HCMC Dining Guide

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

H2H 2013: Cat Dang school visit & day 1

Yesterday we visited Cat Dang village outside of Hanoi, which TCI, one of our beneficiary charities, supports. After a 90 minute bus ride out of town we checked out the local middle school, where we split into small groups and visited a few classes. The students began asking us questions, the third of which was, "What's your phone number?" (That was directed at the two girls I was with.)

Then we headed over to the kindergarten. Last year this part of the visit turned in a debauched boozefest, as the local Communist party officials arrived with bottle after bottle of rice wine, which they proceeded to pour down our throats. I had been told this wouldn't be repeated but, lo and behold, copious amounts of the stuff was available once again.

 One slightly grabby, increasingly drunk official was particularly keen on taking shot after shot. Check out Andrea's face to get an idea of how delicious this stuff is:
Then the kindergarteners arrived and put on a performance:

banana cheers!
Lien and Charlie, two managers at TCI, explaining what our funds would be going towards
 This year's donations will help Cat Dang build a new kitchen for the kindergarten. As you can see the current one is a bit grimy.

first group shot
This morning (Wednesday) was finally the big moment. After months of preparation we were ready to roll. Having done H2H last year, I was really hoping that day one of the latest ride wouldn't be a repeat: rainy, wet, muddy, overcast and generally miserable.
almost time...
Fortunately, when we got up this morning the weather looked...even worse. As we cycled from our hotel in Hanoi to KOTO for breakfast the skies opened up in a massive downpour, leaving us 20 riders wondering what the hell we had gotten ourselves into. The staff at the restaurant kept telling us that, in Vietnam, rain at the start of an event indicates luck. We were unconvinced.
By the time we finished the rain had slacked off, but the slow ride out of Hanoi turned into a mess, as Vien popped both of his tires at the rear of the group, leaving several people completely separated. After much apprehension and several phone calls we finally regrouped at the edge of the city, finally ready to really begin the day's journey to Hoa Binh.
The ride down the highway out of Hanoi's sprawl was pretty uneventful, just like last year. There wasn't much to look at, and the wet road and honking buses made things a bit unpleasant.
Luckily, once we turned off the highway, the weather began to clear. After eating lunch we were cycling under clear skies and blazing heat. The scenery was amazing as well. Last year we weren't able to see many of the karsts along this road through Hoa Binh province due to the fog. I had no idea that this area is so spectacular.

The last 20 km or so was fantastic, with rolling hills and awesome vistas.
Those of us who arrived in town first gathered on a bridge to wait for the rest of the crew to arrive. After that we found our hotel for the night and began to decompress.
This was a far better day than last year, both in terms of weather and, personally, mechanical issues. In 2012 I had two flats and a brake problem, but my bike cruised like a trusty stallion. (Knock on wood, this will continue.) A few other riders had bike issues, but everyone seemed to enjoy the day. I feel good. 90 km in the bag, on to Vu Ban (and the first major hill) tomorrow!

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