A Day in the Life

22nd FEBRUARY 2019

As I’m staying right on the beach, I thought I’d make the effort today and get up early to watch sunrise over the sea. From previous days I figure the sun will rise around 6.30am, so I’m up and ready at 6.15am, only to find that I’ve missed sunrise by ten minutes. Bollocks. The Brazilians are already up and cooking themselves breakfast, with Felippe showing me a time-lapse video of the sunrise I’ve just missed. I’m quietly relieved to find it wasn’t all that spectacular. Instead of going back to bed I just lie in a hammock for a while, staring out to sea with tired, glazed eyes. I go back into the dorm and bring all my gear outside to a table so I don’t wake anyone while packing, although there’s now only four bodies left in the twelve person dorm. The Brazilians leave before me, planning on riding to Quy Nhon today and then getting a bus from there to Hoi An. The big old cheats !

Now that I know how to operate a Presta valve, my spare inner tube goes into my front tyre, and I’m ready to leave by 8.00am. I cycle away from the beachside hostel and notice immediately that the inner tube is bulging out from under my front tyre rim. Bloody Hell ! My first thought is just to deflate the tube slightly so the bulge pops back into the tyre from whence it came. This doesn’t work, so I find a shady spot across from some village shops and get the front wheel off again. Once I remove the tyre, I see my problem is that parts of the tyre rim are starting to separate and peel off. There’s actually not enough rim left in some places to hold back the fully inflated inner tube. That doesn’t stop me trying though. It takes me a couple of attempts, but I manage to coax the inner tube to remain inside the tyre. A local lad in his twenties has been watching and helps me put the wheel back on and re-attach all my gear.

Trundling off along the bumpy track through the village, my eyes are glued to the rotations of my front wheel. Within a few seconds the inner tube bulges out from the tyre rim again. Fuck, Fuck, Fuck ! I carry on through the village until I find a quiet, shaded spot next to a barn to give me some peace to try and sort this. It doesn’t take me long to realise I’m not going to get very far with this tyre and it’s worn rim. The inner tube is just going to keep popping out. Infuriatingly, this is the brand new Schwalbe tyre I bought in Hanoi that now has a damaged rim as well as being worn smooth.

Luckily, very luckily, I’ve kept the old tyre and have been transporting it, tied on top of my panniers, all the way from Hanoi. It’s been folded into an awkward shape for a month, causing ‘edges’ to form along the fold lines rather than looking like a full, smooth circle. However, this pointy rubber loop is currently my best bet. I get all my gear off the bike again and attempt to fit this now mis-shapen tyre back onto the wheel. It takes a while getting the tyre to fit, but gradually it starts to fall roughly into place. I semi-inflate the tube and sort of massage the tyre back onto the wheel rim. It’s far from ideal and worryingly lumpy in some places, yet it still looks like it could do the job. Heading off again on the stony, single track road I’m super conscious about riding as gently as I can. When I reach the smoother main road I find that the wheel ‘bumps’ slightly every time the mis-shapen part spins round onto the ground.

I’ve not yet eaten breakfast so I stop at the first roadside Plastic Chair Cafe that I see. There’s already a guy sitting at a table and eating a bowl of something that might be noodles or rice. I just point to the bloke’s dish and give the owner lady a Thumbs Up to say I’d like one of those too. The owner brings me a can of coke because I’m a Westerner and I hear the sounds of frying coming from the kitchen. When my bowl arrives, the contents are a warm orange colour and look like a thick rice porridge garnished with spring onions. After a few mouthfuls I discover that my dish also contains an unexpected bonus in the shape of cockles, squid bits and a couple of large prawns.  I’ve had a real result on the Food Lucky Dip this morning.

I carry on cautiously, still concerned about my front tyre situation. It does seem to be holding together well enough though, despite the odd bumping noise that comes with each wheel rotation. I remain on the busy QL1A road today, choosing directness over quiet detours in the hope I’ll make it to Nha Trang in three days time for spares. At one point I climb a steep hill and catch glimpses of the bay below through a large, outdoor cafe. Pausing to take in this spectacular view is just the excuse I need to stop for another iced coffee. I swear I’m becoming addicted. The cafe is a very chilled spot, with hammocks hanging from tree branches and between the support columns of a palm leaf roof. Taking a seat, I slowly sip my iced coffee and take in the scene before me. I’m above lush jungle, which stretches for a mile below me towards seaside houses and fishing villages on the huge Xuan Dai Bay. The bay itself is almost turquoise in colour, while the dark green hills at the opposite shore have pockets of white sand dunes running down them. Peppering the blue waters are flotillas of small, wooden fishing boats. I stay for a while, marvelling at the view and taking a multitude of pictures.

My rice porridge breakfast filled me up so well that it keeps me going right through lunchtime and onwards to my destination of Tuy Hoa (T-Wha). Despite my tyre issues, I’m there about mid-afternoon and check in to a Homestay on a quiet residential street, facing onto rice fields. Three generations of the host family manage to cram themselves in downstairs, while the first floor is given over to guest rooms. There’s not much interaction at this Homestay though, they just show me my room and leave me to my own devices. Just before sunset I go for a walk along a raised track between acres of rice fields opposite the house. The sun is caught between low cloud and distant hills as it sinks, casting an orangey-pink glow over the bright green of the rice plants. The whole scene is unusually still and peaceful for Vietnam, the only sound being a croaky frog chorus from the waterlogged fields.

For dinner I stop at a large Plastic Chair Cafe on my way into town, a premises that takes up one whole corner of a street block. Language barriers abound so I just stand with a couple of the staff and point blindly at the menu. An old guy who speaks a bit of English gets up from his table to help, asks if I like beef and orders food on my behalf. I’m brought my customary glass of Westerner’s coke, before a plate arrives containing nothing more than a large circle of cold beef. There’s a centimetre of fat round the outer edge of the beef, similar to a dish I tried at Lunar New Year and apparently a Vietnamese delicacy. Along with the beef I get a plate of salad, a crispy poppadum thing and a couple of dipping sauces. One is the familiar fish sauce, while the other is brown, spicy and full of floating chilli slices. I dip the beef in the fish sauce and the poppadum in the spicy sauce, then try it the other way round just to experiment.

Just as I finish, they bring me out a second beef dish. Jesus, the old fellow has only gone and ordered me two meals ! Was the first one only a starter ? This latest offering is chunks of surprisingly tender beef in a spicy sauce with courgettes. I’m pretty sure it would be delicious, but my taste buds have now been rendered useless by the overpowering spiciness. All the staff have been watching me at various points, seemingly fascinated to see how I cope with their food. The waiter kid feels the need to bring me over a knife and fork during this second meal, a disappointing testimony to my clumsy chopstick use. And I honestly thought I was improving.

The whole meal comes to 200,000 VND (about £8.50), which is a lot more than my usual outlay, and gives me the uneasy feeling that I might have been ripped off. Then I reason that I’ve just had two good big meals, one of which was a delicacy, and think that maybe that price would be about right. In any case, £8.50 would barely cover two pints in the UK, so I can’t complain too much. There’s no sign of life when I get back to the Homestay, so I just take myself upstairs. It’s been an odd day. From missed sunrises, to wonky tyres, to surprise meals and amazing views. Just another day in the life of a cycle trip.

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