Sunday, April 21, 2013

Motorcycle diaries

Have you seen it, the movie? ''Motorcycle diaries'', about the 23-year old Ernesto Guevara, travelling through various countries with his friend, on a motorbike. I thought a lot about this one, since the movie I am currently in is quite similar, I am 23 years of age as well, also travelling on a motorbike through unknown territories. However, my title could also be ''Motorcycle diarrhea''. 
The last two days have been extremely packed with unique adventures, none of my writing will ever allow you to really imagine what we are experiencing here. One thing is for sure, if you go to Vietnam, you have to travel the country by motorbike, its the only true way to fully arrive in the Vietnamese culture.

Flo and I had little to zero knowledge about motorbikes, still we bought two and decided to bring them from Saigon to Ha Noi. Starting off in Ho Chi Minh City as total rookies is definitely not the easiest start you can think of. We planned to leave in the early morning hours, when ''fewer'' of the 3 million bikes are on the streets yet. Our plan failed, as a first stop at the mechanic next door delayed our trip by almost two hours. We joined the traffic at 8 am, rush hour. Surrounded by a concert of horns, we headed north-east. I easily felt home in the horn-concert and happily joined with my signal. We both agreed that our mothers would immediately faint if they had seen us. Plus they would never let us back on the bikes again... Its really hard to describe how we survived, but we did.
Between scooters loaded with various materials, goats, pics, other scooters, chickens and even humans, we fought our way to Bao Loc, where I developed another exit plan for my life; plan 'F' (in case A-E would fail): I become a winemaker in the Vietnamese highlands. 
For hours we were chugging through huge fields of either flowers, bananas or avocados. The ground seems to be extremely fertile up here, plus its rusty red due to big share of iron in it. Mixed with swarms of butterflies and vintage cars, we sometimes felt like being on Cuba...

The second day on bike brought us via Da Lat to Nha Trang. We were going deeper and deeper into the mountains of Vietnam. In remote villages, all the children ran to the street in order to greet those westerners on bikes. For some we might have been the first white guys they saw... Later we climbed a mountain pass on   route 'DT723'. From our side it looked just foggy on top, so we did not think any worse and drove on. What we did not know was that we would get into some of the heaviest rain I ever experienced on the other side of the pass. Immediately the sky was not just ''foggy-grey'' anymore, it was ''the-earth-is-about-to-collapse-dark'' around us. Harsh street conditions did not make the situation easier. As we were far from any house or shelter, we drove on. When we were about two thirds down the pass, the rain came to a brief halt and I managed to take this shot, which is showing the view to the coast, towards Nha Trang, our goal of the day:
To make matters worse, the engine of my bike broke down short after. As long as it was still going down, I was able to roll by myself, for other parts, Flo had to pull me with his bike. It really was a baptism of fire, those two first days on a motorbike...
A stop by the guy on the left was necessary to make my ''Cloudette'' (name given to my bike by previous owners) working again. It turned out that all the rain has caused a short-circuit somewhere in the jungle of wires. With the help of body language we came to an agreement about what to fix and what to pay.
In complete darkness we drove the last kilometers to Nha Trang, where we were very happy to finally relieve our (attention bad word!) asses from all these vibrations.
Nha Trang is a strange place, people call it the 'beach capital of Vietnam'. Its true, it does have a beach right in front and it does look a bit like Copacabana. I am not sure though if the true Copacabana is also that packed with Russians... An estimated 90% of all the tourists here are from Russia which leads to signs and menus written in Vietnamese, English and Russian.

Today we spent some good times at Vinpearl, a funpark located on one of the islands around Nha Trang. The cable car in the picture took us to this barely visited but actually well made park. For some 450'000.- VND we had a great time not only on the scooters, also by observing the Vietnamese and Chinese tourists. Somehow they were not at all used to attractions like this, many could not express their joy, others lost total control over their emotions and again others had to puke already after a trip on a very easy-going swing. All in all the place was quite surreal, lots of fun and impressive all together. On the way back, we parked our bikes in front of a seafood restaurant. I had an entire grouper which I could select by myself from the fish tank. Again, we ate like Kings for the price of a Happy Meal.
Oh and we did not yet taste a cat... We were looking for it in various places, but we could not get one so far. We will keep searching. Meanwhile another animal made it onto our dishes; snake.
Snake is somewhat crispy, somewhat chewy and tastes a bit like nothing or chicken. Its not the best food we had so far, but its definitely worth a try.

Tomorrow morning we will enjoy a mud-bath before hitting the streets again. Next stations are planned to be Quy Nhon, Quang Ngai and Hoi An. There just must be a cat somewhere...

stay tuned, GH.


  1. I may slightly contest the phrase ending with "The ground [...] is rusty red due to big share of iron in it.", but i would be annoying and excessively zealous; so i'd rather ask more about the way you've been dragged on the bike by your mate, which of the following is it?
    - You where so clever that you brought along a rope in case of emergency.
    - You both have so strong and long arms, that you could steer and hold each other at the same time.
    - You mastered your Züpfe-making techniques, and made a rope out of leaves, snakes and the long hair that suddenly grew on your head due to the fertility of the previous rainfall.

  2. Haha, tell me more about the red soil... What is the reason for it?
    Regarding the other question, forget about option 1 (you know me). It was a mixture between your second and third assumption. An other friend of mine said 'the worse the bike, the bigger the adventure'. - True story!

    1. No, you're basically right. You should just be a aware that iron itself is not red. It gets red only once oxidized. And then we could discuss about the processes bringing such a high fraction of oxidized iron. But as i said, this was an annoying comment...!