"Down to the Sea"

By Valerie Schumacher

Odd to be leaving Alpine country and entering desert. Kind of reminded me of New Mexico.

The road from Dalat to the sea is a roller coaster ride down "Spectacular Pass." Lost count of the switchbacks. We stopped at a lookout, and I could have plopped my butt down and sat there all day. Mad at the people who'd left baggies and cans tangled in the wild sugar cane.

They say on a clear day you can see the sea from that pass, but the sky that day was a watercolor of blue into grey. Nothing distinct in the distance. Patches of flame on the mountainsides like smoke signals and signal fires.

Once we hit the flatlands, the bougainvillea draped over houses were so vivid you could see them with your eyes closed. I wanted a house like that. Cactus to keep out the uninvited. Better than Bob's welcome mat that says "Go Away."

Arrived at the Pok Long Garai Cham towers in Phan Rang. Hadn't noticed how hot and dry it had gotten till we got out of the van. My hair constantly caught in my mouth.

The towers sit like a sentinel upon a stony hill, the only one around. Arduous climb and an entrance of stone like a whale jaw bone. The towers are Hindi-like in construction, built without mortar; and stones so tight together you couldn't slip a piece of paper between them. I found two young monks in brown robes and cowboy hats enjoying the shade of a cave-like entryway.

I stood in absolute awe of this wild and ancient place, the wind almost knocking me bodily off the stone walls. It whipped around me in a frenzy up there, like there were spirits loose at Pok Long Garai. Twisted and gnarled trees like the bones of an old man's hand. In the distance I could see an air base full of marshmallow blue planes.

We drove on through country of treeless mountains reminiscent of that furnace known as Nevada. Ancestors of the once mighty Cham people of Vietnam still live in that area. We came upon a group spreading rice to dry on the roadside, one woman laden with a basket on her back and a very pregnant belly on her front. She smiled for my camera and told me through Viet where to send a copy of the picture. In that desolate landscape, it seemed inconceivable that she would receive mail.

Eucalyptus groves and herds of cattle gave way eventually to coconut groves under which grazed incongruous pockets of black sheep and goats. We had come to Cam Ranh, and we were starving. Tom promised us heavenly seafood at a little place set amid salt farms. I was stopped dead in my tracks by the sight of two sea eagles tied with yellow plastic to a tree beside the boardwalk. I wanted so bad to cut them loose with my Swiss Army knife.

The wind stirred their feathers, and they spread their wings, cocking their heads, darting citrine eyes. One tried to lift off and fell over to hang upside down, beating his wings in futility 'till a man hurried out of the restaurant and righted him. Even though I was fascinated to see such a spectacular bird at close range, I hated the fact that they were there.

Copyright 1995 By Valerie Schumacher, All Rights Reserved