We can see the lighthouse from here, do we really need to go over to the island? Remember the Kuang Si Waterfall debacle?
It seems silly to have come all this way and not go the final 1km though. It’ll be fun and there will be a great view from the top! Trust me.
Kids, don’t say Trust Me, when you have nothing to back it up other than your unwarranted optimism.
After yet another cramped and crowded overnight train, arriving in Mui Ne was something of a revelation. Perhaps it was the sun, perhaps it was the blustery wind, or perhaps it was the sheer number of kite-surfers out on the water as we arrived – we counted 37 out there, carving through the surf and building up speed until they hit a wave, lifted into the air and floated down to reverse course and do it all again. Perhaps it was just fatigue or a need to relax in a familiar beach environment. It could well have been the water which was comfortably 25oC. Whatever the reason, although it is in truth nothing more than a long strip of road that backs onto a miles long but narrow beach, we were nevertheless enamoured enough that we took one look and decided to stay an extra night.
With additional time thus accumulated, we decided today to hire out a scooter and head South to Vietnam’s tallest lighthouse, largely at my behest. At 65m above sea-level, it supposedly offered expansive views of the coastline and the chance to see a historical and cultural monument.
Now, I don’t read the manual when I get a new gadget, but the willingness of the rental company to just give me one of their scooters, say bye and send me on my way blew me away. No instructions on how to turn the engine on, how to brake effectively, how to add fuel, how to indicate (that’s a trick, no-one indicates over here), safe speeds, road rules or advice. Not that it turned out to be particularly complex, but still. No need to see my passport, my driver’s license – Yes, I do have one. 8 bucks and the beast was ours – we could have nicked it and driven to Saigon and they wouldn’t have been able to do anything about it.
With Emily Benjamin perched on the back as navigator and woefully unsuitable helmets strapped loosely under our chins, off we went, first with a wobble and gradually with a bit more confidence.
Vietnamese roads are even more horrendous to be an active part of than as a passive passenger. At least on a bus or in a taxi you’re being driven by someone who’s grown up with this carnival. Tottering along on two wheels, supposedly in control of your own destiny, you become grimly aware of just how fragile life is. You learn to hate oncoming cement trucks that overtake into your path and think that a flash of the headlights is enough to make you give way by riding into a ditch. It is enough of course – they’re driving a bloody cement truck after all, but that’s not the point. And, God help me, you become a big beeping moron along with the rest of them, jumping on the horn at the most minor of infractions, and anxiously letting some cyclists riding four abreast on a highway (!) that they shouldn’t try and move any wider lest you collide.
I am now firmly convinced that Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre is one of the finest inventions ever conceived. I can only assume that there’s some sort of punitive import tariff on it over here which prevents it from being adopted.
Suitably imperilled, the alleged 45km journey took nearly 2 hours. I say alleged because South East Asian concepts of time and distance are so skewed (or was that screwed) that nothing ever is as near or far away as it’s supposed to be. Physicists would have a field day trying to apply the theory of relativity to this frame of reference.
Arriving later than planned, we got there at high tide and couldn’t walk across to the island on which the lighthouse is situated. Two options presented themselves – take a boat across for about $15 from a local fishing family, or take a few happy snaps from the shore and call it a day. Naturally, the 200mm zoom lens owning Emily Benjamin thought we’d come far enough, but my poor Lumix begged to differ. Trust me, I said, for the second time.
We were taken across in a “speed”boat, given scare quotes here to emphasise the fact that the speed of the speedboat was “slow”. A cunning marketing ploy, that – slow is a speed after all. It certainly couldn’t have been called a fast boat. Though only 500m offshore, with surprisingly choppy water we arrived at the island about 15 minutes later.
It could have been straight out of Shutter Island. With a few whitewashed buildings, no people in sight and the kind of dark, creepy, twisty trees reserved for a haunted house, it could easily have been a mental institution. The lighthouse, imposing at this short distance sat at the head of a winding path that took us up through the gardens.
Eager to see the view from the top, I bounded ahead, taking the steps 2 at a time and arriving at the door to the lighthouse 30 seconds before the skeptical Emily Benjamin, which was sadly not enough time for me to figure out how to put a positive spin on the fact that the lighthouse door was padlocked and bolted.
The journey home took 2 more hours.