You’ll look up and down streets. Look ’em over with care.
About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there.”
With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.
And you may not find any
you’ll want to go down.
In that case, of course,
you’ll head straight out of town.
It’s opener there
in the wide open air.
Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.
And when things start to happen,
don’t worry. Don’t stew.
Just go right along.
You’ll start happening too.
THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!
– a quote from Dr. Seuss which was read at our wedding
Goodbye Thao! As we pulled away the morning we left her house, her last words kept playing though our heads. “Oh, you are going that way? Those roads are in very poor condition. Not good.” We more or less brushed this advice off, especially since we had already done battle with the battered roads up in Sapa. How bad could it really be? Ha! The joke was on us this time around.
Setting the tone for the morning was persistent drizzle with an even darker horizon. Things were not looking promising so far, but seeing as we were still fairly certain we would not melt from a little rain, we pushed on. One missed turn and a little backtracking later, we were on course again, headed towards Ho Chi Minh…or as far as we could get. The misty conditions were holding steady and the clouds were starting to lift which raised our spirits as we covered the not-so-bad-afterall roads. Hooray!
That is until they weren’t. Gradually, the roads got worse and worse and then even worse. It is hard to even classify them as roads really. Perhaps a technical dirt bike trail with patches of looming concrete ready to knock you off your bike in a moment’s notice is a better mental image to conjure up. Oh, and these horrid road conditions looked to be never ending to top it off. Alas, it is all part of the adventure so on we went.
Rattle. Rattle. Wobble. Wobble. And POP goes the back tire! It was bound to happen eventually…but right here? Really? We were officially in the middle of no man’s land as we hopped off the bike to assess the damage. Not wanting to ride it for fear of damaging the wheel any further, we decided to turn around and walk it until we found someone who might be able to help. Lo and behold! It was our lucky day! Only about a minutes walk back there was a mechanic of sorts running his shop out of the front of his open air house. With our eyes glued to the road as we were navigating the rough terrain, we had totally missed him before. Yahoo! In less than 30 or 45 minutes we were on our way with a brand spanking new tube. Good thing too seeing as the road showed no sign of improvement.
Another hour or two down the road, starting to tire of the relentless rough riding, we encountered a whole new challenge. Mud. Lots and lots of deep, thick, sticky mud. This was not your average mud puddle, but rather more of a pit that went on for at least a length of a football field. Well, here goes nothing! We slowly put the bike in gear and gave it our best shot. Unfortunately, with all of the weight we were carrying, our best shot was not good enough. We tipped over twice as the mud maneuvered the tires any direction it pleased. It was so thick and slippery that we were doing everything we could to even get the darn thing to stand upright again without falling down ourselves. Please note that as we were mud wrestling with our motorcycle, there were grandmother’s and women in high heels gracefully gliding past us like it was nothing. (That is still a mystery to us and perhaps always will be.) Then, out of nowhere, what we have been referring to as our guardian angel suddenly appeared at our side. She motioned for us to follow her and pointed her motorcycle back the direction we had just come from. Not really seeing any other choice, we did a 180 and followed her back out of the mud. She directed us to some secret back route and hence we were able to avoid the mud completely. Soon enough we were thanking her profusely and heading on our way yet again…much less muddy than we would have otherwise been I am sure.
As we chomped down some lunch on the side of the road we figured that our troubles were more or less through for the day. We should have remembered that bad things typically come in three’s, but the improving road conditions gave us false hope. The afternoon seemed to fly by as we made up some distance and we were feeling good. The end was in sight as we neared our stopping point for the day. However, when we were about an hour away the roads started to deteriorate yet again, but much more sporadically than before. There were great sections followed by terrible ones. And it was here that things took a turn for the worse. We were cruising along on a particularly nice patch of road when BAM! We hit a massive pothole about 9 inches deep and as long as the bike itself. (I suspect it was a dinosaur footprint.) Things went catapulting out of our basket as we were just trying to keep the bike upright and hang on for dear life. We pulled off to shoulder to assess the damage and retrieve our belongings strewn about on the road, one of which was the camera. With very little hope, we turned on the camera and miraculously it was in perfect condition still! Chalk another one up to our lucky stars for the day I guess! Recollected, we straddled the bike and turned the key getting ready to finish off this crazy day. But our day was not over yet.
Uh oh! The bike would not start at all! We basically stood there totally dumbfounded and looked at this and that, but not really knowing what any of it was, trying to figure out what had happened. Spotting us looking confused and somewhat helpless, a friendly local pulled over. He could not get the motorcycle to start either so we asked him about a mechanic (again.) He knew of somewhere we could go just about 1 kilometer back down the hill in the direction we had come. While I hopped on the back of his motorcycle, our new friend put his foot on the back of our bike and litterally pushed it downhill as Ron steered. (In hindsight this is very funny, but at the time it was mostly very frightening.)
We reached the roadside stand / billiard hall / mechanic shop and all of the men took their turn trying to start the bike and offering up their ideas. Still nothing. A few phone calls later and we were told that the “expert” was on his way. Upon his arrival, everyone cleared as our expert lit up his cigarette, cracked his knuckles, and took the reins. In no time at all he has diagnosed the problem, but told us that it would be very expensive and would take a lot of time. When we asked what kind of cost and timeframe we were looking at, we were expecting the worst.
“It will be $12 and should be done later tonight.”
“It will be $12 and should be done later tonight.”
“Are you serious?! Yes! Let’s get started!”
Not that we had much of a choice at this point really, but it was crazy to have gone from thinking that maybe we would just ditch the bike and take a bus to Ho Chi Minh if the time and money turned out to be more than it was really worth to hearing that it would only cost $12 and would only take a few hours. You have to love Vietnam! Word must have gotten out that we were there because it did not take long for other locals to start coming out of the woodwork. What could have been a very grim evening turned out to be one of the most authentic and amazing experiences we have had in Vietnam to date! We got to hang out, play billiards (which the Vietnamese are crazy about by the way), and watch as our engine was basically completely rebuilt using a portable drill. It was totally and indescribably awesome! (The cherry on top for me was not just winning, but crushing my pool opponent. He might have let me win, but still…)
When all was said and done we had to face the reality of driving the remaining 30 kilometers down to town in the dark. Driving in the dark is something we vowed against doing from the very beginning. Lucky for us (a phrase I seem to have used quite a lot in this post) the man who first stopped to help us lived there and offered to guide us slowly into town and help us find a place to say. It was incredibly scary, but we made it. Finally letting our breath out, we followed our guide to several hotels…all of which were full. (Super weird seeing as almost everywhere else we have been, we have been the only people there.) Finally, he had us follow him to his house where he made a few phone calls and found us somewhere to crash for the night. During the time he was on the phone, we learned that it was his son’s 5th birthday party that night. We had no idea and felt insanely awful that he missed it on our account. If this is not a testament to the kindness of this culture, I do not know what is. Speechless.
Finally, we made it to our hotel. We were spent to say the least. All we know for certain is that someone or something was really looking out for us. Call it God, or karma, or spirits, but whatever you call it…we are lucky!