Saturday, May 10th 2014:
Let’s pull ourselves out of bed. There isn’t much on the agenda, but we only have one more day in Hoi An so let’s make the most of it. I climb into the bathtub two feet off the ground and spend a good twenty minutes staring into the showerhead. If I was home this would be a pajamas, Netlix and ordering Chinese sort of day. There’s no time for that. I’m downstairs, today’s buffet is by the pool. Nothing is appealing. I eat a banana and some pineapple slices, pour a few cups of scalding coffee past my chapped lips, and that’s it. Splash some water on your face. Let’s have some fun.
I’m in an alley out behind the hotel filling a beach cruiser’s tires up with air. It’s still early. Eight of us signed up for this bike ride to the beach. We all slather on sunscreen while Kevin and Frankie put on their souvenir hats. It’s hot and it’s only going to get hotter. Testing the brakes, wobbling back and forth, everything seems all right. We’re heading out to the quiet streets of Hoi An. Everyone is starting to feel comfortable after a few minutes. The breeze feels wonderful. The concrete gives way to dirt paths, the pho shops and hostels giving way to rice paddies and the horizon. BOOM! Matt’s rear tire gives out riding through a particularly rocky patch of road. I’m thinking the worst, there is no way we’ll be able to fix this out in the middle of this desert. Out of nowhere a man appears from a hut just down the road and he’s flagging us down, pumps and tape ready to help. Welcome to Vietnam. We sit in the shade sipping water waiting patiently for the repair.
A few more miles of pedaling and we’re at Cua Dai Beach. We lock up the bikes and walk over to the sand. Everything seems quiet and slow, it’s about 94 degrees and rising. A towel is set up as we throw down our backpacks, the guys all push back sweaty hair, the girls are pulling down jean shorts, expertly positioning towels, sliding into bathing suits. Time to swim. I forgot to pack board shorts so I run up to a tent near the street to look for one. I point to the first size small I see. It’s small and black and made of tissue paper and only costs about $3. I walk over to the showers and pass an old woman some coins so I can change into it. Rip my shirt off. I’m running down the beach, splashing in the South China Sea. It feels amazing. The realization is better than the anticipation.
My legs adjust immediately, but it takes willpower to dunk my head under the water. Once my body temperature is equalized…I’m loving this, wondering why I don’t go swimming in the ocean every day. That’s when the first jellyfish swam past. Then another swims past and I’m done. I toss some more coins to the woman at the shower and change back into my clothes. The shade under these palm trees is looking good to me now. It’s time to buy a Tiger beer from a local’s cooler and do some reading, push my toes deep in the sand. The Quiet American here on the noisy beach.
Back on the bicycles. It’s about 10 miles to the freezing embrace of the hotel. After about twenty minues Elaine is struggling behind me, her front tire keeps digging into the dirt path, she seems to be having trouble with the brakes. It’s 103 degrees. We all pull over and try to find shade as I slather on another layer of sunscreen. The group splits up, Lam stays with her to wait for a car and I’m soldiering on back to the hotel with four others. I’m in my room barely able to breathe. I can’t remember the last time I had a sunburn but I can see one forming on my shoulders, my farmer’s tan creating a permanent t-shirt on my skin.
I need a minute. I wake up from a nap sticky and smelling of coconuts, I’m exhausted and over it. I’m walking down the street looking for an Indian restaurant I can’t find. I sit back in a cafe near the hotel and order sauteed chicken with morning glory, a mug of fresh beer. It takes forever.
I find a spot near my hotel room door that allows me to talk to Marissa for a bit on the telephone, she’s eleven hours back in time. I’m two hours late for my fitting so I run downstairs and hail a taxi that can only take me so far. I get let out near the old quarter, I have to walk the rest, no cars allowed. I have a new pair of shorts for $15, exact replicas of the ones I bought for $80 in Miami. I go looking for a quiet somewhere to wait out the sun. I find Artbook, a really cool bookstore and cafe. I buy a book and upstairs I talk to the owner about graphic design, he brings me a can of Tiger beer. A waitress comes over and asks if she can practice her English with me, she looks about 12. The sun is setting over Hoi An, I pay my tab, I go downstairs, I brush the sweat off my forehead, I take a photo, I’m feeling new.
I feel like walking. Way too many photos are taken from the bridge of the sun setting over the river, of the fake flowers glowing for the Buddha’s birthday, of the motorbikes rolling by. I begin the long walk home, buying a can of seaweed-flavored Pringles and a bottle of water on the way. This is my dinner. My eyelids flutter shut and I’m dreaming of Saigon.