Friday, October 28, 2005
Piles Of News
Life is beautiful things are great, the Prime Minister has given us our bikes back, god rest his soul, he is not dead that was Ho Chi Minh. I keep getting them mixed up, bless them both.............. they are great. In fact Ho Chi Minh is in Russia on holiday at the moment, removed from his tomb and taken on a tour of ze Rushka, he should have gone to Hong Kong to the New Disney World I feel, get some colour in those cheeks of his.
We are both in great spirits having just travelled the first 1,200km of our trip from Hanoi to De Lat over the newly formed Ho Chi Minh Highway, leaving the tourists to trail down the coastal route we decided to go native and get some jungle action. We had a great and very speedily organised send off by SOS Children's Villages in Hanoi, hopefully they were not too scared by the sweat that poured off us both in the blistering heat. The children aged between 3 and 6 met us at the gates to their village with dozens of red roses that got planted all over our bikes. Chris somehow got more than me I put it down to his height and they were less terrified..........or they simply liked him a lot more.
Anyway we spent a couple of hours playing with the orphans and letting them sit our bikes. The 'mothers' of the orphans, of which there were 14, were fantastic and a pleasure to talk to, as were the staff/directors who have been an enormous help to us since we arrived.
The first days ride was great a bit of off-roading and a chance encounter with an elephant, who's admirers stole all our newly acquired roses (surely to give them a better home than we could provide).
Day two was epic, from the map it looked like we could make De Lat in the South within 4 days, but when we were told the road hadn't quite been opened yet we figured a formality or a ribbon cutting ceremony was all that stood from commercial traffic using the route, not (as we found) the 40KM of road that hadn't actually been built yet! The mud came up past our knees in some places, nothing could get through. We lost count of how many times we wiped out. The bikes were a nice browny red colour from-all the clay and we looked like a pair of swamp creatures.
Visions of our trial's in Wales came flooding back with Chris' mental aversion to riding in mud it was torturous and very slow going. After a particularly difficult section that involved a lot of picking the bikes out of the mud only to drop them 10ft up the road we were welcomed into a local man's house to have a drink and a bite to eat...... a real relief from the heat and the exhaustion of the day.
Unknown to us we had stepped into a madman's house, a guy so intent on getting us pissed and making us stay that I still have the marks on my arms from him pinching me and wrestling me to the floor. Whilst his family looked on in mild amusement (I don't think it was the first time they had seen their father behave like a lunatic) we were force fed rice wine. The only resemblance it bears to wine is that it comes in a bottle and is wet. After 9 shots of this stuff we were drunk and were in real danger of staying here for the rest of our lives (which would have been cut short in the middle of the night by a machete wielding Vietcong)
The past three shots had been flung over my shoulder through the open window, Chris was not as fortunate and his eyes were beginning to focus on his nose....... this couldn't last, crazy man had cottoned on to what I was doing and was watching me drink this stuff, which now had pickled wasps in......... Chris ate his wasp merrily. I grabbed the bottle and threw the whole lot out the window, not the best thing to do when you are a guest but we were out of options. Unperturbed our host grabbed a microphone and started singing Karaoke. I kept him entertained whilst Chris sneaked off and got his bike ready. Phase 1 of our escape was complete after 40 minutes of the very drunk and violent man screaming Vietnamese love ballards and leaping around accompanied by my loud, but incoherent attempts to sing along. I escaped, but not before he had turned my engine off 3 times and dug his nails in to a few more unprotected fleshy parts of my arm. Chris found out as we were leaving our host was the local policeman...... figures.
We didn't get very far that afternoon....... we do not recommend drink driving but the mud did seem to take on a whole different texture almost like gravy and I enjoyed sliding through it wondering where the hell we were and how many spokes I had on my front wheel. We made camp at the bottom of a gravy hill with a huge truck blocking the path, it was 2 hours before it eventually got pulled out by a cement mixer with a JCB pushing it. We had the company of what seemed to be 3 gay construction workers and a fire. With a belly full of noodles we slept in our tent bang in the middle of the Ho Chi Minh highway satisfied and exhausted.
After the mud we hit the rain, we were heading to Khe Sahn, home of what was the biggest American Marine base in the Vietnam war in 1968. The rain was so heavy it was bouncing 2 ft off the tarmac...... we were back on the trail at least. The rain was so heavy we couldn't find the base and slept in a rustic hostel instead.
3 days of heavy rain was not good and we passed by Hamburger Hill, The Glory Zone and Rocket Ridge without being able to see much except the occasional low flying chicken/pig/child, only coming to a complete halt for mud slides and wandering Buffalo. We were averaging about 6 hours in the saddle and 10 hours on the road every day which took its toll.
Having no arse does not help and ended up stuffing my pillow down my trouses, to cope with the 180 degree turns we were making on every corner through the mountains.
Arriving in Da Lat was breathtaking, like in the alps the road snakes its way up to a very pretty town. We were greated by a guy who told us the route we had taken was closed to tourists because of 'trouble's......' we came to the conclusion he was talking bollocks after secretly being quite impressed with ourselves for our intrepid ways.
We touched base with SOS and organised to come back the next day at 4:00. Once in our Hotel I touched my base and realised my worst nightmare........... grapes, farmer Giles...... Haemorrhoids.....dreadful piles! or to be more accurate, pile. Our diligence on the first aid kit has paid off (the 5 P's - Proper Preperation Prevents Painful Piles) and Anusol has come into play so has lying on my front. I shiver to think what might happen to my bottom over the next 23,000km......watch this space.
Turning up to the orphanage/village on newly jet washed bikes we were met by a dragon, several clowns, 3 four year olds in pink shirts and dickey bows, 6 girls dressed as kings, 1princess, 2 clouds and 2 suns.
I stalled my bike and dropped my helmet making our impressive big entrance.......... We sang some songs played some games, neither of us could figure out the rules to, then danced for 80 kids in a dragon outfit within the first 20 minutes.
We were then ushered into a small hall for lots of speeches and more singing and dancing. It was overwhelming, the amount of preparation and effort the children had gone to to welcome the two of us, every single performance was fantastic, I felt like a proud parent watching their child in a school play. We found out a lot about the kids and the life that SOS provides for them, they are all without exception wonderfully happy, cheerful and hardworking kids. It was easy to forget what circumstances led them to be living here but with amazing care and support they are having the childhood any child their age deserves.
Speaking to one small boy he said it was sad I only had one sister, he had 38! I agreed but them imagined growing up with 38 of my sisters!!!
A huge thank you to Mr Co the director of the village, Mrs Won secretary/translator and Anna from SOS Kinderdorf International in Austria. It was certainly the highlight of our trip so far.
Next stop Cambodia.................
Thursday, October 13, 2005
Vietnam or Bust?
Many apologies to everyone following our progress 'Run From the Sun' has hit a few problems and instead of updating we have been running around with our fingers crossed, we are sorry, the past three weeks has been fairly frustraiting.....
The problems hit when we realised due to a fault with the shipping the bikes were going to arrive in Beijing 2 weeks late so we made the decision to pick them up in Hong Kong and start our journey from there. Hong Kong was fantastic with many a friend made and good times had and the arrival of our bikes was pure genius, the bikes had been shipped to Dubai by accident so were Fed Exed to us, I was hoping they would air drop them onto Mount Davis where we were staying but we had to go and collect them like the average package. The paper work we had to get our bikes into China (issued in Beijing) gave us free passage into China, not an easy task...... unfortunatly because the bikes were now in Hong Kong we would have to re submit to bring them into the country... damm. We spent a couple of days scouting and spying the boarder crossings trying to find a smuggling route, the lorrys seemed to pass the check points without stopping we found our alternative way into China..... or so we thought. The boarder crossing have to be the most sophisticated in the world with huge X-ray machines checking every lorry that passes...means no passage for us....damn
We decided to cut our losses and ship the bikes to Hai Phong North East Vietnam, not an easy decision because customs are much tighter in the ports than they are at the boarder crossings meaning more people to pay off. There was also no plan B originally if we found it a nightmare to get into Vietnam we would take a trip to the Laos/China crossing and head South that way. But with the alternative a 4 month expedition around Hong Kong we sent them on their way.....
The bus journey to Hanoi, well several bus journeys through China took 23 hours, 1 day quicker than the train. Our shipping agent Claudia and local business man Mr Duong Duc Tho started helping us with the preperation of the imminant arrival of our bikes. Within a week it looked like we had it sorted with a little money, support from SOS Vietnam and Mr Tho's business/government contacts we would be the first guys to bike through Vietnam on bikes over 175 cc for a very long time! As we are now learning on this trip always expect the unexpected.......
Overnight our chances of getting the licences went from 95% to 50%.... The Traffic police would grant us plates if we had a document signed and stamped by the Prime Minister of Vietnam, not a guy I am in a lot of contact with. The paper trail seemed endless with well over 1000 pages of documents and 8 government/police departments to talk to, non of which talked to each other, getting to the Prime Minister seemed a tall order....
To cut a long and rather dull story short we did it, well a very little, lovely and unassuming lady named Mrs Hanh found a way......... we should be on the road by Friday 21st ...... but we are trying not to get too excited.
Of course it would be silly to sit around and wait for things to sort themselvs out so Chris and I have spent the time exporing what Vietnam has to offer, man is it beautiful. Our journeys have taken us East to the Cat Ba Islands, thousands of teardroped shaped mounds sticking out of the clear blue sea. We toured around in a little fishing boat that had no exhaust so the tranquility was slightly interupted but the scenery still jaw dropping. The bays were still recovering from the typhoon that hit earier in the week (which penned us into our hotel as we were surrounded by flood water) so not so many tourists. A good thing when we seem to be repeating our story of ill faited attempts to get started.
We stayed in a port town called Hai Phong which is where we will be picking our bikes up from, one night someone from the holtel let themselves in whilst we were sleeping and stole Chris's phone and travellers cheques. The hotel manager didn't seem to care too much so we got the police involved, two days after the theft we had 6 policemen visit us. Unfortunately we were not expecting such an early visit and after a night of drinking gin our statement were blurred at best. The excitement started when the police visited the crime scene (our room) not too sure what they were hoping to discover but Chris and I looked on willingly that prehaps they could spot some clues..... instead Chris noticed that his camcorder had dissapeared from his bag. It was there when we went to bed......... suddenly there was mayhem Chris and I launched ourselves at the hotel manager who we suspected all along. It was a relentless torrent of abuse aimed at our evil hotel manager, he tried to run but couldn't hide Chris had him pinned up against the wall downstairs whilst I pleaded with the police to arrest him. The fact that it took 6 policemen 3 hours to report a stolen phone the chances of them doing anything this century was nill. The police ran away from the scene never to be heard of again, despondant I returned to the room to see what else got stolen and what turned up in a bed side cabenet...... a camcorder.....ah. two hours later we were thrown out of the hotel.
It was time to get out of Dodge, back to Hanoi and we hired two russian 125cc Minsk's with a plan to head North up to Sapa, we had heard about this place in the mountains that was meant to be breath taking and a chance to home our off roading was irresistable, the round trip was about 1000 km spread over 4/5 days. We left with one t-shirt each two tin's of peaches and a bottle of water...... The first day was off road to Duang ho just south a huge lake, the trail was about 120 km long and ranged from rocky inclines to single path walkways. First time for a while where Chris and I had a constant smile on our faces, the feel of riding was making us really miss our own bikes that were still in the same box we had packed them up in 4 weeks previously.
A lot of people we had met travelling around SE Asia had told us they found the Vietnamese unfriendly, and I suppose coming from places like Thailand they seem that way as they don't always carry huge smiles on their faces. The people we passed on our trip were fantastic, High Fiving kids on the side of the road and waveing at everyone going by. Chris complained of a sore wrist because of all the waving he had been doing all day, I collected a bruised hand from high fiving a 7 year old whilst doing about 30, the poor kid was left spinning on the side of the road. Life seemed a lot calmer than the manic break neck speed of Hanoi and I guess people just had more time on their hands to take notice, after a great 2nd day we climbed up to Sapa early afternoon where again the people like the scenery were welcoming. It does seem that the women are much happier to talk and have fun than the men who work half as hard and are normally found at the back of the shop/cafe/hostel on a sleeping mat dozeing.
Apparently there were 54 different ethnic groups in the mountains I don't know how many we met but it seemed each village had a very different feel from each other. In Hanoi their direct translation for mountain people is 'savages', they are anything but.
The journey back took on a feel of driving through Peru with huge green mountains and a scar from a landslide about every 5 km. The roads we chose were free of tourists and more importantly mad bus drivers tearing around the tiny roads on the wrong side. The trip back to Hanoi was going well until we hit the rush hour traffic on the West of the city, everyone drives scooters in Hanoi we were in a scooter jam for a solid three hours, we probably moved 1/2 km in that time, it was chaos the traffic police had given up directing traffic and spent their afternoon watching from the sidelines as the anarchy ensued. By pure coincidence we bumped into Mrs Hanh who gave us the news we had been waiting for........ the prime minister of Vietnam had signed and stamped the documents allowing us to travel freely through his country..... Yippppe!
As I write this we expect this will be our last night in Hanoi we are leaving to Hai Phong in the early morning to sign the last of the papers needed for customs to release our motorbikes, I imagine our next entry will be a lot more up beat and excited but "in Vietnam....always expect the unexpected"
(Click on the "Vietnam 1" gallery to the left for more pictures)