17 January 2012
Lunch is for breakfast today - rice and chops, again - at my guesthouse. Rocket fuel coffee on the side.
A crazy old local guy hovers around, failing to speak French. I manage a few words in response, but he doesn't actually speak the language, he's just nuts. A long string of saliva dangles from his sparsely bewhiskered chin. The string snaps, narrowly missing my panniers. He keeps slapping me on the shoulder as if we're old friends, shakes my hand - his are damp and slimy. The guesthouse staff humour him like he shows up here every day.
It's a relief to pull away for my last full day in Vietnam. The day is full of the usual yelled hellos, silly voice hellos, and, when I don't respond, barked hellos. Motorbike riders pull alongside on narrow, busy, high speed, high traffic roads and fire off an interrogatory "where do you go?" or "where you from?" It's dangerous, they won't understand my answer, and it's hardly the place for a stress-free chat. A careful but sharp application of the front brake and they shoot up the road. Few bother to hang around for a second attempt. Those that do really get in the way. I'm sure they've put zero thought into the consequences of an unexpected speeding truck to the head while in a tangle between motorbike and pushbike.
I pull over for a drink. No caffeinated cola goods. I choose a substitute. The woman overcharges me. I hold off opening the bottle until she hands me some change. Still overcharged, but I could use the drink. It's horrible. It tastes like E numbers. One kid keeps rattling on and on; I think he's trying to say hello, repeatedly. An older kid stares at me silently, relentlessly and blankly.
It rains as I approach Ha Tien, the closest town to the border. The hellos continue through the rain, through the splashes from passing buses, through the lakes in the poorly drained road.
I've got a few hours and a few kilometres remaining in Vietnam, and this feels good. This is my bicycle, there are many others like it, but this one is mine. And barring the unexpected, it'll carry me out of here and into Cambodia tomorrow morning.
Andy, the British owner of the Oasis Bar, offers me a full English breakfast if I show up at the right time in the morning, before the backpacker hordes arrive on the ferry in from Phu Quoc island. The staff are hopeless to the point of rudeness, but the not-on-menu breakfast offer is enough to keep me in check.
Across the street, looking for a sugar fix in a mini supermarket, a bunch of kids stare at me. The one with the bleached 'I wanna be a Westerner' hair seems especially enthralled. He's the one that deliberately walks into me as the bunch goes to pay. On the way back, they all practice their eff words on me. Then one of the staff comes schlepping by to see what I'm picking up. Time to leave: this shop, this town, this country.
93km, 21.3km/h, 4hr22min, 4338km