Monday, April 9, 2007

Day 4-7: The first days of bicycling

Finally we started cycling. Both I and Daniel urged to get out of the polluted and congested city. After a 7-hour bus ride, and 153 kilometer northwest of Ho Chi Minh City, we finally reached Bao Loc, where our cycling was planned to start. We both were so anxious to get started that we spent the entire afternoon and evening pedaling around the small town of Bao Loc. Westerners could not been seen anywhere, and we realized we had arrived in a very remote place where tourists never stop, unless they are on a bicycle. Everywhere children screamed out “helloooo” to us, as if that was the only word they knew in English. We later found out that that was indeed the case. Along the roads children constantly run out in the streets and yell out their only knowledge of English over and over, and we politely answer back and wave our hands. In Bao Loc we still found this very amusing and were very flattered by the attention. Early in the afternoon we passed a school where children were crowding the streets getting ready to bicycle home. In seconds we were swarmed by giggling children. Their laughter quickly rubbed off and we just stood there laughing in the middle of this crowd of young kids.

People were very friendly in Bao Loc. My rear rack had cracked during the air transport. It was still functional, but I wanted it fixed. In matter of minutes of cruising around town we saw a middle-age man welding together an iron gate. He could not help us but he directed us to a workshop nearby. A very patient man awaited us and swiftly got to work. After an hour of skilled welding and sculpting he had solved the problem, all for 30000 dong (about 2 euros).

The following day was the first real bicycling day. The plan was to visit the Dambri falls north of Bao Loc, then head straight for Di Linh, a total of about 85 kilometer. As we started to pedal towards Dambri falls I realized that the hills where harder to overcome than I expected. Even the slightest angle uphill will slow you down tremendously with a fully loaded bicycle (bicycle plus gear equals about 40 kilograms). On top of that our lowest gears did not work, in spite of a routine check-up the day before. It was killing both of us. However, after 30 kilometers we reached the Dambri waterfalls, one of the highest falls in the area. The 90 meter fall is breathtaking both from the view above as well as below.

From the waterfall we had about 55 kilometers to Di Linh, but before pedaling the last 35 kilometers we stopped by our favorite bicycle store and had our gears repaired. Daniel even bought new gear shifts to ease the shifting. The road to Di Linh was mostly uphill but the lower gears made it possible; still painful nevertheless. Di Linh is even smaller than Bao Loc and sadly less friendly. Instead of children laughing, they were throwing rocks at us. Ordering our dinner also turned out to be somewhat of a nightmare. After several minutes of all form of communication (not only do we speak differently, the western way of common sign language is interestingly also different from the Vietnamese) we could not converse what we wanted to eat. The menu was to no help as it was in Vietnamese. At the point of giving up we just pointed at a name on the first page of the menu. A few minutes later we had whole fried small fish, including head and fins, and microwave defrosted crocodile on our plates. Not exactly what you want after 85 kilometers, mainly uphill, on a bicycle. We left the restaurant hungry that night.

I am sad to report that nothing about Di Linh was positive. We could not even get a decent breakfast before heading for Dalat, an additional 72 kilometers northwest. We knew this day was going to be tough, but nothing could completely prepare us for what we were in for. Dalat is the highlight of the central highlands, and is located at 1500 meters above sea level. For us, that meant we not only had to pedal the 72 kilometers, but also push our way up 500 meters from an altitude of 1000 meters where Di Linh is located. Fortunately, we had already taken care of some of the altitude the day before. However, it turned out to be a gruesome day. Daniel started to get problems with his right knee, and we were also suffering from the 85 kilometers to Di Linh the previous day. After lunch the pain set in and our average speed increasingly slowed down. We were still on schedule, nonetheless, since we had started bicycling at 06:30. When we saw the road sign “Da Lat 10 km” we were relieved and ready to put the bicycles away for the day. So we thought. When an old woman shortly after pointed us the directions I realized that there was much more to come. She did not point right or left, she pointed up.

We stopped to gather our last resources of energy. At that time the sky opened up and heavy Southeast Asian tropical rain poured down on us with full strength. The road swirled its way up the steep mountain. Neither I, nor Daniel had the power to push ourselves up at times. It was simply too steep and we were exhausted, weak and our legs could not pedal hard and fast enough to keep balance. I got a second wind after 3 kilometers and gave full power, thinking this is all I have. But when the road angled steeper and steeper I was forced to jump off the bicycle once more and walk a few hundred meters. That was when I saw a truck moving at a slower speed that the other traffic. It was approaching slowly when I knew exactly was I was about to witness. My instinct was right, there was Daniel, holding on to the end of the truck with his left hand, balancing the handle-bar with the right. The truck was pulling him up! As soon as he saw me, a big satisfying smile emerged on his face. You could not wipe that smile off with anything on this planet. At first I though “CHEATER!”, but quickly realized that I had at least another hour of brutal pain and unbelievable heavy rain. I was soaked and cold, exhausted and weak. I took the opportunity and bicycled all I could to catch up with the truck. Faster, faster, I kept repeating to myself. I reached the truck but could not get a solid grip. When I grabbed the truck my fingers simply slipped off. I tried again, and again, and again. For a minute I was chasing the truck and yelling to Daniel to move up so I could get up on the right side of the truck where Daniel was comfortably holding on with a firm grip. Just before my legs collapsed completely, Daniel finally pulled himself up, closer to the front to give me room in the back. Now we were both holding on to the right side of the truck, which pulled us all the way up to Dalat.


For all Daniel's pictures and stories (Swedish) visit his site here.

1 comment:

  1. Oh my, knowing Daniel I know exactly the smurk on his face....haha lol. This scene is so much him it is unbelievable. Rock on guys!!