Last time in this installment of Traveler’s Notebook, we had just crossed over a remote border crossing from Laos to Vietnam just as our visas ran out. But it’s still a long journey to the promised land of Hanoi where a gilded ATM lies in wait and we have barely (or maybe not) enough cash to get us there. We’ve already had to fork out precious change on phony customs scams at the border. But, that’s just the beginning… I’ll pick up the direct transcription of my notes from that point.
We approach a mob of anxious moto drivers that appeared from the deserted oblivion when we arrived. We share no common language except for the word ‘dollar’ which sounds dangerously close to the Vietnamese currency unit, the ‘Dong.’ Finally, a price is negotiated with the use of a calculator and we hop on for a ride down the mountain to Kay-son with our bags strapped to each motorcycle, leaving little passenger room.
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The road is far from complete with nothing but uneven stretches of gravel and sand granting little traction around the curves cut into the mountainside. We wind down through a beautiful mountainous jungle into canyons and what we hope will be the unseen valley of our destination.
The moto drivers take turns racing each other and at one point, Jo actually falls off her driver’s bike, saved from injury only by her backpack that was kind enough to fall first, cushioning her landing. After chastising the driver and climbing back on apprehensively to resume the ride, I occasionally glance back from our position in front, listening for the constant stream of honks that signal our caravan’s progress and imagining her terror, admiring her bravery.
After nearly 30 minutes on the back of the motos, as we finally near our destination, we run into a minibus headed for the hub city of Vinh. We stop to negotiate a ride and after much talk, miscommunication and prodding from our Swedish travel companions, we settle on a price of $8 for the trip, more than a third of our remaining funds. We are filthy, sore, exhausted, but more negotiations lie ahead. Our moto drivers want 10 times the amount agreed upon on using the calculator (which admittedly seemed like a very low price, but not that low). We lose all our leverage when the Swedes pay without bargaining. More than half of our funds are now spoken for and we’ve had only a bread and banana to eat today, not to mention the inevitable expense of lodging in Vinh, as it appears we wont make any connecting bus to Hanoi – It is now 4 p.m. and our trip to Vinh will take at least 6 more hours…. TO BE CONTINUED…