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The Traveling Lotus

They say everyone experiences a scooter accident in Taiwan...

VIETNAM | Friday, 18 October 2013 | Views [777]

They say everyone experiences a scooter accident while living in Taiwan....

...but I didn't, not in my 28 months of living in the second biggest city of the scooter- swamped country. No, it had to happen during a trip of a lifetime, an event that forces you to slow down and re-evaluate.

Let's back up to the beginning, starting in the city of the accident, Mui Ne.

Everyone who has been there has said nothing but amazing things about Mui Ne, numerous people who said they spent extra time they hadn't originally planned just because they enjoyed it so much. Therefore, I pushed the idea of skipping Nha Trang and headed straight for Mui Ne, as Mui Ne came so highly recommended, and I wasn't really feeling the party vibe Nha Trang is known for.

We left Hoi An behind, still cleaning up from Typhoon Nari, by bus. We took a minibus that picked us up from our hotel around 5 p.m., and dropped us off at the sleeper bus that was to take us from Central Vietnam to Southern Vietnam. We were immediately ushered to board the sleeper bus and awkwardly climbed into 3 "beds" that were all across the aisle from each other. Unfortunately, we ended up in the middle of the typical backpacker crew, young college-aged kids partaking in spirits, playing music and essentially creating their own "party bus." The three of us were sleeping on the bottom "bunks," meaning everyone on the top bunks decided to get down and hang out in the aisles, which were only wide enough for one person to walk through at a time. This meant Jackie, Alison, and I had to have our conversations by speaking around bodies from the waist down, through legs, and sometimes with feet dangling in our faces.

As I was worried about the backpackers partying all night, all of a sudden, WHAM!! thump, thump, thump, thump, thump......

It sounded like either a flat tire or something had got stuck in the tire. Jackie's bed was right above the wheel well, and we could feel the vibrations of whatever it was thump around, continuing to make loud sounds, a steady beat. The driver kept going, albeit at a much slower speed, so we all assumed he was going to stop at a gas station. However, we watched as he passed 4 or 5 separate gas stations, and started to wonder if we were going to head all the way to Nha Trang at 20km an hour!

After about 30 minutes, the driver pulled over next to a tire shop. Sure enough, it was a flat, and we had to wait while they fixed the flat. We started on our way, and the party started up again. Luckily, the backpackers decided to retire by midnight, and I managed to fall into a fitful sleep. We arrived in Nha Trang about 6 or 7 in the morning, and had to wait about an hour for the next 6 hour bus to Mui Ne.

After a harrowing ride in a different sleeper bus, despite it then being daytime, we made it to Mui Ne, with the sound of the bus's horn forever ingrained in my mind. As we were barreling into the town of Mui Ne, Jackie saw the sign for our hotel, so we asked the driver to let us off, which he did, which is kind of rare for drivers to do.

After about 20 hours of buses, we had finally arrived in Mui Ne. Turns out we had booked a place in the more "local" part of Mui Ne, and had to work our way through the fishermen's boats to the beach from our hotel. We were there for a bit before some threatening clouds started approaching, and headed back just as the rain hit. We washed up, and headed out to find some dinner.

The next day, we rented scooters from hotel (dun dun dunnnnn). Jackie took the smaller scooter to herself, so that she could easily snap some photos along the way, and I took the bigger scooter so as to be more comfortable for Alison, whom was doubling with me.

We headed first to the red sand dunes and stopped to take pictures, as we had read that the white sand dunes, which were further out, were better for sliding. The local kids harassed us to rent a sled, but finally gave up when they saw we were serious about taking pictures only.

We got on the road again, and had a beautiful scenic ride. We stopped once at a small "red canyon" to take pictures, and continued on to the white sand dunes. For the last stretch to the dunes, we had turned on to a 2km long rocky road. It was bumpy, but manageable. The scenery was unreal...red sand everywhere, bushy green growth, and now a sparking crystal blue lake came into view. The contrast was so lovely I slowed down in order to take a picture.

That was my mistake. Turns out the rocky road wasn't just hard clay with rocks embedded in it like I had assumed; it was actually had very loose, deep spots of sand littered with rocks. As my dad once told me, "You know what it means to assume....to make an ASS out of U and ME." Get it? Those words always pop in my head when I screw up based on poor assumptions.

As I slowed down, what I remember is us slowly tipping to the left and immediately thinking "fix it, fix it, fix it, fix it.." (meaning regaining control of the scooter). However, in a snap second I realized there was no fixing it, that we were going down. This thought came to me as I felt Alison fall towards me. My thoughts instantly changed from "fix it" to "get under Alison." I must have launched myself from the scooter at the last second to try to get under Alison to cushion her blow.

We hit the ground, and most likely slid for a bit, and then got up dazed. The adrenaline and shock instantly kicked in, and I honestly thought I was completely fine, with just a few scratches. Alison's arm was hurting, but she got up quickly, too, as Jackie turned around to come see if we were okay.

I was honestly mostly worried about the scooter at this point, because the adrenaline had me thinking I was just fine. In addition, we weren't going fast at all (the whole reason the accident happened was because I was trying to stop). I was worried about the scooter because it was way nicer than the one I drove in Taiwan. It was definitely scratched up, but it had been scratched before, so I wasn't sure if I would get charged for it. We decided to return to the intersection where we had turned on to the sandy road to clean ourselves up. There was a small local place with picnic tables and some junk food for sale. The lady, not speaking a lick of English, instantly brought Alison and I over to the spigot in the ground, had us sit in plastic arm chairs while she rinsed the red sand off of our road rash while her husband ran off to buy some medical supplies. The kindness of strangers in Asia never ceases to amaze me.

After rinsing us, I started to feel faint from the shock of it all. I couldn't believe after 2 and a half years of driving a scooter, I had my first accident in a relatively undeveloped part of Vietnam, with not a single other motorist around me. Jackie had luckily purchased Gatorade at some point and had me drink it, while the kind lady poured hydrogen peroxide and iodine her husband had tracked down on my road rash, and covered it up with cotton balls (worst mistake ever...they wouldn't come out of the wounds later!). I munched on some peanut snacks I luckily had on me while I slowly lost the light-headed, faint feeling.

During this time, an Estonian who is working on driving a motorcycle from HCMC up to Northern Vietnam stopped by and chatted with Alison and Jackie. I was feeling better from the shock, and we decided to team up with him and keep going to the sand dunes. Of course, that meant returning along the dangerous road. So we swapped scooters; I took the small one to myself, and Jackie drive Alison on the bigger one. We made it there, and stopped to eat first and chat with Manuel, the Estonian. We took awhile to eat and chat, and headed up the dunes as the sun was starting to set. Beautiful sky, but not much time for us to try sliding down the dunes on a sled.

We each went a couple of times, and had to wait while some very eager Chinese people asked to borrow our sleds. Before we knew it, it was dark, and we still had to return via the Rocky Road of Danger. Both Alison and I were starting to really ache, especially her arm. We warily climbed on the scooters again and headed back. I let Jackie and Alison go first, but the road was so bad, they had slowed down a bit, and I was catching up to them. I wanted to keep distance between us, so I slowed down, and.....

WHOMP. I went down again, as embarrassing as it is to admit. However, I had gone down because I had hit a stretch of extremely loose sand...basically like I was trying to drive on the sand dunes themselves. Because of this, it didn't hurt at all; it was actually a very soft landing. Manuel, who was following me on his motorcycle, stopped to help me upright the scooter, a challenge with the soft, beach-like sand, and continued on. I am pretty sure we all breathed a sigh of relief when we hit the solid, paved roads. We decided to stop and have dinner together, which was a good distraction. Manuel was very interested in learning English slang, so we had some good conversation. It was getting late, so eventually we decided to head back. Before leaving, I visited the restroom...and couldn't go. I have used some pretty terrible bathrooms before, but I couldn't do it there. First thing I saw when I entered the stall..a gecko running across the floor.

No problem. I like geckos.

Then I saw a giant cockroach crawling around the tissue in the garbage can.

Sigh, but again, no problem.

Walked up to the squatter.

And saw a frog swimming happily in the yellow water.

Nope. No way I would pee on a frog, especially when Manuel had just eaten 2 frogs of the exact same size for his dinner.

I shook my head and backed out of the stall. What a day.

We got on our scooters after the owners kindly hosed all the sand off of them, and immediately missed our turn, which means we drove around lost for about 20 minutes. We headed back the way we came after realizing we were headed the wrong way, and I recognized the turn we should've made earlier and headed back to our hotel. Before getting there, we stopped in a small parking lot, covered our legs with sarongs, and I put on a jacket to cover up any evidence of being involved in an accident. We dropped off the scooters with the night guy, gave him the keys, and headed in to the room to evaluate our injuries.

Turns out I had gouged a decent amount of skin out of my left knee and right shoulder, and more minor cuts and scratches on my right wrist, and from my right knee up my right thigh. This corroborates my memory of launching myself under Alison: we went down on the left side, where my deepest wound was, but The majority of the cuts and scrapes were on my right side, which would have only happened if I launched myself off.

Despite my attempt to get under Alison and protect her, she still got pretty beat up on her left side... road rash on her left leg, and her left arm was still bothering her a lot. I painfully tried to peel the cotton out of my knees and and shoulder in the shower, and Jackie played nurse for Alison and I with the medical supplies she had luckily stashed somewhere in her magical Mary Poppins bags.

The next morning, the scooters had already been rented out to some other people, and no questions were asked. Regardless, we decided to move next door to a nicer hotel with a swimming pool that Jackie could use while Alison and I rested up. The day was a wash for me, but we did make plans to head to HCMC the following morning as it was clear Alison's arm injury was of concern, and there was no appropriate medical care in Mui Ne (i.e, equipment like X-ray machines). Despite not getting to enjoy the nice beaches of Mui Ne I had heard so much about, we caught an early bus and headed to the legendary Saigon, which I will write an "epilogue" of sorts in a separate blog post.


Tags: accident, bad roads, beach, frogs, mui ne, sand dunes, scooters, sleeper bus, vietnam


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