Our days in Ho Chi Minh City are nostalgia turned up high. Michael has only a few days left before he flies home. Paul will leave shortly thereafter. I notice that our days are lived out in acute awareness of our ticking clock, and we spend a lot of time reminiscing and telling our favorite stories from the road. We talk about how randomly all of our individual meetings were, how lucky it is that we ended up on this trip together at all. How lucky it is, really, that the trip turned into what it has become.
For as much as we want to reminisce, however, we also need to get down to business. The guys need to sell their bikes; fast. I, in the meantime, need to sell a few items of my own. I need to get Jackie serviced and do some repairs. Then I need to figure out where I am going next and how I am going to cross the border into Cambodia. Ha, no biggie.
In between the appointments with potential buyers and visits to various mechanics, we ride around the city. During one of our joy rides, as I weave in and out of the mad Saigon traffic with a grin hidden within my helmet, my joy hits me in the face like a revelation. I suddenly remember being in Hanoi, terrified of getting on my semi-automatic bike, terrified of having to ride anywhere. I recall the guys saying they were going to “just go for a drive.” For fun. I remember thinking they were mad. Look at you now. Thousands of kilometers and a manual bike later, look at you enjoying this.
Michael is lucky to be able to sell Yasmin quickly. One down, one more to go. With that settled, we are able to use our free time to do a bit of exploring. We head to the Cu Chi Tunnels. Paul rides on Tangerine Dream and Michael and I ride Jackie. Sitting on the back, it turns out, has its perks and I am able to lean back and enjoy the views. I take photos of the guys, the buildings; the traffic. I take in the madness. We reach a traffic light and decide to have a quick drag race. Tangerine Dream against Jackie. The light turns green and we’re off, and I’m whooping and hollering but most of all I laugh, and laugh, and laugh. Tangerine zips off way ahead of us and Paul is ecstatic and Michael and I are laughing, and man, we will never have enough time, will we?
Our visit to Cu Chi Tunnels is quick (we arrive, of course, just before closing time) but fascinating. We crawl through tiny man-made tunnels as our guide identifies different areas as being kitchens, living rooms, bedrooms, a “hospital,” and it is wild to imagine the lives that were lived down below. It is wild to imagine everything this country has experienced.
We leave the tunnels at sunset and as we ride back towards the city under a darkening sky, I’m grateful that I’m not the only one who is feeling the weight of tomorrow’s goodbye. Michael asks me what the one thing is that I will remember most about Vietnam. I struggle to find an answer and end up rambling about the many things here that I have loved and even, at times, hated.
“I guess I don’t really know what I’ll remember most. Why do you ask?” I say.
“I just feel like there is so much that I want to remember, you know? There’s so much here that I don’t want to forget.”
We ride on, following Paul’s taillights, as that sentence reverberates in my mind. I take more photos and videos. It gives me something to do.
As is typical of our trio, no one ride is without its adventures, and so it seems fitting that tonight, on our last night together, we have two break downs. We begin with Paul running out of fuel on Tangerine Dream – having been guilty of running out of petrol not just once, but five times myself, this one in particular brings me great joy. Michael goes on a quick fuel run and Paul and I stand alongside the road smoking and laughing about how this bears a resemblance to our very first ride together.
Soon enough, Michael is back and we are on the road again. We are still laughing at Paul’s misfortune when there is a bang, we lose speed and come to a stop alongside the road. One quick look and we see that Jackie’s chain has come off completely. Paul is shaking with laughter as he pulls up beside us. Oh, karma, she sure works quickly.
And so we finish up our last evening together doing what we have come to know so well. Standing in the dirt alongside a road as yet another mechanic tinkers away at one of our bikes, speaking rapid fire Vietnamese. In a way, it couldn’t be more perfect.