passport the past 48 hours) and then it stopped raining so I could load the bike and say goodbye. Wow. At ten past twelve we rolled over the bridge and out of town Northbound with a full tank of gas and not a care in the world. That lasted til we were well north of Dong Ha (60 km north of Hue). Then the first drop of rain hit the face shield. It was the first of a great many. So, into the raingear. . .I have to get somebody to take a picture of me in the new get up, but it does keep you pretty darned dry. . .compared. . .maybe the rain was too busy laughing at the bald guy in the blue tent riding the motorbike and forgot to soak in.

It was a lovely ride through the flat and saturated countryside, with the bike purring like a kitten and really pretty easy traffic. The rivers en route were already full or out of their banks from last week's typhoon, so this one had a great start. Boats were out catching fish in all the rice fields, including a new sort of marsh canoe I'd not seen before. With the water this high they were working the fields right up to the highway, so I got some good pictures by holding my hand above the lens and praying hard (I had on the wrong camera for today's weather). And so we came to Dong Hoi, which is a provincial capital (Quang Binh Province) and a pretty good sized town.
I had no intention of liking Dong Hoi. I've ridden through a number of times headed up or down the coast and never even stopped for coffee. A trusted associate once told me the place was a dump and that was that. I think I've been had, or maybe she just got a room in the wrong end of town or. . .who knows. I found a perfectly nice hotel (with an elevator and part time wifi) and there were manyl to choose from. In any event I didn't even take off the rain gear, but went out to look around before dark.

And of course, the first thing I noticed was that the river is just full of bright beautiful fishing boats. . .a large fleet of them, rigged for every sort of fishing they do around here. . .great fun. And I found the waterfront drive that goes all along the river bank four lanes wide (with a nicely planted median between) past dozens of nice looking hotels and clear to the mouth of the river and on beyond along the beach, oh, and it goes right through the middle of a great fresh market. Just beautiful. Actually, looking closely I can see it's brand new and growing, the plantings, the tiled walkways along the river bank, the new four lane street with the centerline planter. . .it's much the same as the new waterfront parks in Nha Trang (where the fish market used to be) and Quy Nhon (where a mile of the town used to be). But I didn't have any attachment to whatever it was they tore down or dug up to build this new waterfront park, so it seems lovely to me, which, I suppose, proves the planners and managers who made the decision to spruce up the entire country's waterfront are probably on the right track after all. Anyway, it's howling outside and a good sized sea is banging into the coast, and, what with the river in flood and ebbing out like crazy, there's a horrific mass of breakers at the mouth. No doubt a boat could get out through it, but it wouldn't be a sure thing! Nobody was trying in any event. I have to admit the beach is a mess and nobody's going sunbathing right now. It's been flooding in every river drainage around here for a while now and a great deal of trash has come downstream, floated out to sea and gotten washed up on the beach by the onshore gale. There's a lot of it, but it's mostly good firewood, so in a few week's time it'll no doubt all be cut up and put to dry.

The rest of the program for the day was dinner, tea, and a tiny plastic cup of yogurt for dessert (it was raining way too hard to go looking for the local che stand), enough time to write this. . . and that should do it for today. It's good to be on the move again and I'll tell you what we're going to do next as soon as I figure it out. Weather is going to be a big factor though!