Monday, November 18, 2013

They Took the Road Less Traveled. . .oh my.

Written from Nha Trang, 18 November 2013.  Weather generally overcast, occasional heavy rain shower, wind moderate here in town, but out on the highway (and the sea) it's blowing a stiff Northerly, gusting over 25 kn at times.
But that's today.  Look back a to Saturday, which turned out very well indeed, after a minor 21 km mis-step.  We (that still means "the Archaeologist, her bike, my bike and I") we, as I was saying intended to ride on  South to Song Cau from Quy Nhon, nominally about 100 km round trip, so a nice pleasant day, allowing for interesting side trips and visits with whomever we could corner.  It started reasonably enough, hiding from a torrential rain squall at a delightful floating restaurant at the end of QL1D, the coast road from Quy Nhon south, while the kids of the place ran errands (buy some coffee!) and waited tables while also keeping track of a soap opera on the TV.  A bit later, down a narrow little village street, to a tiny boat yard  with nothing we hadn't already seen before, but some friendly people and one cute kid, so it was a good visit.  I, given my superior knowledge and understanding explained to the Archaeologist that a village street such as we were on, having left the highway by way of a well concealed slanting entrance, would almost certainly quietly rejoin the highway at the end of the village on another well concealed slanting exit.  She, with her superior Vietnamese, asked our hosts if that were so and they assured her I was right, so, leaving behind the enormous puddle (small lake) we'd already safely crossed (we swam the horses) we bade them farewell and set out to find the highway.  It was really a lovely road, twelve feet wide, paved with real concrete (think "bump-bump. . .bump-bump. . .bump-bump. . .as you ride across the hand tooled expansion joints) real concrete, I was saying, through fields and farms. . .well. . .through flooded green rice paddies (gorgeous green velvet rice paddies to be fair), past quite nice small houses. . .and then out onto the dunes along the coast--tamarisk and sand, and now and then a glimpse of the sea beyond. . .simply a lovely ride with no traffic at all.  10.6 km later we came to a tiny village and the road stopped.  To prove it, there was a delivery truck smack in the middle of the last paved section, with his rear bumper neatly hung on the lip of the last concrete slab and his wheels spinning hopelessly above the sand below.  End of the road and then some. We ascertained that it was 10 km back to the highway and left them with their planks and hydraulic jack, hoping to liberate the truck.  The kids were loving it. . .a stuck truck and two weird foreigners, all in one day!!

So we took the right fork at the end of the village and regained the highway and wandered on toward Song Cau, feeling like we were due a good lunch and hoping to find the ultimate "small, traditional, double ended boat yard" in the process.  We did find the harbor and a boat yard full of stuff we already had boxes of photos of.  But the harbor was full of pretty boats bouncing in a lively chop, and it seemed reasonable to have that well earned lunch in sight of the fleet.  Regrettably, we found the only two eating establishments along the harbor road sold out and closed for the day.  Sigh.  By now we were feeling decidedly hungry so we returned to the highway (which is also the main street of town) and immediately found the wrong spot for lunch.  It took a bit for all the problems to develop, but in short, they didn't really have any food (beer, soda water, lemon juice. . .sure. . .food. . .well would you like some instant noodles?  Uh. . .h'mm.  But yes, go ahead with the noodles.  Then there were the drunks. . .it was, after all, on toward 2 in the afternoon, which is a time for visiting with friends and beer here and they had done so.  They turned out to all be sweet drunks except for two. . .and one of the sweet ones was good enough to actually try to control the problem children.  But the crowning master stroke was my missing motorbike key.  You know how it is, you ride up to an inappropriate lunch spot, take a deep breath, decide to eat there anyway, reach for the instrument cluster on the handle bars and your fingers neatly find, switch off and remove the key. . .if it's there.  It wasn't.  Good grief.  Well, at first gasp, it seemed like not too much of a problem, the bike was still running, but there was the small additional matter of unlocking the gas cap so I could replenish the fuel supply so the Little Horse would condescend to run far  enough to get us home.  Ah so.  Demonstrating my superior intellect again, I reached down, stuck a screwdriver in the slot and turned the engine off.  Yes.  I did that.  Oh well,  I tried all the blades on the Swiss Army knife and the tweezers, but nothing would budge the switch, and the fuel cap was always tougher to deal with than the ignition.  I sat in my tiny chair hoping for the noodles to come soon and feeling rather (helpless, stupid, hopeful (mechanics abound), idiotic. . .you pick the adjective) when the Archaeologist (with a completely straight face) pointed out that I had had the key at the last (closed) lunch stop and therefore it was undoubtedly somewhere in the kilometer between here and there.  It was.  On the edge of a mud puddle right in front of that closed place in fact, probably crying because we'd gone off and left it, though keys don't cry very loud.

Anyway, we survived the late lunch and headed home, intending to go more or less directly (there was lots of time before sunset, but you don't like to tempt fate that far from home).  We stuck pretty much to the plan until I saw a too spectacular view from the clifftop off to the side of the road and pulled over on the far side of the tamarisk tree and began photographing the islands in the middle distance of the rumpled sea.  The Archaeologist, having stopped behind me and pulled over on the other side of the tree began with photos of the long arc of beautiful beach and village below.  In the softest, least excited voice possible she announced that the beach was covered with surf boats and they looked like basket composites.  She was right.

I know this story is getting a little long, but bear with me. . .you still have to hear about the village streets!  The entire frontage of the highway is obstructed with residences, walls and locked gates EXCEPT for one well concealed diagonal entrance into the maze.  It started at the highway as a wide enough little lane, but narrowed quickly to one-bike width  with a little elbow room on each side.  People stared in amazement and I began to worry a little, but one gentleman stood his ground long enough for me to ask how to get to the beach (that's part of my 500 word vocabulary).  He started to explain but decided instead to draft a guide for us.  Somebody (innocent passerby) tried to pass by us on the back of another motorbike and having been drafted, climbed on behind me and pointed off down the street (goat path?)  It was only two more turns and a few hundred feet to the set of stairs that lead to the beach.  There was no space to park the bikes (nor to turn them around when we got ready to leave) so we just blocked somebody's doorway and went down to the  most fabulous hour or so on the beach. . .gorgeous boats, friendly people, lots of questions and answers from all sides. . .and we did escape finally, though it took me and two husky youngsters to get my bike pointed back up the street.

There's a little more.  We were sure they'd told us they'd depart to go fishing at 8:30 in the morning.  The archaeologist had to catch a bus to Nha Trang, so I was elected to get up early enough to make that 8:30 launching parade. I actually got to the beach, already packed and loaded for my own ride to Nha Trang right after 0700 and there was not a single boat on the beach.  More than 50 surf boats and at least that many round baskets with little outboard motors. . .gone.  Yikes.  But wait!! One was arriving.  Over the next hour and a half they came in a steady stream, working through the (quite ugly) surf in front of their landing, running in to be met by a crowd of helpers, dragged a ways up the beach, and "rotated" the rest of the way, then setting up to empty the nets and get the fish off to market.  The whole village, I'm sure!  It was utterly stunning, notwithstanding the occasional rain and wind squall.  Give us a few days and we'll put a full description up on

And that was it. . .I didn't have to worry about getting wet in the rain showers that dotted the day, I'd already gotten soaked on the beach.  Lunch in a favorite restaurant (in Dai Lanh), and into Nha Trang in mid afternoon.  A grand day's work.
Just gorgeous rice (ready for cutting) and sweet little farm houses.  Some of the best of Viet Nam.

Our coffee coming back from the market to the little floating restaurant.  Cute kid, was NOT hiding from me, it was just raining hard.

Really nice little local utility and fishing vessels. . .powered with small Chinese diesels, they're very nicely made and look to be excellent small sea boats.

A village "chua". . .temple sort of place, probably with a resident monk or two.

Tiny little boat yard.  They haul out on what amounts to a wagon, yard the boat up on the hard with a small diesel winch,

The Archaeologist pestering a fisherman. . .basketry bottom and wooden upperworks, mostly fastened with trunnels and sealed with the traditional buffalo dung and tree resin caulking

The whole village. . .just about ready to go to sea

Home from the sea, or almost anyway!  I did not see a single boat get in trouble making landing, though a couple had to bail a little water before they were hauled up the beach,

I don't think much of anything got over the gunnel.  These boats are chubby but really good!

"Rotating" up the beach, first one end then the other, pick up the end and walk it around.  Three men make a crew, but ten or more help get her up the hill.

Shake the fish out of the net (straighten it out as you go), get them into plastic boxes, and off to market.

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