Wednesday, December 24, 2014

What is it about mountain passes this year?? Up to Dalat!

Written from Memot, Cambodia on Christmas Eve 2014, where the temperature is 82 at 10:00 at night, stars are out (between some clouds I admit) and I'm going to bed shortly. . .but first, here are the letter home from Dalat:

On December 21st, Describing the trip up from Da Nang to Da Lat.  It started out in the City traffic of Da Nang, but soon got out into some really lovely country, slowly climbing through the foothills and the misty rain (off and on, it wasn't that bad really except for the drenching dripping fog and wind in the clouds)  Anyway, it got interesting once we climbed up into the cloud base, and that's what had my attention when I wrote home:. . ."It was really a nice road.  Wish I could have seen more of it.  Lots of waterfalls I think, seemed to be splashing sounds in the fog fairly often.  Bus headlights visible at like 70 feet maybe.. . .nice white stripes on the road, thank goodness.  The summit wasn't labeled, but we'd been through 1500 meters above sea level a good ways before the top, so more than 1500 m anyway.  The 1500 m is 4921'.  I'm putting in a claim for 5000' anyway.  Cold.  I tried to tough it out with just my rain clothes but froze, so stopped and put on my fleece (unlash the bag, pick up the umbrella where it dropped, unzip outer bag, unzip backpack, and  voila, there it is, right on top like I knew I was going to want it!  Zip up back pack, zip up outer bag. . .fumble with the lashing.  And all of a sudden you're warm.  not bad at all.  Hands were still cold but I didn't stop to find the gloves.  One pair in the bottom of the backpack I know, but I think I have 2 pair of last year's knit gloves in the saddle bags somewhere.  Maybe I need to unpack them and go all the way through them.  I've actually been to the bottom of both of the big panniers, but the assorted smaller pockets have evaded inspection so far.

On the way down from the summit it warmed quickly and actually stopped raining for a while.  I stopped to admire a mountain people big house. . .obviously new made and not ersatz at all. . .rather, a somewhat primitive edition, with pine wood slabs from a saw mill for the low walls.  The roof structure though was true and lovely.  There were 2 long houses adjacent, one with a couple of men in evidence.  I stood around doing static photos for a while, then approached the men, who turned out to be 5 men, one young lady and her child.  They, and I gather some others who were not present, work for a timbering tree farming company that has been planting long needle pine trees for 20 or 25 years, depending on what I really heard.  These men primarily are planters but they also have a well used Stihl saw in the house.  The house is the first "live" long house I've been in (there's one in the Ethnology Museum yard in Hanoi, very similar). . .the whole thing is wood except for the palm thatch roofing.  The floor boards are sawn pine, 1" thick more or less, and pretty wild edged, so there are at least cracks if not full fledged gaps between.  The walls are ship lapped pine slab wood, and non structural. . .the structure consists of really heavy columns set in the ground, topped with  roof stringers with floor stringers dapped into the sides of the columns (which are really huge compared to the other structure members). The wall just sits on the floor and ties to the roof stringer.  There's a fire right in the middle of the house in a short chunk of 30" concrete pipe with a kettle permanently on. Smoke just wanders out through the thatch.  They had me in for tea and we sat in a circle around the thermos of tea on a large blue tarp that cut the wind out from the cracks in the floorboards though occasionally it would baloon up for a moment. There was a color tv going un-watched in the far end of the house (there was a satellite dish out back)  Inside the long house was all one room, no partitioning at all  There were actual windows and doors, and the doors had wooden hinges that  worked well on the big house door.  

As it happened, I had most of a big chunk of peanut brittle in my day pack, so once we sat down to tea I brought it out and and set it in the middle of the circle. . .it was a big hit.  Interestingly, the oldest fellow (I'd guess late fifties) and the young lady were the ones to make the most effort at communication.  The gentleman went to great lengths to pantomime planting trees and  watching them grow tall.  He pointed to a grove across the highway.. . .50 foot tall but a little scraggly. . .and said he'd planted them 20 years ago.  Nice looking youngsters by the houses 4 years ago.  The young lady was asking about details of my family, and where did I come from and how far I'd ridden.  Her Vietnamese was clear to me and most of them seemed to understand me pretty well. I just don't have the vocabulary I need (and don't seem to be able to remember much of what people go to the trouble of telling me any more).   They asked my occupation (one of the normal first questions) and were pleased with my Vietnamese answer "Construction Engineer".  I don't know how to spell it for sure but I can say it clearly in northern or southern dialect.  That brought up the point that a construction guy would want to see the big house, which I emphatically agreed with.

So. . .When we finished tea the Ede gentleman gave me a personal tour of his masterpiece (clearly very proud and enjoying my admiration).  I set the camera on the benches inside the tall house to photograph the roof framing.  The gentleman who built it, might be 26 or 30, healthy for sure, built it with 3 other people in 4 months time.  Amazing.  It's probably 60 feet to the ridge and beautifully curved in a couple of directions.  All supported internally by elegant bracing and diagonals. . .a very light structure.  He said it is the Ede (say it "ay-day") sort of common house, as the long houses are Ede style also.  All of them spoke vietnamese among themselves, but the others were not Ede I think, the way they talked. . ."HE is Ede" and he was clear the structures were Ede.  So. . .We didn't quite finish the candy but I left it of course, and there was still tea in the thermos but I'd had 3 hot glasses and my fingers and inniards were warm again.   

Actually, the rain had slowed and came to a stop while we visited, so I was pretty comfy for the rest of the ride into Dalat, 35 km or so after that.  It was really only the hour or so up over the summit that was miserable and somewhat scary, what with the visibility so poor.  There was not much traffic, but you could come up behind a walking-speed truck on the long climb pretty fast, and getting by him in the absence of long sight was a concern. I passed a truck once when I shouldn't have and got away with it, but not by a whole lot.

It warmed a lot as we came down into Dalat.  The area was heavily developed for farming when I was here before, but I think even more so now. . .whole mountainsides under greenhouses. . .each greenhouse I saw up close was a solid monoculture of one flower or veggie.  The abundance and variety of food in the markets around VN is amazing, and this is where most of the temperate climate veggies you see in those markets come from.  Strawberries, blackberries, cherries in season but not now, grapes, apples, all sorts of orchard fruits, flowers and vegetables of all sorts that don't grow at lower altitudes this close to the equator.  It's stunning to walk around the market.  You start thinking, oh well, another Vietnamese market. . .and then it just engulfs you. . .huge abundance of really gorgeous produce, half-barrels of eggs, rows and rows of ladies chopping up critters of all sorts on stainless tables in a very sanitary looking meat market. . .artichokes. . .lots of artichokes, and the prettiest artichoke seller you'll see this week. . .

In order to get a room with a table to work at (I need to crank out some actual work THIS weekend. . .) I'm up 56 steps. . .3rd floor, and the ground floor doesn't count.  Dalat is all ups and downs anyway, no level ground anywhere except around the lake, so just a leisurely stroll is good aerobic exercise.   The horse says I need more of that.  

And the architecture. . .Dalat was a purely French creation initially.  That of course changed long since, but there are a number of old French buildings still around, and the more recent homes, some of them truly McMansions, are much more European than Asian. . .European, perhaps with a little bit of a fairyland tendency. . .a few too many turrets in some instances. . .but generally quite pretty and definitely unusual for Viet Nam.  

(Ed. Note:  This is significant, prophetic in a way, but as prophecy, very inaccurate!)  So I'll probably move back down to the coast tomorrow after I finish my spec review.  I'm feeling wholly overwhelmed by crowds of tourists. They're almost entirely  Vietnamese (a few round eyes), but still, it's a holiday town for tourists and they are here for the holidays.  Yikes.  

This isn't really relevant to Da Lat--but m'Lady had commented that water buffalo might be too big for pets. . .which prompted:  And water buffalo would be really big as pets and their dainty little feet (keep them afloat on mud) are a bit smaller than dinner plates so they wouldn't tear up the yard much. . .yes.  They are the slowest of the draft animals here and I'm not positive they're stronger than the red bullocks.  I'd much rather live with a buff, but the red cattle are just plain gorgeous, so sleek and well muscled. . .I saw one yesterday that was a large bull, and either a really dark brown, or a real black, glossy and fine!!   Very unusual.   A water buffalo reminds you of an elephant, same sort of gray leathery skin with a few bristles here and there, big round tummy. . .big powerful haunches. . .I can't help thinking of their youngsters as "totos". . .so cute. . .and they're pretty lively.  But we might draw the line at. . .er. . .chickens maybe??  

Lowland river running along the road for quite a ways, a pleasant countryside and a good road. . .what we came for!  The cold and fog and rain and wind were miles ahead and much much higher up the mountain.

An interesting little hopper dredge anchored in the river, harvesting sand.  

99 km from Da Lat, still really a lowland countryside, though we're steadily climbing.  

Now we're climbing out of the lowlands, the bike is working hard but still mostly in fourth gear

A roadside shrine to Quan Yen, with people who came to pray and add some details, they brought ceramic tiles for the pedestal I think.

Mountain terrain now, but a long long ways from the summit.  There were no more photos after this until we were out of the fog and wind of the summit area, coming down fast.  Life became much more comfortable (and vastly safer) once we were below the cloud base.

An Ede community house.   These are magnificent structures, not for residence, but for gathering, meeting, partying, of more significance I suspect than I have any idea of.  In the foreground the framing for two walls of yet another structure.  There was a barn raising scheduled for four days hence.  Mayhap I'll check on it again another day.

The long house and the community house.  The long house is a residence. . .usually for an extended family, but in this case I'm not so sure.  They seemed to be part family and part work crew.

The older gentleman went to great lengths to explain their work and accomplishments.  The young mother asked lots of family questions.

Inside the tall house, looking straight up along the diagonals of a "diaphragm"

And here looking up the gable end.

Hand made wooden louvered doors, and the massive columns set in the soil. . .the true foundation of the great structure.

The young Ede gentleman.  Justifiably proud, and only a little shy!

A more typical house of the countryside.
Quite a nice pink.  The kids wanted to visit and Mom wanted to get the job done.  I moved on.

So someone tell me, do houses look like this in France?

It's like this all over the surrounding countryside. . .all filled with stuff for the market, a great deal of it under "glass"

They ride up that road all the time. I didn't try it.

The beard really intrigues the little ones this time of year.

Yes,  fresh.  Very. And the most sanitary meat market stalls I've seen anywhere.

A good dad.  he took five minutes at least to let her pick out the best one.

Things grow here that you can't find anywhere else this close to the equator. . .unless it's at least as high!

Incredibly beautiful (and abundant) produce, just one of dozens of stalls.

The prettiest artichoke vendor you'll see this week!  Nice artichokes too.


  1. Merry Christmas to yourself and your Family my friend

  2. Merry Christmas to you Ken...I hope you're taking a day off to just enjoy family life somewhere, if I'd thought to send you the red and white Santa cover for the non la you would have been welcomed by endless numbers of kids. Of course your goody sack would have been exhausted much sooner than the supply of youngsters. Leaving the coast and heading up into the hills because you've seen all the boat yards again and again: I must convince you sometime to spend an entire month in the western Mekong Delta looking at the ship yards need that exposure.
    Good cheer friend. Be safe....