Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Great Northern Vietnam Motorbike Tour-Day Two

This second day happened to be a bit more epic.

In the planning stages, I had consulted with my friend Dutch about logistical connections from town to town and determined that a boat ride on Ba Be Lake then a boat ride down river before hitting a road going north to Ha Giang province should be the route for the day. So this was our aim.

The boat ride on the lake was spectacular. The scenery felt alpine with precipitous hillsides but the vegetation was definitely rain forest. The air was cool and the water mostly clean. Some of us even hung our still wet laundry out to dry, for the night before thundershowers tore through the valley. This night-time rain would later haunt us.

At the end of the first boat ride, we landed at the top of a waterfall from where we rode down to a damn at the bottom of the fall to catch another boat to go further down river. But there were no boats running this bottom section, at least no boat big and safe enough on this day. What happened was that the water level was too low. Two days prior the bigger boats were making transports here but the damn hadn’t let out enough water since. Folks that were running the ferries today were using small boats and didn’t deem it safe to transport even one motorbike through the shallow and narrow bends. We were seven people with six motorbikes.

It’s fair to say that this day was the most unpredictable day of our journey. Manu hadn’t been on the roads we were planning and definitely not the river journey we were on.

So with our tails between our legs we boarded another boat to go back up river to take another road north.  They say though that every misfortune creates opportunity.

This misstep allowed us to head straight north to the most scenic, not my words by the way, roads in all of Vietnam. (You will all have to wait for the next posting for those pics and video.)

But before going directly north we were lost along these roads above Ba Be Lake. The map showed that they were paved but anyone traveling these northern roads knows that Vietnam maps are of the future this country, a promise made by the government or whomever to show infrastructure development, not the present.

It was slow going on these gravel mountain roads and construction zones. Manu even went down in an especially muddy section. Then a wrong turn brought us back to within 4 km of the guesthouse where we stayed the night before. The time was 2:30pm and we hadn’t even eaten lunch!

Over our meal, we decided that we would push on north to Mèo Vc or stop off at Bảo Lc if it got too late. We would have to surmount Mount Pia Oắc and then descend down to Bảo Lc. The distance to be covered after our meal was 100 km, with only 2 hours of daylight and an average speed of 20-25km per hour due to the steep grades and poor conditioned roads.  Going up was slow and going down was even slower for the rains began to fall just as the sun was setting into the blackness of night. The last 2.5-3 hours were glacially slow and treacherously slippery.

Great Tour-Day Two from Linh Nguyen on Vimeo.

My Minsk motorbike at this time began to show its failings. I couldn’t kick start it any longer and had to plan my stops at the top of grades so that I could coast down and bump start. At a flat section I stalled after a section of big potholes to wait for others and couldn’t restart. Mandy had to push me a few times before I was able to resume, a precursor to the remainder of the trip. Bless her heart!

Needless to say I missed the beautiful sunset earlier at the top of the mountain where the roads were flat. Also, being the slowest of the motorbikes in terms of performance, I didn’t want the others to have to wait for me anymore than they already were so I kept driving whenever I could. I was the tortoise that slowly inched along while the others were rabbits continually passing me and then stopping for directions.

We rolled into to Bảo Lc around 9:30pm knackered and wet. Mandy complained about bed bugs. Luke and Kristi just passed out after showering. And the others got hungry and found some porridge, even though Manu hates porridge.

I was hoping that this was going to be the worse day of the trip but we’ll see.

*Photographs courtesy of Daria Hagemann, Kristi Cruz and Kay Okamoto.

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