Posts tagged ‘Dalat’
Dalat was a bit of a let down to be honest. The town was grimy, uninteresting and pretty damn cold. Apparently the attraction stands in the day trips so in that respect we didn’t do the town justice. Exhausted after the adventures of our previous day, the last thing we wanted to do was get back on the bikes to follow the scenic routes that snaked the area. Instead, we took all of the bikes to see Joe’s good friend MacGyver who gave them a bit of TLC in preparation for the final 450km of our trip.
Still, Dalat was a worthwile destination if only for the beautiful drive (as seen from a jeep window) so it was with incredibly painful bums but smiling faces that we apprehensively mounted our bikes and headed for the lowlands. Although we were now taking the main road, the surface was no better than the day before so we had our work cut out for us in skirting around mounds of gravel, broken road, and bike-sized craters. Just as we were starting to get fed up of our slow progress the view opened up to reveal a flat landscape of burned orange and watery green punctured by emerald mountains. “Just as you start to give up on Vietnam it throws something like this at you!” Gary screamed as he caught up with me.
Riding along with the whole of Vietnam’s landscape laid out before me and Garth Brooks belting something suitably cowboy-ish in my ear I was pretty much on top of the world. I remember thinking to myself “I should get one of these things at home,” as I turned widely into a particularly sharp corner.
I’m still not 100% sure what happened but the next thing I knew my bike had flipped and I was being dragged along the ground on my left side. Just as I started to slow I felt what I though was my back wheel detatch and hit me on the (thankfully helmeted) head. The wheel bounced and banged my head against the road a few times as I slid downhill on my face. Next thing I knew Gary was urgently dragging me out from under a mess of bikes and pulling me to the side of the road where a Vietnamese woman grabbed me and crouched with me in a tight embrace, rocking and stroking my hair.
Quick off the bat as always, nurse Xavier had his first aid kit out within minutes and was checking my pupils and cleaning and dressing my wounds. He even sacrificed his favourite Tiger tshirt to wrap up some ice to calm the swelling. Thankfully, my face broke my fall so, besides from losing most of the skin that side of my face and sustaining a few cuts and bruises along my left side, I had no serious injuries.
What we think happened is that I hit a small pothole followed by a big patch of gravel as I rounded the corner and I went down hard. Only 3 or 4 metres behind me at the time, Gary had quick enough responses to see that he was about to drive straight over my exposed neck so he kicked his bike out from under him and leaped onto the road. It was his bike then, and not my back wheel, which landed on my head as I slid down the road.
Having walked away from my first ever road accident with only a few cuts and burns and with shock on my side, I was happy to keep going for the next 200km after a short rest. The boys (especially Gary who took the whole thing a lot worse than me) were a little more reluctant but we agreed to head to the nearest town for lunch and discuss it there.
Unfortunately the shock wore off once I got back on my bike and the scenic 30 minute trip down the rest of the mountain pass (complete with wild monkey’s ambling across the road) was lost on me as I kept both eyes glued to the road and slammed on the brakes every time I saw anything that could resemble an obstacle. On the verge of a heart attack, I was never more happy to stop for lunch and we decided to press on at a slower pace. Afterall, the highway was a pretty flat, smooth, straight stretch of road for the next 120km so what could really go wrong?
First Gary’s tyre went flat around a kilometre from the nearest bike shop. After an incredibly slow tyre change (MacGyver would have done it in 3.5 seconds for 10c) and a heated arguement about what a new tyre should cost and whether he actually needed one, we were on the road again nearly two hours behind schedule. Still, we were determined not to top 40km/hr so that we would be able to deal with anything Vietnam threw at us because to be honest, it was starting to look like we were fated to die on these bikes.
Around an hour later I was pottering down the road at 40km/hr tutting over a passing truck packed to bursting point with dogs on its way to the slaughterhouse when I saw a bike in front of me veer off the road, flip and roll quickly into a stone pillar. Convinced it was Xavier because he had been in front of me and because the trip was quickly going that way, I checked the bike and saw that it wasn’t red. Sighing with relief I saw Xav leap off his bike and sprint towards the point where the bike had gone down in a cloud of dust. As the dust cleared I saw a guy caked from head to foot in dirt lying under a bike. “SIMON!”
He wasn’t moving.
As it turns out Si had blown a tyre and only had enough control for a crash landing. He was quickly surrounded by dozens of worrying faces and Xavier had thrown himself on the ground and was propping him up. For a few sickening seconds he said nothing before getting up, brushing himself off and saying quite calmly “I’m fine. Where’s the bike?” and hobbling across the road (only Simon could crash his bike 10m from a bike shop).
While Si had both his bald tyres replaced we all lay on the warm pavement and watched the sunset, arguing over whether we should continue in the dark or just set the bikes on fire here and now. Gary was desperate to get hold of a match and Joe was all for stopping at the next town while Xavier, Simon and I were more determined than ever to get all the way to Mui Ne in one piece. After all, we had taken all of what ‘Nam could throw at us by now and it hadn’t been too bad. I had walked away only half a face down and Simon had only slightly turned one knee – not even a scratch. Gary, Xav and Joe however, were still on the Final Destination death list.
Eventually we did decide to plough on though – three hours behind schedule – as far as Mui Ne where Dave had booked us a room in a snazzy resorty and he and Adam were keeping a few hammocks warm for us in a beach bar. An hour and a half of frequent stops and not pushing over 20km/hr later we were slouched over beanbags, couches and hammocks in Pogo Beach Club downing beers and recounting our tales of woe to a captive audience.
Last day tomorrow – bring it on ‘Nam.
*Note: Although my face looked a lot worse when I took the bandages off (see below – click to enlarge) one week later the scabs have all fallen off and left only the tiniest pink patch underneath. So no regrets!
I’m not really sure how, but I have somehow found myself wedged between two surly Vietnamese business men in the back of a jeep. In the baking heat of the day I am sweating profusely in my tank top and hotpants, flinching every time they eye up my legs and hugging my now-redundant motorbike helmet to my bare chest. In the front two more well-heeled men are alternating between giggling hysterically and speaking in rapid Vietnamese. They ask me if I have any idea what they are talking about and I tell them that I have a reasonable idea that it has something to do with one of them marrying me. They laugh heartily before confirming that yes indeed, the driver does intend to make me his third wife. Would that, they ask, be okay with my boyfriend or would it be better for them to take care of him first? I laugh and accept their offer because I think they are joking and because I am utterly alone in their packed car somewhere on the top of a mountain 80km away from the nearest town. And I have no phone reception.
I hope they are joking.
Around 15km into our drive they pull over on the side of the road and two of them jump out and run off into the forest. A third one holds the door open and tells me to get out of the car while the fourth sleeps peacefully in the passenger seat. Stepping gingerly out of the jeep I can’t help but notice that this is the perfect plot for a new Rippley film. While motorbiking around Vietnam a western girl (incidentally a backpacker) breaks down. Lucky for her, a car full of local men on their way to a business meeting pull over and offer to help. They load her bike into the back of their jeep and speed off up the fog enshrouded mountain. For a while her friends try to keep pace but with the road in such a bad condition and with the fog so thick that they can barely see their front wheels, they eventually loose the jeep, cursing themselves for not getting the registration number and for letting her go in the first place. “It should have been me!” screams her boyfriend internally, over and over again.
Meanwhile the girl is sensing a chill in the jeep. Not sure whether it is due to a sudden drop of 30 degrees celcius in the air temperature or to a pervading air of menace, she starts to shiver. The driver, ever the gentleman, offers her his coat before ordering her out of the car and dragging her by the hair to a nearby forest cabin where he and his friends rape and mutilate her beyond recognition. For months the girl’s friends search high and low for her but with only a vague description of the men and no idea of the colour, make or model of the jeep they are forced to return to their respective countries empty handed. By now though, the girl’s college sweetheart is wracked with guilt and both his sleeping and waking hours are filled to bursting with thouse five poisonous words. It should have been me.
While all of this was playing out in my head the driver (Nguyen) and his friend had returned to the car with a length of wire they had borrowed from a friend who lived nearby and were dutifully strapping my motorbike more securely to the back of the truck. “That should hold it!” said Nguyen. “I was so worried about it coming down those mountains. They are so dangerous. Make sure and call your friends and tell them to drive as slowly and carefully as they can, I would feel so guilty if they got hurt because I was driving too fast. And zip up that coat so you don’t get cold. You can keep it. Now we will drive you to Dalat and we will find someone to fix your bike and I will book a hotel for you and your friends. I just hope they get their safe.”
And just like that all my dreams of meeting a dramatic and newsworthy end on a winding, fog enshrouded mountain somewhere in rural Vietnam were lost. As promised my four knights in shining armour drove me to the nearest bike repair shop, keeping me amused all the while with offers of marraige and descriptions of Vietnamese culture. Just as they unloaded my bike and sorted me out with some delicious coffee and hot tea (out of their own pockets of course) and haggled the shop owner down to local prices, I got a text from Joe. “Stuck on top of mountain with Gary. Bike is totally broken. No way of getting down. Send help.” Oh bugger.
Noticing the loss of colour in my face Cassanova and his band of merry men valiantly offered to do the hour long round trip again, forfeiting all of their business meetings and leisurely plans to save yet another hapless westerner. As they were leaving Xavier, Simon and Dave (who had the misfortune of being a passenger for the ill-fated day) rolled into town and Xav and Si hopped in the jeep to go back and help.
Meanwhile, back on the mountain, Joe and Gary had given up all hope of ever being rescued and had resolved on finding their own way down. After trying unsuccessfully to flag a car (the only person who did stop to help them had a clueless root around the bike to find the problem, located the working spark plug – now one of the only working parts of Joe’s bike – ripped it out and then hopped back in his car and left without a word) they tied the bikes together with bungee chords and Gary tried to tow Joe up the mountain. Half an hour and a couple of metres later, Samantha Mumba (as Gary’s bike is called because she’s black) started to cough and splutter like a chain smoker, threatening to pack it all in and head back to Dublin if they didn’t unload her fast. Some more strenuous pushing ensued and just as they were discussing what kind of physical barriers should apply for two men spending a long, cold, wet night on a mountain (after all, if Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal can do it…), the Vietnamese rode over the horizon like big, smiling Power Rangers.
Unfortunately Joe’s bike was utterly buggered so while he hitched a ride as far as Dalat, where our heroes hooked him up with the MacGyver of mechanics and a resonably priced accomodation, we ploughed on through mountain passes for the last 60km of the drive – racing through precarious roads against the rain, the setting sun and the vicious kamikazee mosquitoes.
Landing in Dalat eventually, we met Joe and the Vietnamese for dinner and a few rums (which they refused to let us pay for) and we reminisced over the wonderful day we had had. Sure, two of our bikes had broken down and four had needed repairs but there had been a lot of positives too. Having wandered off the right road early in the day, our morning drive had taken us through a variety of back roads until we reached a point where there weren’t even back roads any more. Then we had taken to a bumpy, dusty dirt track where we zipped past pens full of squeeling piglets and roads choked with runaway chickens (thankfully Gladice controlled her blood lust this time round) before we stopped to put our raincoats on in the holy grail of villages.
Well off the beaten track the village consisted of little over a dozen wooden huts between a construction site and a valley. Pretending to be coy at the start, the villagers peeked out of windows and children hid behind trees and rocks. The longer we stayed though, the bolder they got and eventually half-clothed and completely naked toddlers began to approach us to have their photo taken while their parents crowded in open doorways, smiling at us and gratefully accepting offers of cigarettes and good will.
Granted it wasn’t a perfect day but what with all the naked children, wild animals and meeting four of the kindest, most generous men in Vietnam, we were all pretty happy to call it a ‘good day’ as we settled into our warm, low-lying beds for some well-earned sleep.
More pictures from Dalat are available in the gallery