Salutations good citizens of the globe, it’s time for another update from your local wandering drunkard.
Although, as far as the actual travelling goes there is little to report, as my last email was sent from the mountain town of Da Lat, and here we are a week or so later writing from, you guessed it, the mountain town of Da Lat. Our delay not due to mechanical failure for a change (though we have no shortage of those, which I shall detail shortly), but rather it’s simply because we like it here. And the great thing about travelling for such a long time as we are is that if we like a place, there’s no reason whatsoever to leave until we’re bored of it.
Da Lat is a beautiful town, high in the hills and surrounding a peaceful lake. The town was originally settled by the French some 120 years ago and this reflects in the architecture, the general laid-back lifestyle and the glorious bakeries that can supply fresh baked baguettes at seven in the morning, and are still churning out delicious éclairs and cream cakes long after the sun goes down. Couple this to the utterly staggering hilltop landscapes, the waterfalls, the pagodas, the local malt and barley based refreshment (which is in some cases, literally cheaper than water) and food that’s fiery enough to initialise a respectable thermonuclear reaction, and well, I could live here. For ever and a day.
Oh, and while we’re on the subject of food, here’s something that might amuse you. The Vietnamese word for “spicy” is “gay”, the pronunciation being exactly as you imagine. “Bring me my curry good waiter sir, and make it extra, extra GAY!”. “You heard me, as GAY as you can possibly make it!” snigger snigger. . .
Ok, enough of the Michael Palin crap. If you want a description of the towns I’m visiting, go pick up a book labelled “Vietnam”. I want to talk about weasels. Particularly, “Weasel Coffee” the chief product of the coffee plantation we visited just this afternoon. Funny name that, “Weasel Coffee”. Mr Bob was puzzled, in a part of the world known for tigers, elephants and all manner of other great and majestic critters, why would you select a singularly unglamorous rodent as your company mascot? Answer: It’s not a mascot. There really is no way to sugar coat this one for you boys and girls, it’s coffee, and it’s made from weasel shit. “Bullshit!” I hear you cry. But nay, “Weasel Shit!” I shall retort.
Basically, it goes like this: wild weasels live in the area where coffee plantations were started, and these weasels will happily eat the fallen coffee beans. Sooner or later, somebody noticed that these beans emerge from the weasels only partially digested. And then, blind drunk, sickeningly perverted, or just outright mad, this person decided to brew up a batch of it. And thus, Weasel Coffee was born. In my mind, the business model must be structured something like this – ‘Ok, so no one in their right mind would want to drink coffee made from weasel shit. However, there are in this big wide world, just enough people at any one time who are not in their right mind, for business to tick over just nicely’.
Did we try it? Of course we fucking tried it. One does not surrender one’s home and all possessions to go exploring bizarre places and cultures, then wimp out when a man presents you with a mug of steaming brown liquid derived from a rodent’s effluence. You take it like a man; black as sin, hot as hell and absolutely sans sucre. I guess it would spoil the fun if I told you what it tastes like. I’ll tell you that it either A) was the finest and most flavoursome coffee I’ve ever had in my life. Or, B) It tasted exactly like weasel shit.
Only afterwards, when reading up a little, did I realise that I’ve already heard of this drink. It’s a form of Kopi Luwak, renowned as the rarest and most expensive coffee in the world (ever seen the film ‘The Bucket List’?). And this particular variety is the rarest of them all, there are only two farms in the world producing it, and they’re both located right here in Da Lat. And it IS expensive. Ruinously expensive. Probably. In Europe. Here in Weasel Coffee’s home town we got two cups of it (and the elaborate 15 minute brewing ceremony) for 200,000 Dong. About six quid.
God. My girlfriend will not be pleased. I’m supposed to be documenting all of the many incredible and exciting things we’ve done over the last week, and instead I’ve devoted a page of text to muttering about the consumption of mammalian excrement. Sorry. I’ll do a quick round up:
Monday – Visited the Lihn Phuoc pagoda. Eight stories tall, decorated with recycled ceramics and incorporating a gigantic marble dragon.
Tuesday – Crazy House. Like a Salvador Dali painting dragged into the third dimension. Stairways that twist, carry you up across rooftops, then ultimately lead to nowhere. Rooms with doorways that a hobbit would have to crawl to pass through, and outbuildings inside hollowed trees. I can’t explain this place well (and I believe that’s the idea), just check out the photos.
Wednesday – Adventure day. Abseiled down five enormous waterfalls, jumped off/slid down several smaller ones and hiked up a very steep valley wall. Kudos to Miss Marie-Carmen by the way who, despite being bandaged with a twisted ankle, still volunteered five minutes later for sliding head first down a waterfall with no ropes or protective gear beyond a plastic helmet.
Thursday – Flower Garden. Just what it says on the tin, a vast botanical garden and park featuring a minimum of several varieties of flower and/or plant life. Sorry, I’m no botanist.
Friday – Truc Lam Pagoda. A peaceful and very pretty mountain temple accessed via a 2km cable car ride high over the forest and lake.
Saturday – Datanla Falls. Another awesome waterfall system. This time accessed via, of all things, a toboggan. I’m sure there’s some dangerous and back breaking path that could take you there instead, but no, I’d rather climb in a single seat toboggan car, push the lever forward, and be at the bottom of the valley in less than two minutes with a massive grin on my face.
Sunday – Motorcycle adventuring. Da Lat is packed with local guides on motorcycles who collectively call themselves the ‘Easy Riders’, and today we recruited one, an old fella called “Heip” to take us on a whistle stop tour of some of the more obscure local sights. And boy did he deliver. Pagodas, tea plantations, silk factories, waterfalls, a rice whiskey distillery, “Weasel Coffee” plantation (did I mention that already?) all covered in a six hour blast. He even carried MC on his own bike too so poor Desmond got a rest from hauling the both of us around.
Ahh Desmond. I promised details and here they are. The front suspension has been repaired, the rear suspension has broken. The left indicator has been successfully reattached to the bike and the right indicator has fallen off. The crappy luggage rack has been discarded completely and a new , sturdier one custom built in a back alley metal workshop, it took the guy most of a day to make and he charged me a fiver. The ignition key abandoned ship on a bumpy road and is lost for good. Fortunately, the key from my luggage lock can be made to fit with a little jiggling and even better, my trusty penknife operates it just fine (you know that mysterious tool present on most Swiss army knives that legend has it has something to do with parting fish of their scales? Turns out that’s not what it’s for after all. Turns out it’s actually a replacement ignition key for a 1992 Daelim VS. Those Swiss really do think of everything). Oh, and the tachometer has a mind of it’s own; sometimes it works flawlessly, sometimes not at all and other times it just swings like a pendulum from zero to max and back again regardless of what the engine is actually doing.
And tomorrow is the day we leave, and work our way down to the beach resort of Nha Trang. Tomorrow is also the day, we are advised by the local newspaper, that an enormous typhoon will hit Nha Trang and begin working it’s way inland. The precise opposite of the journey we intend on making. So, to recap, that’s one very small, very ancient and fairly broken motorcycle, carrying two people and a lot of luggage, down steep mountain roads composed mainly of mud and rocks, directly in to the path of a fucking typhoon. What could possibly make this more dangerous? Perhaps I’ll get drunk before setting out. . .
I’ve always harboured a suspicion that the Gods respect lunacy. Do something very dangerous and you’ll probably get hurt. But go that bit further, do something ridiculously, absurdly dangerous, and the powers that be can’t help but tip their hats to you, and godspeed you on your way. My theory anyway.
Lets see if it holds out.
Peace & Love,
PS. Mr Bob Vs the Mosquitoes score stands at 13 – 6 in my favour.