The Big Start
When I arrived at the store the next morning, Anh Vu and Trung were busy with the last preparations. They take care of everything: they load my luggage, check the pressure of my tires and oil my chain. Meanwhile, I just stare at them a bit stupidly. In fact, I feel completely useless. I wish I could help them but I have no idea what to do, let alone what to expect.
Anh Vu gives me a bag of spare parts that I can give to a mechanic in case of problems. He also offers me two of his coats to take with me, which I refuse by retorting that I have everything I need.
Indeed, the day before, I had gone to the tourist part of the city to buy a winter coat. I had managed to get my hands on a superb North Face goretex coat. One can indeed easily buy designer clothes in Hanoi in one of the many "Made in Vietnam" stores. Knowing that there would be snow in Sa Pa, I had bought the warmest coat - and in fluorescent yellow for maximum visibility on the road.
For the boots, it was more complicated. Vietnamese people are generally short, and stores don't have big sizes for women. So, I had to buy a pair of hiking boots for men.
Trung then informed me about the itinerary of the day. We will go to Nghia Lô, located halfway to Sa Pa, for a total distance of 180 km. According to him, the road will take about six hours.
I looked at him with a surprised look. Six hours to cover 180 km seemed to me rather long. Anh Vu then explained to me that the speed limit in Vietnam is 60 km per hour but that given the state of the roads, we usually do not cover more than 50 km in one hour. As at this time of the year the sun sets around 5 pm, we have to plan 200 km per day at the most.
It was already time to leave. Trung and I got on our Honda motorcycles. He took the lead and I hurried to join him.
The drive out of Hanoi was smooth, except for a few missed clutches that caused me to honk my horn. One of them happened on the highway while I was followed by a heavy truck. If he hadn't seen me in time, he probably would have hit me.
Every time I stop in traffic, Trung stops and runs to check on me. Seeing his worried look, I reassure him that everything is fine. After three such incidents, I pull myself together. "I will have to learn to handle this motorcycle with a little more elegance" I say to myself.
As we leave the city, the urban landscape of Hanoi slowly gives way to more rural scenes. I already start to appreciate the freedom of traveling by motorcycle. On the road, the natural landscape and the scenes of local life unfold like a long movie. We ride almost non-stop, except for eating a pho soup around noon.
Trung's presence is really reassuring. The fact that he takes care of the road and the mechanics takes a huge weight off my shoulders. Thanks to him, I can ride peacefully and enjoy the landscape.