First Day on the Road

Trip Start Apr 07, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Dirty Motel behind a gas station

Flag of Vietnam  , Thanh Hóa,
Saturday, April 14, 2012

We left for Ho Chi Minh Trail, the inner more scenic main highway compared to the AH 1 which hugs the coast more and is filled with lorries. We got the hang of the dusty roads out of Hanoi fairly quickly, with never ending traffic heading west out of the city. Eventually we got lost and nobody could really tell us anything useful. The map (which is from 2008, extremely outdated in a developing country, as we soon found out) showed a connecting road that would get us to the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It ended up being 40 kilometers of gravel road full of pot holes and mud.
We jostled our way into the night, exhausted and lost, not knowing when the road would come to a fork and let us onto paved roads. We stopped in the moonless darkness after seeing a sign for a turnoff to connect to the city that was on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The people in the store on the corner told us the turn was actually seven kilometers down the road. At this point we were contemplating just setting the tent up in front of their store, since there was food and water. But alas we continued on optimistically. Down the road we ran into what looked like a restaurant, so we asked if they had food. They say no, and pointed back to a different place. As we walked back to our bikes, a Vietnamese man of around thirty years of age yelled and motioned us to come over. He grabbed me by the arm and pulled me to the table next to where he and some others had been eating. He pointed to what looked like month-old rotten scrambled eggs, leaned his head back, opened his mouth wide and pointed down his throat, and then rubbed his belly. He wanted us to eat. But by the looks of the food, I knew Nik's first thought was to run while we still had a chance, but the chance escaped us quickly and we found ourselves eating suspicious food with the awkward, off-putting guy. They all studied our Vietnam map as we ate expecting of unwanted consequences. The weird guy eventually walked off as we continued eating. When we had finished, the guy came back and using his hands again communicated that he'd just thrown up what we had just eaten. Optimistically, we hoped was just wasted and got out of there before they asked us to stay the night. Hospitality is a Nik drove on ahead until I couldn't see his rear light anymore, and I was having trouble seeing well enough with my headlight to keep up. Going to fast meant not seeing giant muddy holes in the road, and then getting jostled to the comforting sound of my bike clonking as though it were ready to fall apart. Finally we got to the Trail, took a right and continued on in the dark, on the nice, smooth paved road until the village of Ngoc Lac, 183km from Hanoi.
We were told we could just camp right in the grass to the side of the road next to a store on the side of road. Next thing we new we were being forced to stay in a dank motel room behind a gas station nearby. We explained for ten minutes that we'd pay him 50,000 Dong (2.50 USD) to camp in his yard. He insisted our bikes would get stolen and that we had to stay in the motel for 150,000 Dong (7.50 USD). This "arguing" continued until the man showed that he would never give in to our plea. He began writing the exchange rate between Viet Nam Dong and U.S. Dollars on the pavement with stones. We resisted no longer.
The motel room looked as though it hadn't been used in years. To our surprise, due to their insisting that our bikes would get stolen in this middle-of-nowhere mountain town, we pushed our motorcycles up into our motel room, full of crusty mud, where they fit just barely well enough to give us a path between the bathroom and the bed. The toilet didn't flush, until I reconnected the flush chain to the flush knob, the bathroom smelled of old, moldy uses, and the bedding we decided to keep away from us by laying our sleeping bags down over it. But, we were safe, secure and away from most of the bugs.
We went to the store next door and failed to find a decent snack for the night. As we were ready to leave we were motioned to come into the owners' living room where they served us tea as they watched TV. And what was on the TV but a documentary on the Vietnam War. With little communication possible, we told them we were from America (My, pronounced "Me-e" with long e sounds), and agreed that the war was bad with thumbs down signs and shaking of the head, and so on. A young man came who could speak some English. Quintessential Asian large portrait photographs of the family were on the walls, including him and his new wife. Although the conversation was primitive, and they we watching a documentary surely hating on America, they were kind and hospitable, remembering the past for the pain it was, but seeing the present with unconditional kindness, knowing it was our previous government, not us modern individuals that had any part in the war. We left our tea cups full, indicating we were done, for finishing them would require, on the part of etiquette, that they refill the cups, said good night and retired to our motorcycle-filled room.
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