Monday, November 19, 2012

This was supposed to be an Easy Day to Cua Lo

Written from Hue, 11/20/2012, under a hot blue sky full of puffy white clouds.  You'd never believe it poured rain half the night and a good deal of yesterday. So this morning is a fine thing and I'll soon find myself forced out of the hotel lobby and off to the beach, so quickly, let me catch up.

I left Sam Son, after one more quick look at the newly created boat on the beach, full of egg sandwich (think toasty crisp baguette, a scrambled egg or two, a long slice of cucumber and a bit of cilantro. . .hold the chili for now. . .) and super sweet milky coffee served with songbirds singing good morning in their bamboo cages all around in the flower vines around the awning on the porch of the coffee shop. . .a rough way to start the day.  Cua Lo is only 120 km more or less down the road.  The turn off that was a horrible trail in 2005 is now a 4-lane road with zero traffic past the three new factories just off the highway.  It leads directly to the intersection at the edge of town where the water was above the top of my engine in the aftermath of a tropical storm last trip. . .I had to push the bike for blocks out of town that time.  What a difference today, with the river and the sea both back where they belong and the streets dry and dusty.

It's the end of the season here too (I've never been here during the high season, but like Sam Son, the town has hotel space for thousands and there were probably 20 of us in town. . .and I the only white guy.  After all the careful planning and notions of an easy day, I didn't stay.  The fishing boat harbor was nearly empty, the boats perhaps at sea, though I've never seen it anything like this. . .and the town all but dead, there was nothing to draw my attention and much of the day was still ahead.  On an off chance though I rode through the harbor to the boat yard near the bridge and found not one, but two new local boats under construction.  I've never seen new construction in this little yard before, only maintenance work, but here they were, and like Sam Son's boats on the beach, these were the first of the local style I'd seen in early stages.  There was a lot to learn in a short time, but I got a good set of photos including the mother, the daughter and the grand daughter of the yard. . .Never miss a chance to photograph a cute kid. . .I'll work on writing up both Sam Son and Cua Lo construction in the next few days. . .and we'll get it up on Boats And Rice ( sometime soon.

The daughter and grand daughter of the boatyard--a very family operation. . .

New construction in Cua Lo--a traditional style boat adapted well to powering with an engine, it's a shallow-bodied, round bottomed boat (really, 3 chines per side, but the effect is very round),  she'll have a long bow reaching out over the sea and a broad transom lifted just above the water line, a good load carrier and seaworthy, on very little draft. . .just as well,  the fishboat harbor dries, or nearly, over low water every day.

But with that, we were out of town and gone.  With half the day left to run (or more) and a long ways to Hue, where I plan to hold up and rest and write for a while, we settled down to cover some ground.  The highway was just fine and the kilometer markers ticked off steadily and I started to figure the distances that might work out before nightfall.  We seemed to be averaging about 40 km/hr all in, what with towns and open road combined and no stops, so with four hours until dark 160 km more was about the limit.  Dong Hoi was 183 (you have to love the km markers!).  It might as well be the moon, driving a motorbike on the open highway at night is pure idiocy.   Ron was within range, but suffered, in my mind at least, from one serious flaw.  So far as I knew, there was no hotel in town.  The town goes along the highway for a km or two and down from the hwy to the river mouth for another two, but though I'd eaten lunch there and photographed some wonderful boats there. . .I'd never seen a guest house or hotel.  No matter, I've never had to sleep on the shoulder of the road yet, so, with the interesting river mouth waiting, I kept the bike moving toward Ron.  

Of course, there was a little guest house, attached to the same restaurant I'd eaten lunch in years back.  My room was tiny, hardly room for 2 small single beds, but with a huge bathroom. . .who knows?  and it was up 2 flights of really narrow steep stairs with a shaky bannister.  But it was a place for the night with a delightful family to visit with.  The seven year old of the household helped me write up my diary, and read out the dates from the page tops as well as the place names in the headers. . .all written in my long hand!!  I was impressed, but her Mom said she could read when she was five.  This could be another world beater eh??  
Seven years old. . .reading out the dates and place names from my handwriting!

Mom made me a fine supper of rice, sauteed pork slices and greens and tried to keep the kids off my table.  They finally settled for a terrible slapstick Vietnamese comedy on the TV, featuring a young man's attempt to slip his lady friend a sleeping potion (for whatever dark purposes) only to be confronted by her whole family.  Loud, but funny.  The heroine, after her spirited introduction, spent the whole big scene passed out on the bed with everyone shrieking around her.  

And so, on the 19th, early in the morning I was out and about in the harbor and the string bean of village that lines its southern bank--which was as fascinating as ever, although there was no new construction in the yards (though quite a lot of routine maintenance and bottom work).  The older wooden boats here seem to be developing fiberglass skins on their bottoms as a routine thing, and the older traditional style boat that used to be so prominent now seems to be disappearing in favor of the modern "Motor Fishing Vessel" type.  There were no fish being landed at all, but rather bags and bags of snails being brought ashore from boats moored out in the river.  I've no idea how they were harvested, but the fishwives were going through a fair amount of work sorting and rinsing them off, discarding a number of empty shells as they went.  Snail is a popular snack in all the towns "Oc", though I've never seen the appeal. . .small (some of them truly tiny), pretty hard to snag out of their shells, and pretty well rubbery and tasteless, unless dipped in lime juice and salt.  Oh well, I don't have to like every single dish I'm served, and it's fine entertainment to watch everyone doing the snail extractions.
The river-mouth harbor at Ron, sorting snails. . .nice rubbery tasteless little things. . .very popular!
And so, off again toward Hue, 220 km away, in easy reach for a day's riding if I could only stay on track and the road was good, which it turned out to be.  Keeping me on track was harder and, secure in the knowledge that we could easily make Hue by dark, I kept turning off down side roads looking for just one more new boat. . .and found several.  When I set out in 2005 to make one pass down the coast and "photograph every boat in Viet Nam" I had no idea.  Actually, I think they're coming up with new sorts faster than I can find them.  The big hit of the day was at a tiny village called Ly Hoa, which looks quite good sized from the highway.  Not surprising, it has to put all of itself into one long strip along the highway, since the ocean waits hardly 100 meters away beyond the row of homes and shops.  It's another little river mouth harbor and is home to yet another sort of woven bamboo basket boat I'd not seen before (nothing wildly different, but still, this is rather like collecting butterflies--little differences matter!  But I'll spare you another boat photo for now. . .they'll turn up on someday soon. 

The afternoon run the rest of the way into Hue turned into a rain suit test and I found conclusively that my old suit is finished.  I'd thought it'd be a short little shower so just put on the light old "goretex" (yeah, sure) coat and an old pair of Vietnamese britches.  Fortunately it was a warm rain and the suit cut the wind, so I was only wet, not miserable. Visibility was not so good and we slowed way down from Dong Hoi to Quang Tri, but the rain let up then and I steamed in the rain gear on into Hue.  I seem to be doomed forever to arrive in elegant cities when coated in mud and dust and wearing my most stylish rain gear.  Oh well.  It is good to be here.  
Chu Van An Street from my balcony 9 flights of stairs up. . .I'll give up the balcony and the extra bed later today in exchange for a much shorter climb.   That's the soccer stadium in the back ground.


  1. You wonderful narration has definitely perked my interest in this beautiful country. Your descriptions bring to mind memories of growing up in Hawaii ... rain, rain, sun, scary unpredictable roads, traditional foods, snails (although I no longer favor those as I did in my youth), and happy kids growing up outdoors. I'm truly enjoying seeing this country through your eyes! Stay safe ~SP