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Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Slow Bike to China - Day 3. Ma Pi Leng Pass

Nicks adventure continues.......

This is what we had come for. This day would determine if all those hours in the saddle was worth it. Was the Ma Pi Leng (MPL) pass really the gateway to heaven? Should we have taken plan B and gone to Ba Be Lake? It was to be both a literally breathtaking incredible and awe inspiring day but also one of danger and tragedy.

Another big day ahead of us as we had to get halfway back to Hanoi to a place called Ba Be Lake (our plan B that was never to be realised). Once you pass through MPL the road takes you to Meo Vac, on to Bao Lac and eventually through another mountain pass to Ba Be Lake, a National Park with caves and waterfalls where you can stay with locals in stilted houses on the lake. But first to the Ma Pi Leng Pass.

I had played down the supposed beauty of the pass, for after what I had read, it could only prove to be an anti climax that I didn't want the guys to unnecessarily suffer. After all I was responsible for the trip and would definitely be held accountable if it turned out to be naff. Can I also say I have seen some pretty spectacular scenery, having visited the Swiss Alps, Lake Louise, Amalphi Coast and Niagra Falls to name a few and the term breathtaking was just that to me, a term. Until I rode the 22 kilometres from Dong Van to Meo Vac in the Northern Vietnamese Province of Ha Giang. OMG... I don't really have the words to describe it and the photos simply don't come close to doing it justice, so I am not going got post any here.

Just Kidding..... Seriously though the photos don't do it justice. Go see for yourself! But until you do, cop a load of this....

The ugly side of adventure is that the element of danger and risk that makes adventure what it is, is sometimes realised. If it wasn't then it wouldn't actually be a risk. Unfortunately for a group of British travellers and their newly found Spanish friend, the risk and danger of riding motorcycles in a remote area on precarious roads, was realised when one of them collided with an oncoming truck around a blind corner. There was no great speeds involved and you take most blind corners whilst sounding your horn and expecting there to be a vehicle on the other side and in most cases you can ride the soft shoulder of the road and avoid contact. But in this particular case on this day, the young Spaniard clipped the truck just enough to tear off most of his calf, along with some of his Tibia bone. A serious and nasty injury at the best of times but made much worse by the location and lack of infrastructure. Our group provided what first aid we could with the supplies we had, then flagged down a bus and convinced the driver to take the victim to the nearest town of Cao Bang, where the locals insisted there was a hospital. The 70 km journey would take about 3 hours. We had no phone coverage at that point and the bus driver was not keen to be delayed so everything was rushed. I only hope we did enough to stabilise him for the journey. One of the Brits went with him in the bus whilst the rest of their group pondered how two guys could get four bikes 70 km to Cao Bang. We rode on to get phone coverage and then contacted the Spanish Embassy to advise they arrange a medivac from Cao Bang.

With the hour spent at the crash site and the much slower pace we were now travelling at, we had again run out of daylight to reach Ba Be lake. Problem was we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere with no accommodation options at all. We decided to press on slowly even if we had to idle into Ba Be in the middle of the night. Oh yeah and Turbo, whose bike had a non standard fuel tank, held 2 litres less fuel than the rest of us and was now running on vapours.

An hour later we reached the tiny hamlet of Tinh Tuc, consisting of a couple of dozen timber shacks, some of which had hand pumped fuel in bottles for sale. We drained several of the tiny establishments of their fuel stocks only to head out of town and around the corner to be confronted with a modern looking petrol station standing by itself like a mirage. All I could think was TIV (This is Vietnam!) Ten minutes further on at a road junction leading one way to Cao Bang and the other to Ba Be lake, was a Guest house and restaurant, again standing by itself seemingly in the middle of nowhere. TIV. They had rooms, cold beer and food...happy days. After what we had just seen, I don't think any of us relished the thought of 2 more hours and another mountain pass in the dark.

Met a Kiwi couple who had been touring in Asia on Bikes for 4 months, shared dinner and a few drinks with them before turning in for an early night. We needed another sparrows fart start to make up for today's lost time. Planned to be rolling by 6 am then straight through to Hanoi.

Our digs at the PHAJ Oac Guest House, just outside Tinh Tuc on the junction of QL34 and TL212. 200,000 vnd (about $10) per room.

View outside the next morning. (priceless)
Not quite over yet...stay tuned.

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