Riding Vietnam Day 181: Reawaken and Reborn

After getting a power bowl of soup that I would like to think is called Bun Rieu Cua from a street side stall with a seemingly endless supply of mung bean sprouts and lime wedges from the doting owner of the stall, I left Ninh Binh in search of the north and my beloved rice fields and terraces with at least Mai Chau as a night stopover if not further along. The road was boring and unmemorable especially with the early stretch composed of the dreaded A1 highway (this time cleanly paved but a jumbled chaos courtesy of Asian traffic). The scenery began to grow livelier as I worked into the hills and mountains. During breaks along the road I got into nibbling on the delicious lychees for a much needed and stark fruity contrast to the rest of my diet. On the more open stretches while I was still dipping in and out of towns I kept seeing the dark grey karst limestone rocks jutting up out of the land but in this instance much smaller in stature. It would be like the Central Plains of the America’s Midwest suddenly springing to life, rock emerging from the dead; the difference can be so stark. I wonder why here in Vietnam it is so prevalent. One problem that grew too nagging after some time was the constant whirring like a shuffled deck of cards coming from the front of the bike. After checking it into a mechanic, he said the exhaust pipe needed to be replaced. It seemed a bit drastic to me but the pipe was clearly rusted over (not too much compared all others I have seen) so I went with the mechanic’s advice knowing that I could not argue with or question him much with a thick language barrier standing between us. Although relatively cheap in perspective it was another thorn in my side for me and Kat (I have decided to call my motorbike Katherine or Kat for short since she and I both have nine lives to have lasted this long on the road). The view from above down onto the valley floor composed of Mai Chau city was swell and all but was more than enough to satisfy my interests and continue onwards since I hoped to continue making ground on the north amidst a day very much in the making. I took the road less traveled and as I continued on that very road I learned how true that was; after awhile I questioned when or if a Westerner had ever drove across the rode I was about to take. The road itself was unforgiving with its share of potholes but not unlike anything I had already seen before. After passing a few boys riding their cows opposite me on the road too stunned by my sight to say hello, I found some scenery that opened up to the unbeknownst and far flung traveler. With golden yellow and green fields including my rice paddy fields, I already felt welcomed. I kept cutting into and out with the climbing and descending land lingering as I should for a glance. Amidst the farmland stood the villagers’ homes simply done with well carved wood and whatever supplies that could spring into action as well as the villagers themselves molding the land to suit their crops’ desires. All the while mountains that disappeared into the cloudy distance stood back as a background and framework to Mother Nature’s design. If I weren’t already off the beaten path, the road took me further and further into the villages and away from civilization. I had no choice but to continue on treading road in hopes that the road signs were all true, that something legitimate, specifically a guesthouse stood within striking distance of me and in daylight. While the kilometers dwindled down to the mystery location, I kept riding through villages past all kinds of animals and people. Riding past all these moments and images, it felt like a rolling slideshow into the people of these villages and their lives. The people are of all kinds of features; they look Chinese, Cambodian, Laos, and whatever else that I am not familiar with. I watched them work, I pondered the reasoning behind their wooden hut teetering on steep inclined hills overlooking the most fantastical scenery that they get to walk up to each day (albeit far too early in the morning for me), I saw kids play mostly with their families’ animals. I witnessed the animals of these lands live lives in which they reside already on the dinner plate before they have even swallowed their last breath. Pigs, ducks, chickens, etc. caged up into tight barbed pins with their brethren as they sit precariously on the caboose backend of a motorbike rolling and bumping along to the chopping block. While backing up the bike from another beautiful view that I had to stop at, I sadly burnt my lower leg against the unbearably hot exhaust pipe. Night was growing near and a storm felt nearer as well but the city written on the roadside stone blocks stood within a kilometer’s way. In an all too quick moment, I found myself staring out at a dam or rather a river where the road dead ended and some more houses stood across from me but not too promising as a guesthouse. Either way I paid the fee to board the ferry and slowed rolled down the hill where I needed to rise over the inclined ramp onto the boat itself that would grant me passage. As carefully done as I could I still failed to manage accurate balance (like that is ever a surprise) and tipped over onto my side as the bike tried to join me before I could leap off to the side. Balancing a moving motorbike over a two foot wide ribbed ramp steeply inclined is difficult to begin with but when you toss in the fact that that motorbike is carrying a luggage the weight of an average sized Asian family, disaster is waiting to happen. Having taken too much as it is, one bungee cord snapped leaving me to remove the luggage for a local to thankfully help me continue the motorbike’s strenuous journey onto the boat that had yet to move. Once the boat left dock and after gathering myself, I managed to reassemble my luggage to the rock. Now onto the other side of the river, I rolled the bike while standing off, not trying to force an encore of my previous demise. The shore was no shore or dock at all but rather a lengthy stretch of thick mud that could only be covered by a loosely made bamboo walkway that was far too narrow to support two motorbike traffic. While I slowly teetered on the bamboo hoping I wouldn’t topple over into the mud with the bike leaning against me, the sky had grown much darker and louder based on the thunderous roar sounded from the distance. Once fully across and on dry land, the wind picked up to Wizard of Oz – Kansas standards. I knew full well that this town had no guesthouse and that trying to press on riding in the dark over unstable roads through what I could surmise would be a sky throbbing storm in the making would be a death wish. I had one choice and one choice at all and that would be to ask locals to allow me to stay in their home for the night. The first house and women that I could see from the road was less than generous. I asked where a guesthouse might be and she said 40 kilometers down the road (in Vietnamese and by hand gestures of course). I kept pointing at the sky to show her there was noooo way that was happening; I even showed her by gestures that I was willing to sleep on the pavement of her home under her roof but she laughed me away. I rode on looking for another. At a nicely carved freshly built home, I approached a man asking for a place to sleep and made quite clear the storm that was ready to strike me down if I didn’t find a roof quickly. Eventually he pointed to his home and agreed to my request. I thanked him with Vietnamese cam on’s repeatedly including blowing air kisses in his direction I was so breathlessly joyful and relieved. After getting shown to the upstairs which I would have to myself for the night, we watched as the storm finally hit throwing a thick rain soaked and unclear by eye blanket over the area to the point that the river and dam disappeared. Once the storm had died down, I was led to where we would have dinner with he and his family. After snacking on some unripe mangoes (tasty) and banana, the tray of mystery dishes arrived. Once everyone had been sat, I noticed two small bottles with water company labels. I found that odd based on it being just the two of them with a group of seven sitting in a circle around the food. To my horror, those bottles containing rice whisky. I knew full well what would happen next. Out of respect to the hospitality that I had been granted I would need to take shot after shot no matter how much I hated the dreadful stuff. The food was good but odd. Along with rice, they had chicken with all the fat, skin, bone, legs, etc. included in a broth composed of root vegetable that I couldn’t get enough of. Along with a bowl of cooked leaves as I would presume (similar to that of the tribal trek villages in Myanmar), I sampled what I later realized upon taste that they were fried crisps of fat (nice crunch but likely taking off time on my life). Another bizarre one that I was encouraged to eat was a chunk of pig fat and skin??!? After slyly removing much of the fat that I couldn’t stomach, I bit and began chewing and chewing and chewing and chewing some more. No matter the amount of gnawing of the teeth I couldn’t break through this piece of hide and had no choice to spit it out. I kept eating mostly to offset the taste of the liquor and slow down the alcohol that was sure to swell up into my previously empty stomach. Luckily, they knew I had already waved the white flag and allowed me reprieve after five shots. Since mornings start early here and with no other way to entertain yourself, I was led back to the house and to my large open floor room. With a thatch mat and a couple of thick blankets as my body’s cushion, I laid back and rested my head upon what looked and felt like two slightly giving square blocks that were just wide enough to rest my head upon. I laid there in the dark wondering how this all came to be. How did I ever come to be in Asia? Why was I motorbiking through Vietnam? Where in Vietnam was I, sleeping in some stranger’s home amidst people that speak no more than the common English words of ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’. Just yesterday night I sat there feeling a bit done with traveling. I was getting numbed by the adventurous life; I had lost my way and needed something to prod me awake. Today was the day that put me on edge and gave me the fire back. Once again chances were being taken, strides were being made. Living as it were to the fullest.

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