Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A little adventure - Da Lat and the "Jungle"

Da Lat/Vietnam - 19.09.2009

moving forward

I felt to finally share my - to me kind of exciting - experiences from my last hours on my last day on the bicycle in Vietnam (btw, if you don't want to read it all but still are interested, feel free to scroll down a bit, for the 2nd half/the adventure part..).

The day was mixed. It still was raining season. It started as a sunny and warm day up in Da Lat. Actually beautiful, but I already had put myself under stress, because I still had some things to do before leaving. I had to get me another vaccination from the dog bite back in Saigon. There was a hospital close to my hotel, but it turned out they didn't have the vaccination. So it was not the first time that I had to head for the other side of town in Vietnam for a certain reason, in this case successfully though. And Da Lat is luckily not so big either.

On my way back to the hotel I found a mechanician who fixed up my bike a bit. Something I could have done in Saigon already, as I had time there. But firstly it was hard to find a bike shop there (didn't see even one) and secondly I wasn't sure if I actually would jump on the bike again at all. Since I was so relieved to have made it to Saigon alive and told myself still back on the bike I wouldn't do so anymore. In Da Lat I decided that I would take the bike to Nha Trang and from there take the train to Hanoi. So already the day after my arrival in Da Lat I would be leaving again.

The repairman exchanged the five gear-wheels - which another repairman put on the bike, one day before arriving in Saigon (the old one didn't spin anymore) - with the fitting seven gear-wheels. The other guy didn't have the ones with seven, so he gave me this one with just five. But none of them, not unlike any other mechanician I've met on my journey, could help me with another problem I've had all the way through Vietnam. Which was that I couldn't use the smallest gears of the front gear-wheels. Which are a big advantage at hills. I FINALLY would figure that out by myself the same last day! Maybe something about this lead to the collaps of the gear shift though. But to that later.

I had my breakfast while the mechanician did his job and when I returned it was done. I went to the hotel, packed my stuff, payed and left. Hm, at first the wrong path though. The receptionist from the hotel gave me a copy from the city-map, but I thought I take a small short cut and end up on that route. Unfortunately that was not the case. I think I was also on the road to Nha Trang then, but it wasn't 'that one'. I heard that one of the two roads were completely new and I thought I better try to get to the one the kind lady at the hotel suggested (hopinng that's the new one). So a bit back into the city, some fixing of my baggage and when I left the city it was already noon. Short before the road to Nha Trang, on the borders of the city, I felt I had to stop for some food and quickly have lunch. But the place I found only had drinks, so I just had me another one of the amazing Vietnamese coffee.

So then, there it was, the road to Nha Trang. I wondered "Am I really right here?!". I only saw a small road in the midst of some trees, it seemed not much bigger than the eye of a needle, so I felt a little uncomfortable. But asking people seemed to confirm I was on the right track. On the other hand, I came to Da Lat to see the woods and nature and here I seemed to get that. The other road seemed to offer mainly just lowlands, with many fields, but very few trees. Here I would get my adventure, I thought. After a few kilometres gradually the road got a little bigger. Then I saw some workers on the road and finally I was on an entirely new road! And that in the midst of this mountainous and woody area. The funny thing though was that it seemed I had it all for myself. Most of the time there were very few vehicles around (at least that day).

up in the mountains

In the afternoon, probably around 4 p.m. I had my last break, with a tea, a banana and some sweet stuff. That's where this girl suddenly stared at me... at first kind of reserved, but then she smiled a lot. So cute! I was back on the road with a huge smile on my face.

But finally to what mainly comes to my mind when I think of this day and which makes it special to me: the "adventure".

I continued my journey up and down the hills of this beautiful region. I felt a bit uncomfortable again about the fact that I could not use the smallest gears here and figured I could give it a try losen and tighten this certain screw a bit there. I actually thought it has to be possible somehow to improve this thing. At a small village (one of the very few around) I asked people if they have tools for this. There were kids/juvenils standing around and one of the grown ups brought along something and after a few minutes I HAD IT! I could use the entirety of the 21 gears. I felt a bit silly though and blamed myself for not having tried just this much earlier. Since I had some other hills to climb as well much earlier in Vietnam, as evident in this video:

(this was between Hué - Ca Na - Da Nang - until after Hoi An)

{v. V} The Roots of Coincidence from Yves Schiepek on Vimeo.

So, back on the road, doing some more hills and soon the next rain came. Actually for the third time that day! As I said earlier, it was a very mixed day. And since after noonday there were mostly dark clouds on the sky. It was short before six, and during my time in Vietnam I had to realize that somebody switches off the light at 6 p.m. sharp! So hmm, there I was... still riding the bike, it's raining on me, dark suddenly... but I was smiling (just as right now writing and remembering this). Actually I was smiling even more when it was dark then. Everything got so quiet. And I found my rhythm on the bike. There was only me, my breathe, the nature and sounds coming from nature, such as from the rain and what I saw from..... what felt to me as "Jungle". I was in the midst of the woods, surrounded by trees, riding beside a river. Really beautiful. I regreted that I couldn't see this during daytime. (Later I was told that particularly this area is amazingly beautiful in the early hours of the day.)

Oh, and besides my bicycle didn't have any lights, so when I wanted to see something more clearly, I had to use my tiny neon torch light. This was the case when suddenly my bike was in an open loop. Something was wrong. At first I thought maybe I just have to put the bicycle chain back on the gear-wheels. But my torch light showed the unavoidable... an essential part of the gear shift was broken. Impossible to continue... and I thought it would be hard to find a mechanician not only in Nha Trang, but in Vietnam who could fix that (so I didn't even lose a thought on this endevour). Since most mechanicians specialize on fixing motorbikes (for good reasons), or at least don't put silly gear-shifts on bicycles.

(I took this picture in Tanh, 10 km before Nha Trang,
short before I found my stay for the night..

didn't dare to take out my cam in the rain when it actually happened)

So now here's the funny part left to tell. And I don't know if anybody's gonna believe it. It was dark, still raining, but most of all, I didn't remember having seen (m)any cars at all in a while. And yet I was only smiling about my situation. Pushing my bike and thinking... well, not thinking much... just watching and listening... I was in peace. Also it was still only after 6 p.m., maybe short before 7. Even tough it felt like deep night the evening was still young, so I had no worries yet. And even though I soon afterwards had to realize that the next village was about 20 km away. I was still pushing the bike up the hill when suddenly a bus came along. An overland bus. Actually even from the same travel agency I came to Da Lat with. They stopped for me and I asked if they can take me. They said yes and told me what it would cost me. It was twice the price I payed for my journey from Saigon to Da Lat, with a distance of more than 300 km and here there were only 40-50 km left to Nha Trang. I tried to beat down the price for a moment. But they just saw me in my situation and probably thought that I would HAVE TO accept. Well... they were wrong! :D They were two guys, and what would I give to see their expressions again now! Or know their thoughts when I took my bike to walk my way in the rainy night... in the middle of nowhere.

Hm, ok... everything came to a sudden end when only 10-20 metres farther or so a Van came and they took me (I was relieved though). For half the price. The guys with the overland bus were still standing there.

In the Van I had to realize that it was only maybe about 300 metres more up the hill and then the next huge distance was downhill nearly exclusively. That was about 30 kilometres........ And after the mountains there was mostly only lowlands. So if the bike would have made it these few metres more uphill, maybe I would have made it to Nha Trang the same night on the bike. But yeah, besides, most of the time I wondered where I would end up that day... how far I would make it. Actually earlier I figured Nha Trang wouldn't be possible to reach anymore.

To summarize:
- I rode with a fixed/working gear shift of the bicycle for maybe about ten kilometres (out of nearly a thousand)
- it totally breakes at the hill, short before it goes downhill entirely

Fun times! ;-)

The guys with the Van didn't go directly to Nha Trang, so it was 10 km before Nha Trang in a small city called Tanh where I found my stay for the night, in... (apologies for saying that...) a rat hole. It felt like 40°C at night, maybe it was 30°C. There was only an electric fan and a small window, or rather a whole in the wall, that seemed not to let air in, but just gases and noise from the street. Well, actually such places are only for Vietnamese, the government wouldn't allow tourists to see them, but I asked people on the street and they showed me this. I think there wasn't even a proper hotel around.

(from Da Lat to Nha Trang - plus Sapa)

{v. VIII} Easy Rider 0.5 from Yves Schiepek on Vimeo.

Next morning (20.09.2009) I tried to find a vehicle to take me to Nha Trang. Unfortunately the urban bus wouldn't take me, so I decided to stand at the street and hope for a car to stop. It was an amazingly hot day, not quite enjoyable in the blazing sun. There were very few cars, just lots of motorbikes. I didn't imagine how it would work with the bike on a motorbike. I started walking, it was just 10 kms to Nha Trang afterall. But then this guy stopped and offered to take me there. He didn't want money, he wasn't one of those who make a living by riding tourists around on their bikes and try to rip them off then. Although I started to doubt about his intend when he didn't ask me where I wanted to jump off in the city of Nha Trang. But then he stopped somewhere and I offered him some money, which he refused with a smile. He actually showed me in the direction where I could find a mechanician (although I didn't ask for that), but didn't find anything there. I asked another guy, but he showed me in another direction. So some doubts remained.

My walk to the train station and the time afterwards is an unpleasant memory. It was hot, I barely could sleep the night before, I didn't get me a proper breakfast, the cash machine didn't work to get money for my train ride; asking at the train station I was told about this cash machine, they wouldn't believe that it doesn't work.. I gave up on this and realized I should have lunch. There I met a student, the son of the restaurant owner, who I asked about a bank. It was quite a bit away from there, so he brought me there on his motorbike. He also was one of those nice guys you can find sometime in Vietnam, that exclusively want to help and are happy about the company and speaking english with somebody, so he refused to take money too. Which I offered him when we arrived at the train station. On the train everyone seemed to just smile at me there. Happy people, I was happy again too.

after I took some pics of her, she started to do the catwalk.. =)

Rain, rain, rain...

In Nui Thanh, I was in the midst of the worst rain I had seen in Vietnam. Two days before that I was riding the bike happily through the rain for about two hours (which was at the end of a rather sunny day) and felt great, but the next day all I saw was heaviest rain and I just felt very uncomfortable all day. I needed lots of motivation to actually make it to Nui Thanh, in order to catch a train from there (out of this mess).

Arriving in the city I ended up on a street where my feet were ankle-deep under water for a moment (while still being on the bike of course) and the rest of the city didn't look much better.

Next day all I could think of was leaving...... the young lady in the hotel greeting me with an excellent "Hello, Good morning Sir!" (or sth. like that), left me thinking I can ask her where I can find the train station. Unfortunately that seemed all she can say in english. So I ended up drawing lines that should depict railes and added the typical crossbeams. She gave me to understand that she got what I meant and wrote down the adress for me and how I get there. I payed for my room and left for the other side of town, as it turned out: the bus station. Well, I didn't have the idea back then that one could put the bicycle on the bus... so I tried to find out where the train station is. At an internet café I succeeded (using the online translater for vietnamese and showed the owner). So back from where I came from.. passing my hotel and about 300 metres later - in the same street as the hotel I was in - there it was, the train station. Went there and had to find out that the only train for that day just had left... so I had to wait till next day. In this hot, rainy, damp city.

When I got back at the same hotel I blamed the lady to have pointed me not to the train station, but the bus station, which I didn't ask for and asked her to give me the room for a better price - saying I got stuck there for one more day only because of her (maybe I shouldn't have blamed her though..). So I payed slightly less of the actual price. Next day when I finally wanted to leave she wanted to make me understand as though I still had to pay for two nights! They brought a guy along who speaks english and should clarify that it was just about this. I told them that I payed already - and I think nobody of them did doubt that - and left.

Lots of the footage from my video here was taken in, before and after this day. Also from the train after leaving the city.