Written from Quy Nhon, the evening of the third of March, 2016. Weather today was warm, beginning overcast but became gloriously perfect later. Hard to argue with that, since we haven't had much of it! We'll need to refer to the diary for a bit, the last you heard from us we were still in Hue, which has been forever. Well, five days I guess. The short version--Hue to Hoi An in an easy day (it's short enough you could make a round trip in a day if pressed). In Hoi An met with an interpreter I've used before (in Hue actually, two years running), Ms. Ngoc, who has a real job now in Hoi An training tour guides and taking groups herself too. We had dinner, walked through the Old Quarter (a total zoo, but pretty at night), and said goodbye's. I left in the morning for Quy Nhon, which is a longer ride by a good bit. . .295 km or thereabouts door to door, which before the improvements to Ql-1 would have been a really hard day, that stretch was not easy, narrow and busy. Now it's largely divided 4-lane, safe and sane, fast riding with all the traffic going the same way. Well, that's not really true. To digress to an interesting unintended side-affect, the imposition of a massive and lengthy freeway divider creates a permanent and considerable counter flow on both sides of the barrier, as people, confronted with several km's of riding to get to a potential U-turn spot, simply ride on the shoulder going the wrong way to get the short ways they have to go upstream. That would be fine and is well within the norms here, but the new lane delineation calls out the shoulder as the motorbike lane on the freeway. So we have a minor problem. It's nothing like the bad old days when random trucks and buses would simply cross the center line and suddenly take your whole lane and a piece of your shoulder. . .that is hairy (still a problem in places of course, the whole world isn't 4-lane yet!), but it's still a very fast closing situation, with one bike going freeway speed, say 70 kmh, and the other, being a little cautious, holding it down to 30 or 40, and you have a closing speed in excess of 60 mph. Add in a little rain and mud on your faceplate and it gets more interesting than you might like.And that brings up a trivia question for you. We all know that a cow can't jump over the moon, even with a cat playing fiddle for effects, but would you think that a cow could jump over the Jersey barrier in the middle of a 4-lane freeway and casually walk the rest of the way through traffic? How about her middling sized calf?? There's a new necessary awareness here since the country has now been effectively divided in two along the new center line of QL-1. A truck may not be able to get to you from the other side of the divider, but you'd best pay attention to cows. I simply can't believe a full grown water buffalo would take it into his head to try. . .but a calf?? They can be pretty lively, and sweet as they are, they're still pretty shy on brains.
So, what about the stops? One night (really, just the night) at Hoi An. Hoi An has a problem. It has become a must-stop must-see must-order-clothes stop on the tourist trail. If I understand correctly, there is in fact a traditional weaving history here, and that, coupled with a little marketing savvy has produced a monster. People come from everywhere to order made-to-fit clothing of all sorts, even heavy woolen winter coats. Add to that an all-out selling effort from sandwiches to gold bars and there you are. Actually, it's been a broad spectrum effort to focus the effect in a relatively small part of town, the Old Quarter and the 4km road to the beach, and leave the bulk of the city to its ordinary business. The Old Quarter has the ancient buildings. . .the place was never bombed or shelled during the war, so the centuries old structures are still here. The story is that the VC and the Americans liked the place enough that they sort of informally never got around to fighting over it. Whatever, old old buildings with fascinating architecture, on narrow streets leading down to an old harbor gave the place a good start. The fact that it floods to the level of the window sills several times per decade is a minor problem, and the shopkeepers just move to higher ground (that is, up the stairs) until the river returns to its banks. Lucky tourists might get tired of whatever the hotel can manage for meals from the 2nd floor I suppose. Years ago (eleven now??) I spent Tet in Hoi An and it was lovely then. I suppose if I'd never seen it then it would seem lovely enough now. . .and mind you, it was very touristy even then. Now. . .it's gorgeous, but more than a little over the top. Anyway, I took a lot of evening photos for you. . .you'll see.
The real point of coming to Quy Nhon was actually the little fishing village 18 km south along the beach road (QL-1D), Xuan Hai. In 2013 I had the village shoved under my nose. My riding partner at the time (the PhD in marine archaeology) wanted to stop on a cliff top to take a photo with her gps enabled camera to document our trip for the day, looked over the cliff and casually remarked that it looked like there were surf-boats on the beach below. My goodness yes. We abandoned plans for an early supper and struggled through the goat paths of the village, finally being given a passing gentleman as a short term guide when people got tired of trying to tell us how to get down to the beach. Great fun! Anyway, from the viewpoint of my boat-documenting quest this was a little like the golden prize. . .a new species of boat, in adequate numbers to be significant (even if only on this one beach) and to boot, they were some of the most visually attractive and effective surf boats imaginable. High sharp ends, rounded basketry bottoms, about 20 feet long, diesel engines, enormous long steering oars, bright colored topsides and glowing amber resin to seal the basketry. They were calendar photo quality subject material, and the casual excellence of their handling landing through the surf was utterly splendid. The beach is a miles-long arc of sand, ending up against the mountainside. The surf piles up water higher on the beach and forces it along shore toward the sharp curve at the mountainside, where it runs back out to sea as a steady counter current (some would call this a rip-tide). There's a long sandbar just offshore where the surf breaks hard, but the counter current running back to sea keeps the bar clear just off the rocks of the mountainside and it doesn't normally break there at all. So all the boats enter from seaward right tight to the rocky flank of the mountain, run almost onto the beach, then (except for a lucky few whose landing spot is right there) they turn hard left and run south along the beach, right in the shore break (but protected from the big surf by the sandbar offshore). It can be spectacular.
Well. In 2013 there was competition from a fleet of small woven basket round-boats with long tail outboard motors. . .becoming more common all along the coast. The big boats need 3 men to work, the little baskets only one. The big boats cost 3 times the small round ones, but their motors cost much more than the little lawn mower engines the baskets used. I thought it might be a long run contest. I didn't count on the somewhat larger and still very cheap round plastic tubs. . .hideous things, generally in pastel greens and blues, shiny, round, deep, ugly. . .what can I say. I had dearly hoped, ever since that 2013 trip, to find someone building a new one of the old surf boats so I could photograph it and record details. . .and video. In 2013 there were 53 active boats (versus a hundred or more of the little bamboo baskets and a couple dozen of the hideous tubs. This year, near as I can tell, there are 33 of the old boats and six of them don't seem to be active now. I didn't count one wreck high on the beach. . .it will never sail again, though it did give me a chance to document some details that are normally hidden under engine covers and decks and the clutter of a working fishing boat. At the north end of the beach right next to the mountainside, there's a tent (just a pathetic little sun shade really) with three sets of molds for the different sizes of plastic tub, buckets of resin and rolls of cloth and mat. They're popping out plastic tubs at a rate that seems to be one or two every day. If they don't have an order from Xuan Hai, not to worry, they build anyway and little trucks come down the mountainside road and haul them away to other beaches. The little village of Hoa An, a few miles away, has essentially no other boat at all. . .just the plastic tubs, over a hundred of them. I've long thought I was collecting photos of a dying fishing and boat building culture, but I really hate it when I turn out to be right. Just as a footnote, I'm sorry for the fishermen. On a good day they seem to do fine with the little round things, but if the beach is just a little rougher than usual they can get beaten up as they try to make the turn to the left, and more as they make the long march down the beach. The traditional boats were simply vastly better surf boats (and presumably will do much better if the weather comes up foul offshore). But the economics must be clear to the men and they've voted with their money. There's a new fashion statement this year. . .the men are wearing life jackets. Bright orange is the color.
In any event, we got to "farthest south" this year yesterday, Gahn Da Dia. Once I'd photographed the morning return of the fishing boats the bike ran on south 50 km or so to the town of Chi Thanh, from which it's a 13 km run out to the coast from the highway. . .an absolutely lovely 13 km, farms, fields rocky hills, and just a fine little one-plus lane road, sweet perfection for riding a motorbike. The bike sat in the shade of the moto-park while I put on the hat (did I mention the sun was out???) and walked down to the shore. Gahn Da Dia. . ."The Da Dia Reef" it has a monument, a ticket office (50 cents), a steep little artistic stairway down to the rocks. . .and then the rocks and the surf, and the blue sky and. . . the tourists. Actually, I timed it perfectly, there were just a few of us actually down on the rocks watching the waves (boys posing for girls, girls posing for boys, waves occasionally drenching whichever. . .) but as I was walking back up to the bike an enormous wave of foreigners. . .some in startling states of improper undress. . .came stampeding from the largest sort of tour bus in a mass. I stood aside to let them have the whole road and then pressed on to the bike park and m'gosh, there was a twin to that bus just pulling in, another 60 or so people ready to go. There was nowhere near enough room for all those people to see and enjoy the rocks and waves. . .they'd bury the place, and the idea of sending two buses full at once (it was the same tour company) was pure cussed stupidity. So we left for a ways.
I ended up eating a magnificent fish-rice-greens-omelet sit down lunch in a tiny but really nice outdoor restaurant just a mile or so from the beach. The teen aged daughter of the house did the cooking (she'll make some man happy I assure you). Mom waited on the table. . .and coddled the kid brother who played video games on his smart phone. His mom's phone actually I think, though he wouldn't give it back to her when she asked. She tickled him until he gave up.
So tomorrow we start the long trip through Laos back to Hanoi. . .by rather devious route, but that's still broadly open to chance, weather and how I feel about it all at the time. Here we go.
I've been working on this post steadily since 0530 and now it's nearly 10:00 and I need to be gone, so you won't get many photo captions today. Come back tomorrow or the next day. I'll try to clean it all up the next couple of evenings.
|Okay, here's the map, including the leg today west to Pleiku. On to Plei Can tomorrow and then Laos!|
|Just down out of Hai Van pass. . .much greener grows the rice near Da Nang|
|The old quarter (Pho Co) of Hoi An at night. . .lots of it|
|The little paper candle lanterns used to be a Tet special treat, now any night will do and the paper is a lot stouter, floats longer. The stick is for launching the little things from the edge of the dock.|
|An advantage to heavy tourist traffic--fearless children|
|France? Hoi An? Who knows??|
|I'm sorry about the colors. . .they're really much prettier in real life, the camera just doesn't seem to get it.|
|She's an old style basket boat, with a sheet metal bottom instead of basketry. Oh sigh. This just isn't really kosher. But it works really well.|
|This is what they're building. . .20 meters long, and fitting in with current government guidelines.|
|Building crowds of them. . .10 or 11 at the moment, and the same a year ago. A lot of new fishing capacity in a fishery that may already be over loaded.|
|Just pretty farm land.|
|Two lanes and two big shoulders, all smooth as glass. . .lots of QLl is really good these days, even the parts that aren't four lanes yet.|
|The beach at Xuan Hai. The fleet is basically all on shore. ..so try to pick out the lovely double ended surf boats among the plastic tubs. There are at least 33 of them left, but they're a tiny minority now.|
|Apparently all the boats set a net overnight and drift with it, then haul back aboard and run home, where help from a shore side crew makes quick work of getting the fish out of the webbing.|
|One of the last of the Xuan Hai Mohicans. There were 53 of them actually working in 2013. Sigh|
|That may be the fish from a couple of boats. . .they don't make big catches, which is the government's whole point, discouraging the inshore fisheries and encouraging distant waters cruises by bigger boats.|
|One a day pretty easily. Taking over the world.|
|Here at Hoa An there's hardly any boat at work that isn't a plastic tub. The beach is a little flatter and the people here launch and retrieve their tubs with little hand-pulled trolleys. Pretty work able.|
|Gosh. . .I'll bet an aerial photo would be quite pretty with the net spread out in a fan. If I flew a drone do you think I could stay out of jail??|
|Typical narrow streets in coastal villages.. .the land is to precious to waste on wide streets.|
|And Sand everywhere. Even a couple of inches is enough to throw a motorbike for a loop, be careful on the edge.|
|Roof top view from the 6th floor of my hotel in Quy Nhon. I like the red tile here.|
|I still can't tell you where it is. . .but this is a view from the pagoda overlooking town.|
|The kids will like it. Heck. I like it.|
|A tub about to get a quick ride shore ward, whether he wants it or not!!|
|This time it worked out, but often the tub spins out of control and more important, the motor ends up pointing nowhere usful at all.. .even right on the sand. Nothing to do then but land, get help, re-launch and try again.|
|Little trucks spread the contagion everywhere|
|There are still a few of the woven round baskets, some powered, some rowed, but they've been completely overpowered by the flood of fiberglass.|
|Oh. You can put the sides down. Duh.|
|Ganh Da Dia. . .furthest south for us this trip.|
|Girls posing for guys, guys for girls, girls for girls, selfies. . .lots of photography. Just don't step back too far.|
|The bay inshore from GDD.. .truly lovely.|
|The kid would not give up the game phone until his mother tickled him senseless. Good plan.|
|The cook, the mom, and the rotten kid brother. What a feast (for $2.50)|
|Headworks for an irrigation system. Most useful as a swimming facility for local kids.|