Bad Juju

December 14, 2017
Posted in Journal
December 14, 2017 Andrew Spidahl

Bad Juju

Friday, Ca Na to Phan Ri Cu’a, 6:30am – 1:00pm, 55 km

When it happened I was kiteboarding pretty well on the 9m, managing some wind gusts and ocean rollers. I took a pass back toward shore and noticed Kallie had come to the edge of the water. Since the shore break was pretty big, I turned back to avoid slipping into the crashing wave, and when I finally turned toward Kallie again she was waving me down. So I rode all the way in. 

“This guy says we need to leave.” She eyed the man in the orange shirt walking away down the beach.

“What? Why?” I asked, puzzled.

“I don’t know,” she replied, “He just kept speaking Vietnamese, but it was pretty clear he wanted us to wind up the lines and get out of here.”

We wound up the lines and prepared to leave. I kept looking at him, now several hundred meters off, meandering back toward the row of ocean side Vietnamese hotels we’d stopped at an hour before. I wanted to ask him why?

“Bad juju,” Kallie said. “I’ve got all this bad juju now, I don’t know what to do with it.”

“I’m sorry you had to deal with that,” I replied, knowing how it sucks to be told to leave in a foreign language and not being able to find out the reason.

I would be more comfortable if I could say I had no part in the bad juju, but I’m afraid I was also a contributor. It’s hard to know where juju starts or how exactly it’s transferred, or even what it is, according to Kallie; but it seems to grow and get passed around, and it can be good or bad.

When we first arrived at this Vietnamese tourist location called Co Thach on the map,  it was still pretty early and I was hoping to discover a kiteable location nobody had told us about. We cycled in on a wide deserted boulevard, past the mostly empty shop tents with their worn tarps blowing in the wind; we speculated that perhaps this wasn’t the high season, or that the night market was when things came alive. We coasted down to the row of guesthouses on the ocean where a handful of Vietnamese tourists were having a small gathering in an enormous concrete veranda that opened to the sea. Kal stayed with the bike and let me go scope the beach. Since it was low tide, there was some flat wet sand to pump up on; besides that the beach was a bank of smooth stones (and odd bits of trash). I walked a couple hundred meters down, past some tourist monks taking pictures together on the rock formations, until I found what looked like a trail leading back to what must be a road. I went back and told Kallie and we cycled off to see if we could find it.

One thing about bad juju is it feeds off of impatience, and impatience feeds off of a poor night of sleep, fatigue of a steep climb, and the hot sun–in tandem, so to speak. As we were going I had a vision for some video footage of us cycling down a moderate road, then a small road, then a sandy path through thorn thickets, and finally emerging out onto the stony beach where we would set up a kite to perfect wind and beautiful waves and the best jumps of our life. So I began to grow impatient when I suggested we get the camera out and Kallie didn’t want to. Fine, I thought, I’ll do it. I got out the GoPro and did my best to steer the bike while holding the camera and filming. When we got to the turn off into the sandy path through thorn thickets a young man from across the street ran out and pointed farther down the pavement, to what I assumed was a guest house or some other official place. I wasn’t looking for the official place. I knew this was the path I had seen from the beach. But he was being earnest and friendly and helpful, and that’s usually something neither Kallie nor I can resist, so we thanked him (mine might have been disingenuous) and continued cycling down the road, all the while me starting to stew my bad juju. We rolled through a gate into an empty compound, save for a small tour bus parked to one side and an occupied hammock on the other. The occupant didn’t seem to be concerned one way or another about our presence.

“Here we are in the tourist trap, yay!” I sulked, or something to that effect.

“Can you please chill,” Kallie suggested, “you’ve got some bad energy.”

Mutter mutter mutter sulk, I replied. 

During this interchange a group of Russian tourists returned and made off in their van. It felt so unofficial and yet somehow we were in the midst of someone’s floundering attempt at a resort, and I wanted to be on the sandy path of thorns and freedom from cinder block constraints and explanations. Oh well–“Adjust and make the best out of the situation” is one of my travel wisdom cards that I have to review once and awhile. We found a place to park the bike and I got to kiting while Kallie tried to catch a nap in the shade. But that’s when the bad juju showed up on the beach too.

Another travel wisdom card is “Give people the benefit of the doubt.” Perhaps this man who told us to leave was concerned for our safety, all alone with no lifeguard. Perhaps this was a sacred site and our kiting there was disrespectful (seemed unlikely). Perhaps kiting was not allowed here–for some reason… But once you’ve been curtly gestured at to “get out!”, without the patience of an explanation or the kindness of an apologetic smile, the confused and smoldering aftertaste of anger and injustice remains. 

So often it’s not what is communicated, but how…

I thought of the good juju we’d received early that morning, when our 72 year old host from our rice dinner the night before welcomed us back at 5:30am for coffee before we set out. He sat down with us and some green tea, and said he was “very glad to meet us and get a chance to practice English.” We left feeling valued, human, special, caffeinated…

And there was the good juju of a strong tailwind, pushing us along the industrial Highway 1, with its trucks, buses, and motorcycles carrying factory workers in jumpsuits and hardhats, giving us the occasional passing thumbs up and smile.

And later that day, when we found the small coastal road, shaded by cedars and banana groves, perfectly paved and mostly empty–a bikers dream. Then there was the woman in the red scarf who passed us on her motorbike and gave us one of the widest, warmest, most genuine smiles of our trip; Kallie and I both couldn’t help laughing and commenting on it. I felt the warm energy inside of me, and it welled up into a feeling of gratitude and goodness. Good juju.

When traveling by bicycle, we are sensitive to the various flows of energy between us, and to and from others in our interactions. Shouted “HELLOs!” for the benefit of a reaction or a laugh from their friends is typically bad juju for us. A genuine “hello!” sung out from a smiling doorway accompanied by a wave, that’s good juju. As my friend Melody might put it, that “puts love into the grid” of humanity. In fact, that’s one of the underlying reasons we travel — to seek the good, and share in it. 

So what to do with bad juju? Cover it with love. Sometimes it’s work–saying I’m sorry and I’ll do better next time, and sometimes it’s pure unexpected grace, like the woman’s smile. Cover it with love — and have a shower and a rest and a cold drink; those certainly help too.

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