The Pavement Wants to Meet Your Face

Day 34: Dalat to Nha Trang

I’m up with a zest that has me hanging  upside down from the bunk beds. Today we ride! Flo and I shovel fruit salad in our faces, ogling our Hondas waiting patiently outside for us. It’s a wonder they haven’t just picked up and gone already.
We weigh down the darlings with our personal baggage while Leo the hostel owner makes a suggestion for our journey today – ride to Nha Trang, throw our bikes under the bus and take the night route to Hoi An. This means bypassing 500km of highway that Leo promises is the chunk to skip if we’re in a time crunch. We thank him and fly.
Our whooping rings through the hills and bounces off the pastel walls of Dalat. A snaking river worms it’s way into the background; acre-long greenhouses caterpillar behind us as the town shrinks from view.
The road continues upward into the luscious green ranges where horripilation collects on my bare arms. The morning sun was misleading at a standstill, and the frigid air sweeps into the basement of our skulls as we swerve over mountain passes; up, down, around and through forest that reminds me of the Canadian wilds. Looking at Flo, I see a reflection of my face-fileting grin. We’re smiling like fools in the way only True Freedom can make ya. This is it! It’s us and our babies; our beat up, duct-taped Honda Wins. They’re ours. And the road? All ours. Where are we going? Wherever we damn well want, thankyouverymuch.
But the clouds darken with every kilometre and the air becomes heavy and cold. The Path of Freedom furls higher still. Flo’s horn beeps behind me. We pull over and he nods to my t-shirt.
“You need clothes. It’s freezing.”
Long sleeve shirt, cardigan, scarf. Who knew Vietnam got cold? Neither of us prepared for below twenty degrees.
We tuck our blue ponchos around our gear and face north.
In Flo’s wake, I steer around mountain corners with white knuckles and a runny nose. It’s an unkempt road. A  pothole pops up like Satan’s idea of a practical joke. My hand and foot jam both brakes simultaneously. The back wheel shoots out to the left and the bike stutters on the pavement before slamming to it’s side. Body parts scrape the ground. I stand up and walk around my bike. A gasoline stream darkens the asphalt; the mountains keep my curses secret.
A young group of Vietnamese guys and girls on bikes zoom around the corner and stop to help. Their English is minimal, but a girl asks if I’m okay.
“I think so.”
They lift my bike and roll it to the shoulder. The headlight is smashed and a foot rest is bent upwards. The speedometer has fallen out of the display. It didn’t work anyways.
Then I see Flo whizzing back up the pass.
“What happened? Are you okay?”
I laugh when I tell him about my spill.
We thank the guys and girls and they continue down the road.
My ankle is scraped, bruises flourish on my thigh and my thumb is oddly dented – I’m alive! Flo gives me water and looks over my bike, then turns to me.
“Congratulations! You survived your first motorcycle accident!”
I laugh uncontrollably, on the brink of tears. Nothing like a smidgeon of shock to make you feel insane.
Twenty minutes later we arrive in a tiny town. Everyone is stuffed into socks and jackets. A layer of dirt has settled over this world – smudged into the cheeks of children and tousled into the hair of workers. You could draw pictures in the silt on every window.
A plethora of bikes on the side of the road signal to us – a mechanic. My handlebars are askew and need a fixin’.
Tap, tweak, twist .
“OK.”
Straightened.

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We pull ahead to a dark restaurant piled with men on tiny chairs drinking beer and shooting back a clear concoction.
The noodle soup soothes my shaky nerves, and when I sit back on my Honda, I’m ready for the road again.
Ten minutes later, we poncho up on the shoulder just as the sky opens up and pounds us in the face. Up here in the clouds we can see only twenty feet ahead. My travel companion looks like a Pepto Bismol statue, frozen in his pink poncho. The rain stabs at our eyeballs and steals the circulation from our extremities. Then, a pocket of clarity! We see the valley below, the curve ahead. Then fog. The weather see-saws back and forth until we reach a less tempermental altitude and the whole world becomes visible. An endless view of majestic peaks rise from the jungle like a metropolis of lush volcanoes. This is the Promised Land, or I’m riding a Harley.
The two of us emote as though Hell just opened it’s gates to the general public (clouds are not as supportive as you may think and the air is MIGHTY thin up there), flailing our arms as the sunshine flattens our bumpy skin. Marble rock patterned with jungular patches on the face of a mountain brings my bike to a halt to observe this meticulous art project of some force unknown.
Behind a patch of shrubs, my feet crunch broken bottles as I crouch to pee. Glass shards blanket the ground before a fence obscured by tall bundles of meticulously-placed grass. I call Flo over and we maneuver over the gate’s exposed nails. A trail threads down the mountain, through foliage and boulders to an opal river smashing its way through the valley. Perched on a hill opposite is a humble wooden hut. A figure moves in front of it. The figure yells, and we stop. The tone in his voice turns us around and puts us back in our bike seats like a shotgun.
Fifteen minutes later a waterfall is spied, begging for attention.

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An exploration leads to an enchanted lagoon hidden in the trees and we spot a baby snake, the size of a worm, it’s miniscule bulb of a head no bigger than a premature almond. I notice a human head bobbing on the road where our bags sit unattended on our bikes (some people just don’t learn from their mistakes), and sprint over, catching a family dismounting their motorbike with a picnic bag. They obviously know about the lagoon.
“Beat ya!” I yell back at Flo, in an attempt to appear  as though we were racing child-like down the mountain and not chasing down a family of bike thieves. Actually, I say nothing and instead stand awkwardly in the road, spewing air from my red face.
We ride. Rice fields forever. Darkness disintegrates the sunlight. Nha Trang appears.
An hour search for a bus station attracts strange people ‘helping’ us down creepy streets and unsmiling ladies at transit stations who just point to the door. We circle the city five times until honing in on a travel agency where three poker faces lift their eyes.
“Do you have any busses going to Hoi An tonight?”
Three nods.
“Okay. What time?”
“Now,” the faces say in unison.
They charge us too much. Across the street, the driver shoves me aside and rips the straps to release my bag from the bike. The gas is siphoned from the tanks and our Honda’s are mashed in sideways below the bus with the luggage.
Flo magically appears with a bag of beer. Dinner! This is the only sustenance we’ll be afforded tonight. The driver yells at us as we rush back from the bathroom. His words are difficult to decipher as he speaks zero English but is fluent in Asshole. We’re shoved onto the bus and tumble down the aisle to our sleepers as the vehicle rockets forward. We slurp beer in our chaise lounge seats and make stupid jokes. A couple hours later a lady screams at the bus driver about needing a toilet (the one on the bus is broken), but he won’t stop.
Sleep is impossible with the pressure of the beer on the bladder battling REM effectively. The driver stops four hours later, and he must have a five minute timer going and a wife in labour because the bus has started down the highway when we get back from the bathroom. This man don’t give a HUH about no one or no bladder. We disgruntingly jump on board with his schedule, tossing some mildly choice words his direction. He digs into his second pack of smokes.
It’s the only stop during the eleven hour journey to Hoi An, where the bus screeches into at 6am.


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