Wednesday, December 17, 2014

And then we didn't make it to Quy Nhon. . .thank goodness

Written from Quy Nhon, where we actually did finally arrive, just not the day we thought we would.  December 17, 2014 and it's not actually raining at the moment (though that's a recent development).

Leaving Hoi An it seemed reasonable to expect to make Quy Nhon by late afternoon, I've done that ride any number of times in years past, so the fact that we didn't even come close needs some explanation.  To begin with, I wasn't quite as quick to get on the road as I might have been.  There was a long pleasant breakfast talking with half a dozen other people in the hotel breakfast nook.  There was the 5th year medical student from DaNang who was going to school in Hue and came down to Hoi An to visit his grandmother, the bunch of Australian Vietnamese kids who were a treat. . .born in Australia and raised fully bilingual, they could chat with round eyes and locals all at once.  Makes me jealous!  The Polish Scotswoman sat with the med student and me and a blond haired guy with a freckled red-haired wife were behind us and. . .well you get the idea, we were a mixed bunch and had a lot to talk about ("and where are YOU going today??).  I was the only one leaving right then and everyone else had plans for later in the day, so I didn't leave too quickly.

Then, the highway was pretty grim.  This clearly is not a local or even a regional affair.  This will go down in history as the year they widened Hwy 1 to four lanes, full length, from Hanoi to Saigon I bet.  Check back in a few days and I'll confirm it for you.  What that means is that a strip of land 1700 km long by about 100 feet wide is being devastated this year for the good of those who will come after us.  Anybody who picked this year for his one great adventure ride down Hwy 1 (or up. . .) ended up with a pretty miserable ride.  You'd think the road would be pretty good where it hadn't been ripped up yet but.  . .in very sensible fashion. . .the powers that be are not earmarking much money for maintenance of what's soon to be replaced anyway.  So. . the highway is either brand new and stunning (not much of that yet, but some) or brand new and not quite ready yet (no median, no striping, no traffic control) or it's torn up one way or another, whether on purpose or by dereliction makes no great difference.  Miles and miles of the road have been neatly sliced off at the shoulder and dug down 2 feet to make room for the new roadbed fill and crushed rock.  Those cuts are lined by an endless row of Vietnamese traffic control candles. . .at a glance they look a lot like American traffic control candles. . .a pipe sticking up off some sort of base to delineate an important edge.  The difference is that if you hit an american plastic candle it makes a whacking noise and lies down and dies. . .soft plastic.  Vietnamese candles are hard pipe, plastic or steel (yikes) and their bases??  Half a cubic foot of concrete!!!  Not to be tampered with.

It's not just the shoulder of the old road that got sliced, the fronts of a great many buildings were sliced off as well, leaving jagged walls and a foot or two of living room sticking out from the rest of the house.  Oops.  Should have followed the setback guidelines maybe eh?  Almost all the towns and cities and even a lot of the rural areas are getting new highway drainage at the same time. . .so essentially  everybody's front yard for 1700 kms got dug up this year and new drainage (storm sewer?) installed.  It's no doubt been a terribly difficult year for a lot of people along the sidelines of the road.  I can guarantee you it's been a difficult year for motorbike travelers.  Anyway, instead of buzzing along at 60 kmh between towns and slowing down to 35 or 40 kmh in town. . .We are often bouncing and sliding at little better than a walking pace way out in the country and staggering though towns dodging local traffic and enormous holes of one sort or another.  If you're in the heavy civil construction business in Viet Nam and you're not rolling in money this year, maybe it's time you opened a coin laundry or something.  I mean. . .every piddly bridge and box culvert is being doubled up. . .and the big ones as well.  When these people get finished it will be a by-golly four lane highway ALL THE WAY.  Anyway, it's slow.  Way slow compared to years past.  And it mostly rained, which doesn't really slow you down all that much when you're already going that slow, but it sure doesn't help.

And then the young horse threw that danged chain again, this time out in the sticks.  Well, it's one thing I do know how to do, I'm just not fast at it and I seemed especially klutzy on this job, but I got it done.  To be clear, the whole rear wheel had to come out of the frame to get the chain un-jammed, and having gotten the axle out and the wheel off I watched as the two spacers I knew about rolled toward the ditch, the sprocket drive separated from the brake drum and wheel and a two-step spacer I didn't remember fell out from somewhere in the middle of things and landed in the dirt.   Then it got difficult.  I mean. . .you may as well know, I got it all back together in the right order, wheel in the frame, axle back in and threading on the nut. . .when I noticed I hadn't bothered to wrap the chain around the sprocket.  It was still hanging loose from the drive end.  Anyway, a neat five minute job for a Vietnamese mechanic took me more like 45 minutes and I was only about 90% certain I'd put it all back together correctly.  Since this was the 3rd time the chain had jumped and jammed I decided to regard it as damaged at least and went thoughtfully into the next mechanic's shop I found and had it replaced.  For $5.00.  What can I tell you?  $4 for the new chain.  $1 to put it on.  That compares favorably with. . .oh, never mind.

So, 100 km out of Quy Nhon, two and a half hours to dark, I pulled into the small seaside town of Sa Huyn, where I've never even slowed down before. . .it's that small, but the south end of town consists of five or six small hotels and a restaurant or two backed right up against a small stream that just jumped off a waterfall a few km back and ran straight into the sea. . .or almost.  The sea has heaped up a sandy shoreline for several hundred feet  that keeps the little stream pushed up against the highway (which pushes back with some significant armoring).  I pulled into Sa Cat Hotel ($200kvnd or $10 for a very nice room on the third floor with a river and distant beach view. . .and highway noise I admit).  Don't commit to eating in the hotel though. . .there was nothing on the menu and it was expensive. . .low dollar item was $4 for a plate of very ordinary vegetable and "meat" fried rice. Oh well, breakfast was a bit better.  Vietnamese food should be GOOD, especially for that much money!  But forgive me, I've gotten carried away here with hotel details.  The fact is the town has a remarkable river mouth (different stream) harbor protected by a very sturdy mountain.  Within that harbor is a modest sized boatyard that has landed the fishing boat order of a lifetime.  They have seven major vessels, 19 meter class, building all at once in a space big enough for. . .well, maybe eight if they squeezed tight.  There are boats in all stages, from one whose keel was laid four or five days ago and has a few floor timbers to go with its stempost already. . .to one that is on the verge of finish paint and launch. . .surely no more than a week or two away.  It's a very busy place.  The boats are, I admit, something I've seen before, in every harbor pretty much, the normal Vietnamese larger wooden fishing boat, a basically Western design executed with some Vietnamese touches.  But seven of them all at once in that small a space??  Wow.  Besides that, this is a place I'd never stopped at nor seen before, so the people had no clue what I was.  Some yards along the coast I've been in , sometimes twice a year for the past 9 years.  I'm a known oddity, rather like the swallows at Capistrano. . .nobody knows why, but they keep coming back about the same time each year.  So I had to explain myself to everyone from the man tending a plank-bending fire to a delivery man who'd just dumped a box of bolts next to a boat in frame. . .and a caulker and a painter and a guy driving bolts through frames and a fellow who might have been a boss.  A young lady with a big gold chain and clean slacks just stared at me. The time keeper?  Boss's wife?  The Boss herself?  Not out of the question here.

Getting into the boatyard from the highway had been pretty easy once I'd guessed where it must lie, but rather than just backing out again I went under the assumption that two right turns would inevitably put me on a road or trail back to the highway, hopefully by a more interesting route.  I'll say.  After the 2nd right turn a) I realized there was no straight ahead after about 75 feet, and b) in that 75 feet was a youngish woman standing in front of a string of houses. . .and she clearly intended to speak to me.  It was a smiling exchange on both sides but neither one of us learned much from it.  She said a little more in really fast Vietnamese that included exactly no words I knew. . .then took a firm grip on my elbow and inquired (politely) "will you drink water".  Usually that means tea in tiny ceramic cups like a child's tea set, but now and then it means rice vodka or plain water or Coke or Pepsi. . .it's the drinking while sitting in the living room that defines ". . .uong nuoc?"  If I'm not in a terrible rush I seldom say no, I came to meet people and photograph boats and you can't meet many people if you don't accept an occasional invitation.

As it turned out there were three of them, my captor, a slightly younger slightly rounder young lady and a really lovely young lady with wavy hair and a very shy smile.  All of them were 40, 41 or 38 and I'm not sure I ever knew which one was which.  For convenience, think of them as the captor, who was clearly moderately aggressive, the younger one, who was definitely aggressive, and the pretty one with the wavy hair who was quiet.  And of course after the standard introductory questions I ran clear out of vocabulary and went over to pantomime.  The questions?  Always much the same, though sometimes in different order:  Where are you from, How old?  Married? Kids? How many? What's your work? Where's your wife?  Do you have a Vietnamese wife? The normal things everyone asks when you first meet here.  The two aggressive ones took turns asking and the more aggressive one translated my (Vietnamese) answers to the other two. . .an odd thing that often happens. . .I'm asked a question in Vietnamese, I answer in Vietnamese, some of my audience looks blank, but someone else repeats my answer VERBATIM and then everyone understands.  Some people say I speak very well. . .others can't hear a word I say.  Who knows?  Anyway, about five questions in (sometime AFTER I'd mentioned a wife I already have) my captor tipped her hand.  The shy lady is a widow with two boys and is looking for a new husband.  Am I interested.  I repeat the part about already having a wife and the two aggressive ladies point out that she isn't with me and we're in Viet Nam and ask again, if I will say Yes?  "No".  Why not?  The pretty 40-year old is blushing (yes Vietnamese people can blush).  So I try a counter attack. . ."I don't think this lady would want a 68 year old grandfather for a husband. . .would you?"  She blushed harder and giggled and gave me a clear "No."  That should do it right?  No such luck. . .the other two closed in for the kill. . .you should sleep with her and see!!  Well, there comes a time in every conversation when it's time to leave.  I smiled, thanked them for the water and the "apple" (it could have been beer or vodka but I'd opted for the plain water) , tried to think of something sweet but not incriminating to say to the pretty one. . .but nothing came to mind, so I smiled and bowed slightly, jumped on the bike and fled.  Into a maze of small lanes that became a sandy trail between houses.  Oh well.  I'd left a trail of bread crumbs as I ran. . .or rather, I'd kept the stream in mind to my left, the same sort of thing. . .and backtracked to the highway with no losses.

For an unintended stop it turned out very well and I got away.  Not bad.

A hard way to make a living I think, loading sand by hand. . .an odd little tin river freighter.

Now isn't she pretty!  Traditional bow and modern stern, she really should do well as a motor boat.  As a sailor. . .well, that's not an issue now.

If you're not at sea you're mending net.  Been there.

A really typical modern Vietnamese fishing boat.  Note the "get me home" engine installation offset to starboard.  I always wonder about such things. . .the most common cause of diesel engine failure is interruption of the fuel supply, but these must help, a lot of Vietnamese boats have them.

A boatyard here is always full of smoldering fires bending planking.  Not something I've seen elsewhere, it is used exclusively here rather than using steam.  They obtain really remarkable bends and twists.

Let your eye follow those planks around. . .and that's not bad compared to the tightly bent topsides planking forward  These boats are all being built with galvanized iron fastenings.  A hundred km away identical boats are going together almost entirely with wooden fastening.  No consensus yet, the steel is stronger when new, the wood doesn't rust.  Take your pick!

One almost finished and two getting started. . .a veritable production line!

Okay, I could have done better with the cows, but this is the only photo I have of the neighborhood around the harbor.  Sigh.

Beach morning glories at evening, the blue blossoms are closed, but the pattern on the sand is fun.

About to rain. . .but a lovely beach to walk on for a ways (a seawall protects houses to the north and the river cuts you off to the south. . .but the views both ways are fine and I love walking along the surf line.  

1 comment:

  1. Ken, one incredible trip once again, lucky man.
    Still only another 6 weeks and I will be Vancouver island, on my roundabout way to Vietnam
    keep up the wonderful reads and photos
    safe journey