“We had trouble finding a place to stay” the polka dot backed French Canadians said to us. (They had done “cupping” the night before.) “We’ll be fine,” we said.
When we returned to Cat Ba Town we found out that everywhere we had previously enquired about the coming night’s lodging was fully booked. Even a hotel that claimed to have availability on a travel-booking app proved to be fully booked once we had booked and ventured to the hotel. Sometimes I forget that the Internet is still the Wild West, especially in the East.
Without any other options, and with news that a storm was coming toward the island, we tried our luck on the Internet again. This time we called to confirm. The place was a remote Eco-lodge on the edge of Cat Ba National Forest. When I called, the man with a British-English-is-not-my-first-language accent answered and confirmed that there was a room for us. The only problem was, he would not be able to send anybody to Cat Ba town to pick us up. This was no problem, we thought, we still had our moped and we were feeling pretty confident.
We conferred with our friendly island guide. He said it would be a bit of a bumpy ride but our moped could handle it. He also provided us with a map with an “x” that marked the spot of the lodge. With our map and our backpacks, we climbed on our 50cc ride and headed for our lodging.
We were cruising. The territory had become familiar to us after several days of exploring. We reached our turnoff where we expected to and shortly after, the road turned to dirt as Hoang said it would.
We kept on this dirt road as the lights from Cat Ba town dimmed behind us. It was still warm and very comfortable with a slight breeze. We rode by a bay with the lights of fishing boats in the distance. Beyond the fishing boats was intermittent dry lightning. It looked pretty as it was too far to hear.
We continued for another 15 minutes as we passed through the lights of little villages. Many locals looked at us as if we were a little crazier than most Westerners. We asked a group of drinking construction workers, with a lot of hand waving and choppy, incorrect pronunciations, if we were on the right track. They replied in fairly good English that we were.
A while later, we stopped again to look at our map. It looked as if we were in the right place. As we looked around a figure suddenly appeared crashing through the bush beside us. The noise startled me so much that mashed the throttle and we lurched forward with my sandal lying on the ground behind us. We looked back to see a teenage boy giggling. I attempted to pronounce our destination and he pointed us onward.
15 minutes later we had not seen any intersections, or lights of any kind; just a lot of road construction machinery. Finally we reached an intersection with a paved road that, by its description, could have been our turnoff. We continued on the paved road past some spectators of the lighting in the distance and then things began to look familiar; not in a good way, familiar like we had been on this road when we arrived on the first day on the island. We had almost reached the other side of the island. This is when things became interesting.
With Lisa’s iPhone, at less than 10% battery and less than a quarter tank of gas, we doubled back. There was certainly not enough of either power source to return to Cat Ba town and it appeared that if we ran out of one, we would not be able to rely on the other.
We were covered in dust and starting to feel the mix of tiredness and adrenaline. When we returned to cell phone range we called again. This time the man gave us some more vague directions that completely relied on the light of day. We ventured back and finally found our turn off. We passed some more locals who thought we were completely mad but at this point the directions seemed to start to make sense. We went left to the tire-rutted road, along the rice paddies, right at to go up the hill and past the barking dog. We continued on for another 5 minutes and found nothing but dead cell phone signals.
We were almost out of everything. Lisa had lost her patience with the journey at the turnaround. I was just starting to lose my faith in the existence of this place. We headed back down the hill, the dog greeted us angrily again and we passed the rice paddies. We finally found a phone signal. With 3% battery left we called again.
The proprietor answered with incredulity in his voice. “I’ll send someone down to find you,” he said like it would be that simple. “Just stay where you are. “
I killed the motor and the lights as the battery had been acting up for the last couple days. We sat there in the eerily silent darkness. Intermittently, insects would chirp and lightning would flash. At this point in the night, we could hear its muffled crash in the distance. The breeze was gentle but would soon bring the storm.
There was nowhere to go and nothing to do but wait and listen.
We saw the light first. Bumping down the dirt path, the sound of the motor came in and out of the thickets. We stood still until we could smell the burnt oil of the motor. I turned on the bike’s lights to see a short Vietnamese man’s smiling face. His red polo shirt was clean, just like his moped. With a wave of his hands he headed back up the hill.
10 minutes later we found this gorgeous palm-leaf thatched Eco-lodge. 5 minutes later we were checked into our room and 5 minutes after that the storm came crashing down on the roof. We would leave for the port again in 6 hour; not until we would pour most of the gas that the proprietor sold us all over our bike.
The morning ride back was beautiful.