Monday, January 13, 2014

Vietnam 2014 - Day 7 - Moc Chau, Gia Phu, and Phu Yen

Here I was, thinking that nothing could be worse than yesterday’s ride, only to find out that things could indeed get worse. To the discomfort of riding in the rain and in fog I had to add a chilling wind and the feeling that I really didn’t know where I was heading. I kept asking, of course, but I got more baffled looks than answers the deeper I got into the mountain.

Thoroughly wet and chilled I came to the realization that I had to drop in elevation, and regretfully modified my route. My map showed I had to reach the town of Moc Chau, 64 km away from my starting point at Mai Chou, but by the time I was in the area it became clear that the map maker had taken certain geographical liberties. There were so many unmarked intersections that it would have been a miracle if I could reach my destination. Three times I took a branch of an intersection only to backtrack after a couple of kilometers because “it didn’t feel right”. After another 40 km I decided I was hopelessly lost, so the thing to do was to get somewhere, anywhere, find a place to stay, and with a lot more time interrogate the locals as to the best way to proceed.

Since one place was as good as another, I got on a road that promised one would reach Beh Pha in only 47 kilometers. The distance was given kilometer by kilometer, so I figure that this Beh Pha must be a pretty important place. Even more significantly, the road was slowly coming down, so after a while the fog cleared and rain broke into a drizzle. The landscape that opened to my eyes was breathtaking (and a little scary to tell the truth). The road ran perched along the precipitous side of a tall mountain range, and the valley floor was a long, long way down. The road itself was narrow and pretty rough, but thank God it was asphalted through much of its length. . I really got into “the ride”, gliding around the turns, flying on the straight portions of the road, and taking in the details of the people and small towns I went through. On and on I went, ticking down the kilometers to Beh Pha as I went up and down my majestic mountain road. It reminded me of driving in the mountains of Oaxaca, in Mexico).

With about 15 km to go the road started going down toward the hó Song Da, one of two enormous reservoirs in northern Vietnam. Cool, I thought, Beh Pha might be a touristy town along the reservoir shore, and I could sure use a little bit of luxury after the cold and miserable ride. 10 km to go, and then 5 km, and nowhere did I see the signs of approaching a major tourist destination. Imagine my surprise when at the end of the final kilometer I found . . . nothing! The road ended at the water line and that was that.

Fighting my rising panic (and the thought that I would have to backtrack the last 47 km) I studied the place with a little more care and convinced myself that this was simply a ferry crossing. I had to wait for a while, and during this time a few more people arrived, but eventually the tiny and ancient ferry boat pulled in, we loaded, and shortly thereafter were disgorged on the other side of the lake. It was then that I got the best of news: A tiny sign promised that in another 27 km I would reach Gia Phu, which had been my original destination all along!
I made it to Gia Phu, but had to push another 10 km to Phu Yen, where I found a gorgeous grand hotel, where I am now decompressing and writing this blog. I am now in the heart of H’Mong country, where the folk people are more Chinese than Vietnamese, no English is spoken, and all the menus are in H’Mong rather than in Vietnamese. I was thus reduced to mimicry to get my dinner, which, although delicious, was a lot plainer than I would have liked. That is what happens when your education does not include basic fluency in H’Mong.

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