26 December 2013

A Magical Day

"Magical" is the only way to describe day 18.

My lower back, literally a huge pain since day two, actually felt better at the end of the day than at the beginning. No massage after day 17, it was the first thing I did after showering off the road grime in my room. Today's US$10 massage included a sauna and a scrubbing. I could get used to these "Vietmanese girlfriend showers". Today's masseuse also got a 50% tip because she did not offer sex. The more I ponder this "feature", the more I think that many of the US$8-15 massages are simply loss-leaders to attract customers for their real moneymaker. Your thoughts?

Overall, the road quality was better than any other day since the very beginning of the journey, so I was able to make relatively good progressonly 189 km because I enjoyed two relatively long breaks.
Only one wrong road today and even it was interesting. I after 1 km of pavement, I rode 2km on increasingly more rutted and more narrow roads. When I ended up on a dike between two rice paddies, I decided that it was not a good shortcut and turned around. The locals looks of, "What the hell is this guy doing here?" always turn to, "Yup, the gringo was lost" on the ride back past them. Between the helmet and the non-scooter, I'm pegged for a foreigner as soon as they see me. I think the riding gear just confirms it; in 18 days, I've seen one other rider with an armored jackettopped with a US$30 helmet... Did I quote Mike W earlier on cheap helmets?

I realized a number of things about the competition for blacktop between the whales (semi tractor trailers and huge intercity buses), the tuna (cars and small trucks), and the baitfish (motorcycles and scooters).
   1) Although it looks like the whales are trying to beach the baitfish, they are relatively considerate and, if the baitfish are paying attention, there's almost always an escape route. When there isn't, you'd better have torque or brakes and a backbone of titanium.
   2) The far right side of the road is often the best surface, so it's possible to pass whales and tuna on the right... just be sure there's no whale coming toward you who might force them to squeeze you out as they get out of the way.
   3) Have a change of underwear handy.
   4) If an on-coming creature flashes its lights, it's telling you that it is NOT changing course. So you'd better.
   5) Wear armored clothing and gloves. Gravel and stone chips hurt a LOT less and the jacket's back armor pocket is also a great place to stash your money belt (shhhhh, don't tell anyone until I get home)
   6) A full face helmet is worth everything you paid for it. You should see all the nicks and marks on mine (and even a star) from all the rocks and whatever else hit it in 18 days... every one a potential head scar. The full-face shield also keeps out the dirt and dust. Gonna need a new shield when I get home, though unless I retire the whole helmet.  This shield has so many blemishes that it's starting to cloud my vision. Or maybe I just need to start wearing my glasses.

At each of my two respites I had a good interaction with the locals, with the second especially noteworthy.

The first was an 11a.m. stop for sustenance. The food was better than average and, as I was gearing up to depart, the owner asked me to join him at his table for a cup of tea. As I approached his table, I noticed a very long, free-standing pipe made of bamboo 
with a dragon's head at the bottom
As I admired it, the owner's son insisted on demonstrating

I'm pretty sure it's only used for tobacco ;-)

The second encounter occurred when I stopped at another Yamaha dealer to buy two new foot pegs. Although I had just replaced them, the right one was missing. As one of the mechanics took off on his scooter to get them, the women of the dealership engaged me in conversation. It was an interesting chat and I correctly guessed that they get very few foreigners stopping in for any reason. Part of that, I'm sure, is the country's apparent 10,000 to 1 ratio of Honda to every other brand. I arrived thinking I'd be back on the road in 10-15 minutes. Ninety (90) minutes later, I asked my new friends for a photo:

The last 40 km I was 'in the zone', felt like I finally had the rhythm of the road, and only wish I'd charged the GoPro battery last night so I could have a video of it. The close encounters with whales, tuna, other baitfish and starfish (bicycles and pedestrians) are now accepted as one of the daily costs of the ticket. The adrenaline rush is still there, and I'm now enjoying it; even when the fins on a whale with a closing speed of 120+ kph miss me by inches!

Ut oh! John has a new source of his favorite recreational drug! :-D

And he promises to be closer to caught-up before leaving on the 1st for his 2-day Ha Long Bay cruise... or maybe by his three-day, overnight-sleeper-train-each-way trip to Sapa that leaves on the 4th...

Spent the night in Thanh Hôa and am now helping the evening's massage girl with long-distance English lessons via text.

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