Na Phac

Nhat Ky Xe Day 11: Bao Lac -> Na Phac Approx. Not many km

We left Bao Lac under a heavy downpour which kept up all day. An unauspicious start to what played out to be a challenging day.

The road was OK for the first 1/2 hour, and we remained hopeful that things would improve. Then the unpaved patches started coming. At first they were just short stretches of rocky mud, but soon enough the sealed parts disappeared entirely. The next 5 hours were miserable. Crawling along on the worst excuse for a road imaginable… We averaged 10km/hr, walking would have been faster. I wanted to throw myself off the cliff.

Then we hit the border with Bac Kan province and everything changed in a snap! In fact, the sign next to the road saying “Welcome to Bac Kan province” marked the spot (to the very inch!) where the sealed road began again. Michael and I stopped to laugh at the absurdity of it all and shake off the suicidal thoughts, thinking we’d made it through the worst of it. Ha!

While the roads are much better in Bac Kan, the deforestation along the steep hillsides has been causing massive mudslides during the rainy season. We came across a few small ones and mucked our way through without much trouble, but then we ran into a huge one.

Michael had been riding ahead and decided to ride directly into the mud without stopping, as we did to pass the last one. It was hard to tell from the approach how deep it was, but as soon his bike stopped he put out a leg to push it along. Knee-deep and thick as molasses. The mud covered the entire width of the road for a length of about 30 yards, the most shallow part right on the cliff’s edge. The rain was still coming down steadily; It was obvious that things were going to get worse yet, but we had to keep going.

I jumped in to help and we managed to struggle our way to the other side with his bike, lifting it from the mud with a great sucking sound and plopping it ahead a few inches at a time. A local woman passed by us while we were doing this (she was forced to walk through the nearly waist-deep part of the mud). She didn’t smile back, but apparently had a little sympathy for us because a few minutes later some road-workers arrived. At first we thought they were fellow travelers trying to pass the mudslide going the opposite direction, but we later figured out that the lady had sent them back to help. They pulled up just as we were discussing the best way to get my bike across. I suggested taking a slightly higher route over the mud where it seemed a bit firmer but they said I was crazy. Instead, on their advice, the four of us hoisted up the the bike and trudged across, hugging the cliffside. One little slip and I would have easily dropped right off the side to my death! And they thought my idea was crazy!

We washed up in a little waterfall nearby before continuing south, reaching some tiny village (I didn’t get the name, it wasn’t printed on any sign) near Ba Be. When we stopped for some warm soup we looked at the clock and realized that the sun would be setting soon; We hadn’t even yet completed a third of the distance we wanted to cover for the day. Our bikes were also suffering: mine would scream out in pain with a ‘clack-clack-clack’ if I accelerated too quickly, and Michael’s groaned and scraped full-time. With each incline the bikes sounded worse.

Since the little village offered no accomodation we decided to keep going until we found a place to stop for the night. When we hit Na Phac though, we knew the bikes were done. And lucky us, Na Phac didn’t have a single hotel or guesthouse either.

We asked around. Almost everyone said “30km that way, hotel.” I knew they were pointing us toward Bac Kan city, the provincial capitol, but our bikes just wouldn’t take us that far without some repairs first. Finally, someone took pity on us and offered the spare bed they had in their family-room. For only about $1 each it was a deal, but we had little choice in the matter anyway. We moved our things out of the rain and set out to get our bikes repaired.

The repair shop was easy to find and the guys there were glad to help us out. In less than an hour they had everything working again and even fixed some other small problems we had from having fallen off the bikes a couple times. For all the labor and parts, they wanted $1! I was expecting cheap, but that was riddiculous!

With everything sorted, we found a place to eat dinner, had a hilarious argument with the owner of the restaurant over the price of the meal (during which she shouted about how much she hated the French because she just knew we were French!) and then tried to get some sleep, but the sleep part was difficult. Everyone in the house woke up (At full volume, all the lights on, etc. This is Vietnam after all) at 3am. We had no choice but to get going early…