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.
Our hope had been to make the dunes by mid morning and try kiting there. But when we arrived, there was no wind and little forecasted, so we took a few pics and watched some of the jeeps on the crest above the lake. According to the Vietnam Coracle blog, this rent-a-jeep is a new development in tourism, and growing quickly. I remember ten years ago passing through the Imperial Sand Dunes on the border of California and Arizona–a beautiful and unexpected stretch of whipped peaks of sand appearing out of hard packed rocky desert, with a canal of blue water running right through it. A large billboard showed buggies and quads crawling up the side of a large dune, and proclaimed “Protect Our Playground!” Though I’m in favor of protecting unique landscapes, something about this always rubbed me wrong. Maybe because the dunes were to me far more than simply a playground for loud combustion engines. My friends and I had gone to visit, as it happened, on the busiest day of the year–the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The place was overrun with engines revving and tires spitting sand. We didn’t stay. I wondered how Vietnam would manage this naturally beautiful area, and what it had been like before the brand new coastal highway was built. I dreaded to think what it might be like 10 years from now…and thus began a conversation in my head.
“Yes, Andrew, but this is not your country–this is not your concern. You must let the Vietnamese people do what they think is best.”
“Yes, yes, it is true that this is not my country, but you forget that this is our world. We have the same Father who gave us breath in our lungs, and we come from the same mother, the earth. If one of your brothers or sisters was mistreating your mother, would you do nothing to stop it? We must think bigger!”
“What would you propose?”
“At least see if the Vietnamese people would study development of natural lands as it relates to tourism around the world–to see what they would like to preserve, and what they would like to develop, by gathering wisdom from those who have already faced this dilemma.”
“Are you not just another white man telling someone what to do?”
“I am a human, seeking the good I have found, living into my calling of caring for the earth.”
“Yes, you’ve always had a dramatic flair…kind of flowery and preachy”
“Alright, that’s enough…”
We continued to pedal up hill, noticing plastic bags and trash blowing along the roadside. Kallie and I reflected on what it takes to change a culture–and how many places in rural America had garbage dumps at the edge of town, or some spot on the farm. Plastic is a relatively new development for our world, and Asia is leading the production and use of plastic with Vietnam ranking number four, according to the BBC News. We hoped that Vietnam would find a way to manage plastic litter.
Soon we cruised down a steep hill toward Mui Ne, reaching our new speed record for this trip of 68 kph (40 mph). But our thrill was quickly doused as we turned back up and had to shift down to gear one and slowly grind up an equally steep hill. Kallie suggested this might be our toughest day, judging from hills and distance and sun. Dunes are familiar to us in Michigan, and so we were only hoping this would be the last hill. Thankfully it was, and we found our guesthouse to be clean, comfortable, and ideal for taking a nap. Which we did, after a well-deserved cool shower, of course.