My Mother would be in paradise as vendors always approached selling 4 foot tall stacks of bootleg books. It was through one of these dealers that I purchased On the Road by Jack Kerouac. What an overrated book. Supposedly for its time it was something, but the dude doesn’t do much when he travels to a place, and more just describes the scenery similar to looking out a car window. But it did make me think of being truly out there…on your own with no assistance but yourself. A bus/plane/train can take away the independent feel of travel. I wanted something like a cowboy with his horse. How could I feel that sense of independence; that I did this on my own with no guidance or assistance….a bike was the answer. I had done much mountain biking on this trip, but there were guides or 18 mile treks. Nothing too crazy. I originally had a partner in crime named Tim from Holland.
But he got really ill from eating a hamburger (yep, a hamburger), so it was me, a bike, a small bag, a compass, a map, and the road, that is it. America fuck yeah- this is traveling! (Watch “Team America: World Police” if you do not get the joke) I had two days to make it from Da Lat down the mountains to the beach town of Nha Trang.
A consistent misty rain hampered me, as I struggled to make it out of Da Lat and up a small mountain. I thought I was on the right track, through some town, and down another road into some lush valley full of vegetables and farmers.
Shit. Dead end. I am not even on the right road to Nha Trang. Time to bike back up the mountain. I bike, I walk, I bike, I walk. I talk to some elder farmers that know some English. Great peeps. A farmer offers to give me a lift up the rest of the mountain on the back of his moto. I clutch the side of his seat with my left hand for support, and have the mountain bike on my right shoulder. Ow, that can hurt after a while. Vietnam – what great people. Using jumbled words and sign language, I figure out where I need to go. Back down the mountain and up another one. More dirt, mud, rain, fun, beauty, and life. I am exhausted after going up hill for a few hours to Da Sa.
I ring out my shirt and wash my face and hands in the giant bucket next to a pho shop. As I sit and eat my noodles, a Vietnamese man approaches and asks where I am going in English. He tells me I have 25 more miles uphill before I reach the top of the mountain for the down hill run. SSShhhiiitttt. He offers a ride in his truck with his crew to the top of the mountain or all the way to Nha Trang. I jump in for the uphill part of the ride. His name is Vin and he owns a tourist shop that sells trinkets. Business was not good enough in Da Lat, and he is moving everything to Nha Trang for a better chance. He discusses the difficulty of starting a business in a semi-closed country. The one party polical system upsets him, but he must bite his tongue in public. He wants that American dream, and is attempting his own form of capitalism with what his government allows. Here I am, traveling through his country at leisure, and explaining to him my job and the massive opportunities my government provides. It reminded me of a scene from another road trip book, The Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guevara. Che becomes communist when he encounters poor workers on the road in South America. It has an opposite effect on me. I become more capitalist when I meet more people like Vin on my trips. We reach the top of the mountain. I tell him that this is good, and thanks for the ride.
He replies “Tony, but it is raining”
“This is why I travel Vin, you only live once. Look, it is beautiful, and when will I be able to do this again.”
“But it is raining”
“Thank you Vin, I will stop by your shop in Nha Trang” I replied.
Vietnam – what great people. I never found his shop.