Motorbike Diaries Continued:
Today. Goodness, where do I start?
Before I talk about today, I want to let you in on a secret: Adam and I almost gave up before we even started.
We’d just come from sunny, convenient friendly, amazingly beautiful Thailand and arrived in a loud, angry, cold, rainy Vietnam. After 3 days of everything we owned being soaked and never drying, shivering all day, and being constantly ignored, we joked, “we should just fly back to Thailand”. I said it and he gave me a say-the-word-and-we’re-there look.
The trip had been my idea afterall. He was an innocent bystander. I dragged him (willingly, of course) into it.
We almost gave into the fantasy of being somewhere warm and sunny and dry and comfortable, but today made us so glad we didn’t.
Our alarms both went off at 7, but we couldn’t convince ourselves to roll out of bed until a quarter to 8.
We dressed in the same clothes we wore the day before and headed downstairs for our $1 breakfast, which was as unimpressive as the price suggested it would be, a cold crepe, 2 pieces of fruit, and instant coffee. Bleh.
We checked out and road down the street to a mechanic to have our oil changed, our chains oiled, and to fix my broken horn (which is absolutely necessary to have while driving in Vietnam… in fact I’d be happy if I never heard a horn again).
The woman (I was impressed and surprised it was a woman) was friendly, thorough, and quick, and only charged us 100,000 each (about $4.50).
We road around the area of Tam Coc, which is a beautiful park area with rivers surrounded by gorgeous limestone mountains whose shape remind me of a camels humpback.
We didn’t actually set off for our next destination until 10:45, a late start for us considering we’d left at 7:30 the morning before.
Instead of taking the direct route on highway 1 along the coast, which would have been 120 km (70 miles), we took back roads to avoid the highway (and therefore the chaotic traffic) which ended up being 155 km (95 miles).
We turned from the highway and pulled onto a street leading into a small town. We almost immediately wondered if we’d made a mistake by not taking the highway; the road was soaking wet and covered in dirt, not the safest conditions for biking. But we pushed on.
The drive today was what I pictured when I daydreamed of this trip.
Small, dusty deserted towns along crappy potholed roads, children playing on tricycles and in the mud, waving to us as we drove past, shop owners sitting in chairs outside, watching the traffic pass, women in bamboo hats up to their knees in still water, planting rice in rice paddies, fields and fields of soft green sugarcane stalks, banana trees dotting the landscape, stand after stand of fruit along the side of the road, water buffalo grazing along the highway, chickens and dogs running across the road, brown rivers flowing underneath bridges.
We stopped around 12:45 for a break and some lunch. It was a windy day, so I was searching for a restaurant/home with doors, which is hard to come by in Vietnam. I never thought I’d drive or walk through a town specifically in search of somewhere with doors. It sounds absurd, but that’s all I want these days: a place that has the potential to keep the cold or wind or rain out.
Anyway, we came upon a fairly new looking building with doors and a sign saying “coffee”.
I pulled over and Adam pulled up next to me and smirked, “I knew you’d pull over here when I saw the word ‘coffee’.”
“You know me so well already!”, I smiled.
It was exactly what we needed: good coffee, filling food (not soup, but rather rice, eggs, and vegetables), a CLEAN toilet (also hard to come by here), and friendly faces. The man of the house brewed us amazing coffee in a nifty contraption I’ve yet to see in all my years of coffee-loving. Then, as I was smiling ear to ear while sipping the amazing coffee, he pulled up Google Translate on his laptop and we were able to have a relatively normal conversation! Technology can actually be used to bring people closer, if used correctly!
We wanted to stay, but we weren’t even half way into our journey yet. So, begrudgingly, we hit the road again.
Finally, we hit Ho Chi Minh Highway, the highway we’ll be using for most of our trip. It was a dream compared to the roads we’d been driving on all morning, so we were able to pick up our speed (but not too much. Don’t worry, mom) and try to gain some lost time back.
The mountains, my God, the mountains. I wish I had a GoPro attached to the front of my bike to you guys could see it all from my view. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Camel humpback-like mountains that come straight out of the ground without any warning covered in dark, emerald green jungle. Hump after hump of limestone. Brown rivers lazily flying beneath them, rice fields spread before them like a quilt.
A smile was pasted to my face the whole day, even when my ass was so numb I could no longer feel it and my hand was in a permanent claw shape from being wrapped around the handle bar and my bladder was ripping at the seams and buses were barreling past me so close I could have touched them with my elbow. And especially when I drove past an old lady chasing cows down the highway with a rake. Especially when I drove past 2 little girls holding hands as they road bicycles home from school next to each other. Especially when a group of ladies selling sugarcane on the side of the highway all waved and yelled hello! as we drove past.
Yes, today was amazing. And it wasn’t even over.
We finally made it into the town of Yen Cat a bit past 5. Although we’d had an amazing day, we were both exhausted, hungry, and in no mood to chat.
We got a room in a hotel at the beginning of town. It’s huge, 3 of 4 stories with long, marble hallways, vaulted ceilings and a fountain out front.. and we’re the only ones here. No joke. It’s something straight out of a horror film or the Twilight zone. It’s creepy how empty this grand hotel is. We put our crap down and got the hell out of there as soon as possible.
We strolled into town, happy to stretch our legs after a long day on the bikes. The hunger was really starting to set in, which is unfortunate because both of us get hangry (hungry and angry), and all we wanted was a restaurant with doors! We were cold; chilled from the windy drive and from the sun setting. We were crabby from being exhausted and hungry and sore. We just wanted somewhere with doors.
We didn’t find a place with doors, but the place we settled on gave us more than we could have asked for.
The moment we sat down, four children under the age of 10 came running up to us. At first they were quiet, only smiling, but Adam and I engaged them and they instantly warmed up. The little girl, Lin, practiced her English on us, what is your name? Where are you from? What can you play?
Before we knew it, we had 8 children around us and I had a baby in my lap. We taught each other phrases in our native languages, they had me sing songs (to Adam’s amusement and despair), they did my hair, they arm wrestled with Adam, we taught them to flip a coin and how to click their tongues, we took selfies (after my own heart, they are!) and played games on my phone.
The kids did more for us than doors on the front of a restaurant ever could have. They put us at ease, made us laugh and smile and feel as light as a feather. They lightened our mood and the emotional load a long day of riding brings. They reminded us why we are doing the trip this way in the first place.
It was truly unexpected and amazing, and I can’t wait for the next 19 days.