Sunday, November 28, 2010

Travel Weary and Saddle Sore

Note: Pictures from this post can be found in the album titled “Vietnam: Nha Trang to Dalat via Motorbike.” Sub-note: This album will not be uploaded for a few days…

Summary

  • Tuesday, Nov 23: Bicycled around Nha Trang, up to expensive spa and down to a temple; learned a bit about Buddhism; discussed Buddhist sayings and our different interpretations of them; strange one-hour massage at spa recommended by hotel; LP-recommended place for dinner, disappointing; found another place, much better!; supermarket visit; drinks and girl-talk back at hotel.
  • Wednesday, Nov 24: Boat and snorkel trip from 8am-1pm; lazy beach time; cold shower to soothe sunburn; dinner at Chopsticks (found night before).
  • Thursday, Nov 25: Departed hotel for Easy Rider trip via motorbike to Dalat; visited coffee plantation, peppercorn farm and minority people village; slept in home-stay bungalow.
  • Friday, Nov 26: Up early, back on bikes; visited Elephant Falls, silkworm factory, silk weaving village, green tea plantation; ended in Dalat; some scary roads and even scarier driving by Easy Riders; two-star hotel turned out to be pretty nice.
  • Saturday, Nov 27: Spent morning motorbiking around Dalat; visited old king’s villa, flower park, train station and Crazy House; parted ways with Easy Riders; went to Lang Bien and hiked along main road and dirt path for about two hours, nice views; came down; walked around Dalat, found dinner, back in room early; Skyped with parents; bought onward tickets.

 

I sucked in my breath for what seemed to be the millionth time that day.

Perhaps my death will involve the bike falling broadside onto the gravel road, sliding along and skinning my side, then dropping off the edge of the road into the rocky, vine-y and tree-filled valley below.

I was on the slightly elevated back seat of a motorbike being driven by an Easy Rider by the name of Taung, a twenty-eight year old Vietnamese kid who liked to say repeatedly, “The real fucking Vietnam!” This was invariably followed by a crazy laugh, squinty-eyed grin and arms being flung open to encompass our surroundings. Francezka and I had taken off that morning with Taung and Dao, who carefully bungee-chorded our packs and bags to the backs of their bikes, for a three-day trip to Dalat.

IMG_0664 At first the ride was beautiful: coastline whizzed by, the sun and wind and blue sky ever present, and the thrill of going on an adventure filling our minds and hearts. Our Riders were young and energetic, weaving along the well-paved road and making me squeeze my eyes shut as we seemed inevitably bound for a pothole or rocky patch of road. I tried to sway with Taung as he sped up and leaned into his turns. I tried to breathe normally. I tried to keep myself from shrieking. I was successful at all of these things, except for the occasional sudden gasp.

They gave us a break every thirty or forty minutes, stopping at scenic points where we could take pictures and walk around a bit. Usually they would point up the road and tell us they’d pick us up in a few minutes.

IMG_0688Even after we turned inland from the coast, the scenery was beautiful. We passed rice  paddies, workers in the fields, plantations of all kinds and pedestrians of all ages. As we got further from the city, people – especially the children – got more excited to see us, waving and crying, “He-llo!” I never got tired of waving back.

We sped through small towns that had huge tarps spread in front of each home, each tarp IMG_0748covered with coffee beans or curry-coloring seeds or cobs of corn, all drying in the sun. We visited a coffee bean plantation, learning that the beans would be green first, but when they turned red they were ready for harvesting. They would then be dried in the sun for  several days before being ground up into coffee people use every day. There were yards full of tarps and beans. We saw a peppercorn farm, and I learned that the peppercorn plant is a parasite that wraps around only one kind of tree. We IMG_0762 picked a soft, spiny green fruit that when opened showcased wet, red seeds: their coloring is used to color curry powder.

 

As morning turned into afterrnoon, which darkened into evening, we arrived at our lodgings for the evening: a minority village called XXXXXXX. We were shown to one of many bungalows along a single dirt path. This IMG_0812bungalow contained a family in the back half, whom we never got to meet, and four soft beds  on the floor in the front half. We each took one and set up the accompanying mosquito nets. Francizka and I worked our way past mud pits, pigs and dogs to watch the sunset, a brilliant bloody red affair, over the lake with fish farms dotting it. The only sounds were the water lapping against rocks, dogs snuffling and barking, a tv blaring somewhere and the frogs, crickets and other outdoors-type noises. We both slept well but had odd dreams; odder still that we both dreamed of killing people. I attributed this to the extreme fear and gut-wrenching ride of the day before.

After breakfast the next morning, we were off once again. Our first obstacle: a washed out muddy road. Dao tipped his bike, dropping Francizka off unceremoniously into the mud and dust and leaving her with a burn on her leg from the exhaust pipe. Otherwise everyone IMG_0860was fine and as our RIders bumped and slid along, Francizka and I walked. We saw rice  being harvested that day, walking down amongst the workers as they expertly cut the stalks of rice with small but wicked curved blades. We watched as the men put the stalks through a machine which they kept running by a foot pedal; the machine spun and whirred, getting the rice off the stalks. A woman with a baby strapped across her back then beat the discarded stalks with a large club, getting every IMG_0848last grain off.

We also visited a silk weaving factory, where young women were seated behind complicated setups. They wove one thread at a time, manipulating hanging bean bags and a foot-pedals to change the patterns, and using a wooden machete-shaped tool to make sure each thread was firmly in place. There was a silkworm factory, where we saw the cocoons being boiled, the silk extracted and huge spools of thread being prepared for the weavers. It stank. About halfway through the day, our Riders got a bit excited and began racing each other, trying to out do the other by passing various other vehicles while simultaneously dodging potholes, rocks and pedestrians.

For the millionth time the second day, I sucked in a gasp and groaned aloud.

Perhaps my death will involve a bright pink bus hitting our bike head on as Taung attempts to pass vehicles in front of us. I will be the splat of a mosquito on a windshield, but oh, so much messier.

The scariest and most unsafe moment for me was as we were ascending the mountains on windy switchback roads. We came upon a bus and both Taung and Dao kept attempting to pass it, never mind the blind corners, narrow roads and oncoming traffic (mostly bikers like us).

All in all, we arrived safely, though saddle sore and wobbly-legged, in Dalat. Our Riders were still energetic, playing chicken with the other motorbike traffic, taking us back and forth around the city in what seemed, at the time, a repetitive and thoroughly unwelcome tour of the city. My bum was throbbing and my legs were going number. The endless drone of the motorbike seemed to reverberate inside my helmet, even as I sang to myself to keep my mind off the visions of death flowing through my mind. As we rode along the ridgeline overlooking the city, I stopped singing, opened my eyes, and suddenly sucked in my breath once more.

Vietnam: it’s beautiful.

 

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--Z

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