We set off on our own, fingers and everything crossed that the boat would prove not just to be a myth. We pedalled out through the village with only a few early risers for company. Then we went down a hill which every centimetre of the way felt like it was taking us to a non-starter from where we would be pedalling back up in a few minutes even more stranded
. Unbelievably when we reached the bottom there was a small little speed boat with a guy dressed in full camo gear fixing the motor. After some pleading and bargaining he agreed to take us around the submerged road and along the river to a spot where we could continue our quest for the border. It was only a 5 minute trip but without him the route was completely impassable, again the flooded valley had claimed the road and probably many of the homes that lined its banks a couple of years ago. The guy knew he was the gatekeeper and tried to completely rip us off. The smile when we knocked him down however was friendly and knowing and he happily accepted a fiver (well over the odds but a price we were more than happy to pay). The road then continued (above water) for the 13 miles to the town of Manhao. We knew it would take us all the way there because we had been passed by jeeps and suddenly there was more of a slightly relaxed feel about the day. The road was as bumpy as yesterday and still required some pushing up steep diversions. There were a couple of unfinished bridges which from a distance looked as though they may halt us, but as we approached each we saw the makeshift track inland around them. Each turn of the road was nervy but 2 hours later (after beating off a few dogs with sticks) we reached the town of Manhao.
The next challenge was to find a driver who could take us to the border town of Hekou
. The unexpected chaos of yesterday meant that we could not cover the 60 miles further to the border without risking a late arrival and missing our visa expiry date. A car and a driver was the only way out. Again, unbelievably this hurdle was also easily leaped. We found the main junction where several guys in Suzuki Rascals hovered. One of them was happy to take us all the way (again at a well over the top price but our bargaining skills are weak and today was all about getting into Vietnam by any means necessary). We covered the 60 miles on an expressway in an hour, stopped once for a passport check but otherwise is was really nice to sit back and enjoy the scenery. He dropped us in Hekou where we had the most straightforward border crossing from China into Vietnam. The Chinese authorities were even keen to personally escort us through and it took less than half an hour to cross the bridge from one country into our next. We were even permitted to take photos as we crossed the bridge, how different to the border crossing into China from Nepal through Tibet?
We had done it, against all the odds we were in Vietnam and the sun was shining and everything was good again. (I was so relieved. All of today and the previous I had thought that we would not make it and be locked in a cockroach infested cell and then tortured/interogated for overstaying our visa. Mikey thought it was more likely we would just be fined, but still - a BIG relief!)
After the choas of the previous day, we had agreed to take a diversion off our route before setting on our way to Hanoi. Sapa was 25 miles up a mountain in the wrong direction but was reportedly the best hangout in North Vietnam. Bikes into the back of another van, we set off up the mountain
. The driver was nuts. He could not leave his horn alone, an annoying echoing beep familiar to us from India. He insisted on getting out his 'EuroTechno’ CD, a compilation of thumping tunes which he must save for his white passengers. He also kept touching my knee, a very strange chap and a terrible driver.
The road up was great and when we reached Sapa it lived up to all of the reports. After unsuccessfully checking out a few hotels we settled for lunch, excited by the choice of Italian or French restaurants. After lunch we pedalled around town and found a great hotel with a glass box room and fabulous views.
We sat back to reflect on a mad few days. Pizza and films in English provided the perfect tonic for recovery. Best case scenario for today had been achieved and we were loving every minute. The day took an unexpected late twist when I managed to destroy the plumbing at yet another hotel but that’s another story!
Miles cycled - None and very nice too!
Waking very early with that nervous tension is something that has generally disappeared since leaving school last July (I guess the morning of the wedding was a little nervy !) but this morning it was there in very high levels. On days like this I like to get up as early as my body allows and prepare to give us every chance of climbing the many barriers that lay ahead. It was dark outside and the New Year's Day party of the night before meant that there was no movement in the family house where we had so kindly been put up. Our English speaking friend, who the night before had said he would guide us to the boat dock, was nowhere to be seen. Clearly the homebrewed tequila had knocked him out.