retrospectively speaking

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December 20th 2013
Published: December 24th 2013
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Well I have been a bit stuck for internet connection over the last 3 weeks so I figure this is a re collection from various moments of that period.

So I left Cat Ba Island after 3 days. Nice place saw my first blue sky’s of the hol so far, which was nice after the murky polluted sky’s of Hanoi.

Cycled to the far end of the island to catch the “local ferry” .read cheap. In the process got my first flat tyre. Great conditions for a flatty though as it was bright blue blazing skies overhead. Managed to do the 30km in 2 hours, tyre maintaince included. I had a look around the village pre ceding the ferry port and got involved in some pretty serious haggling over a bunch of banana’s, 1 beer and what amounted to peanut brittle. Takes a bit of getting used to having to haggle over every single item. Ah the regulated fair isle we live in! Talking of bartering I had to persuade the lady at the ferry office that my bike was not in fact a motorbike but just a straight up pushbike. Over this particular issue incredulous gesticulation seemed to be the order of the day and charades in its most primal form I guess. Reluctantly she accepted that her interpretation of a motorbike was wrong whilst also laughing

As it happens the cheap ferry got into the Haiphong cargo hub. 17 long km outside of Haiphong proper in pitch dark pissing rain. These cargo hubs are absolute monsters. I was making good progress until I got into a little bit of a muddle when Da Nang Street merged into 10 other streets. I managed to accost some guy on a stall with a map but he was deaf. However he helpfully pointed me towards some young thing who apologized for his poor English (no need) and then proceeded to draw a great big lovely elaborate map, dissecting de nang street by street. Whilst this was going on somewhat friendly mob had formed and out came something resembling a shot glass with a warm greenish liquid in. Synomymous with pretty much every street corner in Vietnam along with sunflower seeds. I had been curious as to what this liquid was but now I knew. Sadly not mulled cider but green tea. Anyhow it only really added to the scene, piss wet through on the outskirts of Haiphong cracking on with a few green tea’s. Safe to say after that brief pause for green tea I was able to master the monster junction with aplomb. Just before arriving I saw my first person getting knocked down, sobering.

The plan from Haiphong was to head in a general South West-ish direction towards one of the two borders with Laos in this area. So it was initially a little bit tricky getting out of Haiphong. However the feel good vibe soon kicked in when I realized I was on the right road and then the compass confirmed this, ah bliss.

I was meant to get to a place called Thai Binh but courtesy of 3 flat tyres I ended up getting to Nam Binh, which was some going. Some 59 km further than the target. Great examples of the frailties of the human mind. Which goes something like this “great flat tyre might as well call it a day” tyre repaired “sky is the limit” repeated 3 times over hence the great progress.The 3rd time this happened I was all for getting a new inner tube but the guy was determined to patch it up. Maybe they are resourceful; however the cynic inside me screams that they just don’t have a spare inner tube. On the 3rd tyre change the whole family pulled up their chairs to watch and stare. So the obligatory tea (jasmine this time) was poured whilst there son reeled off every English football team he knew to me. Then he started translating a few questions from his 72 year old grandmother, goes like this:

- How old are you?

- Are you married?

- You are very handsome

- Do you like Vietnamese girls?

- Why not

- Where are you cycling?

- Why?

Some of them are very hard to answer with limited vocab.

Got into Nam Dinh and bought a new inner tube. I figured part of the problem was the excessive amount of broken glass on the larger highways. Hard to stop until you are on top of it.

Had a day off in Nam Dinh. From this point having looked at the map it seemed that the mountains would really kick in and inhabitations would become a little less frequent, wasn’t wrong!

The first day of really getting off the beaten track felt like a real breakthrough moment. The map I have is pretty basic but gives you a general sense of whereabouts/direction, nothing more nothing less. So much so that I had no idea where I actually ended up that evening. All I know is it was about 50km south east of Mai Chau, assuming I was peddling at a decent speed all day????????I guess I had cycled a fair way which is strange at the roads had certainly become a bit more interesting, certainly much more interaction with the locals. Every stop was accompanied by green tea and some pretty extensive chit chat bearing in mind the language barrier. Everyone now seemingly wanted to say hello and the odd one wanted a picture of themselves with the freak on the bike.

Following day I was making great progress onwards and upwards to Mai Chau when ze bike had a serious chain malfunction. Even though I was way up in the hills by this point a mob of school children emerged from seemingly no where and gathered around the bike. Then after a bit of chit chat a guy walked out of his house with a hammer and screwdriver. The reality dawned that this was very clearly a shit or bust moment! First whack less than agile, poor accuracy. Second hit chain free but bent. Dunno if anyone’s ever ridden a bike with a bent chain? Basically on every rotation it fails to hit the cogs so basically slips/jumps – irritating. I think in Vietnam and probably a host of other countries it’s all about short term solution, can you get to the next village?? Anyhow you can’t help but appreciate the effort and friendliness of the guy. The experiences are certainly painting a vivid not to mention memorable picture.

A couple of km up the road and with the chain making a god awful noise I came across some touring cyclists. They crept up on me with what seemed to be and what in all probability were two very high tech rigs. Something amounting to a lap top strapped to each of their handlebars. They were a seriously well informed couple courtesy of the information systems. By now I was making chattering away whilst walking with my bike up a 10km 10% gradient. I kind of got the feeling that the frowned upon this style of reckless bike prep and a general ignorance of all thing bike. At that point I was certainly enjoying the freedom of the bike and the not knowing where one is. Subconsciously liberating. Anyhow went through the standard garb of where we were from....... They were quite clearly (for sure) Dutch then he said you are quite clearly English. Everything is a mini set of challenges but from that point I was beating them to the top of that hill. I don’t know why I cared but I did and it was thoroughly enjoyable experience beating them to the top on foot. A seed had been planted for sure!

So the drop down into Mai Chau on the bike was great 15km with loose brakes = exhilarating. Got into the town and found a bike shop where they took the chain off and then fitted it around the de railer, not through. So they went to fetch a bike from across the road to see how it was done. Few pictures showing this ordeal at the bottom. Again admirable can do attitude and we got there in the end but …………………hmmmm. The bike was slowly becoming a bit of a pain in the arse. I enjoy the cycling but I find the constant problems a bit irratating. Ruins the flow of the day and all. I re assured myself that I can walk with the bike at about 6km and hour and free wheel down hills!

So what felt like with a new bike i set off the following day and bumped into the dutchies again. I somewhat ambiguously replied that I thought my chain had been fixed. I don’t really know a great deal about bikes but there is a kind of 6th sense when watching anyone do some “work” on a bike, car,garden,house, whatever. A certain something that you can feel or see emanating from them. The feel I got from the guys who replaces the chain was it will safely see him a good 20km out of town. The feeling was right. I was now walking. I like cycling because it gets you into all the small places you would fly by on a bus but have always been curious about slowing it down to the next level and walking. Well now I was! And I must say it’s very good. The map of all of sudden seems a lot bigger, the places in between become the destinations.

So by hook or crook but primarily on foot I had made it to Na Meo(border crossing with Lao) by this point the bike was buggered, beyond redemption I felt. However one last roll of the dice was necessary and took it what seemed like a pretty handy shop(Vietnam has a lot of these) People criticised Woolworths for been the kind of shop you go to when you can’t imagine anywhere else selling what you want. Vietnam has its fair share of these shops and I like it. Few hand signals out emerges the man. Unique looking fella. Emerges with his vest rolled up to reveal his top class mid riff whilst smoking a tobacco bong. Has a quick chuff then releaves all the fur balls from his throat in one quick blast. Asides from this he was making all the right noises and genuinely looked like he knew what he was doing until I realized he was fitting my bike with a bloody motorbike chain. If I thought I bent chain struggled with any traction then I was in for a treat with a motorbike chain! Anyhow so he finishes fitting then suggests I give it a go. I in return wonder quite clearly out loud what is the point???!!!! So he gives it a go. Makes some good awful noise then he falls off it and in the process bends the wheel. Then he commences negotiations on mending my wheel. The kind chap wanted $50, kindly suggested he go and %&&@ himself at which point he seemed to grasp my English. So from here proceeded a little bit of jousting in our respective mother tongues. Neither of us giving a yard, me based on the fact I was right and him based on location. Look at Na Meo on a map and you will see that geographically he was in a position of great strength. So in such circumstances I did what any self respecting person would do and just walked off.

So a dream or idea of sorts died and a new one started. It felt pretty liberating really, you often regret rash decisions made in moments of semi rage but I can unequivocally say a good 2 weeks later that it was and still is a great bloody moment.

I kind of thought post that moment that I shall walk, hitchhike and boat where possible.

So far so good although it has to be said the pace has slowed somewhat. On the plus side I have time, lots of time.

I can confirm contrary to rogue Facebook status updates i am not in Bangkok enjoying extra curricular activities.

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25th December 2013

Loving the blog! Hope you're having a brilliant Christmas! X

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