To end my foodie adventure in Hue, I got myself a bowl of the famous Banh Bo Hue in its birthplace. Noticing the bowl had been missing the dark purple coagulated blood I knew it deserved, I quickly requested its addition to my bowl of soup. The soup was delicious and earned its reputation in my eyes so much so that the cook noticed and gave me seconds of the broth and darkened, tofu-like textured blood. For my last stop before I could finally leave Hue and rejoin the Ho Chi Minh Highway, I went to the Easy Riders shop (they offer organized motorbiking tours through various sections of Vietnam) to try to buy some gloves and elbow and knee pads on the rare occasion that I may fall once more. Being a specialty item, they can only be found in Hanoi and HCMC since locals don’t use them or any other sort of reasonable road protection (their helmets are a joke; they are enough to stay legal on the road). While asking for a map of the road ahead, I began talking about my plans to ride solo on the Ho Chi Minh Road through one of the most isolated stretches of Vietnam to get to the famous Phong Nha caves, which is also home to the largest cave in the world. He warned me that I was taking a serious risk by riding by myself since the road contained one portion composed of 240 km of little to nothing with perhaps some villages that have bare minimum mechanic shops, food, and petrol; also if I break down I have a long way to push that bike before I reach anywhere capable of offering me a hand. Since I had heard such good things about this road as one of the most beautifully scenic part of Vietnam I would not let that excuse hold me back. Too determined to quit and alternative easier route, I prepared the best way I could with this helpful guy offering me genuinely friendly and willing advice on his time. First, he told me that I would need to bring at least 3L of extra petrol since there are no pump stations around and that I should have basic tools in case of an emergency. A large part of the late morning was taken up with him teaching me how to complete some basic repairs such as how to change a flat tire and change the lights. The two of us got our hands dirty while fixing up a random bike at the shop by popping off the tire and replacing the inflatable portion lurking within. I appreciate his patience and willingness to take some time teach someone as clueless as me about some mechanics and basic motorbike maintenance. His mechanic also went about completing some necessary repairs such as tightening my wobbly, unstable frame and suspension (likely hindered from my time on the rocky non-rideable roads down south) and replacing my worn rear brakes. The repairs just continue to add up. When does it hand? My brute determination that borders on stubborn stupidity is what has been pushing me to not quit, to keep pushing to accomplish the motorbike trip I always envisioned. The guy also assembled a whole emergency kit for me that included spare tires, wrenches, screw driver, spark plug, oil, etc. I may never need any of them but the peace of mind is worth the charge. I can’t be prepared for everything but I will sure go into the wild and unknown with some common sense and basics to hopefully and God willing sustain me to the other side of civilization. At long last I finally bought a mobile card (with a local number I can actually phone someone in case of a emergency including my growing references such as the Easy Rider guy who said I should call him if I need help translating at a mechanic), which I procured at a fair price after checking with reception who had my back. A foreigner fee is attached to everything; if you don’t watch out they will nickel and dime and they are so shrewd but sometimes to the point of being blatant. I get exhausted haggling over every dollar but I think there is a slight sign of respect when they realize I am not the average tourist willing to accept a price higher than the locals. While waiting for the mechanic to finish tweaking my bike, I played jump rope with some young Vietnamese kids who were hanging around the lobby at my hotel/hostel. I don’t know why but they were so eager to have me jump or toss their rope around for them. Asian kids are simply too adorable. At approximately one o’clock I was able to leave Hue much much later than I had expected or planned. The road was fairly straight forward and a breath of fresh thanks to being able to tackle the road solo. I took it through some dense forest over a fairly well paved road and found out just badly my bike frame should always be; no longer was I rattling over speed bumps in a spastic, uncontrollable way. The road toured over enough steep climbs to get me worried over the current state of my gears and their future stability over the upcoming mountain passes that will surely compromise it further. Ever since I needed to get my gears replaced the first, I always assume that the teeth will get worn down again leading me to another hell of a scorned day. Either way I managed to enter the city of A Luoi and debated with to continue on to Khe Sanh and return to my original projection of reaching Phong Nha caves but I chose to avoid a ride in the dark and risk a potential breakdown. After checking into a well put up hotel for the night, I went in search of food but also try to get a feel for the city and town since I had plenty of time to kill. I did not expect much since the place is used as a stopover for bigger and better things way down the road. I hoped to get some interaction with the locals since they aren’t poisoned by the hatred some Vietnamese may have to foreigners but at the same time I am realistic that the interaction can grow old after enough charades and basic Vietnamese on my part as the sole mode of conversation. As my first stop on the tour of A Luoi, I sat down for some nuoc mia and received a plentiful glass of the sugarcane juice devoid of the overbearing ice that most use to cheat you out of a drink. I contented myself with drinking the sweet nectar while watching the family continue as they were. It is interesting how much downtime people in Asia have. Their businesses are typically run out of their homes so they will do whatever chores and family interactions/responsibilities until a customer comes their way and so then quickly transition themselves into business mode. I kept walking along while hearing locals say ‘hello’ to me but one excited group of young boys got my attention. For some reason I was pulled in their direction. We began kicking the football around a bit as we got familiar with each other and I found out they knew some basic English. Eventually we all sat down while we danced through some simple questions that I could interpret and answer. One kid even asked me “do you have a lover?” since he didn’t know the correct translation for girlfriend which made me laugh. They thoroughly enjoyed my Vietnamese phrase book and my constant inquiries into various words worth knowing and then taking me to task on how to properly pronounce them. Phrase book has been a great way to interest locals, they enjoy seeing a foreigner trying and appreciating enough of their language to genuinely want to learn. I made sure I knew the word for ‘beautiful’ for the next time a Vietnamese girl catches my eye. The best English speaking boy told me had an uncle that was coming into town today from Hue that spoke English and would love to meet me and get some more practice. After meeting the guy who was actually around my age, I joined him for some dinner before rejoining the boys for a walking tour around the narrow town. We didn’t see or do anything spectacular but just enjoyed the novelty of each other’s company. For them (at least the boys) they really see foreigners much less one that wants to spend time with them and for me I loved getting shown around by locals in a place that I figured would have resulted in a nondescript night. The shy boy with glasses who spoke the best English of the bunch was afraid to try as much English as he was capable of with but I tried to encourage the effort because it was the only way he would ever learn. They seemed to really enjoy having me around each of us smiling to one another even when the occasion didn’t necessitate it. They were probably only too thrilled to parade me around town proud of the fact that they stood within my company. I had a great time with them feeling incredibly lucky to meet someone that knew English to change my night around. After the guy rode me back to the hotel from his home he told me (just like the Vietnamese man now living in Houston) that just because he was kind and good to me that I can trust all Vietnamese; I should always be extra careful not knowing who may be insincere in their desires. After a goodbye, I went back to my room to sleep in the luxurious refinement of my own space.
Riding Vietnam Day 174: My Day as a Grease Monkey