You don’t know man, you weren’t there. Nha Trang to Dalat, Vietnam, BlogSherpa
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