A Mad Dash Across Vietnam (Dak Lak – Kon Tum, Vietnam)

Thank God that rice whiskey leaves no hangover, else I may not have completed the journey from Dak Lak to Kom Tum.  It was a beast of a ride, the longest leg of my journey by far.  300 kilometers of straight freeway, just a high-speed burn up the Ho Chi Minh Highway through Buon Ma Thuot, Ea Drang, and Playku to the small town of Kon Tum.

This ride would push The Minsk to the limits of her capacity into regions unimagined the Soviet engineers who designed her way back in the 1940s.  I imagined traveling back in time to ante-bellum Moscow, pulling out a map of Vietnam and showing them just how far I planned to push their creation through the Vietnamese jungle.  What would they do?  Would they just stare at me in disbelief?  No, they would probably yell at me in Russian, throw blueprints across the room and attempt to explain that this bike was designed for the snows of Siberia, not the thick, humid heat of the tropics.  Ah, but I was pressed for time and I would do it nonetheless.

The skies had dumped oceans of rain down upon my head for three consecutive days now.  Everything I owned was completely soaked.  My jeans were weakened by the rain and even the smallest holes had ripped and torn themselves into gigantic gashes that exposed the naked, white flesh of my thighs.  My shoes weighed ten pounds from all the rainwater.  My only two pairs of socks were soaking wet and brown with mud.  If I didn’t dry out my socks, I was going to get trenchfoot!

I needed clear skies, just for one day.  The gods on Mt. Olympus must have taken pity on my soul, for they blew the clouds clear out to sea and delivered me a brilliantly sunny day.  I tied my socks and underwear to the back of my bike to dry out and set off at the crack of dawn, north to Kon Tum.

The sun warmed the lands and beckoned hundreds of butterflies out of the roadside bushes into the early morning air.  Hundreds, then thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions and billions of them took to the skies, flying across the road, oblivious to the traffic whizzing down the highway.  They formed a veritable wall of butterflies twenty feet high, fifty feet wide, and four miles deep.  I had no choice but to plow right through the thick of it, completely covering myself in butterfly guts.  They were splattered across my Ray Bans, lodged in my beard, sprayed across my helmet, stuck between my teeth and flayed by my flapping scarf.  It was a massacre.

But I was on a mission; I had to move on, and there would be only one stop today – the Central Highlands’ biggest town, Buon Ma Thuot.  I will not lie about my intentions; I was here to pick up drugs, as much as I could carry.  In two weeks I had become helplessly addicted to Vietnamese Brown, and Buon Ma Thuot, or BMT to those of us in the know, was the best place to land the cheapest, purest powder on the market.  I pulled into town, found a shady alley, and found an old lady willing to make a deal.  I sampled the goods – potent, yet delicious.  I bought two kilos of her best stuff and tucked them deep into my bag intent to smuggle into the US and distribute to family and friends.

Wait…what drug did you think I was talking about?  No, no, no…not heroin, just Vietnamese Coffee!  Oh, man, I can’t get enough of the stuff!  The Vietnamese serve you coffee in a small glass no larger than 6 ounces, with a dollop of sweet condensed milk at the bottom.  Then they place the coffee grinds and hot water in a small filter that sits atop the cup and slowly drops the thickest, most potent coffee imaginable into your cup.  Delicious.  Call me when I get back, we will have a cup together and you will see what I mean.

With the good safely stashed  in my pack, I jumped back on the bike and continued north.  I was not the only one carrying goods on my bike that day.  In fact, my tiny backpack was a small load for a motorcycle to be carrying in Vietnam.  The average family may own only one or two motorcycles, if that.  Most do not own cars or trucks.  The motorcycle serves both purposes – it can carry a family of five or lug your produce to market.  I have seen bikes carrying the most ridiculous cargoes imaginable: 100 pound bags of rice, flat screen televisions, twenty foot-long metal poles, shoulder-high ceramic urns, three squealing pigs, and fifty half-dead chickens hanging off the sides of the bike by their feet.  Mark my words, if a Vietnamese person ever bought a car, they would probably drive it home from the dealership on the back of their bike.

The coffee farms gave way to massive rubber plantations that stretched for miles in every direction.  I flew along the roads at top speed, pushing that Russian bike faster than she had ever gone before.  Towns zipped by, mountains came and went, and the sun moved through the sky from east to west.  There was no time for pictures, and not really anything worthy of a picture.  But soon enough, I saw a sign approaching in the distance: Kun Tom.  Eureka!  I made it, and with no problems!  I was starting to get very tired from riding The Minsk day after day.  I think the constant vibrations were rattling my brain.  I needed to get to civilization, to take a nice warm shower and to rest for a few days.  But not yet.  I fell asleep early and prepared for another long day with The Minsk, during which I would travel along the border with Laos, deeper into the jungle to the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail.

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