Dust and Delight - This Time Tomorrow - CycleBlaze

December 27, 2016

Dust and Delight

Long Xuyen to Tri Ton

Dear little friends,

We simply are not used to staying in clean, modern hotel rooms. Everything is so shiny! People at the front desk seem to care!

When we stepped out of our room into the hallway up on the fifth floor Bruce started taking photos out the window and I started sweating. This is my constant condition now, since the humidity every morning starts at around 95% and then over the course of the day slowly goes down to a semi-arid 85%. I am a Montanan and Montanans don’t do humidity with much class or good humor. So I stood in the hallway and suffered while Bruce made art. Then down the sparkling elevator with our numerous panniers, water bottles, helmets, kitchen sinks.

The view from the fifth floor in Long Xuyen.
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Two sweaty distorted travelers.
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This was the first banh mi with its own toothpick.
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We had a short easy ride in the delta ahead, or so we thought. A road north out of town, then a left turn, straight into Tri Ton, an inconspicuous town near a small clutch of the only hills in the delta. Out here roads follow alongside canals and are as straight as arrows.

Our plans were foiled after the turn because the easy-peasy route appeared as a hellacious mess of rocks, construction, huge potholes, equipment and our friend, the dust. I pulled my bandana up over my nose and thought curse-ridden thoughts. Sometimes it’s good that Bruce and I do not often ride within conversational distance to each other because I can just imagine how it would go down. I would swear. Bruce would swear. We’d swear at each other for following too closely or for stopping to photograph/drink water (I’ll let the reader guess which one does what). We would air our misgivings about taking this road.

The start of a bad stretch of road.
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Would this hell go on for the next 25 miles? This is the question each of us was thinking in our demoralized profane isolation. Maybe we should turn around and go to Chau Doc after all instead of our clever shortcut to Ha Tien. I had looked at the map and confirmed that there was at least one accommodation choice, maybe two, in Tri Ton and if we went to Chau Doc it would be one additional day in this area, or two very long days. Maybe the map lied about that hotel and we would end up sleeping in a temple. Temples are not like our shiny hotel with an elevator. These are all the kinds of thoughts you think while riding in dust.

We stopped for coffee. I was feeling a little punk from all the negative self-questioning and sliding gravel and nipped out back to the toilet to see a man about a dog. The dog was fine, I felt better, and once back on the road the construction was soon over and the beautiful rural road turned our frowns upside down.

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One of the charming bridges that arch over the canals.
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The canals were busy with boat traffic, and there were charming little bridges every so often just wide enough for a motorbike or a cycling tourist. A cycling tourist with all the time in the world would go over one of those and ride through the villages on the other side, but these touring cyclists had seen enough rough road for one day.

The canals are active with boats and cargo.
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A boatload of stoves.
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Boats and boats and boats on the canal.
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The canals are laid out in very orderly fashion and sometimes they intersect.
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My mother made her only trip to Holland, the land of her mother’s birth, in 2014 and described to me the neat, straight, flat world of water and fields. If you blur your eyes a little to smudge out the trash and coconut palms, the Mekong delta becomes Dutch in scope. There were no windmills or tulips but I thought of my grandma Necia running along a dike in Hillegersberg in 1907 before the steamer to Ellis Island and the long train ride to the Grant Creek ranch in Missoula, Montana. Children galore were running along these Vietnamese dikes and who can ever imagine where any one of them will end up? While my grandma lived very modestly in America, her nine children prospered. These are things you think about as you follow a canal.

These are used to plow up the rice fields for planting.
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Incense drying by the road. We haven't really seen how it's made though.
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There was one more section of ugly construction to bookend this otherwise enjoyable road, involving freshly boiled tar and women throwing down gravel a la Myanmar road-building style. And as in Myanmar several men stand around watching the women work (“hey, ya missed a spot!”) and are the ones who get to drive the steam roller. More dust on us all.

Oh no, not again. The tar was laid earlier in the day and the gravel is still loose. One false move and I'll be ready to be feathered.
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These are small, specialty coconuts grown in this area. They are almost solid jelly meat inside.
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The coconut lady mixed the jelly coconuts with water and sugar and ice.
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We got to Tri Ton, found a Nha Nghi full of excitable dogs, and set out to see more of the Khmer temple we had glimpsed on our way through town, a style we much prefer to the Chinese/Viet temples we had been seeing for two months. It was a little exciting because it meant we were getting close to the Cambodian border and much as we have loved Vietnam we were both restless to see another country. Bruce spent a lot of time photographing the interior murals while I parked outside under a bodhi tree’s rustling leaves seeking enlightenment, spoke classroom English with some bodacious children, watched the resident monks idling around and retying their orange robes, and sweated.

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The main center of Tri Ton.
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A Khmer-style wat (temple) in Tri Ton.
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It was full of colorful murals, some old and some newer.
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Murals in Buddhist temples illustrate the life of Buddha, legends about Buddha, depictions of an upright life, and depictions of what awaits you if you don't lead one.
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One of the murals came to life.
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The tiles in the temple floor are many decades old and in beautiful shape.
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After all that sweating we were thrilled to find a fruit shake place, that is, until the ice chest refill arrived in one solid block and the owners placed it on the floor to chop it up. And what was up with that one erratic shrimp on top of my Com Tam, weren’t we long hot miles from the ocean? Cambodia was getting closer, I could feel it in my gut.

Today's ride: 34 miles (55 km)
Total: 1,251 miles (2,013 km)

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