|the penultimate morning|
|Phong's outfit caused problems later in the day|
After we finished eating, Phong pumped up a tire, a motion that looked pretty humorous in his sartorial state, and when he finished he put the pump in his crotch and pretended to jerk it off, all in view of the guys drinking at the cafe. The next thing we knew they were storming towards us, beer bottles in hand, livid rage written on their faces. We all knew it might not have been the best idea, but we were having fun as a group and not even thinking about the men. Things had suddenly taken a much darker turn.
The guys among us stood up to try to calm them down, and there was a lot of shouting going on, when two bottles came hurtling in, smashing on the ground around us. Fortunately, no one was hurt. At this point the staff of the restaurant rushed into the street to our defense: the male waiters relieved the enraged attackers of their remaining bottles, and the middle-aged female proprietor began screaming at them. Apparently she was saying "I don't care if people are naked, this is my business, and they can do what they want!!!" Other people came out of the houses around us and tried to restrain the drunks, while a calmer guy approached us and started telling us to put more clothes on. The men from the cafe were still visibly enraged, and we decided it was time to get the hell out of dodge.
I hobbled over to Hanneke, who was still waiting to get her tubes back, to tell her what was going on. Phong and a few of the riders were mounting up, but the drunk men were still trying to come at them. One had a brick in his hand, and another had some sort of metal pipe. Luckily, enough of the bystanders were on our side that they were restrained. As some riders cycled off, I saw a motorbike with two punky guys on it pull up to the cafe, where someone pointed them in the direction of our group members. They took off in pursuit. I had a bad feeling about that.
Hanneke and I walked back to the restaurant, where a huge crowd was now gathered. The people from where we ate and the people at the cafe were yelling across the street to each other, and cops were starting to arrive. There were four of us left, and we needed to leave. A man approached us and in drunken, broken English explained that he didn't drink beer, that he had only been eating, while mumbling a bunch of other random phrases. Tom S. then got a call saying Phong had been assaulted with a stick by two men on a motorbike, and we needed to go get him. Tom, Sandra, and Kirsty rode off, and I hopped back into the van, just as a police truck pulled up and more cops spilled out.
A few kilometers down we met the guys who had left when things were getting really heated. Phong had an impressive welt on his lower back from the attack. The moto had pulled up next to him, the guy on the back whacked him, and then they had turned around and took off. After that he had put his normal cycling shorts back on. Mr. Cuong, who drives the rear support van, told him to get in and lay down. We were in the middle of nowhere, and this was their territory. He said the cafe men were part of a gang, but we assumed they were just backwards hillbillies. Everyone else had been OK with the men in girl's lingerie, but this group went absolutely berserk. Even though many of us on this ride have lived in Vietnam for over a year and know that the country is more conservative than our Western homelands, we still don't realize sometimes the vastly different outlooks certain people have towards acceptable public behavior.(Again, the way some of us were dressed might not have been the smartest idea, but throwing beer bottles at people is just absurd.)
Mr. Cuong decided to forgo his normal job of following the rear riders and simply get those of us in the van to the hotel as fast as possible. He was clearly worried about more motorbikes coming after us, and he didn't want to put his vehicle in danger either. We called the driver of the lead support van, who was already in town, and told him to get back on the road and find the remaining riders so he could escort them to safety. We then got a call saying Sandra's bike had been stolen while she was stopped on the side of the road. This day was turning into a complete fiasco.
We got to the hotel decompressed, waiting for the remaining riders to arrive. It turned out that Sandra's bike was fine: she had let a local take it for a spin, and the person took it out of eyesight, but returned a few minutes later. We talked about the events of the day and realized how lucky we were that things hadn't ended worse. When you look completely different from everyone else in a group that is very angry, you never know which side the people around you will take. Had the staff of the restaurant not come to our defense we would have probably had to fight off furious men armed with glass bottles and who knows what else. Perhaps it wasn't the best idea for guys to wear only women's panties on their bottoms, but the heated, violent reaction of this group of men shocked us. At least we have another story to tell from this ride.
This was the last day before our ride into Saigon, a 107km leg heralding the end of our month-long journey. Sadly, my leg muscles are still very painful, and I will definitely not be able to ride. I'm pretty sure I have a second-grade tear in both quadriceps, so if any of you have advice on how to help them heal please let me know. I'm absolutely gutted that I've missed every day since Saturday, and the decision to do the ride again next year has already been made. This has been an amazing experience, and I'll have a thoughtful recap up sometime this weekend, hopefully. Tomorrow I plan on drinking and eating myself silly on the bounties of Saigon.
|sunset on the last day before reaching Saigon|