Jail-Bed Junctions to Pop-Up Peaks

Day 32: Somewhere to Dalat

I leave the discomfort of my jail bed first thing in the morning to fetch water from down the street. The hotel owner is on my trail, moaning sounds to me that speak of his deafness and holding my hand as he gestures to a cafe. Uh-uh. Flo and I have non-junction places to be. We waste time sipping coffee at foodless restaurants and stop for fried eggs and rice in a busy market. I overdose on caffeine for the 150 km drive to Delat.
Without phones or maps, we navigate like it’s 1995, following signs that are as accurate as any GPS. Mountains, bumpy roads, switchbacks and potholes. Towns built up from tin, sore butts and big cow bones in noodle soup.
Surrounded by Mother Nature’s handiwork, we stop to bring our attention to a gigantic pipeline running up the mountain; pull over to climb on top of a demolished overpass.
Gaining altitude, the trees start to remind me of home. It doesn’t take long for our t-shirts and shorts to feel wildly inappropriate as goosebumps blanket our arms and legs. We’re in the mountains now, it’s a sure thing.
A patch of sunlight paralyzes us in the middle of the road until our skin has lost its bumpy brashness, and then we finish our last 7 km.
Dalat is a life-sized pop-up book of crafty, colourful buildings stacked into tiered hills. This town wasn’t built. It just appeared one day.

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We find a hostel called Tiny Tigers and get a whole dorm room to ourselves, then sit on the porch with the guitar. Travelers flock like hippies to tye-dye and before you can say ‘didgeridoo’, the whole balcony is humming with the sweet lyrics of Leonard Cohen.
We skip dinner with the crew to go on a mobile hunt that serves fruitless.
After, when I crawl under the thick blanket on my bunk bed in the quiet dorm, nothing can talk me out of a 9pm bedtime. Not live music with the traveler gang. Not Flo or even Leonard Cohen. So I spend the evening gazing at the inside of my eyelids.

Day 33: Dalat

Today for breakfast we eat the $65 we spend on the worst Chinese cell phones ever created. The camera quality makes everyone look like a PacMan. Exercises in ‘letting go’ are on the rise.
When we go for lunch, the usual menu of pork pho or beef pho is available. In Vietnamese, ‘beef’ seems to translate to ‘cow bone’. We can’t quite figure out if the thing floating around amongst the noodles is true bone or just cartilage.
Our bikes get an oil change after the bone broth and Flo heads to the gym as the rain comes. I write beneath the awning of a cafe where an old lady serves up condensed milk with a thimble of coffee and hovers over me as I clack away on my keyboard.
I buy a white shirt next door because it makes me feel tanned and when Flo gets back, we go out with the hostel crew for a night on the pop-up town; more noodle soup (with actual meat) at the night market, intercepting a game of kids’ street soccer, and to a bar with a lineup around the pool tables. We drink beer by a row of scooters outside until deciding that leaving will be more fun than staying.

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We walk back to the hostel in stitches; making jokes that would wield us a smack from the wooden spoon if anybody’s mother heard us.
Flo buys new guitar strings and we sit on the dorm room patio again to serenade the hills. When the hostel crew returns from the boring pool hall, they join us in terrible song. And just before we pass out fully clothed, Flo and I agree that come morning, we wave goodbye to this charming town and hit the road.


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