Riding my bicycle across Vietnam
I was ready for a longer day today, fueled by a couple awesome street sandwiches: French bread, rich, orange fried eggs, cucumbers, chili sauce, pork sausage, and fish floss (mashed, ground, dried fish for those wondering), and a cup of coffee. It was already starting to get hot at 9:30, but there is really not much to do about that.
There were finally, some stretches of flat road to break up the rolling hills. This has been a sight for many days but I’ve forgotten to mention it. The Central Highlands are the heart of Vietnam’s coffee farming, and it’s harvest time. Riding through small towns, driveways, sidewalks, and sometimes the shoulder of the road are filled with spread out coffee beans drying in the sun. Also, there is a lot of latex harvesting here, characterized by uniform rows of trees with cups attached midway up the trunk. It’s a cool sight to pass by grids of trees on both sides of the road.
After a really nice coffee stop (I spent way too long there), I had a slightly mediocre lunch. It was rice topped with a strange assortment of vegetables, egg, what I think was pork, and a fish cake. The whole dish tasted slightly fishy, in a strange way. But the source of this flavor seemed to come from one of the green, stalky vegetables. It wasn’t bad, I just didn’t like it. Nevertheless, I forged on, enjoying the occasional flat stretch before the rolling hills took over again.
The hotel tonight, unimpressed. Ea Drang is a smallish town, but I stumbled across a Korean barbecue place that made up for the lackluster lodging. I should know by now, really, about portion control, but no. Using Google Translate, I asked for spring rolls, fried rice, and pork and beef to grill. It was all delightful, the fatty strips of pork, in particular, shined through. The technique here is to use the grill in the middle of the table to cook the protein, and chopsticks and scissors to cut it, then make rice paper rolls filled with pork, vegetables, and sauce. Devour. Repeat. Just as I was starting to eat, a young man came over from the table with about ten others, inviting me over since I was eating all alone. I told him that I’d love to after I was done eating, but that I couldn’t really bring my whole meal over to their full table. I ate somewhat hurriedly, excited to make some new friends.
I discovered that I was in the company of the narcotics department of the Ea Drang police - and I was on my best behavior! My new friend, “Joe” informed me that he was a firefighter, but that the rest of the table was celebrating a large drug trafficking bust. It’s fairly rare, but still a problem. We had a good time talking. They’d gone through quite a good deal of beer. I can usually tell if people at a restaurant are having a good time depending on how much trash is on the floor. This case was no different. When we all got up to leave, the carnage was uncovered. Beer cans, greasy napkins, and bits of food all over the floor and under the table. This is par for the course here, it all gets swept up after the table leaves. It’s a casual approach, I don’t think the higher end restaurants are like this, but I appreciate the laid-back nature of things here. I asked the officers not to pull me over while I was riding the bike, and walked back to the hotel, stomach content with food, and mind content with the impromptu festivities of the evening.