Thursday, February 24, 2011

Trials and tribulations on two wheels

Maybe we should have given up before we'd even started.  My English friend, Alice and I had been traipsing around Dalat, in the central highlands of Vietnam, for the best part of an hour looking for someone who would rent me an automatic motorbike at a decent price.  After my last post about the chaotic Vietnamese roads, you might understand why I'd decided Dalat wasn't the place to try and learn to handle a manual bike. 

Eventually we found a cranky, masculine-looking Vietnamese woman who agreed to rent me an automatic motorbike, while Alice opted for the manual variety.  After handing over our cash, drivers licences and assuring the woman we were good drivers, we were finally ready to set off.  It's at this point things started to go wrong. 

Alice was having trouble starting her bike and that was enough to send the cranky bike lady into a spin.  She promptly booted Alice off her bike and directed her to get on the back of mine.  With a bit of a wobble I managed to negotiate my way through the traffic and onto the right side of the road.  After a bit of confusion and a lap around the roundabout we were on our way, or so we thought.  The petrol guage was reading empty but thankfully we were only 200 metres away from the petrol station before our bike stuttered to a stop (as Alice pointed out, we probably would have just made it to the bowser if we hadn't made the extra lap around the roundabout).  So after pushing the bike into the station and filling up we were on the road again.

We rode off into the hilly countryside around Dalat and were enjoying the beautiful scenery and having the wind in our hair, when we realised there was no wind left in our back tyre.  Thankfully we were close to a small village.  After about 45 minutes trying to communicate our dilemma to numerous locals and being pointed in ten different directions we eventually found a mechanic to change our tyre.  When it came to paying, 5 dollars seemed a reasonable price for a new tube and the transaction was made.  It was only later found out the going rate is actually 2 dollars.

Undeterred by our little mechanical problem we rode onto the next village and quite a way into the countryside.  Thankfully the second time we realised we had a flat tyre we were only a couple of kilometres away from where we hired the bike in Dalat.  Vietnamese people zipped past on their bikes, staring, laughing and pointing at the two white girls with the flat tyre, as we slowly rode our not-so-trusty bike back to where we'd started.  Fearing the wrath of the cranky lady, we got off and walked it around the corner to her shop.  Needless to say she wasn't happy when she saw the tyre and was even more unhappy when she spotted the nail I'd accidently run over (oops!!).  The cranky lady launched into some hand waving and spat a few fierce sounding Vietnamese words our way (although I think the Vietnamese generally sound angry when they talk).  She eventually handed back our licences and we were able to trot off, leaving her behind to have the tyre fixed.

A couple of days later we found ourselves in the Vietnamese coastal town of Nha Trang, pondering whether to try our luck with another motorbike or opt for the more sedate mode of two wheel transport, the pushbike.  Thinking the latter would probably be safer and cheaper after our experience in Dalat, we pedalled out of town in search of some nice quiet countryside. 

We found it not too far from town but got more than we bargained for.  On a deserted stretch of road a motorbike with two men on it zoomed past me, only to slow down up ahead next to Alice, lean over and attempt to grab her backpack out of the bike basket.  Amazingly Alice managed to keep hold of her bike and her backpack, stay upright and let out only a tiny scream during the whole ordeal.  Not realising the backpack was chained to the bike, the would-be thieves managed only to rip the handle off the backpack before riding away. 

It's probably fair to say that after this, we started freaking out.  We could see the city of Nha Trang in the distance but weren't sure whether to ride back the way we had come, which would probably take us longer or continue the way we were going, and hope the motorbike bandits weren't waiting for us up ahead.

We decided to push on but not before pulling out our memory cards, cash and credit cards and tucking them in the safest place we could think of, our bras.  I think we could well have been in contention for a sprinters jersey had we been competing in the Tour de France because we pedalled our little hearts out all the way back to town. 

Fortunately we didn't run into any more trouble on the way back but promptly returned our bikes and spent the rest of the afternoon in a cafe and on the beach, trying to bring down our heart rates.  We eventually recovered from our attempted robbery but sadly that was the end of our two-wheeled adventures!

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