Kallie attempts to nap in what little shade she can find
Kallie attempts to nap in what little shade she can find

Sun and Sand

Saturday, Phan Ri Cu’a to Mui Ne, 8:00am-1:30pm, 55km 

When we pushed out of the coastal town of Phan Ri Cu’a the sun was already a quarter high in the sky, and burning without a cloud in sight. We were grateful for sunscreen and again, the tailwind pushing, pushing. This stretch of the coastal highway is one of Vietnam’s driest spots, and is famous for beautiful sand dunes overlooking Lotus Lake. The road was a brand new, double wide divided highway with very little traffic, and we cruised averaging 20 kph (12 mph) on the gentle but increasing up and down grades. The closer we got to the dunes the harder the climbs became.

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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.

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Finally Cycling

Wednesday, Phan Rang to Ca Na, 8:30am – 2:30pm, 57 km

We finally packed up all our gear on the bicycle and left Phan Rang, not without some hugs and pictures at Solarvina Hotel with the friendly family staff who has taken such good care of us.

It felt good to finally be on the road, and the 25 mph tail wind helped propel us southward. In our first kilometer we had to stop and check the phone map, since trying to stay too close to the coast had brought us into a bustling little neighborhood. We had veered too far south already and had to get back to cross the bridge and be on the main road. The main road turned out to be a divided highway, two lanes in either direction, that was mostly deserted. The wind sang softly through the street lamp poles as it carried us past the remains of the city, wading birds, and delta crop land and towards sand dunes and bouldery mountains. Halfway up one of our first moderate inclines we lost all torque, and looked down to see a broken chain. At 9am the sun was strong, so we pulled the tandem off into a little shade and got to work. In no time I had taken out the bent link and reattached the chain with enough to make it work in all gears. It’s messy work and I was frustrated with this setback, but I felt like in the end it wasn’t much, as long as it didn’t happen again. But it did.

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Eating Fish Runs Out

So far google translate has been a helpful app to have on my phone as we negotiate with little to no Vietnamese language. We’ve learned the basic numbers and a few greetings and phrases–hello, excuse me, thank you, how much…but often these aren’t enough. So, in the absence of a Vietnamese English speaker, we turn to google translate. On several occasions we’ve used the speaking function, where one person speaks into the phone in their language and google translate speaks out loud the translation in the other language. Sunday afternoon we had a basic conversation in this fashion while sipping Pepsi and Number 1 soda, iced in cups. 

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Kites on a [Motor] Bike

The day we cycled the 25km north from Phan Rang city to Phi Kite School was a windy one. We were excited about that in regards to kiting–it was a thorn in our flesh in regards to biking. The prevailing winter winds are from the northeast, which is why we planned to cycle south, to keep the winds at our backs and ensure positive cycling vibes. But our first time getting our tandem put together and loading the kites we found ourselves headed straight into the nostrils of the monster–25-30 mph headwinds that caused me to doubt both Kallie’s commitment to pedaling and my own life’s purpose and existence. Head down most of the way, we arrived with a faint thrill of accomplishment and jelly legs. Thankfully, kite boarding is perfect therapy for many things, and in no time our legs felt stronger and we’d forgotten our cycling trials.

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Phi Kite School

Kallie did her research on kiting in Vietnam, and Phi Kite School in Phan Rang came up at the top of her list. We were eager to discover this place, but we had a ways to go. After the sleeper bus dropped us at the side of the road on the outskirts of Phan Rang (an unscheduled stop negotiated by our Vietnamese speaking friends), we found ourselves without transportation and without language. Well, mostly. Google translate does an amazing job, and so does some basic gesturing if you’re patient and persistent. After waiting about fifteen minutes to see if a taxi would pass, we decided we should seek some help. I went across the street to a small shop while Kallie stayed with all our luggage. The proprietors were an elderly man who seemed wary of me but kind, and a middle aged woman who promptly turned and walked away when I inquired, “taxi?” Patience.

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The Sleeper Bus

Admittedly taking a bus when you’re on a bike tour doesn’t settle too well–like too many chilies in your chicken and rice dish. But, in both cases it’s a means to an end. And it made sense to us for a couple reasons. First, biking was only half of this tour, the other half being kiteboading. We wanted to spend time kiting, and it looked unlikely we would be dry at all for two weeks or several hundred km, whichever came first. With a little over a month to travel we wanted to maximize. Second, our bike was still packed in its travel cases, which made the opportunity a little sweeter. And on top of that we could travel with our new friends, two of whom could negotiate in Vietnamese and help us through the details. Done.

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A Day in Hoi An

Since we had made arrangements to stay our first night on the road with a friend of a friend currently living in Hoi An, we decided to take an overnight trip to spend some time visiting and see this ancient coastal city. After buying a Vietnamese SIM card (Viettel: 1 month, 7 GB of data, 160,000 VND or roughly $8 USD), we hopped a bus (literally flagged it down and ran to jump on) and were on our way. The journey from Da Nang to Hoi An took about 50 minutes, and we found a recommended green taxi upon arriving to take us from the bus stop to Alex’s place. We were grateful for the SIM card as we could use Facebook messenger to communicate and we could check google maps as well, although wifi seemed to be at almost every guest house or small shop. Alex is a professional photographer living in Hoi An. He guided us to his place, which was a nice house he and a friend were renting for a couple months. He showed us where water from the typhoon had come to on the walls, and told us how coming home that day he had to wade through chest-deep water and move all furniture to the upstairs while they waited for the waters to recede. “It seemed like the Vietnamese weren’t even bothered,” he laughed. “I got a picture of a couple of guys in their shop sitting on a table drinking champagne while their feet dangled in the flood water.” 

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Day 2: Chasing Wind

Our first night of sleep in a bed after travel lasted about 12 hours–enough to get us back on track and outsmart jet lag. We decided to get breakfast around the corner where we had the day before and discovered a larger set-up with a different woman cooking. The pop-up street restaurants are an interesting facet of Vietnamese culture; the same street corner can host several different vendors in the course of the day, depending on the mealtime, and also remain empty much of the day as well. Many of the food carts fold up on the back of a motorcycle.

We stopped in to see what they had today, and were served cold noodles with chicken and veggies, Bun Thit Nu’ong. We make a mental note: “Very delicious. Eat again.” On the way back we see our kiting buddies downstairs having coffee. We have discovered this is no ordinary coffee; this is thick, black robusta concentrate dripped onto sweetened condensed milk in about a two to one ratio, and served either hot or cold (with ice). It’s also typically served with a light glass of green tea, hot or cold to match the coffee. We joined them and had ours hot. For the coffee we skipped the mental note and went right to the maxim: “DRINK AT LEAST DAILY WHILE IN VIETNAM.”

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Day 1: Sunday 11.19.17, DaNang

Our first full day has proved to be just that. Straight from the airport, the owners of Gia Huy guesthouse welcomed us into a small lobby filled with motorbikes. The single room we had booked wasn’t ready at that early hour (7am), so they upgraded us to a double room for no extra charge. As we are wont to sprawl a bit with all our gear, this served us well.

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