I'm not sure how early it is, but I'm ready to go. As I clumsily dislodge myself from the hammock, all knees and elbows, I leave Tara curled up like a burrito in the netting, dead to the world. After I've padded around camp gathering twigs for a tiny morning blaze, I drag my sleepy, floppy, squinty, mole-face wife out of her cocoon.
While I get the fire going and break camp, Tara cooks our breakfast. It's ramen from the village shop we visited last night—not the most interesting meal in the world, but the hot broth is satisfying on this cold morning. Once we've regained some warmth and fed our bellies, I put the fire out with our remaining bottles of waterfall water (and a good helping of pee!)
Then, we roll our bikes over the rutted ground, out of the forest, and down to the road. It's clear we still have some climbing ahead of us, but this time, we're ready for it.
Very occasionally on this adventure, we're overcome with the distinct sensation of being far away, a feeling of being really and truly out there. This morning, our ride is steeped in the perception that we are venturing into uncharted territory. As we pedal, just the two of us, slowly climbing a quiet, pine-fringed road, we relish the feeling of remoteness.
And when, after several kilometers, we come upon a small village, we feel a bit like explorers. Cycling into the center of a one block stretch of civilization, we break into smiles, watching some kids taking showers in what must be freezing cold water at a communal fountain. They are yelping and shivering and laughing as their parents dump giant buckets of water over them.
On the other side of the street, fat, black Vietnamese pigs oink and scatter as we pass, while women hang laundry in front of distinctive wooden houses that look for all the world like they belong in Russia, not Vietnam.
Instead of just passing through, we decide to stop when we see a sign for a cafe, eager to give our ill-rested legs a break. Inside, a sooty black kettle rests on the fire, heating up a batch of tea. Meanwhile, men play checkers and hang out, watching a TV that is already blaring music videos and strange live theater shows. We take a seat, order some juice, and settle in to watch the comings and goings.
When I was growing up, we had two miniature Vietnamese pot bellied pigs, and they were the only two I'd ever seen in real life. Now, they are everywhere! The piggies that scattered when we arrived have appeared again, and are now engrossed with rutting around in a pile of sand. While Tara sits inside and sips her orange juice, I sneak outside in a futile attempt to pick one of them up.
Dear Mom,The piggies here look just like Lina and Sassy! I have pulled more double-takes than I can count thinking I've spotted them. Lots of the little oinkers have the exact same black/white/pink coloring as Lina. I'll never forget coming home that summer to see you bottle feeding a tiny pig in the living room; I thought of you while I was taking these pictures, I hope you like them.
i love you and miss you—tyler
Before we leave the cafe to continue our climb, a friendly man arrives on a scooter with an enormous plastic bag full of freshly baked baguettes. After making a delivery to the proprietor of the cafe, he strikes up a conversation with me, mostly based around his assertions that a) USA is #1! and b) Michael Jackson is #1! Once we've exhausted our shared language, he takes his jacket off and pulls up his shirt to show me an enormous tattoo.
So, I respond in kind, pointing to the tattoo on my right calf, which is a molecular diagram of a tryptamine analog (visible in the photo below). Obviously, trying to explain this nerdy, confusing mess of lines in any meaningful way is a futile endeavor, but when he furrows his brow and offers a guess of "China?", I say, "No, no, scientific!" This seems to satisfy him; a resounding "Ahhhhhhh" ends our tattoo-sharing moment.
After several additional handshakes, he gives us each a loaf of bread. How kind! We'll only make it about a kilometer from the shop before he rides up to us, excitedly miming that Tara should take our picture. When he starts fixing his hair I can't help but laugh and do the same. After mugging for the camera we exchange another round of handshakes and bid one another farewell.
Now, onwards through the forested mountains…