Getting closer to Vietnam. Dalat to Mui Ne, Vietnam
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!