A hard day of riding from My Tho to the Ba Linh Homestay on An Binh Island, about 50 km,including 2 km of mud puddles that spanned the trail and were deep enough to bury my feet under water. The good news is the homestay is a jungle hideaway with large, spotless rooms and a welcoming host family that speaks fluent English.
Google Maps led me on a short cut from a ferry to the highway – the muddy lane. I wasn’t too worried by the first few puddles, but then began to realize the whole shortcut was a mud puddle lane. The thing about riding through muddy puddles is you can’t see what the wheel will encounter, so it’s a bit nerve-wracking, and it’s a lot more work than pavement. I’m so glad this is the dry season here in the Delta (grin)!
After the slog, riding along a rural lane with little prospect of finding a place to sate the hunger I had worked up, I stopped in the shade to eat a few over-ripe bananas and a granola bar to fuel me a little further. A lovely woman with only two teeth left hanging precariously in her aged mouth said hello. She spoke no English and couldn’t understand most of my few words of Vietnamese. (Did I mention that my pronunciation really sucks?) We established that I was hungry and she seemed quite concerned that all I had to eat were these sad bananas. I finally understood that she was telling me that there were places to eat just ahead. How far? The answer went right past me. After about 10 minutes of hand waving and failed Vietnamese, as I prepared to leave, she asked where I was going, and was not to be placated until I assured her I was going to eat. What a dear, kind woman.
Being Sunday, lots of things were closed or only looked like coffee shops, so I pedaled on, took another ferry, and finally saw a shop with some snack foods. Asked what I was looking for, I replied that I was hungry. The clerk showed me some wonderful looking local coconut candy, but I wanted more substance. I saw a package of rice crackers and decided they would do for now. I sat down to eat my feast, but decided I better get out to defend my bike from two bus loads of tourists that pulled in. Standing, eating my dry crackers, one of the bus crew stopped to say hello. He really seemed to take a liking to me and so we gestured away. When several young women came back to the bus, they stopped to join the conversation. One spoke English well. She seemed concerned for my well being, asking if I was sick (I guess the heat was taking a toll). No, just hungry.
Suddenly one of the others returned from somewhere with a bag of bread rolls used for making bahn mi sandwiches and thrust them into my hand. Then a bottle of water appeared. Then a bottle of sauce for the bread. One of the rolls disappeared and came back with meat and vegies inside, along with a bottle of sauce. Two more bottles of water. Then more bread rolls and a fancy apple. Do you have money? Yes, I have plenty of money, but I just didn’t see much to eat in the shop. I guess I looked like death warmed over, so the poverty disclaimer didn’t seem to sell. The busman returned with a 20,000 VD (a bit less than a US dollar) note and thrust it into my hand! So hard to say no, but there was no way I could accept this hard-working man’s money (he might only earn $200 US per month), but I had to ask the English-speaking woman to explain that I was not hungry for lack of money, but simply for ignorance of where to spend it to sate my hunger. Along the way, we chatted about where they had been and were going, of which I understood that they lived just down the road in Vinh Long City, only a short distance away. An hour later I saw the English-speaking woman riding her motorbike the opposite direction and we exchanged hearty hello’s and big waves. Beautiful souls.
When the buses left, I continued chomping my sandwiches standing by the bike. The shop clerk asked me to please come in and sit down at a table to eat. I did so, grateful not to sit on a bike seat or stand. Moments later her associate showed up with a pot of tea. I suppose I looked pretty pathetic, covered in mud, sweating, the crazed look of a hungry wild animal, but still, all these people just offered their loving kindness without any prompting. Very moving.
It’s getting late, and I have a 7 am boat tour to a floating market, so tomorrow I’ll tell you about the wonderful homestay and the young Belgian family with whom I shared dinner, and who will be on the boat tour with me. I will spend a second night here at the homestay. Pictures will also have to wait until my phone decides to import them from the camera card. Bonne nuit.