Ha Giang Adventure Tours

Born to be Wild

The one group of people, the women shave the front half of their head, so it looks like they have HUGE foreheads, anyway during the course of the day I passed thru several villages of minority people, and they were of different groups as you could tell by the different outfits.

OK. Well, I was planning to leave Cao Bang a day earlier, but the last 3 days of driving around the countryside on bumpy secondary roads had really shook up the bike. I had lost half the bolts to my suspension, and loosened all the remaining bolts. So I walked around town and got some new ones and a couple of spares, and spent the morning adjusting the brakes, and clutch, and replaced some bushing in my shocks, and tightened everything up and changed the oil. It was noon by the time I was finished and even though I was only planning to go 200kms I decided to wait until the next day and get an early start in the morning. So at 7am the next day I loaded up the bike and set off to the town of Dong Van, which is the most northern town in Vietnam.

The ride started out normally, decent roads, fantastic scenery, the road was really winding around, most of the time it wasn't going up or down, just following the mountains, carved into the side. winding back and forth and around, and up, and down. There was alot of construction, as they were widening and slightly straightening the road, I guess they had discovered the magic of dynamite and bulldozers. Anyways progress was fairly slow as I don't like to race into the bends and blind corners too fast as there is usually a dump truck taking up the road, or some nasty ruts, or a cow. I wasn't too worried about my speed, I was just enjoying the view. 

There also started to be more ethnic minority hill people about, and some of their outfits were quite fancy. The one group of people, the women shave the front half of their head, so it looks like they have HUGE foreheads, anyway during the course of the day I passed thru several villages of minority people, and they were of different groups as you could tell by the different outfits. About halfway into my journey I stopped and had some lunch and walked around the town for 10 minutes admiring the outfits of the villagers. I then headed off to finish this leg of the trip before dark, which shouldn't be too hard as I had plenty of time . The next portion of the road was also under construction, but wasn't as advanced, so the heavy trucks had churned up the muddy road pretty good in some places and you had to slowly pick your way around the huge ruts, and keep an eye out for the occasional dump truck, this road was also very winding, up and down and around. 

After 20km or so the road came to a small stream that didn't have a bridge yet, they were building one at the moment, the pilings were in place and all the rocks and concrete were there and the crane. It wasn't a big deal, I've come across this a few times, the water is only ankle deep, I just push the bike across. The locals just drive thru the water, but the river bed is rocky and I'm not going to chance it. I always push it to the other side, start it up and head out, with the heat and wind my boots usually dry out pretty quick. There was no more construction past this river, but the road was pretty steep and muddy, and the water running down the road makes ruts which you have to avoid. So you give it lots of Gas to get up the steep hill, and then you hit a bump and your wheel slides out from under you because its muddy and you end up on your side, its not too bad as you are only doing about 5mph, and the luggage racks I had made keep the bike from crushing you, they also keep the indicators from getting broken and the foot pegs/levers from getting bent . 

So then you stand the bike up, kick start it, and try to get going again on a 40 degree slope, while trying not to roll backwards. And I'd get about a quarter mile and have to repeat it again, and again, and again. It wasn't sloppy mud, just damp clay and once your tires get filled with it, there's not much you can do. Anyway, I got about half way up this mountain and the bike dies. Yup, its time for a new spark plug, also I was on the last half of my fuel tank, so I'm not sure if there might be some crap/water that it doesn't like in the bottom of the tank, and I'm sure it doesn't like these steep hills. So I changed the sparkplug, which was pretty fouled, and the bike wont start, so I cleaned the fuel filter and the bike won't start, and I clean the carbeurator and the bike wont start, and every now and then a group of ethnic minority women would walk past me with their bundles up into the hills and the occasional truck would drive by. And the bike still wont start. it was starting to get to that time of day where you start to think about what you are doing for the night. I figured I wasn't going to make it to my destination that night, but there was a town only about 25km away, and even going slowly on this bad road, I would still make it before dark. BUT the bike wouldn't start, i gave it one last "SCREW YOU!" kick, and it roared to life!

 I had lost at least an hour with the breakdown. but I set off up this steep hill and to the town of Meo Vac before dark, then the road went down the mountain, (just as steep, so you have to ride both breaks and cross your fingers). and crossed a brand new, wide concrete bridge and went up the next mountain, and up and up and up. and it was STEEP, I mean STEEP, I was giving that bike everything I could . after a kilometer or so of going straight up, it leveled off for 100 yards before continuing up, I stopped at the level area and took a break, I figured the bike could use a rest. I checked my maps and GPS and I wasn't where I was supposed to be! I wasn't supposed to have crossed the river! I looked over at the other hill and I could see a road cut into the side of it. Shit! Where was the turn off? It was probably at that last gravel pile half way up the last hill. So I had to turn around and go DOWN this steep road, cross the river, and back UP the other steep hill, and I'm sure the bike is liking this too much. So I made it back up the other hill, and find the turn off, by this time the sun had gone behind the mountains so I knew I had about an hour of daylight MAX, and i was still about 20km from town. But I had found the right road and was on my way, as the road markers indicated. ( in vietnam every road has concrete road markers at the side of the road, different colors for national or state routes, also distance to next town, sometime every 1km, sometimes every 5km, or more)

 Anyway, at least this road was winding along the side of the mountain, not up or down it. And it was getting narrower and crappier, and narrower, and crappier, and I came around a bend and there was a big dump truck parked, there were some piles of gravel, and bags of concrete stacked, and the drivers had decided to stop there for the night, I squeezed past the parked truck, and continued, and the road got narrower and crappier, and narrower and crappier, and I'm thinking to myself, something's not right, and then 2 huge dump trucks come around the corner and somehow avoid squishing me or falling off the edge, and I keep going on, and the road is getting narrower, and narrower, and I come to a tiny village (ok, it was a group of huts), where some kind of government building is being built (that explains the dump trucks) and I think somethings not right, but right there is a concrete marker that says "state route 217" . I ask the villagers which way to the town of Meo Vac and they point me down a trail, and I confirm "this shitty path is the way to Meo Vac?" they said "yes, the road gets bigger up ahead". Just then another man on a motorbike arrives and the villagers say he is going that way, he can show you how to get to Meo Vac. At this point it is dusk and I'm starting to worry a bit, my GPS says I still have 20km to go. 

So I head off following this guy, hoping this path turns back into a road real quick so I can make it to town. then the path goes DOWN the mountain, this narrow dirt path, heads DOWN. and this is no longer fun, or exciting, this is terrifying and dangerous, it is rapidly getting dark, and I am going down a narrow, STEEP path, going thru the woods, then the path leveled off a bit, and its still that damp dirt that gave me trouble when it was a road, and I want to keep my feet out to stabilize myself, but my bags are scraping the side of the hill on one side and I can't put my feet out on the other because its just a drop off, so my feet just dangle over the edge, and the path wound on for a few hundred meters up a bit, and down a bit, and I was afraid that going up that the tire would slip out to the side and I'd go over, and going down if you go too fast you fly off the edge, if you go to slow you tip over. Eventually the path got a bit wider, with deep ruts and bumps, and the guy I was following stopped in front of a hut and put down the things he was carrying and said he'd show me the way . After 100 meters he pointed to a narrow steep path that forked off down the hill, by this time it was dark and I had had enough, I asked if I could just stay with him for the night and he said OK. So I just left the bike and walked back up to his hut. This was in the middle of nowhere on the side of some mountain, these people are not ethnically vietnamese, and didn't speak vietnamese. This guys hut was a one room shack made from rough, hand carved planks, with a dirt floor, 6 people lived there. There was the man, his wife, and 4 kids between the ages of 4 and 10 and the 4 yr old didn't wear any clothes. I was exhausted, spent, drained, I just sat on this wooden bench and sipped at the tea I was offered. 

Somehow this hut had electricity, there were a couple of wires strung along some sticks to the hut. and he had ONE 40 watt lightbulb, he turned on the occilating fan for me, but that cut the light output by 80% so I turned it off. When he plugged in his cell phone the light also noticeably dimmed. He also had a small TV and dvd player and some speakers, later that night he put on the DVD player for a few minutes, but there isn't enough energy to excite the Color electrons, so it was just black and white. there couldn't be anything else plugged in at all while the TV was on. His wife made dinner with a machete, and he killed a chicken right in the middle of the floor, there was a gasoline powered grist mill in one corner that he started up to grind a few cups of corn for some dumpling things . It was good food, I wasn't complaining. I was too tired to care anyway. He had several youtube videos on his cell phone he liked to watch, and some asian pop songs he liked to play over and over. A few other people stopped by to get a look at the foreigner, and other people phoned to ask about this strange bike left down the trail. Then it started POURING rain. When we FINALLY went to bed, he push a few benches together for me and put some blankets down to lay on. They all slept on a sleeping platform at one end of the room. I figured, I was warm and dry, with a roof over my head and food in my stomach, and I wasn't sick or injured, I guess I wasn't doing TOO bad. Some damn rooster kept crowing all night (why didn't we eat THAT bird) other than that I didn't sleep too badly.

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