Beware calves! Cycling in Viet Nam

2 02 2011

One of the most dangerous entities on the road is a calf. With thundering trucks, impatient cars, overloaded mopeds and meandering cyclos road survival strategy is a flippedy jibbet at the best of times, but throw a calf into the mix and risk factors sky rocket. We have an overtaking policy – Liz usually cycles behind but close so when an obstacle looms she looks back  and calls ‘go!’ if we are safe for an overtake.  A couple of days ago, on a yet another not-so-fine day we were pedalling along a not-so-fine road when we spotted a cow and her calf sashaying up ahead, thus we assume the protocol – GO! bellowed Liz. We swept left for a pass on the outside and the calf, because it is a dangerous clattery beast, skits; obviously spooked by the sudden apparition of Us it danced out left causing me (Catherine) to skit as well (potentially because I too am a dangerous clattery beast?!) …. right into Liz. Back wheel and front collide and Liz tumbles to the ground (I’m sure the calf muffled a snigger. Beast!).  Right onto ‘Death Highway’! Having survived the tumble we didn’t want her splattered by the thundering trucks, impatient cars, overloaded mopeds and meandering cyclos – so, once it was clear she had suffered no major damage we moved quickly to scoop her onto the sideway. Where upon she / bike were checked for dents / injury; a generous amount of superficial scratches and scrapes were called but beyond that all was intact. At which point I (Catherine) burst into tears and sobbed for some good few minutes before we once again ventured forth on the road we had been warned off of on more than one occasion.

‘Seriously, don’t go on it. You WILL DIE!’  Julie, an earnest curly haired Australian emphasised yet again, ‘I’ve never done it but, seriously, Highway 1 is really SOOOOooOO dangerous, seriously… DEATH!’  We nodded our assent as we continued to pack away our laptop. Julie was joined by Greg, another Antipodean (Hanoi schools are well populated with them) who smiled broadly, ‘Go the Ho Chi Minh, I’ve never done it, but apparently it is really beautiful. Avoid the 1 if you can. It is really dangerous’.  Taking road advice is complicated. So many of the roads we have cycled down have been deemed too dangerous and sure death certificates, but have proved busy but not fatal. Most people experience roads from a bus or car perspective, a vantage that can often feel more dangerous than when on a bike; especially in countries that are used to bikes (as is the case here) where drivers are generally considerate and polite, especially truck drivers who have proved a delight the world over. Thus it can prove hard to gauge danger levels.

Viet Nam is a long thin country with two main arterial roads; Highway 1 that runs along the costal edge;  benefits here include its relative flatness /straightness and it’s lack of malaria (not that we have even seen a mosquito yet!), bizarrely it is also included in the Lonely Planet’s  best long distance cycle rides. The second is the Ho Chi Minh Highway that runs the inside track following the supply route used by the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War; this is shorter, but hillier and runs the malarial route.  We decided to follow the Ho Chi Minh – if nothing else it sounds the more evocative of the two. But by a navigational error (sometimes the power of the Ask can prove faulty) we ended up on the 1 anyway. So we had little choice but to ride it for a day.  It was as we expected; quicker but certainly more dangerous. It is a highly unpleasant road because it is so busy and the constant adrenaline surges of fear really heighten exhaustion levels at the end of the day; thus we decided to end the relationship ASAP and shifted track over to the HO HO HO Chi Minh. With TET (Vietnamese New Year) looming and the constant burden of persistent wet, cold, muddy riding days it is highly likely that we will return to the 1 at some point but for now we can spend our riding hours contemplating the shear depth of pain, sacrifice and determination that the Ho Chi Minh trail represents and wonder at Vietnamese character that enables such overwhelming good cheer and good humour in the face of such a historical legacy.

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One response

3 02 2011
simone

hello lovely’s, just thought i’d say hi, as not written for a while. i read all your blogs with the jealously of a traveller trapped in the body of a middle aged women doing an MA in performance making which is mostly, from what i can gather, interpretive dance meets politics. I am at a disadvantage, as i do not come from a war torn terror region, and have little historical content to draw on for my work, sleepy suburban hertfordshire just does not cut it ! still its all good, if a little intense at times. Frankly a sense of humour would not go amiss however this is Goldsmiths, and apparently they have the monopoly on pretentious, up your arse, deep shit. Not a tap dancing queer in sight. I try, but mostly am met with sighs, and the shaking of heads at my obvious lack of depth and childish mentality. I am as ever rebelling in true simone style, and doing my best not to fit in. It asstounds me that university can be so narrow minded……….. set me free, im becoming institutionalised, still at least my spellings still rubbish. love you both, moni xxxxx

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