Rebel without a clue...
Trip Start Jan 22, 2008
101Trip End Sep 30, 2008
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I did not help matters by bizarrely ordering a pigeon for dinner - the bird came in a pose as if it had recently been struck by a bus and the chef had not bothered to remove eyes, or feet, which I found a little off putting. I would like to say that, as with most delicacies, it tasted like chicken but the two pieces of dark brown/ grey meat which I managed to stomach tasted like disease (maybe this was my imagination).
My day improved little with an overnight train to Sapa (about a nine hour journey). Despite the unparalleled misery of the night bus experiences, we decided we would get a better flavor for the country by traveling with the natives, in soft seating class
Sa Pa itself is absolutely stunning. It sits high in the mountains and, like Da Lat, which we had previously visited looks very European with picturesque colourful houses dotted throughout the town. Unlike Da Lat, it has not been destroyed by odd kitsch tweaks to the sights and as a result it was somewhere I would happily have spent a few days (unfortunately with time in Nam running out this was not an option). Weekends see a number of the population of nearby hill tribes visit the town to attempt to sell their traditional wares. Oddly, most of the teenage hill tribers walk round holding hands, and both sexes have blue skin (caused by the dye in the fabric of their clothes) and odd features which suggest liberal views on incest. I did by a bad wallet from an old hill tribe woman with one gold tooth, which shone like a diamond against the coal of her other jet black teeth, who then started stroking me and trying to show me where her hut was - tempting but risky, I decided.
After an appalling night's sleep in the freezer box (I had to buy and wear a hat in bed this time), we decided that hiring motorbikes would be a good way to see the surrounding mountains (which tower around Sa Pa). Dressed all in black and wearing my recently purchased fake Ray Bans, I felt pretty cool and was undeterred by early co-ordination problems. I could not take my hand off the accelerator and as a result nearly stacked the bike into a petrol pump then through a shop window whilst an old local looked on in horror - but was getting into my stride as we took a ride down a long winding mountain road through spectacular hillsides and terraced farm land. The road soon deteriorated into a quarry access road and after turning round about 15km from Sa Pa, my bike conked out. Assuming it was petrol (none of the dials worked), Simon went and fetched some and we filled the old girl up. I briefly got it going again, only for the entire back wheel to fall to pieces. With a train to catch in five hours, and being an hour away from base, I jumped onto the back of Simon's bike and had to confess that I had broken the guest house motorbike. Unsurprisingly, this news received a bad reception, especially when I confessed that I left the stricken machine by the side of the road about 20 kilometres away. Before I knew it, I was on the back of a random's bike taking him, and the guest house director (Mr Oai), to the bike. On arrival at the scene a lot of excited phone calls were made by the random and Mr Oai, and both also tried to flag by every passer by. Most only paused briefly to laugh at the bike and me (I think) but within half an hour, Mr Oai had persuaded two young men to help. To my amazement they dismantled the bike, putting the broken back wheel and front wings on the back of Mr Oai's bike, and the remainder of the Yamaha went onto the back of one of the random's bikes. I thought this was a little optimistic and was amazed to see his bike successfully start moving. We made good progress for the first half of the return to Sa Pa, so much so that my driver had stopped pausing to check the convoy behind was still intact. However, after about 10 minutes stopped eight km's from home, there was no sign of Mr Oai or the young man transporting two bikes. A three kilometre back track revealed the reason - the young man's back tyre had, as I expected it would, exploded. The three men seemed to find this highly amusing as did the hill folk who again surrounded me when I lost the protection of my driver who went to fetch another wheel. With the young man's back wheel back in action, we progressed smoothly back to the hotel, save for two unscheduled stops - firstly to join a group of locals laughing at the wreckage of someone's bike which had fallen down a steep rocky slope into a ravine (luckily no sign of a mangled rider) and secondly to laugh at two dogs who were fused together after a sexual act. This sight was funny as they were facing in opposite directions and staggering mostly sideways, like a drunkard. I am ashamed to say I even took a picture of the predicament as I was amusing myself with how one would go about explaining this to a long-term sexual partner, "it's not what it looks like darling, Colin and I were just chatting when I slipped and..."
On arrival back at the hotel, I was whisked to a local garage where the international body language of the mechanics was in full effect. The number of head shakes and tuts told me it would end up having been an expensive excursion so the 20 pounds fee I was hit with was slightly lower than I had feared. I think that Mr Oai sensed my relief and requested another 50,000 Dong (three dollars) for petrol money for someone he had called to collect the bike who had not been needed in the end. I enquired if he were having a laugh but the fact that I was in the company of eight Viet men suggested I shouldn't argue too hard so I called him a thief and churlishly threw the money on the floor.
Miraculously we caught our bus to Lai Cai and made the train where the whole experience of feeling like an alien was replayed again...