8 June, 2010
Dalat, Vietnam

Dalat is a charming little mountain town. It’s quite hilly and the roads twist around on each other and there are stairways and steep alleyways and things like that. Most pleasant of all is the temperature; because it’s up in the mountains, I can actually walk down the street without sweat plastering my shirt to my body.

Unfortunately it’s also the begining of the rainy season. For the last three days, it’s rained like clockwork every afternoon, starting around one or two and continuing for several hours. We spent a long time riding around one afternoon looking for a local attraction called the Crazy House, some kind of freewheeling architectural oddity, with a thunderstorm lashing over us. It was redeemed somewhat by watching Jess, wearing her ridiculous pink poncho and her motorcycle helmet, walk into a restaurant and say in her posh English accent: “Excuse me, which way to the Crazy House?” It was also redeemed by the Crazy House itself, which was quite an amusing place. But fuck, the rain. We spent an hour in a cafe waiting for it to blow over.

“We really need to do things in the morning,” I said. “We slept in and then just sat around doing nothing.”

“I know,” Max replied. “I watched fucking Jingle All The Way.”

I keep thinking how lovely this town would be if not for the rain. It’s renowned as a mountain resort, but only amongst domestic tourists – there are very few Westerners here, and no hawkers.

Our bikes are getting serviced. One of the hotel staff knows a mechanic and drove us out to him, and the guy’s been working on one bike per day. Mine is taking a little longer because he’s trying to fix the shocks. We got Max’s back today, with a “repaired” front brake that is now so sensitive it will seize the bike up at the slightest touch and send the rider flying over the handlebars. It’s becoming more and more evident that any trip to a Vietnamese mechanic is a game of Russian roulette. Will he fix your problem? Will he fix it, but create another one? Will he just make the original problem worse? Who knows! That will be 150, 000 dong!

Jimmy left us today, because he’s on a tight schedule and needs to get to Hanoi so he can then get to Tokyo for his flight back to Canada. It was sad to see him leave, since we’ve all been riding together since Saigon and had forged a great group. Max and Jess will be sticking around a fair while longer, but eventually they too have lives to return to in Britain. Strange to think that the majority of other people aren’t in this for the long haul; they have lives and careers to return to, deadlines to meet, responsibilities to uphold. They’re not indefinite wanderers, looking for someplace new to put down roots.

For most of our time in Dalat we’ve just been sitting around on our laptops like the lazy techno gluttons we are, with wet jeans and shirts and underwear hanging from every improvised hook in the room, and the rain pattering down outside. The wifi here is pretty good, so we’ve both been downloading lots of stuff. I’m watching Long Way Round again, which really makes me want to ride, and I’m trying and failing to find a good torrent for the Motorcycle Diaries. I have itchy feet, and not just from watching Ewan MacGregor ride all the way around the fucking world. Lazing around doing nothing feels a lot less empty and pointless when you’re doing so on a beach. Hopefully my bike will be finished tomorrow and we can leave early the day after, getting to Nha Trang before the rain hits. Riding in the rain is utterly miserable, all the more so because your stuff gets wet and you have to dry it all out.

“I think the motorcycle is best because it puts you so much in contact with everything. You experience much more closely the nature of the terrain… you can almost taste the cultures that you’re riding through… because it exposes you to the climate and the wind and rain, it’s a much more complete experience.”

That’s from Ted Simon, a British journalist interviewed in Long Way Round who wrote a book called ‘Jupiter’s Travels’ after riding a motorcycle through 45 countries in the 1970’s. I’d like to read it, but there’s no chance of finding a copy until Hanoi, and even then only a slim one. Somebody send it to me post restante. And buy me a Flickr pro account. And ship me a better motorcycle.