VIETNAM (SEP 2009)
Our group of four had been in Vietnam for about a week when we arrived in Hanoi, the “northern capital” of Vietnam, where we hired motorbikes to go on a ride up through the north lands of Vietnam, the vistas & culture were fantastic, such a beautiful place that just made the ride that much more special, any way we had ridden through all sorts of weather including dust, mud & rain, and even a typhoon, so we thought that we had seen our fair share of dramas, but this was not to be the case!
We had just travelled down from a small city high up in the mountains named Sapa, see it’s story here, and ridden through this almighty storm that turned out to be a typhoon, so we arrived at Lao Cai right on the Chinese border cold & soaking wet, and quite uncomfortable, but this is all part of bike riding, so after literally empting the water out of our boots, we sat down to what the locals called coffee, now I am neither a brewster or a coffee connoisseur, but this one was memorably awful, we joked that you could probably stand the spoon up in it, anyway the much needed warm drink and caffeine hit was a failure, so after a short rest we put all of our soaking wet gear back on and headed out.
The first thing we had to do was to cross the Song Hong river which is right on the border between the two countries, Vietnam & China, anyway the traffic jam on this bridge was second to none, we waited foe a period with no progress at all, then one the guys noticed that the locals were using the side walkways as a motorbike roadway, it was just wide enough for the bike handle bars not to hit, so we decided all to give it a go, we were laughing, we were on our way and everyone else were still stopped, jammed in what we thought would be another hour or so, this was a great idea I remember thinking, however sometimes good things come to an abrupt end, you have to appreciate that the walking pert of the bridge was of course full of pedestrians and you could not see the other side due to all of the people, so when we got about half way across the bridge it all came to a stop, there was apparently some locals that had the same idea coming from the other side, and when we all met in the middle there was nowhere to go, someone had to reverse, whilst this was sorted out fairly quickly by the other side withdrawing, it took what seemed to be forever for him to reverse back, meanwhile the traffic on the bridge had cleared and was flowing well, but we were stuck on the sidewalk.
Anyway with that behind us, we set of to Bac Ha, a small village further north-east along the Chinese border, things were going well the weather had cleared, the road was great, up into the mountains again, making plenty of progress, a big change to the previous couple of days, but just then of course, one of our guys happened to go a bit wide on a hairpin right-hand bend, this put him in the direct path of an oncoming van, he was fair in the middle of the van’s path, so he had to take evasive action, he choose to go wider on to the right side of the van, this of course put him direct in line for the excavated wall of the mountain, that was just solid sharp rock, whilst he did pretty well in reducing speed and angle, however the inevitable happen, he hit the wall, down he went, I was right there saw, I the whole thing (I later joked with him that my only regret was that I didn’t get it on the video), he was lucky to be alive and not to have hit the van head-on.
We had a local Vietnamese guy as our guide with us “Luke”, he was great, he was on the phone straight away, getting an Ambulance, and speaking to the people in the van, we all of a sudden had twenty locals there & two truck loads of police, I think they were on exercises some where, they stopped had a look and kept going, we were about fifty kilometers from town, so it became a long wait, eventually the ambulance turned up, it was a small van similar to the one our friend “Phil” had almost hit, very basic inside, had a stretcher inside, and a small box of medical stuff and a small bottle of oxygen, well at this point after several hours, Phil was drifting in & out of conscenious, the doctor had given him a painkiller needle and attended to his broken arm, then we loaded him into the Ambulance and off they went, meanwhile Luke our guide had waved down a truck to ferry Phil’s smashed up bike back to Lao Cai which was where the hospital was.
We got to the hospital, unloaded Phil, no staff you have to do everything yourself here, so we the remains of our group became the nurses, we carried him in on the stretcher, whilst Luke negotiated with the reception about what had to be done, you have to pay cash upfront, there were a lot of sick and injured people already waiting, it was by this time getting late, so we decided to offer a bit more money to the hospital, (some might call it a bribe), but it was accepted and progressed us up through the queue, into the x-ray room we went, there was a radiologist there and no-one else, so I became the assistant, I had to hold Pills arm in the correct position while the radiologist hid behind a protective screen, what about me I thought?
Anyway I assisted with the x-rays, holding Phil’s arm in the various positions require, and of course Phil was letting me know about the pain every time I moved his arm with louder than normal grunts & screams, he was oviously in a bit of pain, I of course am up against the very machine that is taking these images, and after several images, I had a panic attack, as I still had my video camera on me, are my movies that I had taken over the last few weeks still OK, phew, they are, thank heavens I thought.
Meanwhile Luke had gone downtown to buy the medical supplies needed for Phil’s arm whilst the other two guys were busy ferrying the bikes to the train and to have them shipped back to Hanoi, as our bike trip was over, getting the bikes to the train was a story in itself but not now, Luke returned with the supplies to strap Phil’s arm up, while this was being done he had organised an 8 seater van to take us back to Hanoi as we had to get Phil to a proper hospital to get his arm fixed, eight hours later, we arrived in Hanoi, at the French hospital, 4:00am, very tired, hungry & dirty.