Ea Knop to Ea Drang 88km
It's well after midnight, and I'm very asleep. Suddenly there is a very loud pounding on my door. "Open the door". I remember to wrap my sarong around me, and slide the bolt. I'm blinded by at least two high powered torches shining in my eyes, and the questions start..... " What's your name? Where are you from? Where were you born? What's your glintme? " " My what? "
Someone turns on the room light, and I see I'm surrounded by four guys in military or police uniforms. One is holding my passport, which should be in the hotel office. One of the officers is writing something, and pointing at it, wanting me to read it. I can't see it without my glasses, so push between two of the officers to try to find them. Officer one has written...What is your career? He passes my passport to number two officer, and all the questions are asked again. Then they give me my passport, and go away. WTH? (What The Heck?)
True. It happened. Early this morning. My second encounter with military in Vietnam.
This whole trip is about encounters. What is amazing, is how I am seen by locals. Walking the streets of Nha Trang, Ju and I were generally ignored, except by those wanting to sell us something, or get a hand out. Like the guy who came up to me while Ju was browsing the second hand book shelf. " Hello Sir. Where are you from? Oh NZ. I like NZers. I fought in the war with NZers. That cost me five years in prison when the war ended. Now I can't get work. I'm 63 years old, and very hungry." Ju is nudging me. The book seller is nudging Ju, subtly shaking her head, and rolling her eyes. War vet was sent packing.... straight to the next white face.
However, walk out on to the street with Fiona, and the whole scene changes. They come to meet Fiona, feel the tyre pressure, count the number of gears, play with the calculator, tap the trailer to see what it's made of, push it down to watch the springs work. The questions flow. "Where are you from? Where did you ride from? How old are you? Where are you riding to? How many punctures? How much weight? Wow you are very strong."
This happens every time I stop. It also happens while I'm riding, as scooters slow behind me, follow for a while, then come up level, and the questions are asked. If they're too shy to ask questions, they just stare, and eventually say "Goodbye" and ride away.
One of these encounters today was a little different. I'm riding a short cut, that should save me about 30km, a brown line on the map, which means broken pavement, potholes, and some dirt road. Normally it would mean dust, but today it is drizzling, so we have mud instead. "Please Sir, will you come to my house for a cup of tea? " Okay. We take the next right turn, down a muddy road, around a small lake, and through some tall gates. My host is a recent graduate from HCM City University, spending his holidays with his family.
The family house backs on to the lake. We wander through the garden. Mainly they are growing pepper, as in salt and, but also Durian, Jack Fruit, Tea, tomatoes, coconuts, and several other plants that I couldn't identify, and my host couldn't translate to English. Pretty cool to see such a variety, and for me, the first time I had seen several of them growing, up close.
After tea, we visited the local temple. Very serene. And all this, the whole village, was just off, and invisible, from my minor road.
Another special encounter today. Schools out, and a young lady, about 17 or 18, rides her scooter beside me for a couple of km, practicing her English. Eventually she says goodbye and goes. 2km later she returns. She's been shopping, and as we ride, she passes me some cakes, says thank you, and rides away.
Lunch stop, and two sisters, early 20s, and their mother make me bread rolls. They want some photos, which I'm happy to be part of. They start to egg each other on. The cuddles get closer. There's some check to check, and puckering up for a kiss. Oh my goodness. I'm pretty sure that was some tongue behind my ear. Time to stop this game. Fiona and I run for safety.
Mid afternoon, and I met Mark, riding from the UK to Singapore, via Central Asia, and China. He has four months to get to Singapore. He is not impressed with Vietnam. The state of the roads, and the weather are getting him down. I've hardly noticed either.
Encounters. They fill my day.