Day 6 – Dong Hoi to Hue (the hard way)
I will never forget this day, looking back I feel it was a defining day in my life. Part of the reason I did this trip is because I nearly died in a Chinese hospital 6 months before, and came a kind of recluse after that. I felt I won a little back against what wrecked my life, and could start again when I got back to Shanghai.
After a roadside baguette, I first rode South to Dong Ha on standard crazy roads with big trucks, wobbly mopeds and murderous tour buses.
Then I headed out West past Camp Carrol, then Hien Long bridge where I had a snack of sesame and syrup cakes, coffee and 2 bottles of Huda beer with some lovely local blokes who insisted on photos.
In spitting rain I continued West, towards the Laos border where I was chased around by two huge dogs. Then I headed back to Khe Sanh to take tourist photos of memorials.
At least is has Sky TV -
I crossed a bridge onto the HCM trail again, bound for Alouri, where I would then head East for Hue. Although immesnse fun and extremely challenging and rewarding to ride, the road was slow going. It started getting dark long before I got to Alouri.
The rain was steady and riding through clouds and the humidty of the dense jungle just got me soaked. I felt great, I was well out of my comfort zone, a long way from home up on mountains in a jungle with a motorbike, completely knackered with a long way to go. I did not see people for hours, and I knew I could be in trouble. I couldn’t give a dam either.
After manically beeping through a herd of buffalo I found the road out of Alouri towards the coast. The surface was one of the worst I had seen, which is saying something, the daylight was very nearly gone, it was getting cold. It looked bad. I stopped to gather my energy at the top a steep descent -
It got a lot worse before it got better as construction across the hillsides had turned the roads to mud and caused huge landslides. Large vehicles had created ruts deep enough to swallow my wheels and the rain was creating rivers across the roads. Add potholes, fallen branches and bowling ball sized wayward rocks.
Arms, back and bum aching, as the road descened further into chaos I shouted at myself ‘you are f*cking up for it!’ repeatedly. As if waiting for some hideously cruel cue, no sooner had I finished boosting my resolve than the heavens truly opened and I found out just how heavy rain can be. It seemed the hillsides were shifting -
Riding through the pitch black, villages were sparse, riding insanly difficult, my headlight attracting attention from the untold millions of flapping nocturnal jungle denizens, many of which I would have to pull squirming from my the gap between my helmet and head. My choice for an open face style helm not so great now.
After hours without seeing any traffic and very few people, after darkness fell here was more traffic. Ancient trucks with malfunctioning lights and badly loaded wood cargo slowly struggled up and literally slid down the muddy tracks.
I entered a small village, but like the others before it seemed dead. Then as if from behind a shroud a shining LED speckled café appeared from the darkness. I squelched and dripped my way to a comfy seat where a wonderful young lad, Lao Minh, sorted me out with a coke and some hot tea which he gladly refilled. I was a spectacle for the local teens hanging out there watching football, listening to hard house, drinking tea and chain smoking. Part of me wanted to stay, but with Lao Minhs helpful advice I thought I could get to my destination, Hue, in half an hour.
After 20 minutes in the dark on heavily potholed roads in pouring rain, dodging oncoming scooters without lights, some Vietnamese guy on a well beaten ped pulled up beside me, pointed somehwere in the distance and shouted ‘Hue!’ I nodded and replied ‘Hue!’. We rode together all the way to Hue, him on my left or up front, constantly on his horn. My own entourage! We passed an accident where a logging trucks cabin has folded itself around a huge tree, spilling logs onto the road. A lone policeman stood staring up into the cabin.
I offered my mystery companion a beer so we stopped at a little café on the outskirts of Hue. Neung introduced himself and we got pretty smashed on Huda beer. The lady at the cafe kindly grabbed me a plate of very tasty rice with shrimp and spicy diced veg from a place down the road. Neung and I had difficulty communicating but would shake hands a lot and laugh at general things. Four of us (we were joined by the café owners toddler) sat and watched some football, drank and ate.
I felt very privileged to to be in the company of such genuinely lovely human beings. The lady and her family of 5 sleep on a single mattress behind a stack of shelves from where they sell the drinks that buy them food and clothes. I am not a writer so it is hard to express how and why when I considered their life and their personality in comparison to my own, and most English peoples, I felt a bit rotten. I think a lot of people go on holiday to these places and if they can even bring themselves to communicate with the 'peasants' it’s a brief and fleeting affair. Documentary photos are taken, the sort that say nothing other than ‘a rich person took a photo of a poor person at some point in the past.’ When the traveler leaves, the peasants no longer live in a filthy shack, struggling for the basics every day, they exist only in memory.
After thanking our host, offering a fair tip, Neung and I headed into town together and after a handshake parted ways on a quiet, ornate bridge overlooking the bright lights of a busy central district, it was like a scene from a romantic tragedy.
I found the Crown Hotel where they looked on in thinly veiled terror as I parked my soiled bike in their pristine bike lot and then dripped, splatted and squelched my way across their lobby to ask for a room. I slept very well.
* I hadn't noticed before when I first wrote this entry as a blog post, but although the best day of my trip does include some exceptionally enjoyable riding, it starts and ends with people.