Busty travelers of the world: strap on your triple strength sports bras before attempting the passage from Mui Ne, Vietnam, to Dalat! And if you’ve got back problems, hoo boy! Better bring a rigid brace and some Advil.
For the five hours from Mui Ne, our small bus jolted and banged along the rocky road, twisting around mountains and overlooking mist-shrouded green vistas. When a particularly ominous stretch of brown water-filled craters appeared, we’d slow almost to a crawl, splashing deep into the soup at a sharp angle, then straining out again. When the craters were merely two feet wide, we’d rumble right through. BAM!
After sitting upright became too painful (in the space of, um, two minutes), I staggered to the blessedly unoccupied four seats in the back of the bus, lying down belly up on the dust-caked cushions and padding myself as best as possible with a fuzzy inflatable travel pillow (modeled to the right… thanks to my Mother for suggesting that I pack it!!) and a sweatshirt.
Still, we were hurled back and forth against the seats in front, the windows to the side, and the muddy floor. It was our moment to be rag dolls on the knee of an infant with particularly bad ADD. Bounce! Bump! Thump! JOLT!
The Dutch couple in front of me had just come from a year in Papua, Indonesia, where they were fighting human rights abuses. As the bus banged on, the couple began moaning from their aggravated bad backs. The man lit up a series of four cigarettes right there in the bus to take his mind off his discomfort, and the bus drivers nodded in compassion.
“Bus driver-s, plural?” you ask. Yes: the journey took a driver (swinging the wheel wildly to the left then the right then the left to avoid the center of the holes), then three men to stand right near the windshield and scope the terrain ahead. Several times, these minions leaped out to guide the bus past the rubble from recent rockslides.
And the poor, plentiful motorcycles who had to share our road! Every three minutes I’d hear, from the ball I’d curled into, “HOOONK! HONKITY HONK HOOOONK!” “Dude–” I grumbled, “They could hear you even if it were half as loud.” The motorcycle in front (often carrying ten crates on the back, or a looming pile of vegetation) would have to swerve to the side, precariously close to the cliff’s edge. Several of my traveling friends have recommended 3-day (12-hour-per day) motorcycle tours of the hill towns of this region, but you couldn’t pay me with all the chocolate of the world to agree to such a trip. Terrifying!
Three hours in, we stopped at a classic food and bathroom stand where we took turns using the by-now-familiar hole-in-the-ground-in-a-shed facilities, pictured to the left. Rest assured, I always carry a wad of tissues and some hand sanitizer in my pocket now! Two times at a hole-in-the-ground-in-a-shed facility without toilet paper and you learn your lesson.
“How much is this fluffy white raisin cake thing, plus the coconut-coated peanuts?” I asked the shy food shop owner. The woman didn’t speak a word of English, so she held up some grubby Dong to indicate the price: 7,000, or about forty cents. “Cam on,” I said, trying my best to say the Vietnamese “Thank you” correctly. The woman giggled at me as her skinny white kitten watched us with wide teal eyes.
Back in the bus, we ascended steadily and felt the climate cool. In the small villages we passed through, the people were now wearing long sleeves. Some cows blocked the road until we honked them away.
In closing, take a moment today, as you hop aboard your daily car or bus commute, to savor the luxury of silky smooth paved roads. We forget to think about them or thank them, with their ribbons of soft gray, but life with only rutted rock paths is a whole heck of a lot more painful!