Thursday, December 12, 2013

Stepping Back a Bit--There was a lovely bit of riding before the Disaster.

Written from Savannakhet (still)  December 12th, 2013.  Weather included some overcast during the day, but generally bright and fine and hot on the riverbank.  But that was today.  We need to catch back and deal with that brief interlude in Viet Nam between Cambodia and Laos.  I simply wanted to get the tale of National Road 18a safely on paper (or whatever) before I forgot too much of it. It will no doubt soon become an adventure, the residue, what's left, after I forget the blood, sweat and terror.  Already the worst of it has faded...but there is a little to tell and photographs to share from that day and a half in Viet Nam before the ill fated 18a expedition.  So:

As already described, we rolled into Pleiku at the end of a 285 km run from Stung Treng, a day ahead of schedule (maybe fate was trying to fix that at Road 18a. . .h'mm).  I've a strong tendency to go back to hotels I've liked in the past, but for whatever reason (mostly I was tired and ready to stop) I picked another this time in Pleiku. . .not on purpose, it just worked that way.  I suppose it was all of 300 meters to the "right one", but the gracious old place I actually stopped was lovely, the building (old, 3-story, big heavy hardwood shutters on the windows, carved woodwork, heavy carved furniture that was still usable), a wonderful mattress (a major consideration in a hotel room), a monstrous fish tank, immaculately kept, beautifully planted and lighted and full of gorgeous fish, mainly angelfish with a pinkish cast to their color.  Oh.  And a whole family of pretty, cheerful young daughters (one with a kid of her own) and a distinguished old Dad.  Quite the hotel staff!  Having ridden all day, I walked to eat, quite a hike actually, particularly since I over-ran the hotel on the way back in the dark and walked quite a ways on toward Kontum.  But I needed the stretch after the day in the saddle!

Morning came, we packed, loaded up, paid and left, AFTER having photographs all around.  Cell phone cameras have changed the rules. . .the tourist gets HIS photo taken.  From there to Plei Kan was short and simple, though there was a problem with Plei Kan's name.  He's changed it to. . .I forget now. . .but he's still where he used to be, and if you look closely at the plaster work above the entrance to the market it still says "Cho Plei Kan", and the post office still claims to be located in "TT Plei Kan", so I wasn't overly worried.  This is a town I have just a little history with.  On my first trip through this part of the world I passed through the town without giving it a thought (it's pretty small really) and when a road broke off to the right at a corner on the edge of town, I did the only reasonable thing and kept going straight.  Wrong.  Straight ahead is the road to Cambodia and Laos (which I wanted this trip).  The hard right turn is the highway! The sign that would have told me was concealed behind a blue tarp which was keeping the sun off of a roadside fruit stand.  Kind of a variation on the French Resistance turning signs around. . .they just hung a tarp from it and let me ride by.  I figured it out after a little bit, the kilometer markers didn't make sense all of a sudden.

This time we overnighted in town in order to get  to the border and away without delay in the morning, which is history now and you've already read it.  So here are some photos of the Central Highlands of Viet Nam.  From Pleiku south is pretty dull in the scenery department, but from Pleiku on northward it just gets prettier:

Mom, 3 daughters and a grand kid.  They each ended up with at least one photo with me on one or another of four cell phones. And I had to hold the baby once.  Good grief, but it is getting close to Christmas!  The young red head looks a bit like trouble running loose, but she was the sweetest of the bunch.  No tattoos or piercings, I guess I can forgive the red hair

This is HARD to do.  I spent a full roll of film at least to get four or five passable fish.  This is my contest entry.

Really lovely grounds of the old hotel
And looking the other way. . .

Really, a pretty nice Vietnamese road construction site. . .until the blade knocked down the pile of crushed that is.   Then we got short of room to pass 2 vehicles side by each.  But still, no bomb craters! You can barely spot the wrinkle down the middle of the available lane. . .it's a six or eight inch drop.  No "maintenance of traffic"  No flaggers, Nothing but common sense and the rule of tonnage.  H'mm.  

Central Highlands with power pylon. . .Viet Nam is electrified and it's darned hard to take a photo without wires or poles.  I did this one on purpose though.  Hydropower in the hills!  Plantations everywhere, but it's not like the endless rubber and palm oil plantations. . .here there's some variety at least.

The kind of road I dream about. . .smooth swooping hills and wide sweeping curves and mountains all around.  Lovely.

The lower end of Plei Kan Market (outdoor portion).  The girl in yellow was waiting for Mom.  Note the helmet.  VN is really pushing for children's helmets now.

Live crabs! we're a long ways from the sea. . .

Not quite the superabundance of the delta country, but a lot of selection and nobody had to line up for anything.  The country seems to be doing pretty well.

I just liked the detail work on the bannister.  Consider a world where all the woodwork, doors, windows, tables and chairs, even the bannisters. . .are made locally by hand.  Right.  Not in flat cartons from China, but made down the street by your neighbors.  Not bad eh?  You can forgive an occasional minor imperfection pretty easily when you think about it that way.