After managing to get a reasonable nights sleep despite the sound of insect wings in the dark, mine and Annabel's bed breaking just as we were dozing off, and a thunderstorm with impressive lightening that illuminated the hotel room in its entirety. The harsh ring of more than one alarm brought us to consciousness nice and early, as Caitlin realised that the previous night wasn't a dream and we were in fact in the hotel from hell! A disappointing Banh Mi, and a ca phe sua da to try to get rid of the lingering Banh mi taste, and we were ready to stretch (much to the amusement of the somewhat insane hotel owner). As usual the locals were quick to gather to watch the westerners perform their strange ritual, and although numbers weren't record breaking the highlight was when out of the corner of my eye I noticed one of the elderly men trying to mimic our moves!
Warmed up and ready to go we cruised as a group out of what I'm pretty sure is the longest town in the world. After establishing that the unpleasant smell we kept smelling was neither me nor Jacqui, we powered on, knees creaking and thighs stiff. After yet another stunning day in the mountains yesterday, we weren't expecting much today, causing a slight lack in motivation. Once out of the town Annabel appeared to find her zone and shot off into the distance. I managed to catch her up after a while and we sped on through town after town. With relatively good roads under our tyres, and some pretty views (if not the spectacular sights we'd come accustomed to over the past month) our now steely thighs making light work of the few, pretty pathetic inclines thrown our way!
Past an impressive dam, some lovely valleys, the usual mixture of beautiful western style housing nestled between wooden shacks, a tiny graveyard and suddenly we realised we hadn't bumped into any other H2Hers in a ridiculously long time. Somewhat disconcerting as we appeared to be in the front and this was far from the norm, but lunch was calling so we soldiered on, our eyes peeled for a sight any H2Her gets excited over - the golden yellow of a DHL van in the distance marking lunch. A stop for a smoothie satisfied a craving, and finally, a sign we were on the right road - the distinctive wiggle of Luke on his bike came into view, although he was as perplexed as us at the lack of team members on the road. He had only seen Natasha, Caitlin and Alex. Where had the front runners got to?
A few more kilometres and lunch was upon us, still no sign of the rest of the group. Then came Caitlin, Alex and Natasha followed, bizarrely by the back van, phone calls were made and it was established that somehow Jacqui, Colette, Danny, Danny, Chris and Andrew were behind the last van. Clearly having slipped through some kind of port hole into a parallel dimension for an hour or two so out of sight of the back van, where Chris had a couple of close calls with both a motorbike and a truck. Luckily the group found their way back to our (slightly fly infested) lunch spot, run by the sweetest old Vietnamese guy with a head of thick white hair and brilliant English so communicating our lunch order was not quite the fiasco we'd got used to!
Our stomachs full of pork and rice (of course) Annabel and I headed off, 5minutes later, and after a thorough check of my camel bag I deduced the droplets of water on my leg were actually coming from the sky, what rain, surely not?! A pit stop to move valuables into slightly more waterproof positions and then a pause to take the opportunity to appreciate the view of coffee plantations before carrying on through more and more beautiful valleys, stretching as far as the eye could see.
It has been easy over the past month to get preoccupied with kilometres covered and not take the time to truly appreciate our surroundings, especially on the longer days, so when we turned a corner to be confronted by the best view of the day so far, and with a break in the clouds, we chose to dismount our noble steeds and take a perch on the rich orange soil and drink in as much of the view as possible: the fact that we were coming to the end of our journey hit me a couple of days ago, and since then I've been desperately trying to take mental pictures of those images I didn't have a camera ready for, and store them in as much detail as possible.
Anyway, I digress. We had a good fifteen minutes with the sun beating down on our soggy feet, and listening to the distant crack and bang of three Vietnamese women working their way round the coffee trees clinging to the hillside opposite where we sat. This is why I came to Vietnam.
On the road again, and through a street lined with plants for sale, and beautiful verandas draped in greenery, which I would have been able to appreciate a little more if it weren't for the tuneful toot and whoosh of a bus as it hurtled past.
Less than 20km to go, and the lure of a hot shower, nap and maybe even a film kicked in. (We had been assured that this hotel was somewhat more luxurious and, well, hotel like, than that of the last night) Alas at the exact moment that thought entered my mind, after realising we were 6km away at 3pm(ish!), the law of sod reared it's ugly head and the heavens opened. Taking shelter under an inadequately sized "awning", until the rain intensified reminding us that rainy season is on it's way. As it whipped at our ankles and made a valiant effort to reach the rest of us, we noticed a little nuoc mia (sugar cane juice) stand over the road, which had enviable shelter, and as the thunder growled impressively over our heads and lightning lit up the sky in the distance it was clear we would be stuck there for a while.
We braced ourselves and made the 50m dash, across the road that was quickly turning into a river, stumbling under the make-shift wooden roof of the nuoc mia stand, startling the locals who were lounging in hammocks. A good 20 minutes later and we were still sitting watching the rain, an impressive gust of wind tipped the locals out of their hammocks and we all huddled together in the small concrete hut. Without the linguistical skills of the amazing Natasha or Chris, we were left to sign language and broken English of the one or two of the Vietnamese men we were sheltering with. As usual Annabel's height impressed them, and we explained what we were doing, at which point they explained they were engineers and showed us a picture of an impressive but indistinguishable large metal frame!!! A phone call to Natasha revealed that the group behind us had managed to find shelter in a restaurant that served chips. CHIPS! Sparking jealousy in Annabel and I as we wrapped our now very cold fingers round the vaguely warm, small cups of coffee we had got in a feeble attempt to keep ourselves from freezing.
A mere hour or so after stopping, the rain eased enough for us to get back on our bikes and make what turned out to be the 10minute journey to our destination. We had been sooooooo close! Elated, not only that we'd made it, but that our hotel had water, and air con, it was a quick shower so we could all head out to treat our fantastic drivers to an evening of hot pot and beer as a thank you for all they have done. A meal of delicious eel, hot pot and a Claudier cocktail later a chilli contest was started between Jacqui, Chris and Paul, resulting in bloodshot eyes and several tears, even from the clear winner, Mr Christopher Thai.
Just another day in the H2H camp.