After a fresh shower and bandaging my wounds which continue to look less promising with a peculiar yellow goo encasing my knee and part of my left palm, I joined Roman and David for breakfast. I picked out a local spot while riding down on my motorbike on whatever you could call a main strip for this city that had a lot of activity coming from the energetic souls of local school kids. They were so proud to say hello to each of us as we rolled in. Even though they were in the midst of their breakfast (probably their lunch in all honesty with the time that Asians especially in the rural areas tend to begin their day), they couldn’t help but feel distracted by our presence. We were a curiosity. Not often do they get to dine with Westerners. The intrigue went both ways. I love going into markets and watch the simplest of things occurring that a shopkeeper may have experienced ten thousand times over whether it be a woman capped in her widened cone bamboo hat slicing and dicing a chicken whole with her large machete-like blade dancing in between the surfaces of her own carefully placed hands and the bird itself. We dug through the traditional pho soup and rocket fuel Vietnamese roasted coffee that is usually served individually brewed with a self-dripping mechanism. While we ate (kids and us) we exchanged looks across the tables peering at what the other was doing and thinking. After saying goodbye to a chorus of goodbyes (they didn’t seem ready to let us leave as they followed us for a short while out of the restaurant while we prepared our bikes for launch), we could finally hit the road and get to Hoi An once and for all without any hiccups to displace us. The mountain road continued whipping us around the mountains’ slopes and edges that peered over into the well cut and forested valleys. At one point, David and I saw no sign of our third member Roman for some time which for the group’s survival we had no choice to retrace our treads back in search of him. Roman had apparently broken down with his electrical ignition and kick starter refusing to compromise with the situation 20 kilometers away from Kham Duc. Being the bandaged boxer, I was of no use so David had to push as much as he could Roman’s bike to the lone local spot on the road. The men there tried to work on the bike but to no avail with limited tools on supply. After a call to Kham Duc, we waited in the sweltering heat that only further sent me back in time to the glorious chilled mountain air of Dalat. The mechanic arrived but now he had to push Roman’s bike all the way back into town. To save on the already bearing load, Roman left his luggage with David at this shack on the side of the road while I followed behind to see where he would end up. In a common display used by the locals, the mechanic stretched out his left leg to the right side of Roman’s bike as he sat on his own ignited motorbike while the two tried to link up by leaning in together to form one unit up and down the various hills (some absurdly steep while trailing slow as molasses semi trucks barely showing signs of acceleration) we just crossed. I have no idea how he pulled off such a feat but the mechanic pushed that bike while performing one of the best balancing acts ever to return the bike back to Kham Duc. Through what was communicated it appeared to be that the operation of his bike would take three hours. In the meantime, I went back to the shack to find David and return Roman’s luggage while I left mine with Roman for the time being. As beautiful as that road was, I had gotten sick of the sight of it by now since I would ride that same stretch of 20 km road five times over. When I found the shack I witnessed something unbeknownst to most. Mr. Neapolitan himself, David, welcomed me back bare-chested. David got this nickname thanks to his many layered tan lines. After many kilometers on the road he developed a deep chocolate burn on his arms running just past his elbows. In recent days when he shed down to a sleeveless T, the remainder of his arms to the shoulder had turned to a pinkish strawberry hue. When you brought the symphony of colors all together along with his deathly ghost white undertones from the rest of his upper body, you could see the famous overrated ice cream spread come to life before your eyes. If that weren’t odd enough, David had me take pictures of him with the goats he apparently made friends with while I was gone. I know that I had probably been away for close to 45 minutes but when did I enter this bizarro universe where I played the role of photographer to some creepy forced animal farm with Strawberry Mocha herding goats around with his random bag of oats. After I was able to rein everything back to some form of legitimate reality that I could mentally bring myself to, I led David back to Kham Duc where Roman and out of sheer randomness Thomas, Raven, and Greg were waiting. Roman still had an hour left to get his bike reassembled but I couldn’t wait any longer since the growing need to get some proper medical care for my wounds had become ever present and necessary. With David waiting with Roman, I concluded my time in Kham Duc leading the charge of our group of four in the direction of Hoi An. After enough pit stops, Roman and David caught up so that we could make our last final push into Hoi An. Over one long bridge that across a shallow river, which in turn developed into a wide spanning rice field, I saw one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen on this trip and in my life. Over the far away mountains that we had finally left, the sun was setting while spreading its bright and deepening hues of yellow, orange, and red. That same expanding light left the rice fields glowing as the bamboo coned women stood hunched over continuing to work the crops into the last dying offering of light. This acted as one of those moments that shook me to the bones, rattling me out of the sometimes numbness that can get persistent after time on the road. It shouted out to me, hollering loud and clear that here I was venturing out of my comfort zone and into a world that few lucky souls get to witness and touch. Even though the rest of the group rode there with me over that very same bridge, they sped ahead while I drifted behind absorbing every last moment in an attempt to halt time. The road had now grown to a pure unadulterated darkness that became complicated when traversing through random towns with no headlights. I could only follow the leader and their hushed light while trying not to bury myself into the hollowed speckled road that had been shattered through time. This was all well and good until opposing traffic shed their own light blinding me into, well blindness, the road reappeared from its flashed blank canvas of white to the reality of me riding into said darkness over a land mine trail unsuspecting of suspecting potholes and errant motorbikes. God willing I survived the bumps and repetitive hoists from off my seat to a point just outside of Hoi An where Roman broke down again. Since I was of no use to them, I ventured into the city by myself in search of a hotel. I checked into one with a room on the top floor that had three little low lying beds in a room best set for a Goldilocks fairytale. For my only venture out into the city for the night since I was ready to relax and bask in some creature comforts of my own solitude in my private room, I went out for a bite to eat and found streets devoid of the usual brews of pho piping hot ready to be served. Where was I? This was not the Vietnam I know and have experienced. Finally I could get a break from the endless supply of pho without trying too hard to look for it when I stopped into a com tam restaurant. Com tam is broken rice covered with a variety of items and accents depending on the cook’s choice and speciality. This one came with pickled daikon and carrots, slices of cucumber (for a refreshing crunch to reestablish the palate for another kapow of kickass Asian flavor), fried egg, a pork slab sensually tenderized with an alluring complexion of smoke and blatant deliciousness, and a slice of some sort of funky fun and fickle meat loaf; plus I had to order a small bowl of broth with an eyed-up from afar meatball encased by a pickle just because it was sitting there tempting me. With some magic dust of chilies and the oh so necessary gentle ladle of nuoc mam fish sauce, the dish hit on all cylinders for a hard to believe tin tin (bill) of 35000 dong (roughly $1.75 for those not up to date with the conversions). Is that what I saw in those flashes of bright white light when riding to Hoi An? Did heaven arrive early? Love never tasted so good.
Riding Vietnam Day 166: It Was the Best and Worst of Days Part 2