20th FEBRUARY 2019
My day off in Quy Nhon is preceded by a much-needed twelve hour sleep, from 8.30pm last night until 8.30am this morning. I felt completely shattered after yesterday’s 100km trek into an all day headwind. The devilish combination of too much heat, too much sun and too big a distance just about had me beaten. I tell myself there will be no more 100km days on this trip.
Anyway, I need to purchase a few things today. Flip-flops are a must because I need to get my feet out in an attempt to even up my absurd tan lines. I’ve got a sock-level straight line right above my ankles which is brown above and deathly white below which, quite frankly, looks ridiculous. Shorts are on my list too, as the arse cheeks are worn through on the pair I use most. I make my way to a gloriously air-conditioned Vin-Mart and try to find sizes that will come close to fitting me. Because Vietnamese people are smaller in general, even the XXL sizes seem too small. The flip-flops are fine as my toes stick out the front, my two t-shirts are pretty tight and the shorts feel like castration devices. Oh Well.
Just after mid-day I take a walk to the beach to find it almost deserted; there are literally only two people on the huge expanse of yellowy sand. Vietnamese just don’t go to the beach during the hottest part of the day, whereas UK beaches would be rammed at this hour on a hot, sunny day. However, the locals will start to venture down about 4.00pm, and the beach will remain busy well into the evening. I’m just glad to see a litter-free beach for once. On the way back I brave my first Vietnamese haircut, giving all my instructions in charades and rudimentary sign language. A young bloke takes on the task, paying particular attention to clippering the back and sides. I’ve no idea what the top is going to look like as he combs all my hair backwards to cut it. The result is that my hair looks a bit long and a bit high on top afterwards, but it’s not disastrous. Maybe that’s the trend in Vietnam. He charges me less than £1, but I give him £3 as he’s put in a fair bit of time and effort.
An afternoon siesta helps my continued recovery from yesterday’s battles, before I head to a Plastic Chair Cafe for dinner. It’s a place that does rice meals, displaying about ten different meat and vegetable dishes in trays at the counter to accompany the rice. I just point to the three nicest looking options without being entirely sure of their contents. When the meal is delivered I find I’ve chosen egg, something that resembles beef and a weird, flat meat that might be pork. All the dishes are spicy and slightly curry-like, but I really haven’t a clue what I’m eating. They all go down well though, along with a side of clear, tasteless soup.
Back at the hotel I have an iced coffee in the bar downstairs and message a Brazilian couple from Instagram who have been cycling North as I’ve been cycling South. Our paths are due to cross tomorrow and we’re both heading for the same accommodation. It’s only 40km down the coast too, so it should be a nice easy day. What could possibly go wrong ?
The next morning I allow myself a leisurely 10.30am start as I don’t want to get to my next accommodation too early for a 2.00pm check-in. As it’s such a short distance today there’s nothing to be gained by an early start. My destination is the idyllic sounding Ocean Beach Hostel, where I’m looking forward to spending some time in the sea on my arrival. Downstairs my bike is still resting against the coffee shop back wall, so the owners were true to their word, or perhaps fortunate that nobody tried to steal it. To be fair though, Vietnam has shown itself to be an exceptionally safe country so far, so there’s much less chance of bike theft here than in most other countries.
I amble along the 5km beachside to begin with, towards the South end of Quy Nhon Bay and hills that sport a resort name in huge, Hollywood-style white letters overlooking the city. Then it’s a steep climb into those very same hills and off through some picturesque and undulating coastal landscapes. I’m on a quieter road today too, so spend a bit of time playing with my GoPro camera and trying to get some ‘ride past’ shots. It feels like I have all the time in the world compared to yesterday. About halfway I meet a twenty-something Canadian cyclist heading in the opposite direction. He doesn’t actually tell me that he’s Canadian, but he does say ‘aboot’ all the time so it’s a pretty safe assumption. He’s also ginger-haired and rides without sunglasses, so I’m not quite sure how he copes with the sun and heat. We have a brief chat, and I find out he’s only going to Quy Nhon himself, so I sign off with the famous last words of ‘We’ve both only got 20km to go then, so it should be easy !’
About 2km later my back tyre starts to feel a bit wobbly. It’s funny how a flat tyre never feels like a flat tyre to begin with. Rear tyre punctures are always more of a nuisance as all my gear has to come off the bike first before I can remove the back tyre. I wheel my bike to a shady spot under some trees and set about my task. There are two spare Presta valve inner tubes in my panniers, which I try, but my pump doesn’t seem to fit them. A patch up job it is then. Before I put the tyre back on I run my fingers round the inside wall in case there’s any lingering sharp objects that would immediately re-puncture the inner tube. In doing this I find the culprit still sticking through the tyre. I pull it out to find a small piece of metal, about the size of a staple, only twice as thick. Slightly annoyingly, my brand new Schwalbe tyre that I bought in Hanoi a month ago has been almost worn smooth already. With all the weight on the rear end of my bike, I thought it would be a sensible idea to put the good tyre at the back. I realise that my rear tyre always wears down more quickly than my front, but a brand new tyre shouldn’t look so worn after a month. Procrastination has got the better of me here as I had been meaning to rotate my tyres for a few days now.
With all my gear reattached to the bike I’m about ready to go again. I give the back tyre a final squeeze, only to find that it’s already deflated slightly. Bollocks. Once again I remove all my gear from the bike, upend it, take off the tyre and try to find which part of the inner tube that the air is escaping from. It turns out that air is still getting out from under the patch I’ve just stuck on. At this point I decide that I might as well just rotate the tyres, putting the good one on the back and the dodgy one on the front so it’s easier to remove. After a further six patches my inner tube looks like it has some kind of horrible growth on it, yet air is still escaping. This is no good. My fingers are covered in oil and my patching clearly isn’t doing the job. I decide just to cycle the remaining 20km, stopping to pump up the tyre each time it deflates.
A further 2km down the road and my tyre is flat again. I carry on like this for a few more stops, before I have the bright idea of trying to see if the twenty-six inch inner tubes I’d bought in error will somehow fit round my twenty-eight inch wheel. They don’t. No matter how stretchy and rubbery they are, they just won’t reach right round. So my crappy, patchy inner tube goes back on and I continue limping down the road until it deflates once again. My plan is to somehow flounder my way to the hostel tonight and see if the Brazilians (or anyone else) has a spare inner tube I can buy. I continue my routine of cycling a kilometre or so until my tyre goes flat, stopping, pumping it up and then repeating the whole process. At the turn off for the Ocean Beach Hostel I’m faced with a road that is no more than a bumpy, stony single track. Just what I don’t need with today’s tyre issues. It’s 4.00pm now and 5.00pm by the time I crawl up to the hostel. I was meant to be in the sea three hours ago.
The English sounding owner must realise from my demeanour that I’ve had a shitty day, so he simply points me in the direction of the dorm building and says I can unpack and shower before formally checking in. When I delve into one of my plastic bags for shower gel, I find the top has popped open and the thick blue liquid has leaked all over my bag. It’s just been one of those days. The shower is basically an outside bathroom with a shower head fixed to the ceiling almost above the toilet. It’s like a mosquito carnival in there, but I’ll put up with slumming it when the location is so stunning in every other sense. I’ve been deliberately trying to avoid staying in Backpacker hostels on this trip in favour of Homestays, because I’m not going to experience or learn anything new in a Backpackers. However, this cheap, spectacular beachside location has made me re-evaluate that thinking.
When I get back to the dorm the Brazilian cycling couple are in the room. Weirdly, I already recognise the bloke from his Instagram pictures. We make our introductions and I tell them about my rubbish day and all my tyre issues. He tells me that he has a pump that can inflate my spare inner tube through a Presta valve, so we go outside to retrieve it from his bike. I go to attach the pump and just start pumping. It doesn’t work. Then he drops the bombshell by saying ‘No, you have to unscrew the top bit first !’ Oh, For Fuck Sake ! Once you take the plastic cap off, there’s a tiny metal screw on top of the valve that has to be undone as well. My spare inner tubes would have been fine if only I’d known how to operate a Presta valve ! All that time spent faffing around with patches and re-inflating my tyre, when I could just have swapped inner tubes ! I should be livid, but I’m just glad there’s a solution to my problem. Strangely, for all the long cycle trips I’ve taken, I’ve never once used a Presta valve. Every single inner tube I’ve used in the past has come with a Schrader valve, the same universal type you get on cars and motorbikes. Now at least I know what to do with a Presta valve, so I can simply put on one of my spare inner tubes before leaving tomorrow.
I go for food with the Brazilians, Felippe and Martina, and find out about their trip. They began after their work contract finished in New Zealand and are trying to cycle all the way back to Brazil. So far they’ve ridden through New Zealand, Australia and most of South East Asia. They aim to continue through Central Asia, Europe and eventually back home to Brazil via the foot of South America. They do fly a lot between destinations and put their bikes on buses to skip boring or difficult sections. It’s not a continuous ride by any stretch of the imagination, they just cycle when they want to. Martina says she doesn’t like the busy roads and noisy traffic in Vietnam, and they both think Vietnamese people aren’t as friendly as those in Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia. I find this a bit odd as I’ve found most Vietnamese to be friendly, although they do seem to have become slightly less hospitable the further South I’ve cycled. Felippe suggests this might be a throwback to the Vietnam War and the fact that Southern Vietnam were on the losing side. This was a theory I’d actually thought of myself, but figured it was too far-fetched to be valid.
We all have beef noodle soup and a good chat, before we are asked to move on so that another group can use our table. Back at the hostel’s bar I slowly sup on a beer, while the Brazilian couple share a coke. We’re about thirty metres from the sea in a large, open sided bar with a palm leaf roof. I can almost feel today’s trials and tribulations fading away with the beer and the location. The Brazilians go for an early night as they want to be up early to witness sunrise over the sea tomorrow morning. I go for a walk along the quiet beach in the dark, paddling in the warm sea and illuminated only by the moonlight. However, I’m in my bunk and asleep by 10.00pm, thankful to have put this day to bed.