THE BEACHES OF MUI NE
From Hoi An the Lewises and our crew of five took a torturously long bus ride overnight down to Mui Ne, a small coastal town which is becoming an ever increasingly popular spot for kite surfing. Our plan from the beginning was to spend a few days hanging out at the beach and just enjoy both relaxing and simply remaining in a single spot for more than one day.
There's really not a lot to the Mui Ne we saw most of the time. There's one long stretch of road that is dotted with hotels and resorts on the left and shops and restaurants on the right. On the other side of the hotels is the ocean. We spent the first day walking down the strip and swimming a little. The waves were terribly strong, though, and it wasn't long before I was ready to be out of the water. Yesterday morning, however, the water was perfect. The tide was lower and the waves were more gentle.
I realized after the first day that I'm not really a beach person. I get bored quickly, and there wasn't much to explore in the area where we were staying. It seemed that the others felt the same way too so we decided we would leave on the one a.m. bus for Saigon. Since we had the whole day to kill, we rented bicycles and biked down the road a little ways to a little spring called Fairy Springs. The water was really low, and the bed was purely sand so we were able to take our sandals off and walk along the middle of the spring. The spring was in a valley, and on either side of it were the most beautiful, multi-colored sand walls. The sand was blazing hot to climb on, and when the wind blew (which it does frequently in Mui Ne), we would be pelted by thousands of grains of sand. We got sand everywhere - in our hair, in our teeth, under our nails - everywhere. But it was really cool. We walked awhile and found two routes to a rather insignificant waterfall. Yve, Tommy and I took the high road and ended up on top of the small waterfall while Jeremy, Derek and Janice remained below. The top was the place to be, in my opinion, because it opened up into a beautiful oasis of sorts. There were coconut and tamarind trees all around so I immediately took off exploring. I crossed the spring by walking over fallen coconut trees and came upon some rice paddies. I'm not sure how they can have such fruitful vegetation in such a sandy location, but there were fields everywhere. Tommy caught up to me, and as we waited for the others to arrive, a local boy approached us with a coconut. He wanted to lead us somewhere (a persistant ploy to get us to pay him money), but we declined for quite some time. Eventually, when we realized the others weren't coming, we set off with the little boy. He led us past the rice paddies, through a desert-type area to a little ghost town. It was so strange. There was a nice little dirt road with a few tin houses on both sides. Nobody was around. It was so quiet. We walked along the road just a short ways and decided we should head back. As we did, two little kids popped out of one of the tin houses and started yelling "hello's" at us and waving. After we passed by, they went back inside and the town went back to being eerily quiet.
On the way back, we walked on a muddy pathway between two rice paddies, and Tommy got some pretty amazing pictures. Our little buddy stopped us at a tree, climbed to the top of it, and began picking something from it. When he descended the tree and rejoined us, he had two tamarinds in hand and gave one to each of us. The fruit was really sour but strangely interesting.
We soon rejoined the group and headed back down the spring to retrieve our bikes. I had put my flipflops in my little backpack which Janice was carrying which was okay because I planned to bike back barefoot. Tommy and Janice took off a ways ahead of the rest of us, and as I stopped to wait for the others, I noticed a map of Mui Ne. If we went back to the main part of town, I figured we would just sit around and nap a little and do what we had been doing for the last day and a half. Or I could bike the other way and come across a fishing village, a church, and eventually the great sand dunes. I didn't like the first option, and the second option was full of so many possibilities so I told Derek and Jeremy I was heading the other direction. Yve, who is always up for anything, readily joined me and we took off in the opposite direction from town - me shoe-less and money-less and Yve with camera in hand.
The cool thing about traveling this way is that there's no schedule and we can stop whenever we want. We first stopped at this stone walkway that sloped down to the beach because there were hundreds of fishing boats in the water. I think this was the fishing village, but it was so fantastic to see so many boats in such a small area. While we were taking in the view, a couple little girls ran up to us to sell us seashells. Of course, I had no money (and didn't want any seashells) so they stopped trying to sell them to us and began jumping on our bikes for us to take them for rides. So Yve and I spent the next few minutes with between one and two girls riding on our bicycles with us. They were really cute.
Right after that we came to a fork in the road. As we were trying to decide which direction to go, several guys (mostly boys) came up to us. Yve got a really cool tattoo on her right leg while we were still in China, and the guys were fascinated by it. Everyone was congregating around her to touch the tattoo, and then they giggled like little school girls afterwards. It was funny, and the guys were pretty nice, but we quickly moved on.
We road down to the sand dunes where you can rent sheets of metal to slide down the hills. Since we didn't have much money on us, we just rolled down them ourselves. It was awesome! We made friends with the kids who were renting the sleds. One girl spoke perfect English which she did not learn in school (since none of the kids go to school), but rather learned from her three years of working with tourists. I was so amazed. Anyway, we did walk up a huge hill and looked out over the sand dunes. It was pretty beautiful and best of all, free! So, again after giving some kids bike rides, we set off. Instead of heading back the same route, we took a different road which took us through the countryside. There was this little boy who couldn't have been older than ten riding this insanely huge bicycle going in the opposite direction of us, but after passing by, he turned around and began following behind. I motioned for him to race me, and we began this impromptu Tour de France down the highway. He's a quick kid, and I maintain that he had an unfair advantage with multiple gears, but I do stand defeated! Anyway, we kept biking for awhile. The Vietnamese people are some of the friendliest people I've ever met. They always smile and greet us. The men are kind of typical sleaze bags and would make cat calls as we passed by, but the children are great. We did run across a goat farm and walked over to pet some of the goats. It was a little gross since I still had no shoes and was walking on goat pellets, but I sort of got used to that as a kid. Anyhoo - too much information - we turned around shortly after all that and headed back. Our little biker friend went a really long ways with us, even when we picked up two little kids for a quick bicycle ride, our faithful companion stayed at our side. Eventually, he left without saying goodbye, which was a little sad. Yve and I were enthralled with this cow drawn cart, and after we passed it, the boy was gone.
Anyway, we continued towards home, and as we came upon that stone walkway overlooking the fishing village, we decided to stop to watch the sun set. First we grabbed a couple sandwiches (they make the best sandwiches here), and then we sat down on the side of the walkway to enjoy the food and the view. Our friends from before, the seashell selling girls, came over and joined us. They shared their popcorn with us and then brushed off all the sand we still had on us from rolling down the dunes. Then we chatted for a bit, and upon realizing that the sunset was not going to be very spectacular, we left.
Yvonne is in love with the idea of finding and eating a fresh coconut. The first day we arrived, she found a rotten one on the sidewalk, picked it up, opened it and began eating a little of the rotten meat. It was pretty tasteless (yes, I tried it), but she refused to throw it away. She refuses to throw any food away, good or bad. But as more and more locals began pointing at the coconut and shaking their fingers at her and telling her she shouldn't eat it, she finally threw it down.
So on our way back from our bicycle tour, she found another coconut on the side of the road. She picked it up, put it in my basket, and when we returned to the Lewis' hotel room (we had already checked out of our own), she decided - after everyone but she and I were gone eating supper and after one of the "motobike" guys at the hotel told her to throw it away - to break it open on the brick floor in the Lewis' apartment. It exploded and brown goo went all over the floor. I'm still not sure quite what she was thinking when she decided to slam the coconut down on the floor inside someone else's apartment (or what I was thinking by letting her do it!), but she did get it open.
After cleaning up the big mess which I'm pretty sure there are still remnants of on the curtains, we walked down to the beach, grabbed a beach chair and began chomping away on this rotten coconut. Actually, this one was mildly better than the last one. We were really enjoying ourselves when the "motobike" guy from before happened upon us. He again told us how bad the coconut was and why we shouldn't eat it (I think he mentioned the hospital, but I'm not really sure) and then said he would get one for us. So immediately he climbed this tall coconut tree like a monkey, grabbed a big coconut, dropped it to the ground and descended all within the span of maybe a minute. It was amazing. He made it look so easy, but when I tried to climb the tree, I failed miserably. Anway, our friend soon disappeared and returned shortly with a machete and three straws. He went to work quickly cutting away the green outer shell and then drilled a small whole in the top of the coconut with the point of the machete. After dropping two of the staws into the whole, he handed it to us and disappeared again. Yve and I sat down again in the beach chair and guzzled so much coconut milk, I thought my stomach would explode. We couldn't believe how much milk there was in this sucker. We drank and drank and drank and actually couldn't finish it all so when our friend returned, he killed it, as Yve would say, and then he tinkered with the coconut for a couple seconds and it split right in half. What a difference between Yve's salvaged rotten coconuts and a ripe good one! The meat was half an inch thick, and Nam (I think that's this guy's name), cut the meat away from the shell for us. It was so good. Again Nam disappeared and returned with a little bowl of sugar for us to dip our coconut meat it. The three of us just sat out on the beach, listening to the high tide pounding in, eating coconut and talking. It turned out that Nam is not merely the "motobike" man, but his family actually owns the hotel where the Lewis' are staying and where we would always eat breakfast in the morning and drink the worst coffee I've ever had and play cards at night (our hotel was across the street).
Later that evening, after a shower to remove painful sand particules, and a quick round of spades, Yve and I jumped on Nam and his friend's motorcycles and headed quickly - oh, so very quickly! - to an outdoor restaurant where we had delicious syrupy coffee and attempted to converse with these guys. Nam speaks English pretty well, but I could almost never understand his friend, and, stangely and unforutunately, his friend did most of the talking. But we returned before ten where I quickly took a nap on Courtny's bed. Apparently I missed all the fun/partying because Tommy was rather loosened up, to put it gently, when I was awoken to grab my things and wait on the street for the bus to pick us up. It was about 1 a.m. when we went to the street with our baggage. A couple New Zealand guys hung out with us for a bit. They seemed like pretty cool guys, but I didn't get to talk with them long. As we were talking, three American guys wandered over to our little posse for a little chat. All three of them are Peace Corps Volunteers in Mongolia! They are loving their experience so far and totally reinforced my desire to want to join the Peace Corps one day.
Anyway, during all this late night chatting, Tommy wandered off in search of something, and the bus pulled up ready to take us to Saigon. Tommy was nowhere in sight. We hesitated and didn't know what to do so finally Derek dropped his stuff with me and took off running in the direction Tommy had left. The rest of us were dragging our feet and being as slow as we could be to postpone the bus's departure. Luckily, Tommy came over the hill just in time and just barely made it to the bus. But we all got on safely, endured a very long bus ride (even though it was only about four hours), and arrived in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) this morning around 6. Since then we've had breakfast, got a hotel, and rested. We're going to check out the city this afternoon and probably leave tomorrow for a boat trip down the Mekong Delta on our way to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. We're not too interested in spending much time in big cities. They're too loud, too expensive and too busy. We don't want another Hanoi on our hands so we're splittin' fast...