Tuesday, April 24, 2007

DAY 17-21: Getting fit

Quy Nhon is an anonymous town located by the ocean. Although it offers a beautiful beach, few travelers bother to make a stop here, and when they do, it is often due to a mistake in communication with the bus drivers. The town is dirty, chaotic place, and like with all towns and cities of Vietnam, full of mopeds driving in all directions, obeying no traffic laws. Initially we had only planned one day here but we decided to give Quy Nhon a chance despite the first poor impression. On this day we rented a motorbike and drove inland to take a break from the coastal scenery. However, we quickly understood that we have already seen much of this type of environment when traveling the central highlands. Now the surroundings were just swishing by faster as Daniel was speeding at 80-90 km/h. Squeezed on the back of the moped, I was not only praying for my butt to survive the bumpy dirt roads, I was also pleading for my life. In the early afternoon, about 90 kilometers later and extremely sour butts; we had seen a few Cham temples, Vietnamese traditional brick constructions and numerous rice fields. Now we deserved a visit to the beach, and for dinner we indulged in fresh crabs, which we selected ourselves.

We have followed the initial route plan, and we felt no different when we headed for the bus station in Quy Nhon to take the bus north, about 170 kilometer, to Quang Ngai, avoiding a less interesting and familiar route. I had worried about bringing the bicycles on a bus, but at our arrival at the station, we were quickly greeted by friendly men who packed our bicycles in a minibus, charged us 6 US dollars each, and drove off to Quang Ngai almost immediately. We had not booked or purchased any tickets beforehand. Sometimes traveling can be so easy. Our stop in Quang Ngai served only one purpose; a visit to the Son My (My Lai) memorial where one of the most horrible massacres of Vietnamese civilians took place during the Vietnamese War (here referred to as the American War). During the war, the Americans suspected that the local farmers where supplying the Viet Cong with food and shelter in this area, and an operation was ordered to”teach the villagers a lesson”. More than 500 civilians were massacred and the Americans had no casualties but for one soldier who reportedly had injured himself to escape the horrifying act. Being at the memorial and walking around the newly established museum, I was reminded of what an unnecessary, brutal war the Vietnamese war had been and how many innocent lives had been wasted.

In ordinary fashion, the next day we got up early to bicycle 110 kilometers north to Hoi An. This was going to be the longest stretch we had covered so far, and probably the longest on my 100-day journey, thus today our stamina was going to be put to the maximum test. However, we immediately felt that during the last weeks of cycling we have built up surprisingly good strength and pedal-power. Before breakfast we had already covered 30 kilometers and stepped off our bicycles with no pains or moans, just happy to stuff ourselves with food and drinks. Life on the road has increasingly become a routine, and we have found our ways of dealing with all obstacles along the way. For breakfast we stop at a café where locals are already having their share of an early meal. We peek at their food, and if it looks appealing, we smile, show two fingers, nod or occasionally practice our limited Vietnamese. The villagers take great part in our routine and watch every move we make, waiting for a reaction to the food. Energized, we smile and pet our bellies, they light up and respond with bigger smiles and giggles. When we wave them goodbye, the whole family takes part in the farewell and it almost feels sad to leave them behind. Once on the road we take turns leading the way, never keeping more than 100 meters apart. Occasionally we chat, but mostly we plug in our headphones, filling our ears with our favorite music to avoid the noise from the road. The honking of the trucks is inescapable, though, as they tend to blast their horns as they are passing you, leaving only centimeters from their trucks and your eardrums. We have had no encounters with dangerous traffic so far, and it seems like mopeds, trucks and cars respect our presence on the road. When we run out of water we stop to refill our bottles, and most often take the opportunity to snack local food and try various freshly squeezed juices. On our way to Hoi An, I found my favorite drink at one of the cafes; a mix of small mandarins (small mandarins resembling mini-limes), and fresh bamboo. The Vietnamese press them together in a manual pressing machine, mix it with sugar and pour it over ice. Yummy! It is occasions like this that make our journey worthwhile and unique. We have noticed that life on the road is the most interesting, where we are exposed to rare situations, have the opportunity to experience the authentic life of the Vietnamese people, taste their food and meet with locals.

As a result, the 116 kilometers to Hoi An was exclusively pure pleasure. Our muscles did hurt, we were tired and in need of a long shower, nevertheless we felt great as we rolled up to a café of central Hoi An. We felt like heroes on our bicycles, like beaten soldiers, proud of our accomplishment. We sat down to order some juice, and quickly realized we were back in tourist land when the café charged us ten times the price for a fresh juice of what we paid the same day on the road in a small village.

Still, Hoi An is a beautiful small town. Its picturesque alleys, river front and crowded market make it a fantastic place to spend a few days. All you have to do is ignore the hundreds of tourists wandering the streets, often traveling in groups, wearing the same hats saying “Welcome to Hoi An”. Hoi An is famous for its master tailors who can sew up just about anything you ask them to at a very reasonable price. Bring a picture of the latest Hugo Boss suit or Dolce Gabbana dress, and they will take your measurements, tell a price (always negotiable) and have it ready the next day. We are looking forward to spending two more days in this loveable town, continuing to indulge in all it has to offer. We have already spent one day at the Cua Dai Beach, 5 kilometers to the west, relaxing, resting our muscles. A fair amount of shopping has also taken place. I am looking forward to report more from Hoi An next time.


No comments:

Post a Comment