Friday, March 24, 2017

Inchworm to Hoi An and on to Quy Nhon, avoiding obvious solutions

Begun from Sa Huynh, about 110 km short of Quy Nhon.  March 22, 2017, but continued in Quy Nhon on the 24th and finally finished on the 25th.
The weather the past few days has been superb, as long as you didn't mind the headwind.  It's been around 15-20 kn out of the south, or sometimes with a bit of east to it. . .gusty, mostly just a pesky sort of head wind, though now and then a gust hit the bike hard enough to make her stagger a bit and snatch her breath.  By and large, she just wants a lot of extra petrol to keep up the pace. The sky has been as clear as I've ever seen it in this latitude, bright blue above and only a little hazy off into the distance.

The route.  We've avoided some obvious choices.  Heck, the only obvious choice for this whole leg of the trip is straight down QL-1, the main drag of Viet Nam.  We've done that a number of times and it is still the obvious choice if you're trying to cover distance.  If you're more interested in scenery and sentimental value, there might be other possibilities.

So, quickly, where we went:  From Hue, not too early in the morning, we took the road out to the island at Thuan An, more or less 13 km directly eastward, away from the obvious route, and from Thuan An town we followed old QL49B, the narrow road the whole 40-odd km length of the island, and then another ten km almost the wrong direction around the end of the inland sea and back to the highway.  That would have been 3 sides of a square, but since we were right there and maybe not coming back, we finally explored the road that goes the other way (away from the highway, along the beach, through some lovely countryside) to its end at a very very flat ocean beach, at low tide.  That was by accident but the sea was so far from the shore it was a major hike through the sand.  As such a remote dead end the beach had little of the usual clutter of popular beach spots, the opposite really.  Someone had tried to build a nice canopy for a beachfront restaurant just a little too close to the water, and the footings for the offshore columns had washed out.  Very sad.  It was sort of lonely there on the beach, I was all by myself with the ghost of the restaurant and a few beached small boats. . .but it was beautiful anyway, sand, sea, rocks, and anchored fishing boats.  My sort of place really.
Too close to a little stream, which shifted just a ways it seems.  And that was that.  It looks like they never even got to serve a can of beer.

Hot sun, blue sky, south wind, sand, sea, boats and rocks. . .gee.  The end of a little road I've known about for years.  It used to be terribly rough and slippery muddy so I never got here until today.

A kayak paddle works really well with these little woven bamboo canoes.  The tide needs to rise a couple of feet to float her off though.

Up close--the gap that makes the island an island.  It's casually used by good sized boats, so the bar is not worse that others along this coast. . .and actually, the ebb is probably lighter here than at the northern outlet, which gets most of the river flow,  But that's just a guess.

The end of the land on the mainland side

It's common for a larger boat to carry several round baskets out to sea to fish, but this is the first time I've seen bamboo canoes carried the same way. . .looks perfectly reasonable, and the little canoes often fish alongshore in the ocean anyway.  There were two loads like this within five minutes of each other.

That amounted to eating the frosting off the cake I guess, starting the day with some of the nicest places, but really, the whole day was pretty delightful.  I stopped for lunch at the lagoon-side seafood restaurant in Lang Co where I've enjoyed a number of good lunches (the best with the staff sitting all together between lunch and dinner rush a few years back).  If you ever pass that way, it's called "Sao Bien 1" (google says that means "starfish". . .might be, though they don't serve starfish that I know of and I wouldn't be surprised to find a more poetic translation somewhere. . .maybe Star of the Sea??). If you look closely, you'll see that the sign out on the highway is in Lao script as well as Vietnamese, which is a dead giveaway.  Go all the way to the back and sit on the deck over the bay under the shade.  You might have to wait while the staff handles a busload of Vietnamese ladies. . .but it could be worse.
They delayed my lunch half an hour I suppose, but they were a kick to watch and listen to , a whole bus load, at least three generations, no particular moderation in manner or speech. . .not quite rowdy mind you, but. . .

It finally came. . .seafood fried rice.  but no shrimp.  Darn.

After lunch   we rode quickly through Lang Co town and up the mountainside across Hai Van pass.  This has been the scene of my near death twice (trucks passing or broken down and being passed on curves), the worst fog I've ever ridden in, only very few feet of visibility, and most normally, a hazy teasing sort of passage, with the distance almost hidden and what might be wonderful views obscured by fog, cloud and rain.  This time it was clear, completely brightly clear overhead and only a little hazy off in the far distance.  From the summit, the coast far north of Lang Co was clear and the whole city of Da Nang (goodness it's grown) stood out to the south like I've never seen it.
I've never seen Da Nang so clearly from the summit. . .just far enough down hill to get the power lines out of view, Hai Van Pass.

Looking back to the north from just below the summit.  That's hard work for the little horse with me and 50 pounds of stuff, but she plows right up in 3rd gear.

Looking back north past Lang Co. . .a long ways.

And so down into Da Nang, through it without mis-step (I do love gps cell phones) and on to Hoi An.  I had visiting to do there and did it, mostly saying good bye to people I've known for years, but also to the town which has changed so enormously.  There were a few tailor shops ten years ago, mostly focusing on silk for ladies and suits for men.  And there was a major boatyard building beautiful fishing vessels right on the edge of town.  Now the whole world comes here to buy tailored clothes and there are tailor shops shoulder to shoulder for blocks, with very little room left for restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops and bars. Now silk is just a side line. . .since so many people come from Europe, Japan, Korea, and the States, cold country, there's just as much wool as silk and leather and cotton too. My goodness.  Oh.  And the boatyard is long since gone, condominiums and hotels now. I can hardly imagine a finer place for people watching though.  Just trying to identify the language you're hearing is great fun, and the variety of people on view is incomparable.
Years ago I watched a major kids kung fu demonstration in this school yard.  That was fun, but this crowd of little kids was even livelier.

A very narrow coffee shop, about to open in the old quarter, Hoi An

With all the retail at street level, you have to look up to enjoy the architecture.  "Ancient Town", Hoi An

We used to come for the architecture. . .now. . .the tailors.  The restaurants are still fine though.

Change??  Even the iconic little ferry boats running across the river to Kim Bong are gone now, replaced by a shiny new (galvanized steel) motorbike-only bridge across to the island.  What a surprise!  It's funny, no doubt a huge convenience to the considerable population of Kim Bong who know their way around, but for me, who was always happy to be delivered to the ferry landing (since that's also where the three boat yards were) it was a whole new challenge, coming in from the wrong end of the island and trying to find my way back to where the ferry used to come.  Managed though, with a little help.
It's a motorbike only bridge.  You could probably squeeze the smallest sort of car between the hand rails, but the spans are a little saggy just under dead weight, I don't think I'd like to see a big live load on it.

From Hoi An in times past I've regarded Quy Nhon as a reasonable destination.  Since it seems like a faster trip now with the better highway, why is it that it seems longer than I really want to ride?  Well, it does, so from Hoi An, we took the new, not-quite-direct road to Tam Ky, stopping now and then to peek over the sand dune to the sea.  At one turnoff we found two little sand and sea restaurants, one completely full and the one next door almost empty.  The Victoria Resort (think very big and very expensive) had mounted a major sidecar expedition.  There were seven or eight Ural sidecar rigs, ex-Russian military and later Vietnamese police bikes, all painted up with Victoria's white and red colors. . .and a big mini bus to carry the wives who had more sense.  I drank a Red Cow in the empty place  and then we were onward on QL-1,  When the time came, I was perfectly happy to stop in Sa Huynh (and yes, it does have that final "h". . .maybe I can remember now) and to heck with riding on another 120 km to Quy Nhon.
Just part of the cavalcade.  The sensible folks came in the air conditioned mini bus.  The sidecar drivers drank soda pop at their own table.  

There's a hidden boat yard at Sa Huynh (you can't see it from the highway) that must be setting production records for fishing boat building the past three years (that I know of).  This year they "only" have 10 or 11 boats under construction, from the earliest stage to almost ready to launch.  That, and there are almost that many older boats up for bottom work and paint.  It's a hugely busy place and they've evolved some very interesting production techniques to streamline what is essentially 18th or 19th century wooden ship building, with a little help from electricity.
Half built in the background, just starting in front of us.  The yard has had 10 or 11 boats under construction, with big crews of men, every time I've stopped the past several years.  

Sunset at Sa Huynh, riding back across the bridge.  Clearance under the bridge keeps many boats with any tophamper below the bridge, only low profiles can get under routinely,

Working late, transplanting just a few more bundles.  This is traditionally ladies' work, for their more delicate handling of the little plants?  Men can do it too though.

I took an upstairs (up 29 stairs to be exact) room in the Ha Lan Hotel, one of the older hotels at the south end of town, but with recent work, it's really quite nice, and has a good walkway across the little stream and on to the beach.  I walked out onto the very dark beach after supper and watched the fishing boats light up the night offshore.  It's hard to gauge how far out they are from their lights. . .most were fairly close in (maybe a mile or two off) and a few were clearly out on the horizon, several miles out.  There were something between 38 and 40 boats in sight in the arc of visibility from my view point. . .the range is to account for double counting or merging two boats together when I counted.  It was, in any event, a lot of fishing boats and a lot of wattage!
Fishing boats offshore a ways, when I was standing on a very dark beach (just a sliver of a moon at sunset),

With Quy Nhon only three hours at most down the road, I was in  no hurry to leave Sa Huynh.  Breakfast was an outside-the-schoolyard egg sandwich.  The lady had a stack of pre-fried eggs at least three inches thick, ready to stuff in baguettes.  With a little pate, some hot sauce and a little cilantro with a slice or two of cucumber, she could hand over a ready-to-wear sandwich in about forty seconds.  Those kids could grab breakfast and run for their first class and make it standing up.  I've had better sandwiches elsewhere, farther from the school yard, but it wasn't bad and I carried it down the road a ways to a really lovely little coffee house with a long shady front yard.  The coffee shop was close by the harbor, so I parked the bike and went walking and pestering boat builders, though they don't seem to mind.  They were getting set to launch a just-rebuilt dragger from La Gi (a fair ways from home) and I watched them get ready, but they had to wait for the tide (that's a really big deep boat) and the tide was in no rush, so we were on the road again before noon.
Sunrise at the Sa Huynh beach, standing in my own footprints from last night.

She's from La Gi, a long ways south of here, but must have gotten a good price for her new work. . .she's now a fiberglass boat.  With a certain amount of wood for structural purposes of course.  Ready to go when the tide serves.

A GI surplus deuce and a half (2.5 ton truck).  Rigged with a logging arch like this they were already popular among Vietnamese loggers when I was a kid.  This is a real survivor, handling logs and timbers around the shipyard, and today, slated to push the big dragger on down the ways

We hardly stopped in Quy Nhon. . .checked into the hotel and got rid of the heavy bag. . .and ran off another 18 km south to Xuan Hai, scene of my most glorious surf boat photographs.  And now it's time for a requiem I suppose, the end of that particular grace and perfection.  In 2013 there were more than 53 of the boats working, as well as perhaps that many woven baskets and about that many plastic tubs. . .more or less.  In 2015 it was down to only 30 or so of the surf boats and a whole lot more of the plastic tubs, with a few real baskets hanging on too.  This year there were 7 afloat and 2 more on the beach that look serviceable. . .and ten or more that are being used as gear storage. . .piled full of nets. . .or simply dragged off to one side and left to die.  Though they're wonderfully shaped to handle the surf, and often nicely painted (helps with photographs), they're not really well made structurally, and left without care for a year or two they quickly start to come apart.  The end is very near indeed.  The fiberglass tubs have conquered the world. . .or at least the local surf boat fleet.  This wouldn't be so sad if they were the equal of the old boats, but they're far from it.  The fishermen understand that clearly enough. . .in times past they worked the traditional surf boats without life jackets and did fine.  They wear life jackets in the plastic tubs now if they're going anywhere.  But that's another story.
Plastic tubs and precast revetment.  The old ways are over at Xuan Hai.

Work in progress.  To be truthful, I'd have bid on the job in a heartbeat, but it wasn't really General's strong suit.

Time to fuel up and grease the rig.  Note the fuel barrel siphoning from the bucket.  Yes.  While standing in the water.  Love it!

Okay, they're cute.  But that's all the scenery I could get once they arrived.

My point exactly.

Fooled them for a second and got this shot. . .she was the best looking of the whole fleet in 2013, and still getting her basketry re-sealed, so it's not all over yet.  But she is getting lonely, with nobody to visit with on the beach but plastic tubs.  What do they know??

Late afternoon, headed back to Quy Nhon for the night.

So we used up that day and made it back to the hotel for supper and a quick walk down along the new promenade above the beach before bed.  There were even more and brighter lights offshore here in Quy Nhon than there were at Sa Huynh, but some of them were small freighters anchored out.  The big ship berths are very busy now in Quy Nhon and ships have to lie on the hook offshore waiting a turn at the dock.  But still, it was about seventy fishing boats in sight at once.

Which brings us almost up to date.  Today in Quy Nhon the bike got a little fussing over and I got a lesson in clutch adjustment. . .I've pestered the same mechanic several years now  and he sees me coming with a smile.  Today was no charge, and I'd just changed her oil yesterday in Sa Huynh, so there wasn't even that for him to do.  So we took our better clutch and rode over across the long new bridge to the south end of the long rocky peninsula that encloses the big inland sea just north of the city.  It's a strange place, originally very isolated before the bridge, with minimal roads, no farm land to speak of (sand, and not much water, covered with scrub brush), but now it's been scalped and graded and roads built on a rigid grid with drainage and utilities. . .all waiting for the industries of the world to relocate there.  There's an Australian feed company mixing pig and chicken feed in a nice looking factory all by itself in the sand, but not much else, and the whole peninsula was scalped. . .look on google earth, it probably shows from space!  As may be, they left the very edge of the land alone, it was too steep and rocky for their grading, so now you can ride to Nhon Hai at the southern tip of the peninsula pretty easily and it's worth the ride. . .a tiny fishing harbor  hiding behind a couple of islands and some small rocks, but still getting a breaking surge in from the open ocean at times.  In winter it's almost un-usable, only boats small enough to haul up the beach, but this is fair weather season and the bay is full of fishing boats.  The town is two streets basically, the waterfront, and one other one, but it has a school yard full of kids and two different pagodas. . .and (drum roll) this year there's a sign up for a home-stay.  Actually, high speed tour boats (fiberglass monstrosities with big outboards) have brought tourists in the past, landing them right on the beach to walk up and down for a while, perhaps drinking a coffee at one of the (three!) coffee shops.  I like the place a lot, not least for the old fashioned rowing boats they still use around the bay.
In the good weather fleet at Nhon Hai. . .in rough seasons there'll be very few boats in the bay.  This is a normal bit of work every day, transferring the net into the offshore boat from the basket.  

About as elegant as a structure gets, everything reduced to the lightest workable component, and the absolute minimum of stressed fastenings.  Mostly these days they;re being built with blue plastic barrel segments or sheet metal, but to the same design.  This is about the largest of the rowing class, she's big enough she could have had a motor if wanted.

A lovely spot, but not easy to photograph.  The high rugged hills behind town aren't visible from the beach, and you can only glimpse the harbor from the road through a veil of trees.  You need to be there to feel the whole impact.

Er. . .speaking of impact. . .

Riding to Nhon Ly, a few kilometers up the eastern shore is a lot easier now.  In the past I've turned back more than once, rather than try to ride through the drifted sand across the little road into town.  The local people of course came and went anyway, but it wasn't pretty to watch and I didn't want to bend the bike just to get there.  That's changed.  There's now a major Mega Resort on the beach approach to the town.  Besides hiring anyone who wanted a job, the developers made a really nice new approach road (running by their zoo and one of their artificial lakes) and they hire local help to keep it swept clean.  What the heck.  Nhon Ly was always a stunning location, with a rocky dramatic spine reaching out into the sea, but it was hard to get to and I'd doubt there was a lot to do in town if you weren't a fisherman or married to one.  The resort may be a perfectly good thing.  But it's big!

Views of the ragged rocks at Nhon Ly.  Not a good beach for boating.

This isn't part of the new resort really, but the developers put in a good parking lot and built really nice access walks to get you down toward the water without breaking your leg.  I'm generally nervous about mega resorts, but this one seems to have inflicted rather more good than harm on the surface.  We'll see about the water table and the sewage problems later. . .or some one will.

This is what the town is like, away from the main drags.  Do not nose your bike into one of these streets unless you like to push it backwards to get out.

Right above the harbor, looking out over the sea, Quan Am of the fishermen.

Very interesting. . .this is a precast revetment under the new riprap.  People used to drag boats up on it between tides (though I don't know how!).  Apparently the reflected wave dynamics made an unsatisfactory near shore environment and they've placed heavy riprap (and some garbage) to break up the wave reflection.  The original configuration shows farther down the bay.  This is a slightly different design from the one being installed at Xuan Hai, but very similar in concept.  Such an installation once locked in place by cast in place concrete, is a major demolition project, requiring much more powerful machinery than what was used in original construction.  Engineers everywhere seem to assume that when the machine is needed somebody will build it.  Gee.

There were three more shipyards in the day and a trip to find a camera repair shop, but I'd guess you've seen enough boat yard photos for one day.  I'll see you again somewhere down the road.

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