12 Jul The bicycle ride to Hue: about tunnels, rolling hills and helping hands
It is going to be a long bicycle ride to Hue. The start from the guesthouse along the beach area to where the peninsula meets the mainland is very quiet and has very little traffic. As we cross one of the bridges leading back to the main land we watch fisherman bobbing up and down with the rhythm of the waves as they are fixing a buoy. We also spot a few boats that are tied up near the river’s edge, waiting to go out for the catch of the day. It seems that blue is “the” color for boats. Not sure why — maybe for camouflage — but so far most of the fishing boats we have seen in Vietnam all seem to belong to the “blue-fishing-fleet”.
As we cross the main bridge, our little road turns back into a four lane highway. Luckily, traffic is only slowly picking up again, which gives us plenty of opportunities to enjoy the view of Da Nang from up high. We are usually not huge fans of big cities; yet, we really enjoyed our stay in Da Nang. Although Da Nang is the largest city in central Vietnam, it does not feel like a metropolitan area. Maybe, because the city has so many sides with even more different flavors to it. There are areas that resemble small villages with little stores, covered markets, and tiny alley ways. In other areas boast with beautiful big plazas and promenades along the river, modern stores and restaurants..and then there is the very quiet beach peninsula, with empty beaches, empty guest houses, quiet streets, and dreamy scenes of fisherman on their dinghies and boats on the water.
As we leave the city, we find ourselves on a beautiful wide walk area that follows the beach on the right and hugs the road on the left. There are several very nicely kept public bathrooms along the way. The water looks beautiful, waves crash onto the beach, occasionally we see fishermen paddling their big round dinghies skillfully over the waves out into the sea as they spread out their fishing nets. We wonder how they do it! Not only are they heading straight into the waves…they are maneuvering a soup bowl with one oar out there. We are sure, if we had to paddle one of those bamboo round boats, we’d be going in circles for weeks. Amazingly, the people here are able to go a straight line with relative fast speed.
We also pass a cute little boat temple for fishermen and several people along the beach who are pulling their fishing nets in.
As we ride by an older couple that just returned to the beach in their round-boat, we stop to watch. They secure their boat, get out and start pulling on a long rope that is leading into the ocean. The two stand behind each other like they are getting ready for a game of tug-o-war and start pulling. Pull and take steps back, pull some more, and take more steps back, every once in a while they switch position to start over again. It seems like a lot of work and a lot of effort and we are curious what lies at the end of the rope. For miles we can not see anything out in the ocean. As the elderly couple is struggling with the line, Ron decides to give a helping hand. He parks his bike walks over to the surprised couple and starts pulling as well.
As the three of them keep pulling and walking along the beach to pull in what ever lies at the end of the rope, more and more people show up. Eventually, a big fishing net start to reveal itself, they keep pulling and pulling. There is some laughing and cheering as Ron almost busts his butt while he is pulling as hard as he can. Eventually, the net makes it all the way on land. It seems like a lot of hard work to pull in a dozen or so fish. Yet, the couple and the other people that came to help seem happy about their catch. They seem even happier to have attracted the company of a stranger and give Ron several pats on the back and many thanks. With a lot of big waves, smiles, and laughter, they wave us good bye.
Eventually, we leave the beach and head more inland again. Our route to the imperial city of Hue is going to lead us either over a long pass or through a tunnel. Since it is very warm outside, and we do not feel like climbing, we decide to take the tunnel. Unfortunately, we miss our turn and are headed for the mountain. Before, we make it up the pass though, we are able to take another turn toward the major highway and the tunnel. From far away we can see the road leading up the bottom of the mountain to where the tunnel is located. We almost take another wrong turn, when we check the map again. Eventually, after a couple of detours, a few more up and downs, we make it back onto the major highway.
As we are heading up the foothill to the tunnel, we spot signs, that scooters, pedestrians and bicycles are not allowed in the tunnel, instead we are directed off the road to what looks like a loading dock and bus station.
There is a special shuttle service in place for scooters, bikes and pedestrians, it comes with a very small fee for which our bikes and gear get loaded onto a small truck and we get to go on bus to make it safely through the tunnel.
After we buy our tickets a couple of guys that work on loading up the truck, check out our bicycles. They seem a little bit amused by the gear we are carrying, they point to our mats wondering what they are for, once they find out that they are to sleep on and that there is also a tent and sleeping bags on our bikes they give us a thump up and look quite impressed. As one of the guys takes Jessica’s bike to load it up, he seems very surprised by the weight of it and gives Jessica an even more impressed look. The other guy comes over and checks out the weight as well. For a moment it sounds like one of the guys is egging the other one on to give the bicycle a try. He straddles it and is barely able to clear the cross bar, once he swung the leg over, he has to stand on his tipi-toes to not sit on the cross bar ….apparently he did not take into account that Jessica is a smidgen taller than he is. He tries to get on it for a few pedal strokes, but has a pretty hard time to get going. All the while he has a big smile on his face, his buddy can’t stop laughing, and we are cheering…good times!
After our bikes are secured next to all the scooters, everybody gets to board the bus and off we go though the brand new looking tunnel to the other side of the mountain.
Once through the tunnel, the bus takes us another mile down the road to the next village, where the scooter-bike-truck is already waiting for us at the docking station.
We quickly grab our bikes, hand an elderly women who is asking for food a few Dong and head down a quiet road which leads eventually back onto the not so quiet Highway 1.
We make it over a few more rolling hills, some so steep that the big semi-trucks have a tough time going over them. A couple of the overloaded trucks are so heavy that they come to a complete stand still and once they try to get going again, we are afraid that they might go backwards. Luckily, most of the time we get to climb on the not so steep side and get to watch the oncoming semis struggling as we blaze back down on the other side.
As we take a break on top of one of the hills, we take a short rest next to one of the many tiny gas stations along the road.
There are some regular gas stations with regular gas pumps along the highway, that is where most of the truck and buses fill up. In the rural areas though, we see a lot of tiny shacks where dozens of soda bottles are displayed like produce. There are half liter, 1 liter, 2 liter, and sometimes gallon jugs, filled with gas, waiting to get purchased. Since most people only own scooters, which also double as the family vehicle and transportation of all kinds of goods from refrigerators to goats and pigs, these little tiny family run gas stations come in handy.
As it is getting late, we finally make it to another small town, where we check into a guesthouse. We quickly stow away all of our gear and lock up the bikes in the court yard, before heading next door to grab a bite to eat. The tiny shack next door has just a couple of small plastic tables and chairs but it also has a big screen TV which quite obviously is a big hit with the group of young men watching an American movie with Vietnamese subtitles. We each order a bowl of Bun Bo and watch the teenagers eat and stare at the TV. Once we receive our bowl of soup we notice a couple of extra mystery meat pieces floating in our soup. Besides the usual slices of beef there are a couple of meatball looking things floating around and some brown, square unidentifiable blob, the size of a brownie. The blob is smooth and looks a little bit like liver, but it has a weird consistency and does not at all taste like liver. After the women working the shack, notice us trying to figure out what we are eating, they tell the teenagers to let us know what it is. Unfortunately, their English is not quite that good either, so they charade pointing to their veins in their arms. Then they make a gesture that looks like they are cutting their wrists or their necks…”oh blood” we spew out. “YES” exclaim the teenagers, exited and happy to be able to help out. Apparently, those square blobs are made of blood…that would explain the faint brownish streak it is leaving in our soup.
Oh well, we already ate most of it and it is not really that bad…after all we had blood sausage in Germany and Poland, and Black Pudding in Scotland, and we lived to tell about it, so what is the difference.
The next morning we continue our ride. Today we should make it to Hue. Our route keeps following the loud and busy Highway 1. Besides having to deal with the relentless honking and beeping we also have lots of construction sites to maneuver through.
But at least, there are a few nice things to see along our way. Although, Vietnam is a communist country, we still see a lot of old churches along our way. Some that we see in the distance are quite big and well taken care of and look a little bit like somebody misplaced Notre Dame…they are remnants of French colonialism.
At other times we marvel over the power of government. As we ride through little towns where the road is being widened, we notice that personal property does not matter to the state. Often times houses are simply destroyed, cut in half, or sliced up to make room for the road. We are not sure whether the occupants always agree with the decision or if they even get compensated.
As we take another Caphe Dah break at a small cafe near the ocean, we meet a few tourists that are on a guided motor scooter tour. They are amazed, that we are traveling by bicycle and wonder how we are fairing. After chatting for a bit and enjoying our Vietnamese ice coffee, we go check out a couple of traditional fishing boats that are docked near by with the other tourists, before continuing on.
Sometimes riding through construction zones can be a little bit nerve wrecking, especially when roads are narrow and there is debris in the road and cars or scooters go zinging by as fast as possible. At other times construction zones can be a blessing for bicyclists and half of the road might be blocked off for car traffic, but not for cyclists or pedestrians…today is one of those lucky days.
Eventually, we make it to Hue, where we find another Nha Ngi tucked away from the touristy hotels and hostels, where we plan on staying the next few nights.