No, Betsy! Not again! Why are you doing this to me? I have always been good to you! Come on, you goddamn whore! (Excerpt from a dialogue repeated multiple times a day)
Betsy is 53 years old. We met her in Nha Trang together with her cousin Juanita who is 40 years younger and can’t seem to get rid of them since then. They may be loud, extremely dirty and demand constant attention but at least they were cheap and a ride is always fun. No worries: Neither did we go into the child prostitution business nor have we developed a taste for mature ladies. Our latest aquisition are two red Minsk motorbikes of Belorussian make.
No doubt Vietnam is one of the most beautiful countries we’ve ever been to. The people are more than friendly, downright overzealous to please; the food is delicious and affordable, the various peoples and the contrast between Asian tradition and socialist modernism makes the culture just as fascinating and diverse as Vietnam’s landscapes. For the most part Vietnam is very long and narrow, with bustling cities wedged in between the sea and the mountains. Starting at a jagged coastline, within 50 km you drive past giant sand dunes, radiatingly green rice fields, and ancient jungle into the highlands, where narrow serpentines wind through pineapple plantations. So there is plenty to see and the little mountain roads along the Ho Chi Minh Trail invite bikers for action filled downhill fun.
Daily deadly peril isn’t your thing? Scenery can be watched from a comfortable coach as well? Sure! Yet you will never get to know the country in this way. That’s because a further particularity about Vietnam is that the tourist trail is very narrow here and you cannot leave it by coach because these do move from tourist destination to tourist destination only. 90% of all travellers never leave the five or six places that tourists tend to visit. Though these might be quite pretty (in part), they have little to do with the country proper. Getting your own transportation is the only way of escaping this trap.
We had been advised to do so even before we had set foot into the country and indeed the necessity became clear quickly (we got fed up at the latest after tourist village number three). But why on earth ancient Minsks? Well, they do have certain advantages. They are cheap (For both of them together we paid about €250), they are powerful enough to take you across all the mountains, building sites and dirt tracks of the country and last but not least: they are fucking cool!
The reason why these beautiful creatures can be bought so cheaply quickly jumps in your face in the form of nuts and bolts: In the past week, no day has gone by without at least one part of the bikes breaking or falling off. In the past two days alone we have had problems with both clutches, both gear boxes, one flat tire, and Betsy lost one chain and broke another that we haven’t been able to replace until now. Which makes any further driving impossible.
This doesn’t just cost nerves, though plenty of these, but also Dong. Admitted: Mechanics here can’t quite get plated with gold off their wages. One or two Euro an hour is compatible with even the smallest budget once in a while. Still buying replacement parts for hundreds of thousands of Dong every day starts weighing heavily on our weakened-by-money-art purse. In particular as the fuel alone is almost double the price of taking the bus.
So when put into numbers there is no sense at all in preferring motorbikes over the bus: It may be cooler and take you closer to the country, but it’s slower, more stressful, dangerous, and expensive. Even we have realised this by now and we were just about to continue our way to Hanoi by train in order to get our bikes repaired and sold there. Yet the Universe had different plans for us: At the Hue train station we didn’t just find out that transporting a bike by train takes longer than our visa last, but also that after all there is a mechanic in town who might make Betsy run again. Which leaves us no choice. 650 km lie ahead of us and need to be braved in two days at most before our visa run out. The only possibility save throwing away the bikes at a fraction of their value is driving them all the way – for better or worse, or for death and decay. This is the real teaching we have gotten from our moto experiences; the most important factor you have to weigh before deciding whether to buy is this: The motorbike doesn’t just cost you money, but your soul. Once you have it, you can’t get rid of it. The things we own end up owning us. And thus sagesex continues its most difficult mission …