Yesterday, we started north again from Buon Ma Thuot to Kontum. Before we set out, we tried the coffee for which the region was known for (it was pretty good). Then we went back to the (abandoned) hotel to get our bikes and get on our way. But when we did,we noticed Ben's bone was leaking fuel from the tank. We left and found a mechanic, but by then, the leaking had stopped, so we chose to carry on. After about 30 km of riding, however, Ben ran into a tractor crossing the street. His bike flipped up into it scraping his arm and hurting his hand (we need to check if it is broken). We spent the next two hours at the mechanic on the side if the road where it happened. His bike ended up having the front tire twisted and needed to be replaced as well as one if the suspension arms in the front. They also noticed the leaking from the tank and patched it up with some epoxy. Afterward, we were pampered for another hour by a housewife who fed us and offered us a place to sleep. We had to refuse the nap as we were already way behind schedule and so we continued on again. An hour or two later, the roads were becoming worse and worse. There was one wrong turn we made down a road of red dirt that led into desert occupied only by a couple of cows. We turned around and took the correct road which wasn't any better. A few more kilometers up the road, we were stopped by a policeman in a house on the side of the road. He didn't speak any English and had to call hours friend who told us he wanted to check some official documents and told us to wait there until he arrived. Assuming they wanted to make some money off us, we fled. We continued down the crater filed road until we reached another official, who must have been the person on the phone. He told us he was a border guard and wanted to see our passports. Still believing this to be a shake up as we were no where close to Cambodia, we were hesitant to give over our passports. We told him where we were going and he explained that the road we were using was closed to foreigners. We checked the map to show him that we needed to continue on to get north, and as it happened, the road we were on led to Cambodia! He jotted down our passport numbers on his hand and told us to follow him as he escorted us to a fork in the road. He pointed us down the road which was presumably toward the north and away from the border and let us go. Finding ourselves on a desolate road north on the Vietnam-Cambodia border, we pushed on. The road was filled with potholes some as deep as two feet and many hiding in the shadows of the surrounding shrubbery. It wasn't long before I managed to hit one on the side causing me to slip and fall sliding ten to twenty feet on the red gravel. Fortunately I was only scraped and badly shocked and my bike okay aside from the key snapping in half in the ignition (thankfully I had a second one). After gathering my wits, I got back up to get on with this dreadful road. At this point, we had finished the water we had and used the reserve gas. Unfortunately, we were beginning to become dehydrated and neither of us had much fuel left. Signs on the side of the road indicated that the next village or town was still 60km away. About 20 km up the road, we were lucky enough to find a few shacks where a man was watering the road with his son. Ben bought 2 L of gas from him for a couple dollars and we agreed that if I ran out of gas, he would go ahead to the next station and bring me some.
Ben hit a tractor today and bent up Piebo's front wheel.
Today we continued the journey north from Da Lat on the Ho Chi Minh highway. It turns out that the Inland route through the Highlands is much less traveled than the costal highway. When we arrived, the hotel was locker up and empty. At the moment, we're the only two in a hotel that holds more than fifty. The owners seemed quite happy to have guests for the first time in a while. As for the city, there is very little to do. It is supposedly the coffee capital of Vietnam, however. T tomorrow I will get a cup before embarking for the next town north.
Weasel Moka arabica
Sunday we left for our first ride from HCMC to Da Lat. Google said the trip would take six hours but were told that we should expect double when accounting for stops and break downs. Anticipating a twelve hour journey, we left early at six in the morning. By this time, the traffic had already picked up but surprising didn't dampen our efforts of escaping the city. The driving we had done the day before was good preparation for the roads outside the city. The first couple hours were uneventful, aside being stopped by the police once for driving too fast. Along the way, we encountered some amazing, winding mountain roads filled with enraged bus drivers, some pot hole ridden country roads filled with enraged bus drivers, and roads closed to hardly a single lane filled with enraged, oncoming bus drivers. About seventy kilometers from Da Lat, a sudden chill hit and the sky darkened before giving way to an all our downpour. We stopped at a roadside shop to buy cheap ponchos so we could continue in the rain, but they were only good for a few more momoents when the storm let up. However, the rain returned later but with droplets the size of marbles that hurt as we drove at speed. The other bike riders quickly disappeared from the streets of the small town we were driving through to find shelter. After only a couple minutes of rain, a couple inches of water had already accumulated on the sides of the road.
We got ourselves some bikes the first day here in Saigon. It turned out to be very easy as the bike market amongst the backpackers is very active and most people are able to turn over a bike within a day. As for the bikes themselves, there are a couple common choices. The Honda Win is the most prevalent in the backpacker community. It's a cheap, inconsistently manufactured, Chinese bike that be got for $250-$300. Ben was adamant about having the full experience with a manual bike and so made the mistake of buying one of these. He surely didn't understand the implications of learning a clutch in the horrendous traffic of HCMC until our first outing yesterday. Another popular bike is the fully automatic Yamaha Nouvo. This was the first bike I tried. I decided that the automatic was far too boring though, so instead I settled on compromise: a semi-automatic. I bought a Suzuki semi-automatic (I still dint know the model) which proved to be an excellent in between with zero possibility of stalling in busy city traffic but still with the great advantage of gears. It also seems to be popular amongst the locals (you certainly won't find then riding a win) which was very attractive to me. It was also a great deal for the price ($275). The girl I bought it from said she paid $330 for it in Hanoi where bikes are generally cheaper. That means that if I make it full circle with I it, I should be able to make a small profit off it, not considering the unexpected repairs I'll likely need to make. Yesterday I took my first real ride for four hours or so outside of the city. Getting out of the city is the most difficult part with all of the dense traffic. Fortunately, the traffic looks much more intimidating as s pedestrian than it is on a bike. For the most part, you only need to point your bike in the right direction and people will move for you. Tomorrow we'll leave HCMC, though we haven't decided yet where we'll go. Today, we'll visit a museum and find a mechanic to get the bikes a look over and change the oil.