Lost in Translation - This Time Tomorrow - CycleBlaze

November 12, 2016

Lost in Translation

Viem Khe to Cam Phong

Dear little friends,

Once again we were in a nha nghi where very large and rustic vehicles rumbled by the entire night loaded with gravel and rocks. It was like sleeping in a quarry, and basically we were because Vietnam is building like crazy and every nearby mountain is being ground away for building materials. There is not one finished building site anywhere, a beautiful old church being refurbished, a shopping center, a housing development, all are ornamented by piles of rock, sand, bricks and rubble. Also in front of every building is the spot in the road where they mixed the concrete and left the remains to harden and roughen up the otherwise pretty nice roads.

New construction is happening absolutely everywhere.
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Brick factory
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Mister Nha Nghi again asked us to tea as we were leaving. He was a very nice man. But it’s hard, you know? Back in the area where our bikes were parked for the night a mewing tiny feral cat was tied to a post, and a dog looked melancholy in its too-small cage. Not coincidentally this was next door to a restaurant specializing in “Thit Cho” and “Thit Meo”. I am a hypocrite for not valuing a duck or pig’s life as high as a dog or cat’s, I know. It’s not like I don’t think about these things.

“Mew,” said the little cat, then started hissing when I spoke a comforting word to it. I deserved that.

It was a beautiful morning. We told Mr.Nha Nghi that we were going to the Ho Chi Minh highway.

“Go that way!”, indicating to us a road that basically went over a dam and had a million of those gravel trucks and about three inches of water running over it. We found another way to go through the village. We ignore a lot of very emphatic directions in this country.

At the marketplace we screeched to a halt at a banh mi stand, ordered two with the works for a takeaway lunch, and ate some delicious sticky rice/crispy shallot mixture for breakfast. It was a raucous bunch at the market, and people joked that we should buy their butchered parts and tripe to cook up at home, wherever they thought that was.

A banh mi maker sneaking some napkins in with the banh mi sandwiches in my handlebar bag.
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Cute cargo
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After a bit we finally reached the Ho Chi Minh highway. We know that parts of this highway are very isolated but we weren’t on those parts. There were plenty of buses and trucks and so on, it was fairly noisy and busy. Vietnam is long and skinny, avoiding hellhole AH1 is top priority for us, but crap. There is bus service everywhere in Vietnam! We see 20 buses an hour roaring past, and because they are on the top of the Vietnam road food chain we pay close attention to their aggressive approaches from either direction.

Corn drying and caskets awaiting
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Tapioca drying at a beer hall.
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Corn take-over of the shoulder.
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Our (un)carefully planned route was simple: get to the HCM highway. Go south. How far south was going to be determined by how tired we were, if there were places to stay, and so on. We were slamming on down the road, for us.

Misty mountains
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We kept seeing kilometer markers for “C. Phuong”. This went on for quite a while and we were looking forward to seeing this enticing town that was important enough to be on all those road markers and signs. The cloud cover was persistent and photographs were muddy looking and we were ready for a break. It turns out that C. Phuong is a national park! We really wished the sun had been out, it was lush and wild, but it just wasn’t our day for drop-dead scenery shots, so we carried on along through the park and hoped to see some wildlife. We did see some very nice butterflies, we think they were wild.

We are officially at zero.
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After the national park, we came to a crossroads and did the usual check on Google maps. Bruce stopped to photograph the folks selling fancy gourmet enormous stalks of sugarcane. In Thailand they have a program called OTOP, which is about selling regional specialties, you see a section of road where everybody is selling pineapple or dried squid or fancy rice crackers or whiskey in special pots, you get the idea. This was like a Vietnamese sugar cane OTOP. I’ve always wondered how it can be good marketing to be selling the exact same thing as your fifteen neighbors, how do the buyers possibly choose? While Bruce photographed away a cane seller came over to me, sort of a rustic character to be honest. He was gnawing away at his product sample, a cane stalk as big around as my wrist, and talking to me at the same time and inviting me to have a nibble. I gave him my brightest Wilma Flintstone smile of incomprehension and got going again.

Sugar cane OTOP. The deep purple stems indicate a much more valued quality or type and are squeezed for immediate consumption.
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Our legs were giving out as we reached Cam Phong and spied a nice little green, brand spankin’ new nha nghi. After a shower we strolled out to see what there might be to eat and it turned out the only place around was a nha hang, an actual restaurant as opposed to our usual “table-and-stool-on-sidewalk” kind of eatery. We avoid those because nha hang are fancy and expensive with mystery unpriced menus. There was some sort of company dinner going in the main room so we were seated in the adjoining room which was full of glass jars full of ginseng pickled in whiskey, another OTOP, perhaps? A guy was tapping one of the biggest jars to take into the next room.

In one of the nicest, cleanest, newest and cheapest Nha Nghi guest houses.
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The restaurant across the road from our Nha Nghi.
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We had a ringside seat to the festivities going on, lots of drinking, hilarity, back-patting, smoking, more drinking but we weren’t served before the deafening karaoke started, sadly. I translated for Bruce. “This is the Beer Barrel Polka”. “I love ya, man!” “He’s singing something about an old dog and an eighteen-wheeler but I can’t quite make it out.” When you are strangers in a strange land it’s good to have somebody to translate with.

The karaoke duet next door moves Bruce to high emotion.
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One of the many wondrous things about bike touring is knowing that even drunken amateur karaoke dialed up to 11 from across the Ho Chi Minh Highway isn’t going to keep me awake after a day’s ride and rigorous translation duties. I’m pretty sure I was out by 7:45 but you’ll have to ask Bruce because the music lasted much longer than I did.

Cleaning tool still life
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Today's ride: 44 miles (71 km)
Total: 311 miles (501 km)

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