Gia Nghia to Thon 6 81km
Thon 6 to Di Linh 35km
I am a very very lucky man. The last four or five days of cycling have probably been the hardest I've done since leaving NZ, and Ju, who has done every one of those hard kms, is still smiling, and says she still loves me.......
All of our maps tell us there is a road that goes almost directly towards the coast, and we decide to take that route, as it seems shortest. But what we find, is the easiest route, along the valleys, is all lake. The Russians popped into Vietnam after the "American" war, and hostilities between North and South Vietnam ceased, and helped build lots of hydro-electric dams. One of the reasons so many 40 to 60 year olds speak Russian here. Therefore, the roads now follow the ridges, and when the ridges don't meet, the road drops into the valley, and climbs back up to the next ridge. That's what we did....several times.
The interesting thing is that all the villages are on the ridges, perhaps to take advantage of the cooling breezes.....but not today..... This is coffee production country. Everywhere are coffee plantations, and every flat surface has huge mats with coffee beans drying. Front lawns do not exist. It's all drying coffee beans, with folk raking, and shuffling through the beans turning them over in the fierce heat. Others are husking the beans, of packing them into bags to be transported on grossly overloaded trailers. Any spot not taken by coffee beans, is filled with corn cobs and kernels drying. There is a a bustle of activity everywhere. So much to see, you almost forget you're climbing another hill.....almost.
The road is narrow, with not too much big traffic, and as the day progresses the traffic volume really thins out. We have been looking down upon the lake all morning, but now, suddenly the road begins to drop dramatically towards the lake, and we come across roadworks. Or should I say road construction. For 40km we mixed it with graders, rollers, construction trucks, tarring machines, and lots of workers. Around 30km, we even mixed it with bulldozers and huge diggers. We were riding on brand new dirt surfaces. Our Navigation App told us we were way off route. But there was no other route, and the workers were telling us to keep going. We think the old road must be submerged in the lake. Certainly our off road skills came in handy. There was the occasional scooter. One got a puncture right next to us, but my pump couldn't cope with the large hole. There was also the occasional completed section, sealed and smooth, but these were just there to give us false hope that it was all over. Some section had a thin layer of fine gravel covering the surface. Scarey with road slicks and a heavy load. But Ju was still smiling.
It's getting late. The two towns we were expecting never materialized. Perhaps sunken with the old road. Nothing but road workers accommodation, and that's rough. We're also running out of water. Looks like we are going to have to camp out, and eat and drink frugally. Then we come to a brand new bridge. So brand new it hasn't been finished. No way to cross. We have to descend down a very steep track to a very small ferry. Three scooters, Ju and I and it's full. The push up to the road on the other side was very very hard. The ferry captain helped push Fiona up some of the way, and Ju helped for some as well, but my arms and legs were jelly by the time we reached the road. Luckily we managed to get some water from the road workers camp, and then slowly climbed yet another hill looking for somewhere to camp.
Saw a couple of possible sites, but pretty smelly, and/or dogs hanging out, so moved on. It's twilight. Ask a a very small shop whether we can camp. They misunderstand and tell us 20km up hill. We go another 100m and see another possible site. A guy turns up on a scooter. We show him our tent. Yes we can camp, but he suggests we go back to the shop. Why? He insists. Turned around again?
Back at the shop.....we can stay.....in their house.....use their bed...they will sleep in the shop. The bed is a wooden platform in the corner of a bare room, with a few clothes hanging on nails. The kitchen is dirt floor, with a pot over a campfire. The shower is a tap into a bucket, behind a canvas screen, on planks. We didn't find a toilet. A mat is laid on the floor, rice, salted fish, eggs, and pickles are laid out. Beer comes in from the shop, and the man opens up a 5 liter bottle of home made hooch, brewed from a fruit similar to figs. It's potent, but I take a few small sips...which almost blow my head off. Ju has her cup repeatedly filled with beer. The neighbor turns up and joins the party. They want music, and videos from my phone. They are impressed by Test of Time, as they should be. Eventually they all roll out the door, and we are tucked in beneath the mosquito net. Ju needs a pee. She sneaks out, tripping over dogs, puppies, chickens and ducks. I have a great sleep. 6am, and a scooter starts up. Dad has gone 10km to the next town to buy us some breakfast. No way would they accept any payment. We are humbled by the amazing generosity. The language barrier was huge. We couldn't even get their names, but an amazing experience for us all.
Day two, and it starts with 10km uphill. But now we have passed the road construction, and the map shows us back on route. As yesterday, everywhere is bustling, and after the first, two hour climb, the trend is downhill. We and our bikes, are dirty, dusty, and hot. Seems like a perfect day to stop early and have a clean up.