Thursday, 7 May 2015

Blog post Day 26: Bao Loc to Phu Coung. 100km.

Blog post Day 26:
Bao Loc to Phu Coung

The penultimate day of H2H began in Bao Loc, Lam Dong Province.

Breakfast was served in the hotel’s restaurant, which can cook an excellent Bun Thit Nuong, and appeared to be a favourite for many locals too. As our lycra-clad team stood to leave, a group of police officers moved onto our table. They looked upon our revealing uniforms with unadulterated jealousy…

After stretches and check out, we left for Phu Coung, a small town 100km away. The initial ride was straightforward, and then at 12km in we were treated with a huge 20km+ downhill. We started almost level with the misty clouds at the mountain peaks, and finished 30 minutes later almost near sea level. It was incredible. The road had been recently laid, the gradient steep, the scenery beautiful. Erratic oncoming traffic meant for a stern test of concentration as you flew downhill whilst remaining alert for trucks and buses on the wrong side of the road. 

The end of the downhill signalled we had successfully traversed the central highlands. I stopped for a deserved nuoc mia and allowed the experience to sink in. it was one of the ride’s highlights, no question. The combination of terror and elation pips the satisfaction of mountain climbs.

It was possibly the best 30 minutes I’ve ever had riding anything, for that matter.

Back on the bike, the land flattened out and the road passed through several large towns and around Cat Tien National Park, home to the Javan Rhinoceros until poachers wiped out the population in 2011. The settlements/roads became noticeably more populated as we neared HCMC. The downhill should have been the day’s only highlight, but that was before I met Tuan and his fantastic family, with whom I stopped for lunch. 

18km from Phu Coung in Dong Nai Province, I decided to stop for some Mi Quang noodles at a small family restaurant. I got chatting to Tuan, also a teacher, and was invited inside his home to meet the rest of his family. I entered a lovely dining room with a big wooden table. The men were having lunch on the floor next to it. 

Despite my protests that his grandmother’s noodles were more than sufficient, Tuan handed me a shot of rice wine and insisted I eat more food. The proceeding hours are somewhat hazy.

First, Tuan played interpreter between myself and his family, although his English diminished rapidly after several more rounds of rice wine had been quaffed. I felt my Vietnamese actually improved after this, perhaps total culture immersion (or consumption) does expediate learning. An uncle added two scorpions to the wine, and my exclamations of ‘Bò cạp, trời ơi!’ caused him to double over laughing, spilling half the bottle on the floor. He added two more scorpions as punishment.

Once Tuan was rendered unable to speak Vietnamese, let alone English, his cousin Ngoc, who studies at university in London, took over translation duties via skype. As I’ve visited her family home, Tuan suggested Ngoc should travel to chez Kimber whilst she’s living in England. I told her not to ruin any of my parents’ wine by adding scorpions – if she did then she’d really find out what’s dangerous. 

With boisterous uncles telling jokes whilst giggling aunts organised us all into increasingly inventive photograph positions, the scene descended into chaos and it was high time I got my back on my saddle and got myself to Phu Coung. My hosts wouldn’t hear of it; they insisted I stayed for 3 days. Tuan revealed the large dining table’s primary use when he attempted to chain my bicycle to it.

Finally they accepted my countless thank-yous and allowed me to leave relatively unscathed. I hopped (and almost fell) onto my bicycle, and began the slog to the finish. Fortunately I stumbled across Chris Rolls a few kilometres down the road, and he patiently guided me home, making sure I rode in as straight a line as possible.

After a recovery nap I joined the team meeting, attended also by the hotelier’s children, who were great fun to play about with. That ended however when their mother stamped on the floor next to my ankle to kill…

…another scorpion. 

Perhaps a good signal that it was time for bed and to focus on the last day’s cycling.

Words: Jack Kimber
Photographs: Jack Kimber & Lien Hoang               

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