December 28th 2016, Dalat, Vietnam
When it comes to defining a new route I am pretty old school I have to say. I will rely on my paper map over all new technological and digital apps that are without a question developed to make it more easy in a way. Most of the times that’s the right way to go, for me though. But sometimes, there are the moments that make you reconsider your own strategy. You ask yourself whether this ‘situation’ could have been avoided. Was there really nothing in me willing to see, the possible side effects of this strategy?
And the answer was: yes.
This time there was a bit of a doubt on forehand, whether this would actually work out. For the simple reason that there was no application on my phone that confirmed the existence of this little white line on my paper map. Even google maps was pretty clear as this one line just didn’t appear. And so I asked some people around and then found a new application dat did acknowledge this way. Problem solved I say. Instead of remaining skeptical (which would, obviously, be the only logical right way), my positive mind was triggered and my stubbornness and determination were on: you see, it’s possible! Time to move on.
CYCLING VIETNAM – WHERE THERE’S A WILL, THERE’S A WAY
As I left the mountain of Dalat behind in the early morning of december 28th (2016), I thought today was going to be an easy day, as it was a ride of only 80 k. I had simply two options to leave Dalat by bike. The first option was an option I personally didn’t like. If I wanted to continue to follow the big road, I had to cycle back the exact 30 km that I climbed the day before to reach this place. A town that was located on a mountain with an altitude of 1,5 km. The second option was to follow this little white line on my paper map. And since I didn’t like the first option, this second option seemed to be the best choice anyway. Even though there was some more altitude to be gained choosing this way. Everything better than cycling back (down!) the exact same way. Besides this route wasn’t even 80 km… And so I rolled out of Dalat in the early morning telling myself today was going to be an easy day.
But I guess… I was wrong.
And soon…I was about to find out.
A couple of hours later… I was pushing my bike trough a dirt road that would be probably perfect (although still quite challenging) for an mountain-bike-ride. In the category advanced. With little rivers to cross, and holes in the road from the size that would make you easily lose your child if you would go for a walk. Surrounded by mud, stones and sticky clay, this was the kind of road where you have to push your bike up a mountain and walk your bike down to be able to continue your way. It was the kind of road where you get stuck and take a deep breath before you continue. And as I lost my balance for the very first time, and faced the mud from nearby, I asked myself; how did I end up in a situation like this? Having a ‘easy day’.
Situations like this always make me smile. As ‘being wrong’ while being ‘on your own’… is kind of… funny.
As you cycle solo and you have to make all the decisions on your own, there is simply nobody around to point a finger. Nobody to get irritated or frustrated with, to get disappointed by or angry with – when something goes wrong. There’s only you. And so you have to face the consequences of your decisions. All by yourself. Even though you might not be aware of this ‘decision’ in the first place, as there are many moments without taking real ‘decision decisions’ as you just follow something called your intuition. And the funny thing with this ‘intuition’, that makes a situation like this even more funny, is that it’s totally based upon your personality. And so you can say, that in a way, situations like this which we call reality, are quite often the direct result of this ‘personality’.
And so you will recognise this pattern as it will occur bit by bit, day by day, as you slowly continue your way. After one and a half-year on the road, and being in this world for 30 years now: mine is crystal clear. And so I totally understood how I ended up here.
I can see how my stuberness and determination bring me into troubles, time after time again, but I also know that my positive and open attitude always help me out of them. And so the definition of what seems to be a ‘problem’ kind of evolved along my way.
As a problem mostly occurs as a unexpended situation that doesn’t seem to work out in your favour at first sight. I found out, that when you learn to remain calm, under all circumstances (as it’s simply the only thing you can do) you will see, that eventually, situations like this always work out. As it had happened many times before that there was a twist or a solution in the story, that was just as unexpected as the occurrence of this little problem in the first way.
There was this handsome Australian farmer that filled my water bottles when I run out (and yes in the middle of the outback of Australia it was). There was this old man who offered me a ride when my bicycle broke down, for a good one. There were endless people who helped me out with technical problems and made me into this ‘technical girl’ that I am today (at least a bit more technical I would say). There were tons of people helping me with the direction, even before I could get lost. People who offered me food in times of shortage. People who took me in along the way. A couple that got me of the road when I felt dehydrated for the first time. A women that took me into her house when I really needed some time to rest. A friend that offered me a couch as I got sick for a good one. The people who were there for some kilometers on the road to share, before I even realised myself that I truly needed some company. All this happened super naturally. But all of this happened… unexpectedly.
‘Unexpected situations’ seem to be the ultimate key,
to a beautiful twist in what we call reality’.
CYCLING VIETNAM – WHERE THERE’S A WILL, THERE’S A WAY
As I struggled my way trough these little walking tracks, filled with rocks, mud, water and clay, I knew it was about to get dark soon and I had to find myself a place to stay. There was no point in pushing trough when road conditions are like this, as you simply need the light of the day to make sure you are able to find your way. As I started to question myself, what would be the right thing to do. I suddenly see the light of a house coming through. The big tries had covered so far, that there was a little village just around the corner of this big bumpy and dirty road. And it turned out to be, one of the very few places along this way where people live in a small community. As all the rest of this nature reserve is exactly what you expect a nature reserve to be: wild forest, mountains, and bumpy dirt roads in yes: the complete absence of people.
My heart made a little jump as I felt truly relieved to have unexpectedly found: an option to stay for the night! Slowly I walk a bit closer to the place where I saw the light, with my bike by my side and my eyes wide open to ask the big question that is on my mind: Can I maybe stay here for the night?
Without having the language to introduce myself and tell a little story about what happened today – that I got kind of stuck on my way – I just look this men in his eyes with a face telling the story. As I make the well-known triangle above my head, asking to set up my tent for the night. The men don’t even hesitate for one second and tells his wife to take me inside. I smile as I realise that their house had a roof in the shape of a triangle as well… No need to set up a tent as they decided to take this stranger into their home. And I kind of felt that, for them, it would be totally against their culture or habits to let a visitor sleep by herself in her tent outside alone. So I respect their traditions as they respect my request, and since there’s no language to negotiate about all of this anyway, I just use my body langauge to express how happy I am with them willing to take me in today. As I truly am: gratefully. And as body language just turns out to be… more or less universally.
In two minutes time, my bicycle was stored in his little shop, my bags were in the middle of their living room, and the women showed me around. I changed my clothes quickly and washed myself, using the minimum of water that I needed to feel clean. First of all because you don’t want to waste any water in a surrounding like this. Second, because it was freezingly cold. As I turn out of the ‘bathroom’ the women smiles at me. As she is impressed to see: this women in me. As I, on my turn, feel impressed that this freezingly cold water for them is what they defined ‘a shower’ to be, normally.
We go out for diner she says, as she takes me by my arm and she makes the movement with her hand that we are going away. We both look at my dirty and wet cycling shoes, and we smile. Me slightly hesitating to get my freshly washed feet into these slightly disgusting boots again. Here are some sandals you can wear she says, as she points at some plastic yellow flip-flops in front of the door. And we smile. Together we walk outside, as she takes me by my hand, and holds me tight. We walk like a mother and a daughter would do. And I feel touched that she is capable of giving me that feeling of safely and love, after just knowing each other for half an hour. After turning up at their front door so unexpectedly, they takes me in, so naturally. I get goosebumps as I realise how extremely lucky I am to experience something like this. As I experience this, time after time again. In every country, over all borders, despite their culture and nationality: I find the people who are willing to take care of me.
And the most beautiful of it all:
it always happens –
As we continue our walk, the men makes a little sprint to be able to catch up with us, holding a big flashlight, just to make sure that their guest would be alright in this big black darkness outside. As I look around in the streets of their small little community I feel impressed and touched by its beauty. It’s the most peaceful village I have ever seen. With the sounds of some children playing inside, some old men chatting in front of their door, a little school and a little shop just around the corner, some dogs barking slightly confused, as we passed their little houses. You can feel the harmony. It’s beauty in serenity.
Suddenly we stop our little walk as the women opens the door of a house and invites me in. I take my yellow plastic flip-flops of and take a seat on their floor, as we all do. There are two old men awaiting for us, with small bows on the floor filled with food. And there is another men, his wife and their little son that joined us as they suddenly walk in. As I take a close look to the little bowls on the floor, and I see all these types of meat that are not recognisable in any way… I suddenly realise that this is probably the price I have to pay, for my spontaneous stay. Especially since it’s their habit of hospitality to fill (and refill) the plate of their guest. By the time that I was proud and fully relieved that I had finished this little bowl with all kind of intestines, liver, crispy chicken hearts and other un-defining pieces of meat…. you can’t imagine how disappointed and uneasy I felt as they decided to fill up my plate. Again. I didn’t want to disrespect their hospitality in any way, so I took a deep breath as I continued this special menu of today..
The old men invited me for a drink, the kind of super strong alcohol that taste like nothing else then that: alcohol. They seem to be truly content to have found a young women by their side that accepted their invitation for a drink. And I smile, as I kind of understand that they probably don’t have visitors that often as it’s not really what we call ‘easy’ to get here. They have their way of saying cheers, and this turns out to be a very important part of sharing a drink. You never drink alone, as you all have to say cheers and then raise the glasses before you drink. The old men finish their little glasses time after time again, as I just take a little sip out of them. But it looks like I am accepted with this strategy of mine, as they happened to smile every time. My face reveals that I am not used to something that stong. And we all smile along. Well maybe the alcohol will purify all these little animal parts in my belly, I tell myself, trying to keep the positive mind alive.
As I get my third portion of meat on my plate, I slowly start to reassure myself that this will be my last portion for today, whether it’s polite or not… Focussed on my plate, counting the parts of ‘meat’ to be finished, I observe their conversations. Without a question there’s nothing to be understood out of their words but it remains fascinating to observe, focussed on their body-language and expression, rather than words. Trying to unravel their family bounds. As my intuition told me that without a question that’s what they are, a family.
As I kind of assumed from the beginning that the man and woman who took me into their house were a couple, although he definitely looked a bit younger than her… I now start to question whether they are? As the man with the wife and their little son turned out to be the brother of this guy, it now seems more likely that the woman is his…. mother? But what about this two old men? And if this woman is his mother… then what about his…. wife?
As if they can read my mind, as I am trying to unravel their family bound, the man who took me into his house ask me about mine. Maried? he ask me with a smile? He doesn’t speak any more English but he sure knows the words to ask me this big question that must have been on his mind since the moment we’ve met. And I kind of think it’s super funny since this happened so many times before. No language to start a conversation but sure the one word that’s needed to ask a women about her ‘status in society’. I look at him as I tell him ‘yes’. As its my standard answer when there’s no language to explain that not being married doesn’t mean you are ‘available’ in any way. I will just give them a ‘yes’ occasionally, as it’s the most social acceptable answer in their way. Most of the times it works perfectly fine as for them they are relieved; this woman has a man by her side, she’s not alone! Most of the times. This time though, it didn’t work. He looks me in my eyes and tells me with a smile, ‘no’ your not. Busted! For the first time.
I get a red colour on my cheeks. Did this really happen? I question myself. Yes it did. As I happened to cycle a country where people tell you it’s quite hard to communicate as you will have very different ways of expression, as they say you will have difficulties in reading each-others face. This man; a coffee farmer who lived in this small community for his whole life, that most likely didn’t (have the chance to) study, maybe isn’t even able to write or read, who might say. This man has the emotional intelligence to look straight trough my words and read me, in a way, that he was more than confident to say; that I simply was NOT married. And I felt BUSTED. My true status in society just got unraveled:
‘Single‘ he says.
And I can see the big smile that appears on his face.
Time to go home. But this time the woman didn’t guide me as we just happened to have had diner in the place that turned out to be her home. This time I walked back with her son, by my side. Just the two of us, under the big bright starlight. As the road get’s kind of hard to recognise, I turn left and he takes me by my arm to guide me to the right. And although his intentions are without a question as noble as his mother, the independent women in me was there to assure him I would be fine. No walking hand in hand this time.
As we come back in the same house it all feels slightly different since it’s kind of clear that there’s only the two of us now. For the night. And that’s something new… So I question my intuition as any women in a situation like this would do. As we sit on the floor with this little cup of coffee to drink and not so much to say, because shit there really is no english to communicate, it just gets a bit awkward in a way. Surrounded by a group of people you can just easily become this person that smiles and observe the conversation, but that doesn’t seem to work when it comes to two.
And just at the exact same moment as I am wondering what to do…. there’s somebody knocking on the door: it’s the neighbour coming trough. She turns out to be the teacher and was super curious about this visitor in their small community, as yes it doesn’t seem to happen that often. As she sits besides me, closely, like only women among each other can do, the same old questions are coming trough. Maried? The coffee farmer and I look at each other and just start laughing out loud. As soon as this lady walked in to the door, the whole awkwardness was gone: she happened to be without a relationship either, there are now three ‘singles’ sitting on the floor.
After some nice conversations, a group picture of this freshly friendships that were bound, the cyclist in me reminded me that it was time to go some sleep. The neighbour goes back home as the coffee farmer shows me the little bed that he made for me upstairs where I can sleep, on my own. A little mattress, covered by a mosquito net, and some big blankets to keep me warm during the night. He really is a good guy, I tell myself, as I tell him good night.
‘Unexpected situations’ seem to be the ultimate key,
to a beautiful twist in what we call reality’.
And for all of you who are curious what happened the very next day?
Just check the pictures as they will tell the story in their own way.
All I add is that I had to push my bike for at least the first 10 k,
but still I felt truly convinced that I was on ‘the right way’.
Until next time!
Until next time!