Saturday, November 20, 2010

November 20th Mai Chau to Son La

As you can imagine, it is quite a daunting task biking with a bunch of Canadians.  Sadly, they come from a country one tenuous step from third world status.  They suffer under a health care system, allowing them two doctor visits a life time, at birth and at death.  They have only one major league baseball team.  With global warming, half the country will be melted away within a few years.  Most raised on the prairie, poorly educated, require different colored units of currency, due to only a small minority able to count beyond ten fingers and ten toes--except for those with eleven toes.

Still I admire this spirited minority.  So few have ever left their own borders, they are ecstatic to take photos of trains entering tunnels, leaves falling from trees, small animals suckling from their mothers.  Not surprisingly, one participant, although appearing to have extensive bycycling experience, has chosen to manually lift his chain off his forward chainring for the first half of the trip, completely ignoring the requisite hand toggles normally assigned this purpose.  Dismissive comments about “defective rental bike” seem less than genuine.  I am especially encouraged by one couple who obviously have traveled little more than beyond the corner grocery, afraid to ride separately for fear of encountering unfamiliar sights, they have
fused their bikes together so they can rely on each other's emotional strength.  Although this allows them to proceed with caution, they are still easing into the concept of sychronized pedaling.  How inspiring to the rest of us.

Always the competitor, I appear to have succeeded in developing a cold in advance of any of my co-riders.  This is in addition to my other non-cycling induced foot ailments, including scraping the top of my foot on some barnacles during our snorkeling adventure, incurring several sore spots due to ill-fitting sandals, and last night, severely bruising my big toe, as I was paired with a somewhat inexperienced native dancer, who carelessly lead me through a native dance requiring expert manipulation through constantly moving bamboo poles.  But I’m not complaining.

Alas, my plugged nostrils will prevent any further assignations on this trip.  Per usual, from the very beginning I noticed many a wayward glance in my direction from several of the energetic but sexually repressed matrons in our group.  My boyish good looks and massive power-thrusting thighs have placed me in many a dicey situation in the past.   Fortuitously, I possess a firm resolve to avoid any unseemly contacts unless the male partner appears either sickly or cowardly, or both.  The last thing I want to worry about is six months later, some enraged mass of testosterone, grabbing a .44 caliber revolver out of his desk drawer, jumping into his Volvo stationwagon, and racing 500 miles or more at breakneck speed intent on some death-dealing mission.

Continuing on a positive note, I must say we have a very compatible group of cyclists.  We have no sour apples, no big heads, no whining ostriches.  We seem to have the same taste in photos, often lining up for identical shots.  At the end of the trip, we will probably vary by only 10% or so.  Accommodations have been great.  Enough food for a group twice our size.  Or conversely, we will be twice our size when we finish this tour.   Active Asia staff has been incredibly helpful, although today I had to ask the new driver to allow me to stop before he took my bicycle to park it.  On another personal note, I have learned that 20-inch wheels are no match for 10-inch standing water.

On a more serious note, as an American, being in Vietnam, I am
reminded daily of the insanity and inhumanity of war.  Although there are seldom simple explanations to political endeavors, I am saddened to think how many civilians we killed, how much land we poisoned, how many homes and historic buildings we destroyed.  Forty years later, we witness a healthy economy, a stable government, and an apparently good-humored people.  The United States never admits defeat and never admits it is wrong.  Since World War II, we have endeavored to subjugate and exploit one country after another.  Our anthem is always Democracy and we support anyone who offers us easy access to their economic system.  We find ourselves fighting the ones we used to
support and supporting rebels who often have no interest in building a democracy.  Vietnam is a sad chapter in US history.  Seeing the country rebound without our help and in spite of our efforts to destroy it, is a wonderful object lesson to other countries tempted by the proferred rewards of US "assistance."
So you wanted to know something about what we actually did?  We left the hotel and backtracked approx. 4 km and then stared a very rigoroous 34 km ascent with many false summits.  After approx. 3 hr. of climbing we proceeded over some significant rolling hills, culminating in a somewhat satisfactory meal.  I must say the chicken entree was so dry that shoe leather would have seemed like filet mignon in comparison.

After lunch we rode about 13 km downhill.  We then began a 100 km
drive to Son La.  Not the nicest way to spend 2 1/2 hours. The day was highlighted by observing women from several minorities in native dress.  These people are much more concerned about their privacy.  Many did not wish to be photograph.  We stopped at a home where we were allowed to use the outdoor toilet, otherwise known as a hole in the ground next to the pigs.  We all relished this experience.

We are staying at the same hotel as group 1 and look forward to
discovering if food poisoning is still the "piece de resistance."
That's all for now.
Michael Goldberg

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