My hip throbbed as I writhed to free myself from underneath the bike. The windows of the mud-splattered mini-van slowly rolled down to reveal four wide-eyed Vietnamese toddlers with dropped jaws. A miniature man hopped out from the front seat to help lift the bike off of my crumpled body.
Between the pouring rain, my tears, and the shock of the situation, I struggled to get my eyes to focus. He uttered something that sounded encouraging in his sing-song tonal language, picked up my motorbike, and gave me two thumbs up. I shakily returned the two thumbs up, and before I could even get up, he was back in his car and continuing on his journey up the mountain.
I scrambled to get off the path and out of the way of other vehicles. I’d been riding the Ha Giang Extreme Motorbike Loop, a winding path up and down mountains and through valleys on the border of Vietnam and China.
It’d been a spontaneous decision to take the road trip alone. Since it was the last leg of my trip in Vietnam before heading over to Singapore, I didn’t have the flexibility to coordinate the trip with the other teachers at the school I’d been teaching at in Hai Phong.
Our head of school, Kim Anh Lu, advised that it would be a trip best taken with a strong man to protect me; she had taken the trip with the man who is now her husband (I’d actually been her bridesmaid just a couple of days prior). Her eyes gleamed, though, when she described the villages untouched by globalization and the exhilaration she felt riding through the peaks, valleys and waterfalls, so I knew I had to take the plunge.
After taking an overnight bus north, I rented a semi-automatic bike from a shop in a small town at dawn and started teaching myself how to gear shift. A few fellow travelers from Canada, New Zealand, and Australia saw me struggling a bit, and offered to ride together and help each other navigate.
At the point of the crash, it was the last day of my road trip and I had already split ways with most of them. The one I was still riding with, Evan, was ahead of me, and didn’t see it happen. We were winding down a dirt road path on the side of a mountain, and had to beep our horns at each turn to signal drivers coming up; I’d forgotten to beep along a turn, and met the van head-on.
The path was narrow and didn’t exactly give me a place to recover, so I had no choice but to climb back onto my bike and continue. When Evan reached a fork in the road, he turned back to find me; prepared with antiseptic and gauze in his backpack, he helped me wrap my wounds in a valley at the bottom of the mountain.
Our backpacks were strapped to the back of our bikes, and my biggest mistake was not re-tying my bag after the car crash. After riding for another hour or so, a village woman carrying crops down the road pointed to the back of my bike with concern. I looked back, and the rope that had once held down my bag was dragging along the ground.
My passport, money, and IDs were all in that bag, so I split ways with Evan and decided to turn back. I had to get on the overnight bus that night to return back to the capital for my flight to Singapore the next morning, so I knew I’d have to find my backpack quickly. After hours of fruitless searching, I decided to just finish out the loop and file a police report for the backpack.
Luckily, I had already booked my bus back to the capital, and had my phone safely in the compartment under the bike seat. After arriving back in Hanoi, I trudged four miles to the U.S. Embassy to try to get an emergency passport. I missed my flight to Singapore, and had no money to pay for the new passport. My godfather in Singapore offered to wire me money, but in order to get money wired, I needed to show a passport as identification.
I showed a scan of my old passport to the Embassy, and, after having me fill out some basic paperwork, they straight away printed me an emergency passport. When they rang it up for $130, I explained the situation, and, although a bit irked, they kindly walked me over to Western Union and showed my new passport to the representative there so that I could get the money to pay for the passport. I had to apply for a new visa and book another flight to Singapore, but the whole ordeal only took a few days to resolve.
Everything happens for a reason; in the days that I was stranded in the capital, I ran into a fellow traveler in my hostel that I’d met six months prior in Italy. He’d been my mentor who encouraged me to go to Asia, and seeing him again really brought the whole trip full circle. I got the time to reflect, re-energize, and even play double dutch with kids around the neighborhood.
Society and the media tend to garner evidence to dissuade us from stepping outside the norm. Their stories purport to be authoritative, and make many feel as if it is unreasonable, illogical, and nearly impossible to live a life outside of our daily routines, 9-5 workdays, and few days of PTO.
Hiccups and all, the Ha Giang Province catalyzed an understanding that we as humans are much more capable, resilient, and self-sufficient than we’re given credit for.
What is something you’ve wanted to do, but have been told is impractical?