Sunday, December 14, 2014

From Dong Hoi to Hue, with a detour or two. . .and then Hue!

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Preliminary note:  I seem to have added more photos to a long-winded text than Blogger will tolerate, so I can't add any more captions and I can't move photos around and so forth, so. . .I'm out of time and need to get on the road this morning. . .If you have questions about why I put two uncaptioned photos at the top of the article. . .write to Blogger.  Likewise, since I don't want the rest of this block of photos (page way down) to migrate anywhere else when I press "add caption" I'll not add any more captions for a bit.  If you have questions about any of the uncaptioned photos (some of them should have some explanation) then. . .er. . .leave a comment and I'll see if I can fix this mess later.  kp
Now back to your regular program:

Written from Hue, as I'm packing my bag for the road tomorrow.  It's the 11th of December 2014 and I've been here for a week, mostly in the rain. . .but the details can wait.  In order to get here there was another 150 km or so of mostly passable highway construction on the mainline Hwy 1.  It was partly dry, meaning it almost got dusty in some of the detours. . .wait. . .detour really isn't the right word.  Detour implies that the traffic gets shifted onto some other, perhaps parallel road and there are signs directing the wanderer at each corner as you go.  Admittedly, they are usually slower than the highway they are replacing for the moment, but. . .that's not what we have in Viet Nam.  There simply aren't that many roads.  If you're going that-a-way from here. . .that's normally the only road there is.  Furthermore, there's rarely any available real estate where you could put a temporary lane.a (heck, mostly the real estate is under water this time of year anyway, on purpose). No, what we do here is we tear up the old road (to whatever extent it wasn't previously devastated by heavy truck traffic.  Quite routinely we raise grade on it a couple of feet. . .bring in new (usually slippery red) fill material, grade it down (right over whatever's left of the old road), roll on a foot or so of good base rock and pave it.  And, since there's nowhere else to put them, we run the cars, trucks, motorbikes and oxcarts right through the construction zone.  Under the right circumstances we even use the trucks and cars for steam rollers.  What the heck, they're there and they're free.  I don't exaggerate.  At times the traffic runs right behind a dozer blading out a load of rock.  Very often the traffic splits to run around a vibratory compactor as it tries to get compaction on a new stretch of roadway.  Note:  I haven't seen a true steam roller in several years now.  They must all have died or blown one too many tubes in their boilers.  The old French diesel powered gravity rollers with their worm-drive steering on their front wheels. .  .a few are still around, but they have "museum" written on their foreheads.   The fleet of construction equipment in Viet Nam these days is pretty up to date, or at least in the same generation.  In any event, as you may have imagined from my earlier remarks, riding through construction zones here is a real trial.

It was not for that though that I turned off the highway to take a cutoff to Viet Tri and the mouth of the Viet River. . .Cua Viet.  There was a very dubious network of small roads showing on my new road atlas that implied it should be possible to traverse from Cua Viet across the dead flat coastal plain (flat that is except for the occasional beach front sand dune).  However, when I'd run out the distance to Viet Tri and on to the Port, I found. . .local advice to strictly give it a miss.  For a change I took the advice after I'd looked at the Port. It's not a fishing port at all, rather a shipping port serving smallish coastal freighters, ugly steel things hauling stone or coal or. . .wood chips.  H'mm paper mills somewhere eh?  There is another of Viet Nam's really fine looking new bridges across the mouth of the river, which seems to imply there really is a route on to the south on the far side, but really it just goes to a Vietnamese Coast Guard station, a big one.  There were two high-endurance cutters at the dock when I was there, long lean military ships.  And if there's one thing I don't want to photograph (or have found in my camera), it's the warship fleet of former enemies.  I studiously averted my eyes, turned the bike around at the crest of the bridge and toodled off back to the highway and my favorite construction zones.  There was a second route that brought me back to the highway a little farther south, so that was all to the good, and I can cross Viet Tri off the list. . .been there, seen that, didn't bother with the T-shirt this time.

But I wasn't ready to give up.  Another chance lay just down the highway twenty minutes or so where Hwy 49B leaves the main line, runs straight out East to the beach and turns right.  Again, it's dead flat country, and darned little of it above water right now.  The road had a foot or two of freeboard generally speaking and was a wonderful thing to see after hours in the devastation zones.  It's just a little thing, Hwy 49B, almost anywhere you find it, and you find it in the darndest places, running along the beach here on the northern peninsula above Hue, and again across the pass from the lagoon to the sea (though to get from one leg of the road to the other is quite a detour).  Then again, you find 49B running in to Hue from Thuan An beach and (here's the kicker) you can follow it up into the mountains through amazing switchbacks and landslides and so forth.

sometimes it's simply "broken" up that way and the people in A Luoi just don't go to Hue until it's fixed.  In this case I was only trying to get off the highway, and in the process fill in a blank spot in my personal record of tracing 49B from end to end.  There's only about 15 km, from the highway in to a big Catholic church, that I'd never ridden on before, and we got over about ten of them before my new wisdom (cowardice) prompted a return to the construction zones and a standard highway entrance to Hue.  We crossed a hundred meters or so of really wet road, 3 or 4 inches deep, and clear enough to see the pavement through.  A few hundred meters further though, the road dipped beneath the waves very persuasively.  You'll recall that it was a water incident (a massive one I admit) that caused the Little Horse's retirement.  The New Horse pretty well acted like she'd do it if I asked, but it just didn't seem worth it.  We turned around and went back.  Neither of us has a tail, so we didn't have to tuck it between our legs.  We just acted like we'd planned it that way.  Sigh.

And so we rode into Hue again, a place I know (part of anyway) very well, where there are people who expect me every year and treat me very well indeed when I'm there.  It's also a place with a fine internet connection and I had a day or two's work to do for the office back home.  Between the rain (which HAS let up now and then), the work, trying to catch up on my other correspondence, and a scheduled meeting of the Viet Nam Sailing Club (I think that's the name) on Saturday in Hoi An, I've spent a lazy week in Hue. I did a similar sort of thing once before, but this time it isn't because my passport has gone to Hanoi without me and I'm not under effective house arrest in consequence.  That's an odd story, but basically, with 3 days left on a Vietnamese 30 day visa I stamped out of Viet Nam and was not admitted into Laos.  Darn.  That left me with a motorbike and about 100 meters of no man's land road. . .and nowhere to go.  After a lot of discussion, one of the gentlemen in Vietnamese Immigration took a chance with the regulations and sent me back to Hue to try to get a new visa at the immigration office there.  You're supposed to leave the country to do that, and they couldn't just extend the old visa. . .it'd been cancelled when I stamped out and there was red ink all over it.  So I spent ten days stuck in and around Hue and instead of hating it. . .I had a fine time exploring the whole surrounding area. . .as long as I was back in the same hotel by bed time, all was well.  This time I hardly left the computer during working hours (or rain hours if they were different).
I've written at great length about the area, some of my friends here and the wonderful variety of boats (most especially the half basket-half timber surf boats that work off the beaches of the island south of Thuan An.  If you haven't seen those posts, I'd love to have you page back and look for them in the past few years'.posts.  For this year (and to get me caught up to date before we hit the road in the morning. . .here are the best of the photos.  Most of the pretty ones were all taken yesterday, on the only really lovely day of sunshine we've had.

We'll start on the trip down from Dong Hoi:
A northerly gale and blowing sand from. . .a veggie garden.  My.

Picking water morning glory, one of my favorite sauteed vegetables.  Considered a noxious weed in much of the US, it's nonetheless grown widely in Texas where it's well regarded. . .go figure

Somehow the white sand and a bit of seaweed and rice straw doesn't seem like a serous garden, but stuff grows anyway.

A 40 foot boat with a load of fish traps in the middle of a farmer's field.  This place is wet.

"Land" is defined as anyplace that's dry at some time of the year, most years.  Well, some years maybe.  We continued on ten more km from here, but eventually thre road descended beneath the waves and we turned back.

And now what we've done since we've been in Hue. . .besides work on work and write blog posts.

All my bikes have loved this guy, the most energetic and careful bike washing person I've met.  This, of course, is the New Horse's first bath here.

Scheming something tucked in between the double dragon boats.  Really a slow day on the river bank.

I've been photographing this family as they've added kids every year or two since Mom and the young lady took me in out of a sudden downpour. . .and sold me an umbrella.  I deliver the best of the photos every year and visit a while.
Dragons waiting for their clients at the water steps at Tien Mu Pagoda, a lovely spot on the Perfume River (Song Huong) just upstream a few km from Hue City.

A marble tortoise bearing, on his back, a tablet with the names of monks of the past.

The 7-story tower at Tien Mu, seen from the main gate (looking toward the river)

The bonsai garden, Tien Mu

A secluded small house on the edge of the grounds at Tien Mu. . .meditation?  Chief monk's residence?  I don't really know.  It's lovely, and the flock of roosters will no doubt make sure one wakes early enough for morning devotions.

It was the only blossom on the tree that hung low enough for me to reach with my arms over my head.  Thank goodness for swiveling viewfinders!
Just a bit of the grounds with a stream trained through. . .Tien Mu