Back at my room, I put on my trousers and long-sleeved shirt, then sprayed myself with deet. I left the bike in the room, then walked back to the restaurant. Soon after I got there, the old man, Miew, and I sat down at one of the beachfront tables. Earlier in the day these tables had been filled with a busload of French tourists. Now the beach was quiet. The grandfather lit some sticks of incense and wedged them in cracks in the nearby wall. Then he lit a piece of paper, placed it on the sand at the foot of the table, and steadily added more pieces of paper to the small fire, reciting something in a low voice. Three girls who I'd also seen working earlier came out, with trays crowded with small bowls of something green. They returned with three large plates of white rice, and we all sat down. There were six of us total. And 30 bowls of this green porridge. Thirty! Everyone just started digging in. I poked away at a bowl, and asked Miew who the other 24 were for. "The Spirits," I was told. This was intense. This crazy solo bike ride had come through. I was in the middle of nowhere, experiencing the real Vietnam. I had seen scraps of paper being burned in the streets, both in Saigon and in Nha Trang. Apparently those were prayers being offered to Heaven. Now I was sitting in a closed restaurant at the edge of a small fishing village, sharing the full experience. While the sweet soup was a little sweet for me, the others ate heartily. Once their own bowls were empty, they dug into some of the remaining 24. At the end of the meal, the girls brought out a larger bowl, and dutifully recollected the uneaten porridge. After dinner, Miew asked if I wanted to see the village. I did, and we walked back out to the highway, and started heading north. A few steps later we cut back through the brush, and into the abandoned hotel site. Miew showed me his home. He had boarded up a basement space partially enclosed by a stairwell. Apparently he was working this hotel job for just a few months, and usually lived in Hue. Of course he had no electricity or water, but neither did my place, and he had the restaurant facilities only two minutes away. I was impressed. I asked him about security -- he didn't have much to take, but still, there were books and a few other things. Apparently others lived in other parts of the building, and they all sort of looked out for each other. There were also geese outside, and they would warn if someone approached at night. Seeing two beds, I realized that Miew's offer of accommodation was sincere. I wish I had taken him up on it -- staying in the shell of an abandoned construction site would have been a nice addition to the trip.

We left the site, and cut across to the beach. Soon we were walking on a narrow strip of sand, dozens of beached fishing boats on one side, the roadside shacks on the other. It was still light enough for the villagers to recognize a stranger in their midst. Everyone stared, and the kids began to crowd around. Some called out "Lien Xo!" Lonely Planet had warned of this possibility, and Miew confirmed -- the children didn't know, and thus thought that I was a "Soviet." Apparently, the Vietnamese do not like the Russians. I called back "My, My", which if pronounced properly, would mean "American, American." I don't think they understood, but the kids were small, and not a threat, the teenagers and adults were just curious, and I had my own private translator if the situation got weird. We then left the beach, and crossed the road to the other half of the community. We passed through the center of the village, briefly picking up an entourage of perhaps a hundred. We visited an old couple, where I was treated to Vietnamese whiskey (29 proof) and then asked to translate French prescriptions (I couldn't). As we headed back, I picked up two beers at one of the stalls. I was back to my room by about 11 p.m., a bit late given the early starts that were pretty much a necessity. This day had been great.

The whiskey and beers weren't enough. Those train tracks were active. And not even a real door between me and them. Then some rooster started off -- he wasn't in the room, but he could have been. Then the kids. First just their noise, then they were opening the shutters and poking their heads though the windows! I ignored the 6 a.m. alarm, but finally got up when I couldn't ignore the heads poking in the window. I loaded the bike, and was off, dropping by the restaurant to say good-bye to Miew.


 
 
My accomodation. You can just see the railroad tracks directly in front of the building.
 
Miew's home was in a corner of the ground floor of this...
 
The small village at daybreak, as I continued bicycling north.
 
 
 
 
 
  Next: the Dai Lanh Pass to Song Cau  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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