I took the Mai Linh bus from Quy Nhon to Hoi An. The distance to travel was made greater not by the miles travelled, but by the slow pace of travel on the congested roads. For a Greek-Australian used to Australia's vast but empty distances between towns on bush highways, where the speed limit is 110 kilometres per hour and one sometimes drives for hours without seeing another soul in a car or bus, cross-country travel in Vietnam is slow, but never unpleasant or boring.
And the Mai Linh company (which operates both buses and taxis throughout Vietnam) has the best record of safety and professionalism. Our bus, resplendent in its emerald green livery and driven almost reverently by our impeccably uniformed driver, pulled into a roadhouse for a refreshment and a convenience break. We disembarked and mingled with travellers from other buses or a few private cars in an undercover space that serves as the roadhouse, connected to the house of the family that operates the place. Most people were sipping coconut water through straws from the centre of freshly harvested fruit, after which the coconut, meat and all, is discarded.
I spied, from the corner of one eye, a small motorcycle, the badge of which proclaimed that it was powered by a 50cc Honda motor, with an enormous load of coconuts slung on either side in wire baskets, which were unified in the middle by another pile of coconuts on the pillion seat.
The motorcycle was ridden to the roadhouse by a woman wearing a black helmet over a sunhat, and the woman who operates the roadhouse with her family was checking over the coconuts. Upon her approval of their quality, a man took over the task of separating the coconuts from the stalks on which they hang naturally and then making a cut straight across the top, followed by clearing away some of the fibrous green covering around the sides. This makes the coconut easier and lighter to hold. For this procedure he used a curved machete, which he handled most deftly.
The woman who delivered the coconuts saw me turn the camera towards her and broke out in a huge, wide and very warm smile. No words were spoken: I showed her the pictures I had taken on my camera screen, and she smiled and giggled with obvious delight. I had such exchanges before and had similar reactions, though none of them quite as ebullient as the one this lady had expressed. Her spontaneity and her warmth are two of the reasons why I love the Vietnamese people.
"I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts"
The al-fresco roadhouse (left) and the family's dining room (right)
(The man with the green tie talking on his mobile is our driver)
Calling home. The stacks next to the post are edible wafers.