My map tells me that I'm halfway there now; halfway to the DMZ. I'm going to make it. The next day it's sprinkling when I awake. With bicycle panniers notoriously porous, I compartmentalize my gear into more than a dozen different Ziploc bags and plastic grocery bags. I head out into the drizzle, and the sky explodes. Now I understand the meaning of a downpour! After getting soaked, I pull over and squeeze under an awning until it lets up, then continue. I climb a pass, drop down the other side, and soon pass the turnoff for Qui Nhon. I press on, a total of 130 k, and make it to Sa Huynh, a little nothing of a place, but one with a hotel. The hotel was beachfront, and nice, but there seemed to be a sort of take-it-or-leave-it attitude among the staff. That attitude resurfaced in the attached restaurant, when, 20 minutes after ordering the shrimp dish, the server appeared with a fried fish. "No shrimp," was the explanation. My spirit was dropping again -- it also seemed like I might be getting a saddle sore. Sounds pretty unimportant, but it isn't. Not when your days are 100 k, with baggage, and climbs. I headed off to my room, followed by 20 annoying kids, and locked the door for an hour of peace. Heading out to the beach just before dusk, I see another loaded bicycle pulling in. I introduce myself to Walter, a Belgian also traveling by himself. Walter's approach to bicycling was quite different from mine. He selected interesting places to bike, then hopped on a bus or train to get there. Once he had enough, he took a bus or train to another area of interest. This approach had worked well for Walter -- although he didn't have the time to bike all of Vietnam, he had already seen Hanoi and a stretch of the Central Highlands, and, as soon as he got bored with the coast, he was heading to Saigon and the Mekong. Walter was definitely better adjusted than me -- the same kids that were driving me crazy -- he thought were cute! Although there was nothing in or around this small roadside village, I elected not to leave the next morning. Frankly, I wasn't that interested in getting on that hard leather saddle without a bit more of a break. Walter decided to hang out for a second night as well. The next day we loafed around for a while, then decided to bike through the village. In this small backwater, Walter set the pace. Walter and I had chatted earlier about the strange Vietnamese practice of ear-cleaning. Each of us had seen barbers poking in customers' ears with long handled scoops and brushes. We were biking past a barbershop, when Walter pulled over. He declared that he needed me to take a picture of him getting his ears cleaned. Walter got his ears cleaned, I took the picture, and we were off. We'd probably gone another kilometer, when the roadside village ended. We U-turned, and looked more carefully for distractions. We spotted a crowd around two outdoor billiard tables, and pulled over again. Billiards is big in Vietnam. In every roadside village I'd passed through since Saigon there had been at least one patio with one or two tables on it. I'd thought it strange as I biked by -- communities with no electricity or plumbing had pool halls. We were ushered to one of the tables. The gathering was mostly teenage boys, and one of the oldest took ownership of us. As most of the others stopped what they were doing to watch us, our host made three columns on the nearby chalkboard. For the next hour we played billiards, Walter and I doing OK, but still losing to the shark. We moved on, looking for other distractions. We bargained for mangos, visited the small ice plant, and entered the school grounds, inadvertently disrupting every class. Walter's easygoing approach was a natural for him, and I promised myself to try to emulate it.

 
 
Cham ruins atop a nearby hill.
 
Road conditions were generally fine for my street bike, but there were a few stretches that were rough.
 
These live ducks were not too happy...
 
The hotel rooms generally looked the same...
 
 
 
 
  Next: My Lai to Hoi An  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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