From the Back of the Bike: Mui Ne to Da Lat
"I'm so over this bike," I said, standing on the side of the road in the middle of Nowheresville, Vietnam. We'd spent the last hour bumping along a heavily potholed dirt road with the noontime sun beating down on our backs. Right as we thought that we'd cleared the worst of it, our bike sputtered to a stop and showed no signs of starting up again. With no water and no town in sight, we looked at each other and started nervously laughing in desperation.
Just like our ride from Saigon to Mui Ne, everything started off smoothly. We were confident in giving the bike another go, promising ourselves to stick to the coastal road as long as we could. The goofy grin that always spreads across my face when the road opens up and we're free to cruise at high speeds was a permanent fixture as we curved around the bends on the DT176. I found myself wondering, "Is this real life?" on more than one occasion.
As the coast faded away and we continued on to the Dai Ninh mountain pass, I felt like we were traveling through the Wild West. Mountains stood in the distance against vibrant blue skies dotted with the fluffiest clouds that almost looked fake. Brown dirt fields seemed to spread for miles, while expanses of wildly growing greens brought the landscape to life.
I remember thinking, "So this is what it feels like to be truly alive." Ironically, our bike died shortly after.
The last town we'd passed was at least an hour away and the road was so terrible, we didn't even want to think about going back. It was all sand and dirt as far as we could see, save for the banana trees lining the sides of the road, offering us shelter from the smoldering heat.
Before the panic could take over my mind, we noticed a small shack down the road. We could hear a TV blaring from inside the little house, so we approached as cooly as we could so the desert-dwellers wouldn't be alarmed. With broken communication, we did our best to explain our conundrum to the Vietnamese man who greeted us with dirty clothes and a confused expression.
He disappeared back inside his home, but apparently we broke the language barrier enough that when he re-emerged, he had tools ready. He went to work trying to fix the bike and even got it to shakily start. As soon as we climbed back on, it shit out again and the man shrugged as he had done all he could do. He pointed us in the direction of the nearest town, only about 4 kilometers away, we thought he said. So there we were, pushing our bikes down the road with no idea where it lead...
I don't know how I was holding it together so well, but I didn't even have time to start in on a nervous rant before a group of young Vietnamese men and women on their way home from a trip up in the mountains pulled over to help us. Shocked that we were walking since the nearest town was 40 KILOMETERS AWAY, they cooled us down with water, beer and moist towelettes. We sat in the shade of the banana trees waiting for their friend to come and save the day.
20 minutes later, another guy triumphantly rolled up with a huge plastic container of fuel. But unfortunately that wasn't the problem. The next thing I knew, I was whisked away in the direction we came on the back of a random man's motorbike, while the other group members helped to push and kick our broken bike down the road with Casey perched on top of it.
They pulled up in front of a small sign that marked the entrance to what was apparently a bike repair shop, but we never would have known without their guidance. It turned out that our starter was broken, which they had fixed up in no time. Our new friends even paid for the repair and we had a blast having a photoshoot and laughing together.
I couldn't believe our luck and the kindness we experienced from this group of strangers. For all I know, we could still be stranded in the mountains if it wasn't for them. Revved up on our good fortune, we continued on our journey to Da Lat.
I wish I could say it got better from there, but it turned into a nightmare before it got any better. We still had a mountain to take on. All the weight we had on the bike made it difficult to trudge up the steep mountains and we were losing daylight from our setback. Dark clouds loomed overhead as the sky literally rained on our parade.
He didn't tell me until after the fact, but Casey said there were times that he was legitimately scared for our safety. Simon, the guy who sold us our bike back in Saigon, assured us that the bike could handle our body weight + all of our luggage, but in hindsight, it really wasn't a smart idea. Somehow we made it through the mountains without breaking down and even though it was scary as hell, these breathtaking views from the top of the world made it almost, sorta-kinda worth it.
We didn't make it to Da Lat until 9pm ~ another supposed 3-hour trip turned into an all-day affair. As we pulled into town, looking for the hostel our friends were staying in, the bike died again. We wheeled it to the nearest hotel we could find and decided that was the end of our motorcycle journey. We slapped a For Sale sign on it in the following days and rode around town until a little businessman ran up and offered to buy it from us for way less than we expected to get back.
We cut our losses and bid farewell to our not-so-trusty motorcycle with many lessons learned about motorbiking through Vietnam. But I'll save those for another day.