Anyway, we got into Ha Giang and there was a night bus leaving in a couple of hours to Hanoi, so I walked around town and got some dinner.
My GPS still said I was on State route 217. All 4 maps I checked showed a road
here. Now if you have a road that switchbacks up/down a hill, ok, you go around
the corner, BUT if you have a 6 inch wide path that does a switch-back how are
you supposed to do that on a motorbike? on the way down I would just stop/stall
the bike, kind of manouver/shimmy the bike around, then start rolling down
again, but how on earth are you supposed to go UP a 45degree slope on a 6 inch
path that switchbacks? you'd never be able to maintain momentum to get around
it, and you can't possibly push the bike UP around the corner, as there's no
room to stand while holding the bike, then get on the bike restarted and go UP
again? SHIT! I spent several minutes staring at the path on the hill infront of
me contemplating my fate. There was NO WAY that bike was going up that hill. On
the mud road the tires would slide out on me, this path is even steeper, and if
the tire slid out I would go over the edge and tumble down the hill. I asked the
guy where is the road?!?!? when does it get bigger?!?! he said "just over there,
On the other side of the mountain" all of this is done with gestures and hand
motions and "the road gets bigger" is what got me to here in the first place. I
couldn't turn back, as some of the paths I came down were just as steep as the
one infront of me (I don't know how this guy does it with his bikes) also I
didn't have enough gasoline to go back to the last town
I had no choice. I had to leave the bike and walk out. I walked back to the bike and started taking my stuff off, I wasn't sure how far I would have to walk, or how hard it would be, the town was about 20km away. So I had to decide what things I would take, should I take the big backpack? or the little one? I chose the little one as I didn't know how far I would be walking and if I had to drag the big one up the mountains it might kill me. I grabbed my laptop, passport, a few clothes, sandals, rain jacket, shaving kit, and that was it, I left everything else.
I gave the man the keys to the bike, shook his hand and set off. I left all my tools, and spare parts, guide books, backpacks, shoes, shampoo, and most of my clothes. I walked down to the raft, paid the man to get me across, and started trudging up this steep hill. I'm glad i didn't try it with the bike, it was STEEP! If it had been a paved or gravel road that steep, the bike MIGHT have made it. Being a narrow mud path with switchbacks and all that gear, NO FUCKING WAY would that bike have got up that hill. I could have probably got the bike down to the river, and the 5 of us probably could have muscled it onto the raft, but there was no way that bike would have got up the hill on the other side
I walked up and up, and then the path leveled out, and there was some hill people chopping at weeds who stopped and looked at me as if i was from mars, and I walked on. After about 2km the path hit a road! THE road! the one the maps said was here, the road curved off to some mine or quarry down in the valley, but everything I had just walked was state route 217, they just never bothered to finish it. I thought what a waste, my bike is only 3km away and there's nothing I can do about it. If I had come at it from the other direction and came to this abrupt end, I would have just turned around and gone back. The direction I came from, it was a slow, gradual, deterioration of the road into that from which there is no return.
2 minutes after I had reached the main road, a guy came riding by on his motorbike, I flagged him down and asked if he could take me to the next town, Meo Vac. He said "sure", and I hopped on, and off we went, up, and up, and up. It was a decent road, gravel in some spots, paved in sections, not too steep, but it wound up and up, it felt like we were at the top of the world with steep valleys all around us, and the whole time I could see the little hut where I spent the night, when we got to the very top, we got a flat tire. We stopped and waved down a motorbike going the other way and they had a tube patch they gave us, in under 20 minutes we were on our way again. It was still 15km to town, winding around all the mountains and valleys, and then we crested a hill and in the valley was the town of Meo Vac and as it was market day the hills and roads were crawling with hill people coming and going to town.
We wound down, and down, and down, the mountain and got into town about noon. I paid the guy for the ride, and there was a bus leaving for the provincial capitol in 30 minutes, I threw my bag on the bus and went to grab some lunch and walk around town. It was like something out of national geographic, all the colorfully dress tribal women with their scarfs and skirts. Most people take the tourist route to sapa where the villagers are paraded around for the tourists, and you can stay in the villagers huts with western toilets and hot showers (provided you get a police permit). And I had just done all that without all the tourist clap-trap, or permit. Meo Vac isn't a bad town, a few hotels, a big market, several dozen mechanics, even an internet cafe.
After I finished eating, I boarded the local bus and we set off to the provincial capitol of Ha Giang, it was a 15 passenger bus, and along the way we picked up and dropped off people, some at little villages, others just wanted a ride to the top of the next hill, we drove around the countryside stopping at a few other town and villages, and we'd stop to let more people on, and more, and more, if there was 3 seats across they'd put 6 people there, they never said NO to anyone, we must have had 40 people on that bus, at one point the conductor guy was hanging onto the outside of the bus cuz he could not fit inside.
The scenery was great, we would go up and up and up the mountains and then down and down and down into the valleys,the roads were in pretty good shape and not too steep. Fantastic scenery, if I had the chance I would have taken hundreds of photos, as it was, I was in a crowded bus that smelled like brakes and clutch. I was tired and numb. so I couldn't really enjoy the scenery. After several hours of bouncing around the countryside we got to Ha Giang city and I got off the bus.
I had followed our bus ride with my GPS and every road we had gone on and every road I drove on the last few days in Cao Bang was the same designation as the road I came to grief on. Maps have designations for different roads, Major Highway, Main Primary road, Main Secondary road, Terciary road, dirt road, and other track. I was on State Route 217 which is designated as a secondary road. Every road we followed on the bus was designated as a secondary road. I dunno, I've ridden over 2000km in vietnam and never had a problem until now. Why is there a 7km stretch of road in the middle of nowhere that doesn't exist? Why do some maps show some roads, and other maps show different roads, yet ALL maps show this as a road? Is this just a metaphor for my life "following a road that SHOULD be there?"
Anyway, we got into Ha Giang and there was a night bus leaving in a couple of hours to Hanoi, so I walked around town and got some dinner, I felt like I was the tourist attraction, they don't get foreigners here, and I was filthy and tired. Ha Giang has more houses and stores with cats than everywhere else in vietnam combined, and having a high percentage of cats gets you good marks in my books. The time came to board the bus, it was a HUGE modern sleeper coach with air conditioning and assigned seats, just what I needed, I fell asleep the instant I sat down, and woke up in Hanoi, I grabbed a taxi to the hotel, the taxi had a rigged meter so I got over-charged. I got to the hotel at 6am, had a shower, and almost exactly 24 hours after waking up in a dirt hut on a hill in the middle of nowhere I climbed into a clean bed in my air-conditioned room, in the crappy hotel I stay in in Hanoi.
Like I said, this journal is about the Journeys, not the Destinations.