Thursday, May 27, 2010

the Great Northern Vietnam Motorbike Tour-Day Seven

After waking up in Mương Lay and seeing what a pit of town it was, we were a little depressed but also we were thinking that things couldn’t be any worse than it was last night. At least if there were more construction on the roads ahead we’d be able to meet it in the light of day.

For Mandy this day started pretty much the same as last nights end. After our late lunch/early dinner the previous evening Mandy downed a half bottle of warm water, not wanting to waste any precious liquid and simultaneously sealed her stomach from any normal functions. Consequently, she spent most the night next to the toilet and woke up extremely dehydrated.

Kay and I exercised our best first aid techniques to get her back on the motorbike and back on the road.
And eventually we climbed east out of the river valley onto national highway 6 and onto a ridge, a ridge that would lead us into amazing terrain punctuated by stilt house villages, green rice terraces and lovely locals.

Pictured here are a group kids swimming in a lake, cooling from the midday heat when Kay came up upon them with her camera. They saw her and ran screaming. The third boy back was beaming with joy until he noticed that he was completely naked, and naked to a foreign woman at that. His face changed instantly to a look of total embarrassment.

This waving and screaming of, “Hello!” or,” Good bye!” will forever be in our memories of Vietnam’s countryside-a lovely thought.

Further on we stopped for drinks for the heat was again hitting us hard, especially Mandy. She had to lay down and take a nap inside a shop selling snacks and drinks on one side and fixing motorbikes on the other. True to paramedic form, Kay and I purchase green tea lemonade and loaded them with salt to help Mandy with her dehydration, while we listened to the lady of the house converse simultaneously in Vietnamese and the local H'mong tongue with her three daughters. They too tried to help by offering to get a mat for Mandy to lay upon.

Anyway, these roads were beautiful for riding. For the first 90 km’s from Mương Lay to Tuần Giảo, we couldn’t drive too fast for it wounded its way above a wonderful valley. The road was slow going but the views also slowed us further. Then after Tuần Giảo it opened up wide allowing us to open up our throttles.

To everyone else-I’m sure, this was fantastic. And for me it was as well, but only for a short while.

Climbing out of Tuần Giảo I got a little over confident. The Minsk was running like a dream. We were ascending at about 45 km’s an hour and I was able to keep up with the ladies just fine. Then, again, at the top of the grade I lost all power.

Before we set off that morning we all had the goal of making the next destination before nightfall. This first "stop to visit with locals,” which I’m going to call my fix-the-broken-Minsk-pitstops from now on, would challenge that goal.

So, I got towed by a guy, with his inner tube sections, up to the next grade, from which I could coast down to the next little town. Mind you, having to stare at a big flexible rubber band attached to your bike and the bike in front of you is a little daunting, especially when he slows down and then speeds up. Every stop and go I saw the potential kinetic energy build and flinched every time the band stretched. Remember having rubber band fights as a kid? Imagine….snap! You’d get that inner tube shot straight back at you, at point blank and it would hurt more than just a little sting.

Luckily it didn’t break and I was able to make it down to the bottom of the grade only to be stuck again when the road flattened out. By now the ladies had sensed my doom and turned around. This time I would have Mandy tow me with the static line, one of my climbing ropes that I brought along for exactly this purpose. This essential item isn’t on the’s list of things to bring-like a flat tire repair kit and spark plug puller, but it should be.

Anyway, the mechanic at this little town ended up being a total motorbike junkie making it a pleasure for me to pick his brain. He had a fleet of Wins and a couple ’67 Honda Cubs. And, I nearly traded him for one of these if it were not for the fact that Minsk has no papers. (Here’s Mandy on one of those ‘67’s. This by the way is her dream machine.)

Instead the mechanic rebuilt the entire generator with new coils and a new magnet, suggesting that I take along with me two more sets of coils for future breakdowns. Of course I would fork out the 10 dollars for this extra insurance. And we headed on with a little more confidence that the Minsk is fixed but also a little more reservation that something else could go wrong. Don’t push it too much was what I was thinking.

So, instead of full throttle I was maybe three-quarters when I slowly felt some wobbliness. Danm, not again! This time it was a flat. And with Sơn La in sight down in the valley below us, 4 km’s away!

Again Mandy towed me to a nearby way station for the weary Minsk driver. This one was run by a Thai family. And, while they nursed back my rear wheel told us about why they have long, tall hair dos and offered us these little plums. 

These little plums are not too different from the ones we have in California during the summer. They’re just smaller and greenish red as opposed to mostly red on the other side of the Pacific. And like the ones in the US, if picked early these too would have that sweet and sour taste, which I love. But fearing that eating too many of these would also relegate me to praying next to the porcelain god all night, I stopped after eating only three. As for the hair do, women who are married are not allowed to cut their hair. It’s a sign that they are not available to other men.

Cultural lesson finished, local produce consumed and rear flat repaired, we eventually rolled into Sơn La….with our headlights on, in the dark.

Over room service at a three-star, Vietnamese run hotel we expressed how we nearly made our goal, if it weren’t for the “stops to visit with the locals”.

But, boy! Those people were beautiful and those roads were great!

Great Tour- Day Seven from Linh Nguyen on Vimeo.

*Photos courtesy of Kay Okamoto.

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