Somewhere in Vietnam it exists, Monkeys sealed in alcohol bottles, to be drunk. They say it helps the penis, and everyone needs a lil' help with the penis. So if asked why, it was the wine, not the culture, not the roads, not the bikes, or rivers, or food, but we all needed a lil' penis extension that only the monkey spirits could provide.
As logical as it all sounds, when the biker babe Sumiko joined the gang — the foursome was created. So there it is, maybe it was all a silly idea, but you gotta be a bit stupid to have some fun, otherwise you'd never risk a leg, eye or penis to be thankful you still have. And there is the real excuse to get drunk and raise hell
Day one: Pain, Puke, Rock and Roll
The first day was as complicated as would be expected of such a trip. The planned departure at 6:00am seemed a good bet on how to beat the morning Hanoi traffic. We all were in desperate need of a quick departure from Hanoi. The first problem struck Mr. Richard, as I swung by his place, his carburettor was improperly sealed and leaked excessive gas. This is not good. I left Richard to his own fate as he trucked to the local Xe May shop (mechanic).
I met Stephen and Sumiko at Bac Ho's Mausoleum (uncle Ho Chi Minh)as the sun was rising and the streets were abnormally swamped with Viets doing exercises and whatever anyone would want to do at 6am when they should be asleep. Shortly Richard popped back with us, we saw the Viet Flag raised, saw the people stand attention to the anthem, got the starting line picture, and fled for the mountains.
As always, the road out of town was packed with Russian trucks, busses, tractors, and Honda dreams. What the hell they were doing at 6:30 am on the road, who knows? They're Hanoians, eating dog or sumthin. The roads quietly dimmed from four to two to that typical single lane where rear view mirrors of oncoming trucks kiss each other hello, goodbye. Swerving through the forest of 15 ton trucks, delighted by the morning and the purrr of my Belarusian Beast, I encountered sometime outside of Hoa Binh, 2-3 hours into the trip, the first tourist bus.
Tourist in Vietnamese is Du Lich (ZU LICK), surprisingly enough similar in sound to SICK. As in sick out the window for ten straight kilometres, while I'm tryin to pass and avoid getting a fresh stomach of chao ga and dog on myself and mine. I've seen some good pukin' in my time, mainly from my own mouth, but the ten clicks of vomit out this otherwise nice bird was really enough, I tightened my grip and made my pass dodging a fresh bag of spew — I'm sure they had been saving to throw at me (and I thought they couldn't here me laughing over the engine). I good dodge & swerve, a nice middle finger (which I hope they understood) and I was on my way...
The road had now stretched from Vina-wasteland — to rice paddies and hills — to the mountains that we belong. A quick scarf down of pho bo in Hoa Binh and some 10am bia hoi (Beer) and the road was ours, steep, beautiful and surrounded by rocks.
If I were to describe how much it sucked when I leaned the bike over I'd undervalue just how stupid it was when I did lean it over. We had been pretty anal retentive about trying to stick together (something we'd learn quick as foolish) and were doing loops and over the shoulder glances to keep in touch (as some of the dumb of us had no rear view mirrors). I was riding up this mountainside and didn't hear the sound of the rider to my rear. I slung around the saddle and stared down the whole roadside.
When I turned around I was off the road at a 45 degree angle. "Oh Fuck" was said without desperation, only with disgust. Off course I landed on my left side. Of course I landed on my elbow, hip and shoulder, and of course it was the exact same spot I had landed on last week when I decided I wanted to see if the Minsk Stork could fly. The blood was quite nasty and it looked far worse than it felt. When the rider to the rear showed up, I was stripped to waste cursing jesus, smoking a square and kicking the front tire straight. And as always a crowd of mountain folk appeared from nowhere to watch the excitement...and laugh.
Band-aid, gauze and some duct tape later, and the beast was rollin' true.
The land from Hoa Binh to Yen Chau drastically changed between rice paddy flats and rock faced mountains. I was feeling so very blue from the crash, doubts fled in, "fuck this is a long trip. I spill like that everyday and at least one will kill me." A timid nature, doubt, and hesitation are not allies on these roads. The split second decisions, of whether to run off the road, through the buffalo shit, over the chicken, into the old woman, or into the truck, are required constantly. You have to drive fast to get there by nightfall. You have to drive like a madman to avoid being run over by the other madmen. And you have to accelerate to avoid most collisions. The focus your mind gets from this type of experience is what the whole thing is about. You drive in situations that scare the shit out of you. And then see beauty that you've never dreamed of. Makes things like cold beer and beef right there next to heaven.
But anyway, I was down. I had slowed down and my spirits were down. Thank god for fucking tourists.
He denies it for some reason, but I know he did it all. When I caught up with Richard he was parked in front of a tourist bus (we were not yet as far from Hanoi as we needed for serenity). It was a beautiful bluff and the tourists had all stopped reading their paperbacks to trek, take pictures and whatever those fucking palanquin riders do.
There will be some issues with how I view backpackers. They are scum. They come to a country with their pretensions of cheap drugs and banana pancakes. They argue over prices and still get ripped off. They spend 2 days in a place and become authorities. They follow the same path. They all look the same and buy the same shit (like Ho Chi Minh shirts, pith helmets, or those yellow star shirts). They stink. THEY RUN FROM WESTERN SOCIETIES WHILE THEY REPRESENT THE MOST WESTERN SEGMENT OF WESTERN SOCIETY!! So yeah fuck them and their trekking and whatever they do.
And now you ask. What makes me different?
A)I don't have a local handler to keep me safe.
B)I don't take transportation, I provide my own.
C)I can speak some of the language.
D)My interests are long-term.
F)I eat pho for breakfast everyday.
Them's my qualifications. Them's my justifications.
Right, so Richard is in front of this bus of cultural ambassadors using their thousand dollar cameras on a predetermined picture. It's a beautiful scene of the near Tonkin alps. Lovers embrace. Sighs and oos emanate.. and the four fucking riders of hell come blowing in front of them. I have a bloody shirt wrapped around my arm and as I ride up to Richard, my engine quiets just in time to hear, "fuck off, you wankers!" as he cuts gravel that sprays against the front of the bus. Oh yeah, I laughed. In fact I also sprayed gravel on that damn bus, and I forgot all about that little accident.
We were now firmly in the hills. The roads went either up or down, no flats. After a quick couple litres of beer near Moc Chau, of course it began to rain. It didn't take that long to figure out how fast we should ride in rain. Around a bend and a hill I noticed a rather large-r crowd of mountain folk by the road, with of course their buffalo. I then noticed Richard dead in the center of the road lifting his bike off the ground. I slowed down to a stop and BOOM. I see Stephen go flying over the front of my bike (did I mention that I don't have brake lights). Bits of Russian bike fly about, Stephen does a bit of a roll, losses one of his flip flops (idiot) and slides a bit on the road. I'm just standing on my bike wondering what the hell just happed. I looked back and somehow his fender and wheel have my back wheel pinned. I look at Stephen and he's standing there a bit headed (definition forthcoming) after the fall, but is otherwise unscathed.
The Mountain folk at this time are livin it. A three Mr. Westerner pile-up right there. What a good time, eh?
Well, here's what happened. Richard came around a corner to see a rather large buffalo frolicking by the road. What he almost failed to notice was that the buffalo had a rope from his nose to a tree stretched neck high across the road. He leaned the bike over to basically keep his head. Many, many drunk mountain men really thought it was the funniest bit ever. When I stopped, Stephen's brakes had locked up in the rain and he had just slammed into my rear. All people were fine and the Bikes, well they're Minsks and are built not for speed, but for pain.
It is for events like this that the word "fuck" is made. Some people believe swear words are the tools of people who can't express themselves. Even if that is the case, how else can you describe such things than to say "fuck." I will say it, "fuck," and perhaps there is no greater situation than motor biking in Vietnam that validates the word "fuck."
Couple of smokes later, some jokes with the mountain folks, and off we go. The rest of the day was waterfalls, mountains and bad roads, that simply need to be experienced to be understood.
We arrived in Yen Chau around 5:00, check in the government hotel, get drunk, and go to sleep.
The monkey wine was near and the gods knew we were coming.
Day 2: No Sleep til Dien Bien Phu.