Planning our Tet offensive – cycling Vietnam

10 02 2011

A Tet-mas Tree

Riding the inner North – South Ho Chi Minh wiggle had been traffic light, mud heavy. The road was coated with a persistent thin film of watery mud that our back tyres kicked high up our backs and over our heads to rain orange grit down on us from above. Mud clots clumped in our hair and packed into our ears. It had been a big decision not to fit the bikes with mud guards, which, on balance, was the right one; the vast majority of our days have been dry and a mud guard is yet another thing to break and yet another weight to justify – but with the road raining down on us and pop-corning up from below, it was sorely missed.  Our tolerance for all things wet, grey, and cold was beginning to rub – we had been pushing south for weeks now and the sun seemed as far off as ever it was. And Tet was lurking unimaginably before us; ‘Nothing will be open’ we had been warned ‘no guest houses no hotels no food no shops no nothing no anything’. Everyone knew something, but everyone’s something was soon huffed over and out by someone elses something else. These things we did know a) Tet is New Year but is more like Christmas b) everything may be closed at some point for some indeterminable length of time. Or not.

For this whole bag of reasons we decided to move back onto the other North-South vein– the 1. Quicker, dryer, more ‘main’, more danger; But not, thankfully, during Tet. We moved onto the 1 about a day before Tet eve, lining into it at a big knuckle town with a super market – A Big C. Lacking any further information and/or guidance other than ‘no’ and ‘don’t do it’ we decided to plan our own Tet offensive around the only fathomable time indication we could find; the Big C opening hours. Big C was closed for two full days thus, we surmised, we needed to ensure we had all our food, snack etc provisions for two full days too –after which, if Big C is back in the game surely pho (noodle) and com (rice) shacks will be too. So we stacked up with tins of tuna, noodles, chocolate and peanuts and crossed all our extremities on the accommodation front.

As it turned out cycling the 1 during Tet was both a blessing and a quite literal pain in all sorts of bodily fringe areas. The road was bare; not a whiff of truck dust or roar of sleeper bus ran its glitzy neck. It was ours! While there is little of visual interest along the edge of the 1, this traffic nakedness did mean that we could ride side by side for once; a leisurely treat usually only available on the sleepiest of sleepy lanes. And (thank all the baby cheeses!) while many guest houses where closed there were a good few open; AND we even managed to blag a full cooked meal on one of our “closed” days!

Caught between the sticky rice and the bean

However in the danger void left by the traffic came a profusion of small boys wielding their shinny Tet gifts; riding high on a diet of Tet candy. With boredom and sugar crashing through their veins these small boys fell into near apoplexy when they saw us coming. For the majority of our encounters (of which there were many many) this meant nothing more than a sudden cyclonic whipping up of small-boy-tumbleweed which scuttled down the road after us for a while until it a’whooped and a’hollered itself out. But for other small-boy-clusters, those whom the Claus of Tet had blessed with shiny new cap guns, we meant target practice. A cap gun, it turned out, is a surprisingly common Tet gift; and surprisingly surprising when on a bike. Thus, cycling during Tet turned out to be somewhat of an obstacle course – Catherine scored two hits from a cap gun, one slap on the arm, and one stroke with a bouquet of feathers; Liz  scored two drunken shoulder slaps, one feather stroke, and one hit by a handful of pebbles. All, it must be noted, while we were in motion!