Saturday, November 9, 2013

TYPHOON--pretty much missed us!

Written from Hoi An, 10 November, 2013.  Weather gusty wind to 30kn but generally less.  Heavy rain.  Internet and electricity both still up.

Fortunately for my vacation plans, the storm has taken a hard right turn and will make landfall (or has just done so) well to the north, somewhere near Vinh. . .where we were last week (Cua Lo is the nearest beach town to Vinh, and also the site of my long-wade-out-of-town in 2010).  It will no doubt be terribly flooded there in the wake of this storm.  Actually, the area around Hoi An will likely flood as well and may yet be a major inconvenience, but if the roads don't flood to the point of stopping me it is relatively dry south of here, and there's higher ground, so at worst we'll hold on here for the day or even two. . .then move south again to Quy Nhon.  All of which ignores the plight of Hanoi, which is apparently going to get thoroughly drowned.  A lot of the city is outside the levees and routinely gets wet feet, this will be wet knees or much worse.  Oh my.

So that's all the big news.  Looking back to the  last day or so in Hue, the trailings from typhoon Krossa got the various small streams around Hue up and lapping at the doorsteps and here and there spreading over the larger roads for a little.  The low causeway on Le Loi street (my normal route to the island) had water running across deep enough and fast enough the authorities closed the road (though it was not nearly so bad as what we rode through in 2010. . .).  There is actually a better route for ease of access and it crosses that water on a fine high bridge, so the detour wasn't even a real inconvenience.  There were some small triumphs in photography,  but nothing earth shaking, and some pleasant visiting.

I spent half an hour watching a neighborhood fight the Blob of water hyacinths from Hell. . . it had apparently cut loose from its usual moorings and gone for a pleasure voyage down the little stream along the road (which is NOT all that little at the moment, nor all that calm).  One way or another, it's plans for a trip to the sea were interrupted by an eddy that set it back and up against a very low bridge over a side channel, which it proposed to occupy en masse.  The local neighborhood improvement society objected and their efforts were remarkable.  They stretched a rope across the main stem of the river and tied it off on a big palm tree, then two tin canoes with 6 people proceeded to try to dislodge the blob, while co-workers (safe, dry co-workers) used poles and rakes to try to pry the blobs engulfing tentacles out from among the bridge pilings.  The exertions were enormous and failed twice. . .the canoes pushing and squeezing between the bridge and the blob (broadside to the considerable current), then positioned like bulldozer blades (hard to think of a canoe that way but try. . .) those who could reach it tailed onto the rope and heaved mightily (in a 30" wide tin canoe)to try to urge the blob on along his way.  He had taken a liking to the bridge and did not readily let go. . .and though the canoes and their rope managed to shove him away from HIS bridge, and got their bit of him out into the main current, he simply pivoted on one foot and swung another bulge of himself back into the side channel, got hold of the bridge and pulled the rest of himself back in.  .  The combatants were obviously tiring (the humans that is), dripping sweat and splashed river water, they had to paddle like mad men (and women) to get back into position but this was a truly epic struggle and they fought on. Third try was the charm.  I think maybe the blob just got tired of toying with the people and rolled on out to the main current while they urged him along.  It was a splendid effort.

The ride down from Hue to Hoi An was really quite lovely.  The rain held off, the wind blew but not enough to really bother the little bike (I think maybe I really hold her down) and traffic was reasonable.  Actually, I went by way of the island road. . .adds perhaps 30 km or so to the day, which is of no consequence on such a short run, and it's something I'd do just for peace and pleasure any time.  What a lovely little road. . .very rural but very settled.   It's actually labeled QL49B, that is "National Highway 49B" but it is a narrow quiet lane for over 45 km. The houses and shops along much of the road make it seem very close and village like, but the longer open stretches of fields, gardens, tombs and family shrines give it a unique flavor.  But after the island comes a long run through the narrow coastal plain, with hills close by on your right and a couple of miles of booze to choose from.  No kidding, it's a major household industry locally and the bottles sit on chairs and table tops with little signs stating the obvious ("booze for sale" in effect), but you can ride right by if you like.  Thence over an outlying ridge of the hills that runs right to the water, and on a bit further (charming riding obviously) back down into low ground and finally up to the summit north of Lang Co.  Lang Co is certainly the name of the town and its bridges, and I think also of the gorgeous shallow lagoon behind its barrier sandbar.  You need to plan your passage so that you arrive at lunch or supper time, or simply declare it lunch time when you arrive.  This is seafood paradise and the restaurants along the shore are lovely.  Mountains all around a bay, fish, crab, shrimp and boats to study.  What more would you want in a lunch stop?  Fried noodles with onions, garlic, shrimp and squid, with a big chunk of ice and a bottle of sparkling water.  That should do it!

What do you know of Hoi An?  It was once a major entry port for this part of the world and entertained sailors and traders from much of the world. . .for over a thousand years there was steady traffic along this coast running from as far away as Arabia and India on one hand and China and Japan on the other.  The river mouth is a relatively easy approach, and the town prospered.  Many of its visitors then were dependent on the changing of the monsoons to get here and home again, so, having to spend a year on a voyage anyway, they did the obvious thing and built houses, temples and warehouses here.  That architecture, some of it quite ancient, combined with the shoaling of the river and the increase in size of ships. . .all together spelled ruination for the city's status as a major port.  Fortunately, that left the charming architecture and pleasant town with no real tactical value for the combatants of the last century's wars, so nobody bothered to bomb the place or blow it up with artillery.  Perhaps the Viet Cong liked to party here as much as the US Army.  Whatever, it survived the war largely intact. . .only to be overwhelmed by tourism the past ten years.

I won't belabor the point.  It's simply a matter of the collision between too many eager shoppers and too many dedicated sellers in too small an area.  The streets are narrow (and picturesque) and filled to overflowing with tourists from every corner of the world looking for silk pajamas or a new wool suit, or just dinner.  Whatever, for every tourist there is an abundant supply of sellers, and not enough roadway to let them all pass.

Nonetheless, here in Hoi An I managed a trip to the river-island "carpentry village" Kim Bong, where they produce gorgeous furniture, mother of pearl inlay, odd furniture (roots and trunks and so on stuck together), dragons and Buddhas (both laughing and serious) and all sorts of carved knick knacks. . .not my sort of thing really. . .but on the water's edge there are boat yards.  Active boatyards, producing splendid little double ended boats held together with wooden pegs.  I spent a long while and came away with what was needed.

Yesterday all day the town was starting to pull into its shell though.  The old town tourist district is also the lowest lying ground, and even before the present typhoon, the river was high enough that high tide put a foot of water over the streets along the water (and left a sandy goo when the tide went out).  All around town trees were getting drastic haircuts and people were putting sandbags on tin and corrugated cement roofs (note to self, red tile roofs apparently will stay put in wind).  The lovely old "Norfolk Pine" outside the hotel is now bare for 30 feet above the ground, it only has a tuft of green at the top.  By evening the shops were mostly shuttered and nailed shut, sheets of tin tacked over many windows and merchandise all up on high counters or hauled upstairs.  I met friends (sunken archaeologists. . .fun people) for dinner.  We closed the restaurant (the last place open in old town) and  walked home through the occasional raindrop, all alone in empty streets at 8:00 in the evening.  Eerie!  My hotel room had been secured sometime during the day, windows barred and wired shut or shutters locked.  I laid in a supply of Ritz crackers and Laughing Cow (gosh it's awful) and we're ready.  Now the sun is up (or at least the gray is much lighter), we're all dressed up and nowhere to dance.  I don't think I'll mind that it missed us. That's just fine
They've nearly won now, the blob is well away from the bridge and can't seem to tuck back into the eddy!

The toothless tailor's daughter. . .er. . .the tailor's toothless daughter. . .well. . .anyway, her mom sells stuff  and umbrellas (thank goodness!!)

Shrimp pots and a bamboo canoe in more ordinary duty. . .midway on the island

The mouth of the lagoon at Lang Co, rough seas on the beach, but just passable for the canoes with kayak paddles

The very end of the sandspit at Lang Co, a gorgeous place, you're just starting up Hai Van Pass, the main divider between the gloomy  wet north and the sunny south. . .er. . .barring typhoons that is.

The modern variant of the traditional central Vietnamese fishing vessel. . .it's still a lovely hull, but imagine it with its bow dagger board, two big lug sails (no pilot house) and half the crew hiked out on a spar on the high side, just to make her fly.  Engines are good things I suppose.

River front in Hoi An, the night before the night before the storm.

The ferry boat from Kim Bong island (ten minutes away).  You count the people, then I'll tell you how many life jackets are on board.  
Maybe you can count better from this angle.  No, you'll miss the people in the passenger cabin.

Offloading on Kim Bong.  The order is always the same, first bike on, last bike off.  Oh well.

One of the traditional boats (all there is here really) well along under construction.  They're entirely fastened with wooden pegs wedged on the inside. . .they don't rust!!

And they look nicer once they're trimmed off.  Really lovely little boats.
There's a Buddha in there, you just have to keep trimming away the other stuff.

A lovely Quan Yen statue, with rough seas AND a dragon.  In a lot of places she's particularly responsible for the safety of fishermen and sailors.  Not sure about the dragons.

I've tried a couple of these and they actually ARE fairly comfortable, I mean, not like an easy chair of course, but, you have to give some points for originality anyway.

She started off six feet away, and after a few moments I had to start backing up.  Six years old.  They sure do move quickly at that age though!  As usual, her grandma asked her if she wanted to go back to America with me.  She's too young for that and told us definitely not. . .then smiled at the camera some more.  Not worried.


  1. Glad to read that you were missed by the weather. Looks like it slammed some of my favorite places in the Philippines, and I was pretty worried that it might have continued at full strength across the S.China Sea. Charmed life you live, very charmed.

  2. Hi Rob, I have seemed to miss the worst of things pretty often. I stop frequently and visit with Quan Yen when I see her by the road, perhaps it helps. Chin up and off we go again! kp