Day 37: Hoi An to Hue
Our eight am escape plan is foiled by a classic sleep in. A stop at the mechanic foils it further (everything becomes elusive the moment you’re in a hurry), where my broken bike rack is welded together after hissing beneath the weight of my turquoise backpack.
It’s my turn to play leader today. I check my map and steer us out of Hoi An. A solo guy on a bike pulls up beside me as we drive out of the city.
“You guys heading north?” His accent is European-something.
“Going to Hue?” He screams over the roaring wind.
He falls back and I watch him sidle up to Flo a couple minutes later. He asks to ride with us (he obviously doesn’t know I’m in charge today).
We ride to the base of a mountainous mountain range but the signs here chide us that no motorists are allowed on this road. Our tripod reroutes. We find a new mountain, starting a climb that overlooks the steely ocean inverse of the grey-marbled sky, sandwiching the Hoi An horizon just near the crust. Boats dot the bready gris. It’s nature and human colonization in an earthy, hi-tech embrace.
Our Italian rider shoots ahead as we stop to take pictures. We catch up with him down the road. Flo’s bag dangles from his bike seat, so we stop to fix it. After a few minutes, thirst pulls us over to get water. Then I need to pee. The poor Italian guy didn’t know what he was signing up for. He is far ahead now and we lose him before the road ascends into the mountain range whilst rogue clouds spill between two peaks and over the pass ahead, diving into the valley below like they’d been called for dinner. Just past the wild clouds’ path, on a bend in the road where cafes and restaurants pop up from between the trees, we stop our bikes to eat a lollipop and spot our old friend Tom, the Italian Rider. But he’s only still for a moment before roaring off to finish the way to Hue alone, without the weight of our leisurely schedule. See you on the road, he says.
The cold has sauntered in, arm in arm with the altitude and I take this time to layer on my pathetic cardigan as we awww over the cute dogs play fighting along the storefronts. Here we go again.
The mountain drops down in a green cascade to a gale-rippled sea below, appearing like a mirage of water on some cold alien planet.
For a short while, the scenery remains an almost estranged beauty–fathomability at a low point–until jolting into the non-back country type of highway where asshole truck drivers rule the road and honk like every beep is earning them royalties.
For lunch we pull over at a place empty save for another table of white people. Flo gets adventurous with his order of cuttle fish until a plate of squid arrives in front of him (he hates squid) and we wonder if it’s fun for locals to give two English names to certain palette-specific dishes.
This part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail is supposed to be breathtaking (are we a little lost, perhaps?) but even in the pretty parts, the distraction of blaring horns and suicidal bus drivers suck some of nature’s glory out of the picture. No matter, what we lack in sights we make up for in time, and by four pm we have arrived in Hue.
The first hostel we look at is full. We convene over a beer and BBQ chicken burger on a chilly patio. Wi-Fi directs us to another guesthouse sans vacancy. At the next place, a sweet lady outside holds my hands whenever she speaks to me and doesn’t seem to stop giggling as she leads us up the stairs. Here, we score another dorm room to ourselves.
The vibrational frequency in my very bones has dropped from hours steeped in an incessant, gelid wind. Wearing ponchos in rainless weather did little to stop the frigid air from tainting our core temperature. All I want now is a hot shower. Standing beneath the spout in the bathroom, warm water spills over my skin until cruelly morphing into an icy downpour that makes my tears feel blisteringly hot in contrast. It’s not shampoo tearing up my eyes either (hair washing in cold water just feels wrong).
Flo goes to the gym and I find an Indian place around the corner to drink chai and write. I feel a warm tingle start to take over my body again!
I meet Flo at the hostel and we wander to a restaurant patio overlooking a ghostly little three-way intersection. This town is empty! But our patio is charming, and for two hours we share tuna and chicken and beer and banana with coconut ice cream and conversation that lasts until the final table has paid and the rest of the town has gone to bed, and we go home and crash as though we intend to really wake up early tomorrow.