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Coffee Country

by Tara

The ride out of Bao Loc this morning is a lovely one. Instead of starting the day with switchbacky mountain climbs, the early part of our route is full of easy rolling hills. As we pedal through the winding picturesque scenery of coffee plantations, we stop to take a lot of photos, curious about how the plants are grown and harvested.

Vietnamese Highland View Coffee Plant Coffee Berries in the Sun Raking Coffee Berries

Riding along, we watch while red berries are collected and dried by the roadsides. Under the rising sun, the flesh of the tiny fruit slowly decomposes, revealing the easily-recognizable green beans in their wake. The smell emanating from them isn't one of freshly brewed coffee, but of rotting fruit.

Coffee Berries Coffee Berries & Beans Drying

The beans look like gravel for many of the driveways we pass, and even act as such for some, who motor over their crops on scooters and bicycles. I wonder if the tires add a certain je ne sais quoi to the flavor of the coffee?

Some people comb through their drying crops with homemade rakes, looking a bit like they're tending Japanese rock gardens. Others simply create furrows by kicking the berries around with their feet.

Vietnamese Woman Tossing Coffee Berries Vietnamese Man Raking Coffee Berries Processing Dry Coffee Berries

It is testing our will that we've decided to quit our java habit just days before traveling through the heart of Vietnamese coffee country. But, c'est la vie; we've discovered a new delicious beverage to drink! Whilst stopping for two tall glasses of iced nước mía (sugarcane juice), we make some friends.

Vietnamese Boy & Tara's Helmet Cute Vietnamese Kids Cute Vietnamese Girls

I'm not sure if sugarcane juice is actually healthier for us (it seems to consist mostly of, um, sugar), but at least we don't feel like zombies afterwards.

Sometimes when we really want to be somewhere (usually a major town so we can have a break from rice, meat, and noodle soup) we concoct grand, unrealistic plans like "let's bike all 150 (mountainous!) kilometers to Da Lat today!" This well-intentioned optimistim usually springs up in the morning while it's still nice and cool out.

As usual, when the sun comes out and the climbs begin, our plan to cycle two or three times our normal daily distance falls to the wayside. Now we're just keeping our eyes peeled for a guest-house so we can take showers and cool our bodies' core temperatures by about a zillion degrees.

I don't know how this elderly lady can wear so many layers, nevermind while doing heavy manual labor at the same time. I would be melting!

Old Vietnamese Woman Carrying Wood

It is getting late, and we haven't seen a single hotel all day. While I'm mentally preparing myself for a night of hammock free-camping, we crest our last hill for the day: there is a guest-house! Behind which, predictably, is even more coffee:

Coffee Berries Drying at Dusk

Utterly exhausted, mostly from the heat, we retire to our room, first grabbing a pair of cold beers from a fridge near the reception desk. In an "I'd rather go hungry than eat another bowl of noodle soup" move, we stick to drinks only, foraging for snacks in our panniers. Tomorrow we finish our climb to the hopefully cool mountain resort town of Da Lat!