Travel Story Tuesday: 4 Tourists, 2 Teenagers, 1 Canoe, + 1 Flood

Jacqueline is by far, one of the funniest people I know. When she's not passing along golden nuggets of sarcastic goodness on her blog French Press Mondays, she's baking and traveling the world. Jacqueline lived for 2 years in Vietnam, and has traveled many other countries outside of those in Southeast Asia, as well. She's here today to tell us a (hilarious) story about getting stuck on a mountain in Vietnam, after a flash flood. Enjoy. 

Charlie, Josh, Yoon, and I decided to go on a scooter trip through the Central Highlands of Viet Nam. I would ride on the back of Charlie's gorgeous bright orange '69 Vespa Sprint and Josh and Yoon would ride on Josh's purple '81 Vespa something-or-other. We took two weeks off work to see how far north we could get and then we would just train it back home.

At the time, Charlie was my boyfriend. He was a little crazy and a terrible boyfriend, but he made up for it by being bold, adventurous, and daring. He mapped out a route through the highlands that avoided Highway 1, the Ho Chi Minh Trail, finding little roads that were down-and-out terrifying. There were several times when Josh was sane enough to realize he didn't want to drive and Charlie gladly volunteered to drive both scooters back and forth, like some sort of scary math problem. There were "bridges" made out of rotting planks of wood, hills of mud saturated from the monsoons, and mountains of gravel that required a snail's pace and strong lungs. If any of us forgot that we were in the third world in Saigon, we remembered it here.

After a week or so, going through villages like Rang Rang (essentially 7 people guarding entrance to a gravel road like some sort of human toll system) and Buon Ma Thuot (hills of the best coffee you'll ever taste), we had to plot a path to get to Nha Trang. We had an atlas and one smartphone. Where the atlas left off, the smartphone picked up an inch or so later. Charlie reckoned that it was just a third-world lack of mapping that was the culprit, and unfortunately none of us gave Viet Nam enough credit to argue otherwise.

Packed and ready to go with a route in mind, we started winding our way through muddy hills, ponchos at the ready as it was April and the 6 months of incessant rain had already begun. It started raining, and then pouring, and then absolutely drenching everything in sight. We had been working our way down this one road for hours when the sun started to set, knowing full well that we had passed the event horizon and there was no going back from here.

All of a sudden, we clear a hill and the only thing in sight is a lake. A lake with two shacks, a motor boat, and a canoe planted shoddily in front of it. Our road disappeared straight into the lake like, I dunno, a piece of birthday cake into my mouth. We stop as we have no choice. We can't turn around. We can't caulk the Vespas and float 'em. I'm sure at this moment I'm starting to lose my cool, but that part's all a bit blurry.

Within seconds, two teenagers come to our "rescue." They've got to be shy of 15 and maybe 150 lbs soaking wet combined. I like to think my Vietnamese was the best out of the group at this time, but Charlie's was decent, too. Well, decent for white people. We get across what we're doing, where we're going, and what we'd like to happen. They get across that the reservoir has now been rerouted, and that for $30, or 600,000đ, they can get us and our Vespas across to where the road starts back up. For the record, this will be the most money these people have seen in years and we're entirely aware that this is almost quite literally highway robbery. But what can you do?

Agreeing to this terrible, terrible deal, the teenagers start directing us to the "dock." There's a decent-sized motorboat there that looks trustworthy enough – if the motor stops working, we may at least be able to paddle to shore if we all put our minds to it. But no. No, no, no. They want to load us four white people and two vintage, 150-lb Vespas into the canoe next to it. A canoe with a motor, sure, but in my mind, it's a canoe. Okay, it's not actually a canoe, but let's just say 6 people and 2 Vespas on that thing would break any reasonable fire code and require us to get to know these boys on a biblical level of sorts.

Naturally, I start freaking out. No, no, no. We have to take the other boat. There's no way. There's absolutely no way. But the teenagers don't back down, and Charlie and Josh give in, arguing that they've no other option. The four "men" try to work together initially to get the Vespas into the canoe, but soon realize there are too many cooks in the kitchen. Josh and Charlie back off, letting the teenagers take over. How, I don't know. I was 100% sure the Vespas would slip into the water, out of the weak, undernourished hands of these teenagers, and off the "dock" that well deserves its quotation marks. It was a few 2x4s propped up by rocks.

By some miracle of Yahweh, the bikes get in and so do we. To this day, the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the Vietnamese people as a whole amazes me and this is just one example of how and why. What also amazes me is their gall. One boy kept on saying he liked my earrings and asked if he could have them. The other would just say, "I love you," over and over. In fact, those three words were printed on his yellow shirt below a smiley face. The same image, "I love you" included, was tattooed on his arm. I think it's pretty safe to assume this was 1 of maybe 2 shirts he owned. For the record, the first one did not get my earrings.

Somehow, some way, the canoe makes it, we make it, and we get to the other side – a mirror image of the side we left, but so much closer to Nha Trang. We give them their $30 and they give us hearty goodbyes. We were surely the most exciting thing they'd see for a while. I even got a kiss on the cheek.

I peed behind a shed, we hopped on our bikes, and got the heck outta Dodge. Looking back, maybe I should've given him my earrings.

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