After a bowl of Bun Cha, the better, more flavorful, and varied soup, I got onto the road and began to hear the never ending wavering and squeaking from the bike that I couldn’t quite pinpoint. I should have gotten the problem taken care of earlier but my stubbornness as usual got the best of me. I determined that as soon as I got to Dong Van today I would see a mechanic and get this cleared up once and for all and accept the ongoing damage to my wallet. In the meantime whenever I hit a downward slope, I kicked the bike into neutral and turned it off as I rode the brake all the way down like a roller coaster. The road cut through even more dreamlike, unimaginable nature. Vietnam is a treasure trove of limestone rock and Ha Giang’s mountainous peaks further emphasize why the country’s scenery is special with mountain-like mounds upon other gargantuan mounds trying to peak out from each other and claim the title as the tallest of them all. I kept waving to locals and especially children each time I passed. Whenever I got excited feedback from the children with their unending smiles, I felt like a million bucks as if they gave me a new sense of life and energy. However, more times than not, I got little to no reaction, or at least no more than a lifeless stare. Receiving such a reaction made me feel like an asshole. Here I was galavanting around on a motorbike having the time of my life using the bike as a toy rather than as the tool these locals use it for as if it were another rototiller-towing water buffalo/cow. I am looking at their land as some of the most beautiful things my eyes have been lucky to behold while this land is the same land that they tirelessly work over day in and day out sunrise to sunset with rarely any holidays or a weekend break to call their own. As one side trip detour I went into the Hmong king’s palace. The Hmongs is probably the most populated of the many tribes living in northern Vietnam and if visiting Sapa, you will definitely run into one in your time there. It isn’t anything like a French or German fanciful palace or a Vanderbilt complex but for a leader of a tribe composed of hut-like homes, he was certainly living a life of luxury. The home was composed of two levels and many rooms and sections which in itself is a statement. Little furniture had been left but I still could get a feel for how much they put into building such a place with the little means they had. The sights kept getting better from there as I worked my way to Dong Van. The green bearded limestone narrowing mounds on either side of me with a river channeling through just to add that latest dimension. I pulled into a motorbike shop for the mechanic to ride my bike and assess the damage. After replacing my rear brake pads and replacing a gizmo near the thingamajig, my bike was as much as I was aware good as new for only, get this, 50,000d ($2.50); plus they gave for free a long sturdy bungee cord to replace the ones that had been deteriorating over the last week. With still plenty of daylight, I turned back and began a 30 km detour onto the Long Cu circuit which went up to the most northern livable place in Vietnam as their sort of North Pole. I would have easily passed it and thought nothing of such a path that veered off from the main road, which is usually a sign of shit rocky roads to come, but enough research on the area came in handy. The route cut through the same similar kind of continuous mounded limestone mountains bumping along the horizon but now I was practically on top looking all around with more rice terraces and limestone then my eyes could deal with. Too many times I stopped to look out at the world but I needed everyone of them to further appreciate where I am and how far I have come to get here. At yet another pit stop that was worthy of a whooping holler, two young boys signaled me over. I began giving them some of well stocked lychee supply since I could not give them candy, even if I had some. Apparently at least according to the Sapa tourism advisement, tourists should not give village children candy because of the damage it will do to their teeth. Just like in Myanmar, the children’s bones are not strong enough to handle it. The boys accepted the fruit into their hands and held them up once more in a prayer-like clasped hands pose gesturing their gratitude over two measly pieces of fruit that I otherwise consume without even thinking about it. More and more children began to gather as they witnessed this quickly darkening white skinned Westerner holding a bag of treats. The one boy comically tried to shoo them away knowing that he likely would have to share. After awhile probably ten young boys and girls all under the age of ten closed in around me. I gave away all the lychees I had which was quite a lot considering and I wish I had even more to give them. After my lychee supply was fully consumed they went back to work as I noticed from their hooked tools that were used for trimming the grass along the roadside. While I spent my childhood climbing trees and playing games with the occasional chore, they spend much of their days working to help their families. Each and every one of them had the biggest, heart swelling smiles that I could never get enough of. After all this time away from Westerners and away from people that I can have a mentally rehabilitating conversation, these kids and their undying joy despite their circumstances give me that new sense of vigor for life and pull me back from being homesick. I completed the circuit before arriving back into Dong Van and meeting once again the two French. After cranking my air-con down to as low as humanely possible to a tundra 16 degrees Celsius, I joined them for dinner and then beers on the rooftop of the hotel/guesthouse. We are Com Rang, which is pretty much at least on this occasion steak and eggs on fried rice accompanied by pickled mini eggplants, cucumbers, and a soup. Being odd and hippy like the many that veer off the beaten path tend to be, we fit right in line with the same mentality and humor joking about random stuff including the welcome sign to the city that said ‘Rendezvous Dong Van’, which we could never find a legitimate reason for. Back in my chilly freezer temp room, I went to sleep under covers in one those rare miraculous instances.
Riding Vietnam Day 188: Endowed with the Riches of Nature