Monday, January 13, 2014

Vietnam 2014 – Day 6 – Up the hill and ….

It is overcast but not raining, so in my book it is a great day for motorcycling. Besides, I am retracing some of the ground I have already covered, so I am going over known ground … or at least I was going over known ground until I decided to take a shortcut. But that’s OK. Thanks to some clever navigation I miraculously managed to get back to the road to Cuc Phuong, and from there easily managed to get on the main road to the mountains.
“Road” is a euphemism for the foulest mud track I have found in my travels through five continents. But my trusty motorbike held true, and  I slowly picked my way up the mountains under a nagging drizzle. I have finally figured out that the provincial roads are regularly maintained, but as soon as the Route National goes through a town the whole thing goes to pieces, as road maintenance becomes the responsibility of the town.
Slowly I made my way up the mountains, until about noon, when I figured it was time to have lunch. I was fortunate enough to stop at a popular eatery where I was fed a scrumptious lunch of tofu, pork belly, cheese head, cabbage, and veggie soup. A veritable feast that I enjoyed to the last morsel. Coming out of the eatery I saw it was staring to drizzle, so I crossed the road and bought me a poncho (smartest thing I have ever done).
Slowly my pleasant motorcycle trip devolved into a nightmare. Mind you, the transition was so slow I was not quite sure when or how it happened: One moment I am picking my way through muddy potholes, then my poor motorcycle is slowly grinding its way up the steep slopes, then the drizzle turns into a wet fog, then the visor of my helmet becomes blurry, then my own glasses are but a haze while big trucks growl their way up the cliff-hugging asphalted path. The fog becomes thicker, and I wonder what crazy idea made me think it would be fun to risk life and limb up this wet, slippery slope. My butt is hurting, I cannot see past my nose, and my spaceship is struggling to make it to the top of the pass.
But I made it to the top of the pass! Again, it was not a clear cut moment. Rather, the fog started to let off, the road became less muddy, my engine stopped complaining, and all of a sudden I was less miserable. Mind you, my butt was still stiff and complaining, but now the world was less threatening and I knew I was going to make it. In fact, By the time I reached Mai Chou, at about 3 pm, the afternoon had settled into a fluffy clouds-and-sun mosaic, as if everything was just OK with the world.
Mai Chou is a pretty intermontane small town, but its beautiful surroundings have attracted enough attraction to develop a small tourist industry. I had the chance of a home stay (which I would have taken in a second had I not been so bushed), but I felt the need for a shower and a real bed so bad that I let it go for the sake of a non-descript regular hotel. Even the best hunter lets some game go!

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