Day 45: Somewhere in the Middle of the A1, Ha Tinh Province
I sleep in fifteen minute intervals. This concrete slab of mattress requires me to change position on the regular to allow blood flow back to the body parts that it last touched. Semi-trucks roar by on the highway below, the wind screams, rain bludgeons the tin roof in an endless aquatic orchestra. At some dark hour, Flo and I wonder if we’ll have to swim across the street for breakfast in the morning.
Daylight comes with no relief of rain. Fuck kilometres. The only places that will see us today are this room and the restaurant across the street.
At 830am I brave the other side of the covers to wander around the echoey building, looking for a trace of life. No one seems to be here, but the steel door is up and blustery air sweeps through the hallways. I imagined that the owners would at least be around, but outside is also devoid of humans. When I return to the lobby, a man is mopping the floor. Where the hell did he come from? I ask if there is coffee. He walks to the glass case at the front, pulls out a box of instant something. I nod. If it’s hot, great. Steaming cup of mud? Fantastic. He wanders into the kitchen where a kettle sits amongst dirty dishes, fills it with water and sifts through the filthy cups, inspecting each one. The water boils and he pours some into a little plastic mug, swirls it around and dumps it into a sink. Clean enough. I discover a room at the back of the building, empty save for two tables in the centre. The window looks out on endless rice paddies, speckled with ducks and water buffalo. I grab a chair from the front and set up my keyboard.
The instant stuff is hot and sweet and I wouldn’t be surprised if I found my life’s purpose at the bottom of it. I write in my makeshift office until I hear my name echoing through the building. Flo is wandering the first floor.
“Ready for breakfast? I ordered for us across the street already.”
We run through the rain and the lady from yesterday brings out piping bowls of beef pho and seedy rice crackers.
Where in the world are we? So we’re cold and stuck in an abandoned building on a bleak highway in the middle of nowhere. Somehow, it kinda has a nice ring to it. We giggle into our beef broth.
Back at the hotel we load our arms with beer from the glass case up front. Yup. Morning booze, that’s the forecast for today. We nestle into our big stone bed and sing Yelawolf songs until we fall asleep again.
Like proper habitual humans, the afternoon is déjà vu with a twist: I wake up, type away in my lonely office and come back to discover Flo has taught himself how to play Backstreet Boys on the guitar.
Then it’s back to our feeding place across the street. Weren’t we just here? We shiver in our chairs, eating the fish and soup and eggs set before us. In the corner of the restaurant, our server has a tiny fire smouldering on the concrete floor. Flo and I are drawn like hippies to tye-dye, hovering over it until the rest of her family crowds around–her husband and two daughters. Even with no common language, we manage to share some laughs (mostly at my expense–my six foot stature is apparently comedic in Asia).
The same locals from yesterday with the strange alcoholic potion are here, inviting us to join, but we decline their boozy cups, drag our bodies from the heat of the baby fire and back to our sleeping quarters.
In the middle of the night, people trample up the stairs and into the room next door, chattering loudly in Vietnamese. We can hear them spitting and coughing through the wall.
The hotel is no longer devoid of humans.
Day 46: Wherever That Place Was to Tinh Gia
I’m up first and writing downstairs when Flo fetches me for breakfast. Our server is not hell-bent on impressing us today. The ‘chicken’ is a pile of gnarly bones that we deem inedible, but the broth is boiling.
The clouds have given up the cry-baby act. The remnants of their tantrum litter the ground in the form of grey puddles. No Rain = The Road.
As the Germans say: We have bees in our butts! We are anxious to put as many kilometres between us and this damned hotel. We discharge ourselves, and our prison guard attempts to bill us some ridiculous amount of money for “the day”, as if paying for two nights accommodation meant we’d only given her enough money to cover the darker half of forty-eight hours. Good try, lady. We keep the daylight charge. She hovers as we strap our bags to the Hondas haphazardly. Goodbye, highway hotel. See you never.
The rain gives us space today, but the cold is a clingy prick. It permeates our moods a little more each day, and each day we give in a little more to its persistence. We stop in a bland, depressing town where it feels like everyone is staring and laughing at us, but find a thick pair of socks and gloves, because the cold is breaking us down. A cup of coffee replenishes a shred of hope and tinges our will to continue.
After a handful of kilometres, it’s lunchtime. We savour the heat of our noodle soup and watch wide eyed as a wide load pulls into the restaurant parking lot. The motorists in Asia defy the laws of science on a regular basis when it comes to loading their bikes, but this guy is performing some sort of wizardry to keep this thing above pavement. Our packs look like change purses next to his shipment.
He sits near us and pulls out a massive bong and loads it with tobacco; the water gurgling as he sucks in. His face disappears in a cloud of smoke. He stuffs more tobacco in and offers the contraption to me. I accept. I smoke. I cough. I throw up. Just kidding. But that would be funny. This guy is amused by my rookie toke.
Back on the A1, the driving starts to feel like a video game–swerving in between cars and racing past trucks and dodging other bikes. It feels unreal like a video game, because there are no rules and because a big white truck passes, veers right and sideswipes the barrier on the side of the road in slow motion directly in front of me. It looks like a move someone would make if they were drunk (or gaming). The truck slows down and stops, and Flo and I peer in the window as we pass. The two guys up front look quiet, but they are fine. No bloodshed. We move forward.
Just before dark we make it to Tinh Gia. Another dreary highway town. We find a tall white hotel boasting a ‘karaoke’ advertisement, which, actually, seems to be true for every hotel around here, and throw our packs in the room. Another trip to the mechanic must be made, but I run out of petrol on the way and have to find a station to fill up a bottle of gas. The mechanic welds my broken bike rack.
We sit at an empty restaurant that rapidly fills up with some big post-wedding family dinner. A young man and his kids and an old man and his vodka take special interest in us, asking for ‘selfies’ and pouring us shots.
When the booze makes our eyelids droop we go back to our sky high hotel room and pass out.
Tomorrow is the day we ride to our final destination. Are we really almost there already?