Upon waking on the dang train to Danang, Michelle had some good news for me. The passports were being couriered up to our hotel in Hoi An and would be arriving the following morning. Our hotel in Hoi An knew of the mess and would let us stay there without our passports; flouting government policy. Disaster averted.
This meant, we could kick back and enjoy Hoi An… but first we had to get out of Danang.
When the bikes rolled off the train, Dodge looked much as he had when he went on; minus a couple screws. Jenky on the other hand looked like she had barely survived a UFC bout. Everything was bent, mashed, or just plain missing.
This meant we would spend a few hours enjoying the Danang train station while the nearby mechanic sorted everything out.
We had a nice ride out to Hoi An after stopping at a shop called “The Living Bread” and had, what some consider, the best brownie ever. Upon our arrival in Hoi An, however, Dodge had had enough and refused to start again.
Luckily (?), we were right across the street from a mechanic the likes of which I have never seen. He immediately began pouring shots of some brain numbing local firewater into brazenly unwashed glasses and shoving it at me.
They couldn’t seem to get the bike figured out by the time our shuttle driver got there, so we loaded the bags into the bus and rode to our hotel.
After a little decompression, Michelle went to speak to a tailor and I caught a ride back to pick up Dodge. Everything seemed to be running fine, so we took off on a pathfinding adventure. I wound up near some big pipes that ran across the river, so I parked and walked out on them and just sat and watched the water. I can’t say how long I was there, except it was light when I arrived and dark when I left.
I stopped to check out a restaraunt on the way back, Mr. Long’s, and Mr Long asked to pose for a picture on my bike. Odd, but it turned out to be a great shot. It looks like it fell out of the 1970s.
Miche and I sallied forth in search of food and found jewels and postcards and crazy locals. It was an enjoyable night, but we were both completely wiped out from the train sleep and crashed hard as soon as we got back to the hotel.
Mornings are brilliant with Michelle around. We get up slow, laugh and smile a lot and forget that we have a million miles to ride our steel horses before we can sleep and wake up again. We wandered around downtown Hoi An and found a couple neat little juice and breakfast places to camp out at. We even got some cookies for the road.
After food, we swung by A Dong Silk Tailors to look at making some clothes for me. Suits and Shirts and things rapidly got confusing, so I asked for a plain white work shirt and the one thing I have been unable to find in years of passive searching… a black bow tie.
Now, I just need to learn how to tie this thing.
The morning was gone, and the afternoon was rapidly approaching, and we had something huge ahead of us for the day. The real reason that any of us were in Vietnam, though the idea was originally that of Joe who was only there in spirit; The Hai Van Pass.
Returning to the hotel to pick up the bikes, we found that Reality had other plans. As we arrived to the hotel, the front desk informed us that the courier with our passports had just forgotten to swing by and gone to Hue instead. The next hour was weird answer followed by weirder answer on why the passports were not coming back to us, why the courier did not have them, and why the courier was suddenly no longer a courier, but rather a bus driver. After an hour of headaches, through some miracle, Zsofi called and was staying in Hue about 100 meters from the place where the passports were being held. After about 20 conference calls, we got Zsofi to pick up the passports and made plans to meet up in a few days in Hanoi.
Finally! We could go to Hai Van Pass! Flying down the road it seemed I could not drive fast enough! Then I realized that Dodge truly was slowing down, drastically, then stopping altogether at the side of the road. Dodge refused to start again.
Michelle, like a true companion, stuck with me while we found a mechanic and sat down to make plans for extending our stay in Hoi An. 30 seconds after we sat down, the mechanic had put a new spark plug in and Dodge was running like a dream. The other spark plug, which had been replaced by Captain Wrinkles the day before, looked like it had come out of another bike after several thousand hard miles.
Scrapping our plans to extend, we hit the road with a fury. Getting through Danang was a pain, but we made it with the guidance of a very friendly and very slow local guy we stopped to ask for directions. Once we got out of town, this is what we found.
The pictures, like my words, simply cannot do justice to this ride. Though, second by a hairsbreadth to the road from Da Lat, this is the greatest coastal ride I have ever seen. Hai Van means “Ocean Clouds.” I see how it got the name.
As much as I enjoyed the ride, I was equally happy to watch Michelle ride. She seems to be listening more and more to the bike every day getting better at gauging road surfaces, throttle and brake response and everything that is necessary to survive on the streets of Vietnam. The roads were quite wet from the mist below and we both slid around a good deal, but no one went down.
On the ride back we exalted in our freedom and the feeling of the wheels beneath us. I stopped to give Hi-5′s to some construction workers and laughed the whole way. Once we made it back to town, we were both flying along with the certainty of trained professionals… which we are not.
Stopping after a roundabout near the edge of Danang, I asked a man on the corner for directions. That’s when I noticed that Michelle was nowhere to be seen. Entering the roundabout, she was right behind me, leaving it 30 meters later, she was gone.
I sat there, hand cramping from holding in the clutch for so long, staring around and wondering what happened until the man that gave me directions had grown so agitated he was in my face and speaking the directions very loudly directly into my goggles and pointing wildly down the road, thinking I had not understood.
I waited. I waited some more. I waited until the light of the day was an exhale on the horizon before I slowly started coasting down the street I thought Michelle must have taken when my phone began ringing.
Michelle had indeed taken this street and was near the end of it with a bike that had simply ground to a halt at Mr. Pizza. Easy enough to find, but less simple to remedy.
After making sure Michelle was ok, we took a look at the bike. Jenky’s rear sprocket had come loose, dumped the chain and been mashed up into the swing arm and associated components. With the leatherman in my pack and some elbow grease, I was able to get the sprocket back on and the chain in place so we could roll it down the street to a mechanics shop. I use the term “shop” loosely.
Everyone was quite helpful, offering gasoline or help fixing the bike. I assured them we had enough xang, gas, and upon seeing the first mechanics “shop” was a plastic bag filled with varying spanners, declined his help. The second mechanic we found was much more official. he had a wooden box instead of a plastic bag. So, seated on the street corner, we tightened the bolts as much as possible, and cleaned up my completely filthy hands with some unknown white powder the mechanic offered me.
I looked at my watch. This was where it got hectic.
It was after 8 p.m. We needed to be on the train by 10:30. After a short conference with the mechanic, Michelle, Jenky, Dodge, and myself, we identified the things that might limit us from making the train.
- We had not paid for the bikes to be shipped to Hanoi.
- The shipping office was closed.
- We needed to try on, and have any adjustments made to, the clothing we had ordered in Hoi An.
- The tailors were closed.
- We needed to pack and vacate our hotel room in Hoi An.
- We were 40 minutes from Hoi An.
I’m still not sure how we did it. Through a breakneck and aggravating 3 hour hurricane we managed to get someone to come open the shipping office and process the bikes, then catch a ride to Hoi An, while Michelle packed the room up, I swung over to the tailors and picked up my shirt and tie. We started a huge riot between competing taxi drivers to get us to the train station, and finally got one of them to give us a ride. We arrived at the station a little after 11 p.m. but still with time to get on the train as it was running about 20 minutes late. I can only imagine that time runs differently in Vietnam, because it seemed then as it does now; impossible.
This entry in the journal seems long, but the day was longer by far. At the end of it all, tired, wrung out, and nearly starving, we arrived on the train car to find 4 old Vietnamese and a 1/2 dozen dirty and disarrayed beds in a train compartment that generated some nasty odor that I couldn’t quite place.
Michelle looked up at me and said, “Feet.”