Monday, April 30, 2012
Today Vietnam celebrates 'Liberation Day,' a government holiday commemorating the fall of Saigon.
This is one of those weekends where I would always head as far away from the beach as I could to get away from the crowds and the insane traffic (and numerous fatal traffic accidents) in Mui Ne.
No better day to go for a drive out to the countryside, through some minority village, hike into the jungle and pick a swimming hole at one of my many favorite waterfalls. Napping in the stream, I'd wake up to fish nibbling on my toes or a curious giant, purple, freshwater crab poking me to see if I'm alive or not. They are so cute. Lunch is a daypack full of tropical fruit (lychees, mandarin oranges, plums) I bought on the side of the street and some durian pastries and xoi ngot.
The walk back to my motorbike, which I left in the tribal village, would be a race to avoid the afternoon rains. Dark thunder clouds looming and booming. Jungle fowl (wild ancestors of the common chicken) dart across the path and into stands of red flowers. Back in the village some men are BBQ'ing assorted buffalo body parts. There's a tall, decorated bamboo pole with grass ornaments hanging from it. All the men are seated around a jar of ruou can, nearly passed out.
The sun sets as I start my motorbike. For the next 30 minutes I'm pelted with thousands of tiny mosquitos and gnats. Then I get thumped on my chest by a bat that swooped down at just the wrong moment. I stop for a bag of sugar cane juice in Ma Lam, sipping it with a straw as I drive. Back in Phan Thiet its bo bit tet or maybe bun thit nuong on Tuyen Quang street for dinner. Make that 2 bowls. I grab a bag of che bui (pomello pudding, but the English translation doesn't do it justice). No Ice. As I drive I bite a hole in the corner and squeeze the gummy rice pudding, peanuts, coconut milk and pomelo peel in my mouth, being careful not to squirt it all down my front (as I often do).
Up the hill past Thap Po Shanu, the 8th Century Cham towers. A barn owl flies overhead and dumpy little painted frogs crawl across the road. Most of them are squashed by moto drivers before they reach the other side. The night-time pit vipers I used to see on the road almost 10 years ago are all gone now. Eaten by the locals. There's a sweet smell of jasmine in the air and a cool breeze that comes between the rain showers. Choirs of frogs sing in the bushes and on up into the cemetery hill.
Past the old execution site. Ten years ago they used to line up the condemned there in the mornings. Down the hill towards Victoria. There's another dead man there, sprawled in the ditch by his broken motorbike. Drunk and driving too fast... his grey matter will remain there on the road until it is completely washed away by the rain over the coming weeks. The hotel security are there so I keep driving. Down the hill and around the corner. I'm back in Mui ne.
It's late. No crowds, no traffic, no more communist flags. The patriotic music praising Uncle Ho and the Socialist revolution on the market loudspeakers is long over. Just the sounds of rain and frogs into the night. Thats my kind of liberation.