Unperturbed our host grabbed a microphone and started singing Karaoke. I kept him entertained whilst Wonky sneaked off unsteadily and got his bike ready. Phase one of our escape was complete after 40 minutes of the very drunk and increasingly violent man screaming Vietnamese love ballads and leaping around accompanied by my loud, but incoherent attempts to sing along in Vietnamese. I escaped too, but not before he had turned my engine off three times and dug his nails in to a few more unprotected fleshy parts of my arm and bitten my chin.
As we were leaving, Chris found out from a less insane family member that our host was the area’s chief of police. We didn't get very far that afternoon, we don’t recommend drink driving but the mud did seem to take on a whole different texture - almost like gravy - there were less spills and Wonkys mental-mud-block had disappeared. I enjoyed sliding through it, though my mind wondered away to important things like where the hell were we, how many spokes did I have on my front wheel, how far can monkeys jump?
We made camp at the bottom of a gravy hill with a huge truck blocking the path; it was two hours before a cement mixer eventually pulled it out with an excavator pushing it. We had the company of what seemed to be three lost construction workers and a fire. With a belly full of noodles we slept in our tent, bang-smack in the middle of the Ho Chi Minh highway, satisfied, exhausted and drunk.
After the mud we hit the rain, we were heading to Khe Sahn, home of what was the biggest American Marine base in the Vietnam war in 1968. The rain was so heavy it was bouncing two foot off the tarmac but at least we were back on the trail - even if we could only see a few metres in front of the mud soaked lead knobbly. The rain was so heavy we couldn't find the base and slept in a very leaky rustic hostel instead.
Three days of heavy rain was not good and we passed by massive areas of conflict from thirty odd years previously. Places like Hamburger Hill - ‘Where men became mincemeat’, The Glory Zone and Rocket Ridge, without being able to see much except the occasional low flying chicken/pig/child out of the canopy of the jungle. Only coming to a complete halt for massive mudslides and wandering Buffalo, we were averaging about eight hours a day in the saddle on the increasingly gooey track, which was taking its toll.
Having lost about three stone whilst in Mongolia, I never really got it back leaving me with no bum, I even ended up stuffing my travel pillow down my trousers, to cope with the pain of the 180 degree turns we were making on every corner through the mountains.
It was the night before our arrival to Da Lat so we touched base with SOS by phone, then I touched my own ‘base’, and discovered a terrible, terrible thing: grapes, farmer Giles… Hemorrhoids… dreadful piles! Or to be more accurate, a singular pile. My diligence on the first aid kit had paid off (the 5 P's - Proper Preparation Prevents Painful Piles) and a handy tube of Anusol came into play, so did lying on my front. It was at this point I began to wonder what might happen to my bottom over the next 23,000km, this being only day six.
Wonky as any true friend would, laughed and laughed. In fact he laughed a lot, deep belly laughter rang out from the tent that evening. I wasn’t going to ask, and Wonky certainly wasn’t going to volunteer to check out the damage, so I decided the best way to get a good look was to take a few pics on my camera, a few artistic shots of undercarriage and upside-down face in the background I was satisfied it wasn’t too bad and once the rain stopped and I dried my sodden things it would heal up nicely.
Arriving in Da Lat was breathtaking, the French history in this part of Vietnam poured out of the surrounding scenery and architecture. Like in the alps or Pyrenees, the road snakes its way up through alpine forests, amazing colourful flora and forna, majestic waterfalls finally led us into a very pretty town. We were greeted by a guy who told us the route we had taken was closed to tourists and some locals because of 'trouble's'.
After being quite impressed with ourselves for our intrepid ways, we realised he was only trying to butter us up for a stay in his hostel, so we moved on. You cant help but be impressed by the huge Da Lat Palace Hotel overlooking a lake and manicured golf course (yes, we were still in Vietnam). I made it my aim to scrub up somehow, so put my least wet and muddy items of clothing on (swim shorts, black boots and black T-shirt) and go for a large gin and tonic and maybe some cake.
I duly arrived at the reception desk of a five star hotel looking like an out of place goth. Expecting to be ushered quickly off the premises I devised a cunning plan. Armed with my camcorder and camera I let the receptionist know I was here to speak to the manager. With a very puzzled look but a very courteous approach the manager of the hotel greeted me in a spotless linen suit, slicked back hair and small moustache, one of the most French looking Frenchmen I have ever seen.
‘Bonjour’ I said ‘my name is Rory, I am a travel journalist for a number of leading publications in the country I come from… er and others… a bit’ I lied.
His French eyebrow rose to a perfectly formed boomerang shape.
Carrying on more determinedly this time I ploughed on:
‘I would like to try out your gin and tonics, and maybe a bit of cake… Er please’ I blurted out.
Whilst it wasn’t a performance De Niro would’ve been proud of, it was enough. I think he probably decided to err on the side of caution, just in case I turned out to be who I said I was. After a nice tour and history lesson of the area I was given a very comfortable seat on a sunny balcony overlooking beautiful Da Lat. An iced Gin and Tonic to hand and carrot cake on the way I was happy, we had nearly travelled through Vietnam, the bikes had performed beyond our expectations and I was happy. I wondered glibly if I should have asked Wonky to come but ignored the thought without a pause. It was a bit like being married, periodically we found that having time apart was crucial to keep your sanity. At that very blissful moment a tall elegant, fragrant and very, very beautiful young woman pulled up a chair next to me.
“Bonjour, ca va?” she said, whilst seductively placing a cigarette in her mouth. Sean Connery style or maybe a bit more cheesy like Roger Moore, I offered her a light…
‘Oui, bon’ I said wondering if that made sense and trying to remember all the French words I learnt at school nearly 15 years previously. My education failed me but hers did not, she spoke flawless English as well as three other European languages
The afternoon went on and Michelle (I discovered) was on a silk buying trip for a top fashion house in Paris. We got on very well. She loved motorbikes, and spoke authoratatively on a host of subjects. I had very little to say as I was completely lost in her amazing eyes. And the strong gin. The connection was there, that spark, the danger, the romance, the setting… it all came together for one second, we kissed tentatively then passionately.
‘Pardon moi’ I said, whilst excusing myself from the table for a short visit to the Gents. Everything in my being wanted to jump and skip to the loo, but I somehow managed to remain grounded. I left Michelle with a full drink and gave her some of my cake. Five minutes later I returned to a very different situation. Frosty would be putting it mildly, she seemed to be trembling with rage as I sat down, immediately she sprang up “Goodbye” she said firmly and walked away. Confused I stood scratching my head,
How did it all go so wrong, I thought to myself, what happ..e..n..e..d there?